I really had no plans on posting more about the whole PZ and the eucharist thing. I got my own views off my chest last night, and there haven't been any new developments in the case itself. The initial reactions to Paul's post are in, and the commenters have sorted themselves into three groups ("Rock on!", "Dude. Not cool.", and "Where's the firewood?"). It's unlikely that there's going to be a lot of movement from one group to another. Under the circumstances, writing another post on this issue has all the appeal of sticking my finger in a pencil sharpener.
But then there was the side issue. It was probably inevitable, but some of the discussion surrounding all of the lunacy has actually brought up a point that is worth discussing: what's the difference between what Paul said, and the publication of the infamous "Mohammed" cartoons a couple of years ago?
This point was raised by a couple of posts at Andrew Sullivan's blog. In the first, he condemned PZ's threat to desecrate the Eucharist. In the second, he responded to readers who wondered if he might be suffering from a double standard. Sullivan, after all, was a very vocal supporter of the Danish newspapers that received threats after publishing cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.
Jason Rosenhouse was among those who weren't very thrilled with Sullivan. To a certain extent, this is understandable. It's very easy to get the impression, Jason points out, that the different reactions might have been sparked more by the fact that in only one of the two cases was Sullivan's own religion insulted. There's another point Jason makes, however, where I think he misses something very important:
Pathetic, no? Publishing a caricature of Muhammed is every bit as offensive and blasphemous to Muslims as host desecration is to Catholics. But in Sullivan's eyes the former is merely an instance of free debate and serves a legitimate purpose, while exhorting people to the latter makes you an anti-Catholic bigot.
The difference that Jason misses is simple, but important.
In the case of the cartoons, the religious group involved was demanding a great deal from those who do not share their faith. The message that they were sending was, "I believe it is a grave sin to draw or print images of the prophet. Therefore, you must never draw or print such an image." That goes farther than demanding that others respect their belief; it is a demand that everyone constrain their actions because of that belief.
In the case of the Eucharist, the demand is much more modest. All that you need to do to refrain from desecrating the Eucharist is to stay away from Catholic churches. Period. That's it. You could argue, I suppose, that this demand also constrains your actions, but that's a bit of a stretch. After all, "don't go places where you haven't been invited" is (in most circumstances) nothing more or less than basic politeness.