A 'cracker' is not a cartoon

Jul 12 2008 Published by under Religion

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.

53 responses so far

  • Brett says:

    Finally!
    A non-hyperbolic and intelligent response to this controversy on theScienceBlogs.
    Thank you, Mike - you are a credit to your profession; although, I wish more of your fellow bloggers were more reasoned in their approach to issues of science/faith.

  • ringo says:

    I've already noted this link in a response to another blog, but I would be interested in your opinion:
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2008/07/10/swastika-child.html

  • oscar zoalaster says:

    "All that you need to do to refrain from desecrating the Eucharist is to stay away from Catholic churches."
    Bill Donohue does not agree with that. He 'went ballistic' over PZ Myers even saying that he would desecrate 'the Eucharist'. Donohue has much in common with the Muslims who freaked out over the cartoons, and because he could have legitimately sneered at PZ Myers for his statement and come off looking like 'the better person' he appears even less tolerant than the Muslims who assert that "you must never draw or print such an image".
    So, while I am willing to agree that you have identified a relevant difference between the two scenarios, Bill Donohue appears unwilling or unable to see the difference...as if, for him, there is no difference....

  • Pineyman says:

    Mike,
    Thanks again. You put it much better than I could. Actual rational thought (compliment, not snark). Keep it coming.

  • Eric says:

    I guess I still don't see the difference here. It seems to me that it could easily be modified to:
    "I believe it is a grave sin to desecrate the Eucharist. Therefore, you must never desecrate the Eucharist."
    And you couldn't you also just say:
    After all, "don't mock other people (whether in cartoons or otherwise)" is in most circumstances nothing more or less than basic politeness.
    Or:
    All that you need to do to refrain from offending the Muslims in that way is to not draw Mohammed. Period. That's it.
    Maybe I'm missing something, but I still don't see a relevant distinction between the two. If there is a distinction here, I think it's fair to say that your explanation at least didn't make it explicit, since taking your own sentences and replacing the relevant terms makes it seems to yield a similar point the other way - had there been an explicit argument explaining the difference, I don't think that would have worked.
    Perhaps I'm missing something - I'm vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of offending a large group of religious people like P.Z. did, but at the same time I think it's important to show disrespect for irrational, harmful beliefs. Not the people, but the beliefs. And that's what P.Z. did. Anyone who is offended by what he said chose to be offended when they selected irrational beliefs.
    If there is a distinction, I want to know what it is. But I don't think this post clarified it at all, if there is one.

  • Barn Owl says:

    Very balanced and rational post, Mike.
    Because I know next to nothing about Catholic rituals and beliefs, I asked a friend who's a devout Catholic about the Eucharist. Most of what she said has been described by others, but she had a couple of anecdotes that I thought were relevant to "understanding" the importance of the Eucharist to the devout:
    1. When her elderly mother was in her last days of life in the nursing home (Catholic, managed and staffed by nuns), the Eucharist was not given to her when she became too weak and disoriented to swallow it properly. Apparently dribbling or spitting out bits is a problem.
    2. A few members of each church have the responsibility of taking the Eucharist, in a special container, to invalids, elderly people, people in the hospital, etc., and they must return any uneaten bits to the priests.
    3. Any Eucharist dropped on the floor or on the ground (many services take place outdoors, particularly in Mexico and Central America) must be picked up and returned to the special container, for proper disposal-which, as I understood it, means being consumed by a priest.
    Note my use of scare quotes, because I don't think any of us are under any obligation to understand, or to want to understand, any religious rituals or beliefs. I was just curious, so I asked a friend. She thought that the college student at the heat of this kerfuffle was simply being a typical smart-arsy college student, and that he was well aware of the sanctity of the Eucharist to devout Catholics. She also added that when her son was very sick and she was at the end of her tether, the only thing that gave her some comfort and solace was to sit in a quiet, dark church. At that particular time, she said that someone entering that church and being disruptive or disrespectful would have upset her.
    Apparently nuns bake the wafers with crosses on them that are used for the Eucharist, and one can purchase bags of them on the internet. To a non-believer, there is no difference between the unconsecrated wafers delivered to your mailbox, and those consecrated by a Catholic priest. Absolutely none-it's just a cracker. So if your intention is to show someone what it looks like, or to be satirical, or to make a point about your intellectual superiority-rather than to deliberately offend or to be a chronic attention whore-why not just buy a bag online, and forgo the controversy of entering a church?

  • SpotWeld says:

    Maybe I'm missing something, but I still don't see a relevant distinction between the two.
    I think the main distinction is that a newspaper (as well as the public square) is a open forum where a plurality of ideas and opinions should be expected. A Church (or Mosque, or any other private establishment) is not.

