Real Christians Don't Eat Each Other

This article of mine appeared in my column about the church year in The Handmaiden journal over ten years ago. Although it is a Lenten article, I already had filled all the slots in my book Seasons of Grace, so it was not included there.  This is now available online for the first time, slightly updated for the age of Facebook and Myspace, with some links added to the end. (the title was a play on the then popular book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche)  

 Real Christians Don't Eat Each Other

There were dark whispers, in the early days, about what those Christians did at their secret meetings.  Of course, mystic rituals were a denarius a dozen in the days of the Roman Empire.  And orgies?  Old hat.  Financial scandals, then?  Part of the landscape.  But the rumours about this Jewish sect, these followers of one Jesus called Christ, were enough to shock even the jaded and decadent Romans: cannibalism. 

It wasn't a bare-faced slander, everyone knew that.  The Christians themselves talked very plainly about consuming Body and Blood.  It was only later, when the days of persecution were over, that it became quite clear to all that the Body and Blood referred to were those of the Christians' Founder, eaten in a mystical sense, under the guise of otherwise ordinary bread and wine. 

The charge of cannibalism sounds absurd to twenty-first century ears.  The very word is the embodiment of all that is savage, inhuman, dark and cruel.  It conjures up pictures of painted tribesmen in darkest Africa chanting and dancing maniacally about their captives.  It's very hard to go beyond that cartoon image and imagine a real, smiling human being biting into the butchered and cooked flesh of a fellow member of his own species, perhaps savouring the flavour as it goes down, perhaps, in fact, thinking no more of it than we would think of eating a Big Mac-- less, probably, in these days after Super-Size Me. 

Is this a repulsive scene to contemplate?  And yet, on the spiritual level, there are similar scenes taking place all around us every day, and we are no more put out by them than the cannibal is by his macabre meal; in fact we often pull up a chair to join in the feast with no more significant remark than "Pass the salt". 

For instance, have you ever heard church people laughingly refer to having "roast priest" for lunch?  A rather grim joke.  And it's not only the clergy who are eaten alive by their fellow Christians.  Someone once remarked that the Church is the only army that kills its own wounded.  You've seen it happen -- a brother stumbles, say into sexual sin, and at once the community descends like a flock of vultures, carves him into pieces and picks his bones clean. Far from repenting, the errant member abandons the Church altogether. 

You notice I haven't used the word "gossip".  That's because it's a slippery word, as slippery as the practice it names.  "Gossip" can be conveniently redefined as "discernment", "keeping informed", “love and concern” or anything else that works.  These days, the internet enables you to indulge in an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of spiritual cannibalism, twenty-four hours a day.  

But besides that, there are lots of other ways of serving up Christianophagous cuisine.


One popular dish is "submission", served mostly to heavy-handed clergy, husbands or parents, and certain strong personalities who run the parish council or women's group.  The meal is consumed slowly, but is very nourishing to the cannibal's ego.  

You've probably eaten tenderized steak; many cannibalistic Christians like to pummel their meat before eating it.  This is done very effectively, often by choir directors, committee chairmen or Christian Ed. supervisors, by belittling or (excuse the expression) chewing out the incompetent Sunday school teachers or flat tenors. 

Then there's "seduction", a meal often considered too spicy for Christians, but more of us have a taste for it than you might think.  It's not only of the sexual sort, either: there are clergy, for example, who will unabashedly lure away the charges of their neighboring shepherds in order to fatten up their own church rolls. 

Most of us are not avowed cannibals; we only take an occasional bite of gossip, or the odd nip of cruelty, and then wonder afterwards why we feel nauseated.  But there are those among us who feed on little else. 

The good news about cannibalism is that it is a self-regulating  phenomenon.  The cannibal has a vampiric personality. Habitual cannibals go about devouring their neighbours long enough, and one of two things will happen: 

In the first case, every victim whose blood he drinks begins to behave in the same way, and  very soon you have a church full of people so preoccupied with preying upon one another that they are no longer able to reach out, and any newcomers who happen to wander in are nothing more than fresh meat.  Like a colony of vampires, such a parish seems never to quite die, and yet remains constantly in an agonizing state that can't really be called living.   

In the second case, the locals will become aware of what is happening in their congregation, and they begin to search for a safer church habitat, or, more rarely, gang up on the cannibal to force him or her to behave or leave. 

Only this co-operation between potential victims will put a halt to this spiritual cannibalism.  Actual physical cannibalism is virtually extinct because it is considered around the world to be the most revolting kind of obscenity.  Only when we regard spiritual cannibalism with a similar horror will it cease to be such an overt feature in our churches.

 Is there hope even for the cannibal?  The Orthodox answer is a resounding Yes.  The Great Fast is not really about bodily appetites, but spiritual ones.  As the taste for human flesh is a physical perversion, so the taste for gossip and control of others is a spiritual perversion.  To abstain from food is not an end in itself, but only a training method, to wean us away from our appetite for cruelty and selfishness. 

 Saint Paul warned the Galatians against this evil behaviour, and his words are still apt today as we once again approach the Great Fast:  "If you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another." 



Some jokes, quotes, anecdotes & articles about gossip:

top links added July 09 

Loose Lips: don't kid yourself it isn't gossip

Billy Graham answers a question about gossip-- very succinct summary of why it's wrong, what to do.

top link added May 09

From "Gossip: Sowing the Bad Seed" by Fr. Richard Demetrius Andres:  What's the antidote to gossip? In bible study last week we discussed the Parable of the Sower. We learned that we must guard the garden/field of our heart by getting off the busy wayside. Gossip travels when people are too busy to pay attention to the effect of their words and how it tramples people under their feet. We learned that we must actively pull out the weeds and thorns of earthly pleasures. When gossip arrives at our hear, we have a choice to spread it or kill it, to think about it or forget it. We learned that a good and noble heart is one that is regularly tilled and turned over with self-examination, repentance and confession. Without this, our heart turns hard and callous and becomes more vulnerable to the temptation of idle talk.

(This one newly added here March 09:)

Blogger Dave  gives this excellent maxim about gossip in a 

brief video clip from Becoming Relevant

"If you're not part of the problem,   

and not part of the solution,

you shouldn't be part of the conversation."  (Reminds me of Prof. Kirk in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe saying "We might all try minding our own business!")

19th Century folktale about the consequences of gossip

 Fiery Preacher Joke


Church busybody joke


from Fr. George Morelli on Labeling Others "In my pastoral and clinical experience I find labeling people to be one of the most flagrant and offensive ways to hurt others, short of physical abuse. (Morelli, 2006). The most egregious labels actually are forms of psychological abuse which would be considered a breach of the love and caring we are to show one another..."


from post on  Spirit of Criticism article :Gossip often masquerades as “concern” for others. Rumors or gossip will seem more palatable if they first hide behind a pretentious expression of concern. “I hate to say anything about this to you, but I’m ’concerned’ about so and so.” ....In reality, the gossip is not sincerely concerned about solving the problem, only in talking about it -- stirring it up. “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28). A gossip thrives on the negative, the controversial, and the sensational. Any person who is genuinely concerned about solving a problem, will go and privately confront the person at the source and express their concern. Or else they should go privately to the pastor so he will do it.

from Met. Jonah's Five Reasons Not to Go to a Monastery (just replace 'monastery' with 'women's group', 'youth group', 'fellowship group', 'Bible Study' or any other gathering place...including online places):


5: Ecclesiastical Gossip

"A last great temptation [i.e. as a motivation to go to a monastery--DF] is to get involved in gossip about people, places, practices, and especially the "issues" confronting the Church... there is very little fruitful and much more that is sinful in all that idle talk. The Lord said that we will be accountable for each word.

Not only does this gossip involve judging people, especially hierarchs, clergy, and teachers who will have to answer for themselves before God; it distracts us from the one thing needful: to pursue our own salvation...It is bad enough that people talk about such things in person; many also read whole publications that are essentially scandal sheets. The Internet is perhaps the worst vehicle for such gossip. This is nothing other than ecclesiastical pornography. It must be avoided at all costs! "

 Bible quotes about gossip.

 Fr. Alexander Schmemann on the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:

 Finally, idle talk. Of all created beings, man alone

has been endowed with the gift of speech. All

Fathers see in it the very “seal” of the Divine

Image in man because God Himself is revealed as

Word (John, 1:1). But being the supreme gift, it is

by the same token the supreme danger. Being the

very expression of man, the means of his self fulfillment,

it is for this very reason the means of

his fall and self-destruction, of betrayal and sin.

The word saves and the word kills; the word

inspires and the word poisons. The word is the

means of Truth and it is the means of demonic

Lie. Having an ultimate positive power, it has

therefore a tremendous negative power. It truly

creates positively or negatively. When deviated

from its divine origin and purpose, the word

becomes idle. It “enforces” sloth, despondency,

and lust of power, and transforms life into hell. It

becomes the very power of sin.


FREE DOWNLOAD: The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove

"In the past, gossip occurred backstage; it was fleeting and localized….today details about people’s private lives are increasingly migrating to the Internet…. traditional gossip occurs in a context, among people who know the person being gossiped about. But the Internet strips away that context, and this can make gossip even more pernicious."

 --from The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove



Anti-Gossip organizations:


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