Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Title text: The local police, growing increasingly concerned about this church, ask parishioners to take a sip of wine and then spit it back out for DNA testing. It's blood, and it matches a 1970s murder victim.
This comic plays on the Christian doctrine that the Holy Communion bread and wine are Jesus' flesh and blood. It is based on the words of Jesus from the synoptic gospels and Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians during the Last Supper, today used by the priest as Words of Institution. According to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, as well as in the Eastern Christian tradition, the substance (using the Aristotelian concept that all things have an accidents, or physical make-up, as well as a substance, or true nature/purpose) of the bread and wine change to Jesus' flesh and blood, while their accidents remains the same. Many people, including many Catholics, believe this concept means the bread and wine literally turn (i.e., their accidents changes) into Jesus' flesh and blood during the ceremony. Protestant denominations reject this doctrine, both its actual and misunderstood application, with some taking the words as wholly symbolic of Jesus' sacrificial death and others believing the bread and wine create a real spiritual connection to Christ but do not change their substance.
In the second panel, Danish accurately describes what would happen at a traditional Christian Christmas service, though in such a way as to make it sound macabre.
After walking and thinking in panel three she makes it real macabre when worrying that they, again, may have gotten hold of the wrong child for the sacrifice needed to drink blood and eat flesh.
The title text further spoofs the common understanding of the doctrine of transubstantiation and elaborates on Danish's concern in the last panel by supposing that the act of taking a sip of wine during Holy Communion turns that wine into the blood, not of Jesus, but of a decades-old murder victim. Alternatively, the title text could be interpreted as saying that the wine actually acquires Jesus' DNA, and that Jesus was "killed" in the 1970s. The police, who investigated Jesus' 1970s death, would then have his DNA on file.
- [Cueball and Danish are taking a stroll.]
- Cueball: How was Christmas? Did you go to church?
- Danish: Yup. We celebrated the birth of a child, then we ate of his flesh and blood.
- [Silence from Cueball.]
add a comment! ⋅ refresh comments!
- Danish: Seriously hope we got the right child this time.
This was one of the reasons early Christians were persecuted by the Romans. They thought the Christians were cannibals. 18.104.22.168 00:53, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
- Did they actually though that or did they only used it as pretext for persecution? -- Hkmaly (talk) 09:20, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
Isn't he making fun of that doctrine?Guru-45 (talk) 07:16, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
Transubstantiation isn't about bread literally turning into flesh. I don't know how to explain it properly, but it is based on Middle Age Christian philosophy (scholastic, St. Thomas, I think) that differentiates the accidents (appearance, taste etc.) of a thing from its true substance. Transubstantiation means that the bread becomes flesh (acquires the substance of Jesus' flesh) even though it retains the appearance and all qualities of bread.
This doctrine is of course highly outdated and I can't think of why the Catholics haven't dropped it yet. It also causes a lot of confusion. --Artod (talk) 09:07, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
- If it's middle age Christian, what was the explanation before that? -- Hkmaly (talk) 09:20, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
- I would think that the original interpretation is symbolism. Jesus and his diciples were eating the passover meal, and the central piece was a sacrifical lamb. I think that it's a way for Jesus to say that the purpouse of the lamb is becoming dated, cause I'm about to be murdered, and that is what will save you in the end, not sacrifices. From start christians have called him the Lamb of God. Hope you had a merry Christmas! -- St.nerol (talk) 10:14, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
- The "lamb of God" is thought to be a malpropism from one ancient language to another. I don't have my source material to hand, but it seems likely that the original was "word of God", and "lamb" had a similar sound and so became entangled in the confusion
- As a New Testament student, I would be interested in seeing a source for that. There are two Greek words translated as "Lamb" in the New Testament. Are you saying that one or both of them sound like an Aramaic word for "word", for instance? Both are used in contexts where "Lamb" makes sense and "Word" does not (i.e. referring to Jesus as a sin-bearing sacrifice). Also, John's Gospel has called Jesus "the Word" several times just before quoting John the Baptist as referring to Jesus as "the Lamb of God" twice. Seems strange that a mistake would be made twice on one page (for instance) when it was avoided five times on the previous page.22.214.171.124 08:53, 10 January 2013 (UTC)
- Thomism (the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas) is built on Aristotle's thought and thus this understanding has always been applied to the Eucharist, albeit possibly not as explicitly as through Thomism.
- In fact, Wikipedia does have a pretty good article about transubstantiation.--Artod (talk) 11:53, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
- It does seem quite good. Were you thinking about anything in particular? -- St.nerol (talk) 19:25, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
- Are you sure? Note the "kidnapping" line about halfway down. The literalness of the belief seems a bit vague to me in practice. 126.96.36.199 03:42, 19 January 2014 (UTC)
The 'punchline' and title text are two of the most macabre things I've ever seen Randall write in this comic - and the hilarity still comes across!--Dangerkeith3000 (talk) 16:22, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
Has anybody figured out what the '1970s murder victim' reference in the hovertext is referring to? Lot of people died then - I have no idea how to even start narrowing it down 188.8.131.52 16:39, 27 December 2012 (UTC)
- Will it referring to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy_in_the_Box_(Philadelphia) Ykliu (talk) 06:58, 2 January 2013 (UTC)
Just remind me of a film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baby_of_Mâcon
Speaking as a Catholic, my first reaction was "Oy, I've never heard that one before (eye roll)". It is a pretty old gag, but Randall definitely has a gift for putting comedic timing into 2-dimensional comic panels; I still laughed. Tractarian (talk) 16:06, 28 December 2012 (UTC)
Randall misspelled "parishioner". 184.108.40.206 12:00, 29 December 2012 (UTC)
The last sentence of the explanation is is really awkward to me. I want to rewrite it but I'm not too smart on theology so I'm not sure if this is the right way. What do you think?