  • Damien says:

    I'm sorry, but this is all completely ridiculous. Catholics believe that a cracker become Jesus after a priest waves his hands and says a magical incantation. This is stupid. There is no other word to describe it except perhaps childish and retarded (in the literal sense of being held back). The fact of the matter is that a college student took a cracker--let me repeat: a cracker--out of church for some reason. Did he step on it? Did he spray paint it? Or, God forbid, did he just sit it there on his desk, keeping it from its literally shitty destiny?
    Whatever the reason for this kid's actions, the Catholic church has gone apoplectic, even describing walking off with a cracker as a hate crime and sending in someone to negotiate its surrender like it was a hostage crisis. PZ Myers was mocking this stupid, stupid state of affairs by requesting crackers which had already had the magic boogety-boo spoken over them in order to do something more heinous to them than digestion, which is going to be pretty hard since digestion is pretty gross if you look at it.
    This "line" that I keep hearing PZ crossed is completely imaginary. Beliefs are not immune to mockery, especially stupid beliefs. Stupid beliefs deserve to be mocked, religious belief is stupid, therefore religious belief deserves to be mocked. A is B, B is C, therefore A is C. It's really not a difficult logical conundrum.
    Damien

  • What Sullivan originally said though was that he thought it was bigotry to refer to the eucharist as a "frackin cracker." I can see objecting to the stated intent to commit descration, but mocking the eucharist is perfectly in line with the cartoons.

  • SpotWeld says:

    ...the Catholic church has gone apoplectic...
    Damien, I would suggest you are painting the entirety of all Catholics with a very wide brush.
    As for the church where all of this too place, the student is question was perfectly welcome to either ridicule the beliefs of the Catholic church from outside the church, or (at least) respectfully observe the act of Communion. To ask to be able to to both at once is perhaps the line that is being crossed.
    A lot of lines are imaginary. The fact that we can imagine them is what, in part, defines civilization.

  • Hans says:

    the student is question was perfectly welcome to either ridicule the beliefs of the Catholic church from outside the church

    But the student in question *did* *not* *ridicule* *anything*. He just didn't eat the cracker. He did not ridicule, and had, by all accounts, no intention of ridiculing.

  • Becca says:

    I absolutely agree that some expectations for other's behaviors are invasive and overbearing, and others are relatively minor requests that would greatly help us in the aim of living in peace and harmony. Even when requests derive from similar religious motivations, they need not be treated equally if they are not equally reasonable.
    However, I have thus far gone my whole life without any memorable urge or desire whatsoever to draw or print an image of the prophet.
    Oddly enough, I have had a desire (as a teenager) to descecrate the eucharist.
    So, if anything, I would think asking me to avoid descecrating the eucharist representes a greater imposition on me than asking me to avoid drawing or printing an image of the prophet.
    I think that the fact that Catholics are numerous in this country, and the fact that most of us know several very nice devout Catholics, makes us understandably more concerned about being polite to them. But if we think it's A-OK to be rude to Muslims, we are undoubtably hypocritical on a moral level.

  • Jason Dick says:

    It's still free speech, though. And it's still elicited death threats from Catholic nutbags.

  • Damien says:

    SpotWeld:
    a) "The Catholic Church" in the context of my sentence was clearly in reference to the central governing body of the "church," not to the people who believe their crap.
    b) I'm sorry, but respecting stupid beliefs is not what defines civilization; it is what destroys civilizations. If we are unable to call a spade a spade then the fabric of our civilization will collapse. Religion is a relic from a stupider time in human history, and should be relegated to the trash heap of ideas along with the notion that epileptics have demons and that the four humors govern out health.
    If someone comes to you today and says "My bile has been acting up lately, I guess I need to go get leeched" (yes I recognize that leeching was only the prescribed treatment for blood disorders, so sue me) you would laugh at them in the face. Such is the proper response to a grown man coming to you talking of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, fairies or God; they are all ghosts from childhood which should and must be shed for the good of all humanity.
    I myself believe there might be an afterlife wherein we are judged for our time on earth; do I believe that I will get punished for driving on Saturday or having sex with people who are not my wife (future wife, I'm not married)? No. Why? Because that's stupid. And the stupid beliefs of a bunch of people who follow a goofy guy in a silly hat are apparently wrapped up in what amounts to the wrapping on a fig Newton with gibberish spoken over it.
    Smash the cracker, tear up the Koran and whiz on the Bible; they are all emblems of ignorance and stupidity and have no place in any kind of legitimately civilized society.
    Damien

  • NP says:

    I'm just not seeing any significant distinction between PZ's comments and the Danish cartoon, that makes one okay but not the other.
    When the Church demands that you immediately consume a cracker that has been given to you or else you'll be accused of perpetrating a hate crime, that is also a constraint placed on your actions.
    I don't think religious people should be offended just for the heck of it, but in incidents such as these I tend to side with offenders rather than the offended simply because I think this sort of reaction tends to be way over the top. I don't think fatwas should be encouraged, and for that reason I think anybody calling for PZ's head should be told to f*** off.

  • DDden says:

    no comment on this, but one odd question: was the first religious ritual and the first business transaction actually one and the same?
    Going to church/temple/mosque
    Going to market/store/bazaar
    like shamans were the first doctors/priests/scribes/scientists and had to understand trade/exchange to make sure they were well fed while everyone else was foraging, fishing and hunting. Cause if the shaman died, nobody was "safe". When society became more complex, post-shaman specialists were unified, but eventually diverged, now only diplomatically tied via doctorates of medicine/chem/biol/philosophy with separation
    from 'merchandising' businesses. What's a client, a customer, a patient? All the same thing, person paying for service. Sorry for drifting OT.

