This title represents a respected—I am fighting the urge to say “hallowed”—maxim in American life. The phrasing is taken from the stereotypical “Chinaman” who did the laundry and gave you a ticket that would allow you to identify the laundry as yours when you returned to pick it up and it is given in pidgin English so that the point can be made that however limited the laundryman’s English, he has a valid right to demand identification. You can have the laundry you claim as yours when you present the ticket that identifies it as yours. Otherwise, “no tickee, no shirtee.”
The New York Times this morning (see article) wrote about the indignation with which the Catholic Bishops protested the ruling of one of Germany’s highest courts that a German citizen was free to leave the church but that the church could not preventing him from attending the church services. Here’s the description they gave.
Last week one of Germany’s highest courts rankled Catholic bishops by ruling that the state recognized the right of Catholics to leave the church — and therefore avoid paying a tax that is used to support religious institutions. The court ruled it was a matter of religious freedom, while religious leaders saw the decision as yet another threat to their influence on modern German society.
With its ruling the court also dodged the thorny issue of what happens when a parishioner formally quits the church, stops paying taxes, but then wants to attend services anyway. The court said that, too, was a matter of religious freedom, a decision that so rankled religious leaders fearful of losing a lucrative revenue stream that they made clear, right away, that taxes are the price for participation in the church’s most sacred rituals: no payments, no sacraments.
Obviously, it is that last line that tickled my Protestant funny bone. It makes participation in the sacrament of the Eucharist something the church member purchases by his financial donation. It commodifies the practice about which Jesus taught his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” It’s disgusting.
Every organization I know of has a problem called the “freeloader” problem. Freeloaders are people who receive the benefits of an organization without being a part of and without supporting an organization. Labor unions are the classic case. By demanding higher wages for their members, they raise wages for people who are not their members. I can listen to Oregon Public Broadcasting whether I give money to the station or not. If I listen but do not support, I am a freeloader. Organizations do everything they can to reduce the number of freeloaders and why shouldn’t they?
But the Catholic Church of Germany does not own the sacrament of the Eucharist—not even for German Catholics. They can’t sell it because it is not theirs. Pretending that it is theirs, and they can price it as they please, is theologically repugnant. Very likely, it will be impracticable as well and we may all give thanks for that. And while we are in the thanksgiving mood, let us thank James Madison for his Memorial and Remonstrance on the subject (see document).
As is often the case, a glance at the origin of a word helps to establish a context for it. The (barely) English Eucharist comes from the Greek eu- meaning “good,” and the verb charizesthai, “to show favor.” The related noun charis, the source of the English charisma, means “grace, beauty, kindness.” In all these cases, the theological setting imagines that the showing of favor is something God does. The Eucharist is made available to us by God’s grace. It is “grace” because it is given without reference to merit. It is, therefore, also given without reference to means—no one is too poor to receive an undeserved favor.
The “shirtee” which the religious freeloader will have to do without includes not only receiving communion, but also making confession, serving as a godparent, holding any office in the church, and receiving Christian burial.
Actually, I’m OK with the prohibition on office holding. The holders of the offices of any church are the leaders and will be called on to be the exemplars of that church. Freeloading, i.e., refusing monetary support to the congregation you are supposed to be leading, is something that ought to be prevented whenever possible, but not on theological grounds. I think of this kind of prohibition as akin to the requirement that a candidate for office must actually live in the district he or she is supposed to represent or that citizens of a state ought to be the ones allowed to vote for their leaders.
But Christian communion? I don’t think so.