- Protestant denominations (e.g., Baptists, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Pentecostals) reject the doctrine of Transubstantiation, with some taking the words as wholly symbolic of Jesus' sacrificial death. Others (e.g, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist) believe Christ is actually present in the bread and wine although the bread and wine are not changed in any physical way . --Smartin (talk) 03:35, 2 January 2013 (UTC)
Hold on a minute. The church in the title text is evidently ritually sacrificing/apotheosizing persons and then transubstantiating their flesh and blood for consumption in order to redeem their sins. (Presumably ritual sacrifice is kosher.) Now the police have a blood sample from a 1970 murder victim as a result of confiscating the transubstantiated materials. How did they get the blood from the victim for comparison if he was killed by the church and they disposed of the remains? I hope Dexter isn't involved on this one. 220.127.116.11 09:15, 3 January 2013 (UTC)
note that some presbyterian churches share the opinion that the Lords Supper is only "sign and seal of the covenant of grace". So they don't believe that Jezus is spiritual in the bread and wine.
Folks, I updated the theological explanation a bit to make it more accurate without hopefully getting too theologically geeky, but given the wonderfully geeky nature of this site (and comic), I'll go deeper in the comments. Full disclosure that I am Protestant but studied this stuff a lot in Divinity School (and love this new Pope). The Catholic belief in transubstantiation was developed within a world-view based on Plato & Aristotle, which is how the thinkers of the time understood reality and the world. Thomas Aquinas, probably the most influential of Catholic theologians, was a big fan of Aristotle, and that philosophical understanding of the nature of things fit well into an explanation of the Eucharist that makes a little more sense than how it is commonly understood. The change in the elements (bread/wine) happens when the priest consecrates them, not when they enter the mouth or stomach, and it was pretty obvious to everyone that they don't taste or look like flesh and blood. But Aristotle argued that the true nature--what something really was--could be and often was different from its simple outward appearance. Good example is that most anyone would say that each of us is more than simply our biological mechanisms. When someone dies, they look exactly the same as when they are sleeping, but there is obviously something fundamentally different about who/what they are. I don't say that to start a debate about the soul or anything but just for some context. What the Catholics argued was that there was an actual change in the substance--what the bread and wine REALLY were--when the priest blessed them, and that change gave them special salvific and "soul-cleansing" abilities. I had a theology prof who described it as the scrubbing bubbles of the spiritual world...they don't return your toilet back to its pristine condition, but they run all over cleaning it up. So enter the Reformation, and Luther (a Catholic priest) did not want to give up the significance of the Eucharist but was more focused on interpretation of the Bible (where most would think it seems pretty clear that Jesus isn't speaking literally). Perhaps more importantly though, he felt the centrality of the Catholic-ordained clergy in the process of salvation and access to God created abuses and stumbling blocks for the faithful. So he argued basically that there was still a scrubbing bubbles-type affect from the Eucharist, but that was not because the substance of the bread and wine changed when blessed but because the ritual, prayer, and remembrance created a special and unique spiritual connection to Christ. Calvin took it a step further and made a more symbolic claim, but as with Luther, didn't want to veer too far from the universal ideal that there was a real spiritual impact. The Anabaptists said it was purely symbolic. Modern Protestants pretty much all believe that it is symbolic, if special, and a reminder of our covenant with God and Christ's sacrifice...and few Christians know or bother with the more detailed theological reasoning behind this whole debate. As noted by someone above, Presbyterians use "sign and seal," and as someone who went through the rather rigorous ordination exams for the Presbyterian Church, I know we would not have been passed without providing that framing of symbol and promise. Most Catholics don't understand what it is they are supposed to believe about Transubstantiation, but the Church fathers worked very hard to make the details of their theology actually make sense and fit the world they knew and saw around them. The Bible does the same, and it is a shame that many Christians come to believe that faith calls on them to accept things they know not to be true as a test. As an aside, it has always struck me as ironic and tragic that there is such a fight over the creation narrative when the progression laid out in Gen 1 matches up so perfectly with what science now believes, and is how one might try to describe what we know about the history of the earth to a young child--or to people thousands of years ago who knew nothing of science, dinosaurs, etc. It is also frustrating how hard some fight to deny science when Genesis 1 is unique among the ancient creation myths in saying life started in the water and that plants and then birds came before animals, and people came last. As Randall is so fond of pointing out, "birds" did come first and ruled the earth for millions of years. Anyway, the more detailed explanation on the Eucharist and this little mini-rant against some of my fellow evangelicals on creationism stems from my strong agreement with St. Augustine's quote I'll conclude this comment with. I wish more Christians paid as much attention to Augustine's teachings like this as they do to the sex parts. “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge is held to as being certain from reason and experience. It is therefore a disgraceful and dangerous thing for a non-believer to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics. If non-believers finds a Christian mistaken and maintaining foolish positions supposedly because of Scripture in a field which they themselves know well, how are they going to believe Scripture in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when it appears the pages of Scripture are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, and will bring untold trouble and sorrow on the faithful.”--St. Augustine of Hippo, around 400 AD.
Sapper14 (talk) 14:59, 18 December 2013 (UTC)Eric
- tl;dr or tl;nwr! (nobody will read!). My 2 cents. --Dgbrt (talk) 21:11, 18 December 2013 (UTC)
- Paragraphs, please. 18.104.22.168 03:33, 19 January 2014 (UTC)
Isn't the title text's date (1970) an epoch pun ? They would have killed a baby on year 0, but not on the right calendar... 22.214.171.124 03:19, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
- I like this interpretation, but it does say 1970s, not 1970. 126.96.36.199 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)