Spiritual Cannibalism: The Ethics of the Eucharist


Common sense dictates that cannibalism – the act of eating another person – is immoral whether because of the harm done to the other person or a violation of human sanctity. The Eucharist has been interpreted in many Christian traditions as the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. On its face, it would seem that communion then is a form of cannibalism. As human beings, is it moral for us to eat the flesh of another even in a sacred ritual? Although communion is not a direct act of cannibalism, it represents a kind of spiritual cannibalism. Yet, according to Christian theology, this is one of the highest ways that human beings relate to the divine. There is a conflict then between what is ethical (not to commit cannibalism) and what is divine (to eat the flesh of a particular being). I propose turning to Soren Kierkegaard’s writing as his discourses on communion illuminate the ethical tension between communion and cannibalism. For Kierkegaard, communion is an exception to the ethical – a teleological suspension of the ethical. There is no resolution to the fact that Christianity calls its members to commit spiritual cannibalism, but the ethical is suspended by a higher power – direct divine mandate. Although this does not make cannibalism any less unethical, Kierkegaard’s suspension allows for the Eucharist to remain an important religious ritual that does not need to be thrown out completely for its relation to cannibalism.

Author Information
Lucilla Pan, Manhattanville College, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2021
Stream: Philosophy - Philosophy and Religion

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon