Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's not just a cracker

This is not the face of a nice, rational person.

I first ran across PZ Myers' blog a few years ago, and was immediately disturbed by the anger and the acidity towards all thing religious displayed there, not only by Myers but also by his loyal commenters. For example, he referred to the recent death of a Baptist minister (someone he didn't even know) as "futile" and that he had dedicated his life to a lie. You have to read it (and sample some of the comments) to grasp how unfeeling and disturbing it is.

This is the kind of writing and mindset that is a complete turnoff to me as someone who considers himself to have a skeptical mind. I don't even like to think of myself as a "skeptic" any more; I have certainly become more open-minded and more spiritual in my everyday life, and I believe it is at least in part a response to these kinds of attacks.

So there is this hoo-ha over a Communion wafer. Seems that Myers is incensed that some college kid who absconded with a Communion wafer may be in hot water with his University. Catholics believe the unleavened bread, once it is consecrated by a priest, is transformed into the substance of Christ's body. Myers doesn't buy it. He wrote that if readers of his blog send him a consecrated host, "I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare." Myers' plan to support the kid is to get someone to swipe some Communion for him, so that he can engage in some sort of desecration and film it and post it on YouTube.

What a cool guy, eh?

It's kind of like hating Bush---unoriginal, boring and tedious. Look at me! I'm edgy and brash and rebellious! Christians--especially Catholics--look how stoopid they are! I'm telling truth to power! Silly Pope, dressed in his silly robes!

It is noteworthy, I believe, that Myers uses the word "Frackin" instead of the coarser Anglo-Saxon version that he actually means. Why? Was he worried that he was going to OFFEND SOMEONE?

Can we say, “perpetual adolescent?”

C'mon Myers--grow a pair! I don't foresee Myers taking a goat into the next Islamic prayer service. He probably won't be shouting "Sieg Hiel!" at synagogue. Why not video yourself desecrating a Koran? Why not take on those Scientology folks? Tip over some headstones at the local cemetery? Or is that too edgy for you? Or maybe you're just chicken?

He's got an answer for that, actually. In this interview, Myers states "I don't favor the idea of going to somebody's home or to something they own and possess and consider very important, like a graveyard -- going to a grave and desecrating that. That's something completely different. Because what you're doing is doing harm to something unique and something that is rightfully part of somebody else -- it's somebody else's ownership. The cracker is completely different. This is something that's freely handed out."

The "logic" doesn't really work for me here. I am glad that he respects someone else's property. And the Eucharist is freely handed out; in a sense, you could do with it whatever you wanted to do. But a tolerant, rational person wouldn't behave so uncaringly. Although an aggressively intolerant person would, I suppose. Does one's tolerance stop at some imaginary property line?

Myers (who was once an altar boy) admits that the majority of the angry emails he has received threaten nothing but to "assault me with prayer." But Myers seems genuinely surprised that his proposed actions have disturbed some people; he is clueless as to why some have even threatened violence. I am always amazed at those who loudly and sometimes crudely exercise their right to free speech, but seem unable to understand that others have that right also, and that others will respond to them, loudly and sometimes even crudely.

There is this exchange in the interview, beginning with the ex-Catholic interviewer:
". . . While I was taught to be reverent with Catholic symbols and artifacts, I also learned of a powerful god, totally unlike this fragile one that can be damaged by a non-believer's mishandling of a communion wafer.

Myers: It's actually kind of sad. I grew up in a church, although I'm, of course, no longer a member of a church, but it is kind of weird to see this going on right now. The messages I've been getting in my email have just been insane. People who say this cracker is literally and physically the body of their god and that I'm doing this great act of heresy and sacrilege and horror -- even though I didn't actually do anything to it -- is disturbing. It's like discovering there are witch doctors lurking in your community and they've been doing weird practices."

Again, it has nothing to do with God being fragile, or whether you or I or Myers actually believes that the Communion wafer is God's body or not. It has to do with tolerance; it's as simple as that.

It is this kind of intellectual arrogance and intolerance that has turned me off of so much of what the skeptical community has to offer. It is one thing to be pro-science and pro-rational thinking; the world often seems short of such ideas. But I believe it can be done without the hubris and arrogance that Myers displays. I believe that in a rational world, there is more than enough room for tolerance.


MTran said...

Random Doc,

I think you have overlooked the actual trigger of Myers' ire regarding the cracker episode. Myers got involved because church representatives first assaulted then battered the Florida student as he attempted to return to his seat with the cracker. They refused to let go of the student (which may be grounds for a charge of false imprisonment), who eventually broke free and left the building with the cracker. He later returned the cracker.

That was bad enough (the physical actions by the church reps sure look like intentional criminal behavior, they are also deliberately tortious behavior in most common law jurisdictions). But professional big mouth Bill Donohue of the Catholic League wasn't happy with simply complaining to the University that a student had breached church etiquette or that members of the church had committed intentional torts and crimes against the student. No, he wanted the student prosecuted and expelled for going against Catholic protocol. He called on Catholics to show their anger against the student and he got it: death threats against the student came quickly.

Death threats.

Death threats against a student who breached church etiquette. That is what Myers objected to.

Now you may think that no one should be disturbed by death threats or by attempts to have the state or US government enforce Catholic doctrine, as if the US were a theocracy. Myers and others think differently.

Myers responded to the death threats with sarcasm. In return, he got death threats himself and Donohue demanding federal protection at the Republican National Convention because Myers might say something mean again.

Yeah, death threats are nothing. Gotta tolerate a few death threats. Sarcasm, though, that aint' right, bring out the troops.

I don't even read Pharyngula that often, the focus on religious foolishness gets tiring, but on this issue, Myers is not the one who has over reacted.


Small Town Doc said...

It is terrible that the student and Myers received death threats. I did not and do not condone such behavior; I have not run across any Catholic bloggers who do.

I think Bill Donohue (who is a blowhard) wanted the student disciplined not for going against Catholic protocol but for disrupting the Mass. I'm not sure I agree with his characterization of the student's actions as "beyond hate speech," but given the kinds of things that get branded as hate speech in the P.C. world of today's universities, he may not be far off the mark.

Again, I AM disturbed by death threats. The government is NOT enforcing Catholic doctrine, as you claim. Disrupting a religious service--ANY religious service--is another matter. The student, if he really wanted to, could have gotten out of the church very easily without any ruckus; I have a feeling that that is not what he wanted to do. I believe that he wanted to be disruptive. And again, I also believe that the actions of those in the church who tried to restrain him were wrong.

Myers response is juvenile as well as sarcastic. And I think that threatening to desecrate a Eucharist on YouTube is overreacting.

If we can set aside female-only gym time and set up separate washing areas for Islamic students, then I think we can be a little tolerant of Catholic beliefs, too.

Thanks for the comments, MTran.