  • llewelly says:

    If we are unable to call a spade a spade then the fabric of our civilization will collapse.

    Uh ... When it comes to one's own religion, almost all believers are unable to call a spade a spade. Like it or not, these people have been the majority all throughout history. Inability to call a spade a spade is certainly a severe liability, has led to lots of otherwise easily avoidable wars, environmental devastation, mob violence, etc, etc, but if it really doomed the 'fabric of our civilization' to 'collapse' , agriculture never would have gotten any farther than the harvesting of acorns and pistachios in the Middle East.

  • BikeMonkey says:

    Wasn't it that Harvard dude that said it all? Srsly. Is this new?

  • IBY says:

    But wasn't Myer's comment on desecrating the crackers satirical? That is the impression I had.

  • Christie says:

    What I think is missing here is that PZ *did not desecrate anything.* He *wrote* about the *possibility* of desecrating the Eucharist, to illustrate a point.
    So -- the Danish cartoons were printed in a public forum, and the act of printing them was blasphemous to Muslims. The actual blasphemous act was taken, and it was roundly supported.
    PZ wrote about desecrating the Eucharist, an act which, were he to actually commit it, would be blasphemous. But he has not actually committed it. And yet writing about it is considered over the line.
    I am definitely missing something. Or maybe it really is the double standard it appears to be.

  • John Morales says:

    Damien, it was the Catholic League, not the Catholic Church, that got excited.

  • Damien says:

    llewelly, you forget that the major advances made toward civilizing this world have been made despite religious interference. Little in the way of progress is made within the religious community, with the precious (and admittedly major) exception of the Mendelian genetic theory.
    At this point, scientific and societal progress is being retarded because it conflicts with the childish beliefs of fools. Gays are unable to get married, for no reason other than religious; I have yet to hear a legitimate, rational reason to prevent them. The next generation of medicines made from stem cells are being prevented due to stupid religious beliefs that every single meeting of sperm and egg created a "person." Environmental science is being degraded because of the simply idiotic belief that Jesus's next coming is near, so why bother with arctic ice?
    No, I'm sorry, but if we are unable to make mockery of beliefs which are antithetical to the advancement of a modernized society, then we are truly on the precipice of massive collapse. I say the same for global warming deniers, peak oil doubters and those opposed to population control, and I will continue to say it about religion in general: it is retarding our progress as a species and needs to be discarded wholeheartedly. For every piece of good that religion brings, it brings five of bad; therefore, for the very health of our species we must toss the holy excrement far, far away.
    Therefore, onto the cracker pissing!

  • Stephen Ockham says:

    distinction =/ difference.

  • Stephen Ockham says:

    Christie in #20 puts it so nicely I just had to draw your eyes back up to it.
    Talking about a cracker is not significantly different than a cartoon no matter how you slice it.
    Personally I would argue that grinding a cracker underfoot is likewise similiar in degree, nature, and symbolism to a satirical cartoon, though I don't know how many would agree with me that far. But allow me to explain my reasoning.
    The cracker itself is just tastless foodstuff, but the symbolic juju put on it by the mojo man is the same kind of symbolic juju the other group lays on images (or the lack thereof) of their important dude.
    Unfunny cartoons and cracker abuse are of the same nature in that they offend people with bronze age sensitivities because they elect to see it as attacking the symbolic voodoo tied up in the cracker or (lack of) images of their protagonist.
    Don't tell me you're hung up on the physical existance of the cracker itself.

  • David Marjanović says:

    Just to say it once more: the student in question is a devout Catholic who wanted to show the host to a friend who was, he said, curious about the Catholic faith.
    He got death threats.
    Something is rotten in the States of America.

  • G.D. says:

    This is going down the wrong path. What the Muslims demanded in the case of the cartoons was no more or less modest than the Catholic demand. The demand was "merely" for non-Muslims to stay away from drawing pictures of their alleged prophet. How on earth would that put more constraints your actions no than asking you to refrain from desecrating the Eucharist? Who's making a bit of a stretch here, Mike? The "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." works just as well with idiosyncratic cracker handling substituted for image drawing. Your clincher "don't go places where you haven't been invited" fits both cases equally well (or badly).
    Your relevant difference really doesn't exist. The fact that you seem to spend some time and ink trying to dream up an explanation that conveniently fits the way you want the results to turn out (rather than looking at the data) could in fact seem a little frightening, and reminiscent of ... well, you get it.

  • Magpie says:

    The same theology that says this cracker is the body of Christ, also says that this same Christ will have my athiest soul tortured for all eternity. So Catholics, if your theology is worth a damn, then moral outrage is the least you're directing at me. Your god intends to subject me to abject agony, and you want me to respect his CRACKER?
    Either I'm right and your cracker is meaningless, or you're right and your god wants me to suffer unimaginable torment. Either way, why should I respect your beliefs?

  • Matthew says:

    "After all, "don't go places where you haven't been invited" is (in most circumstances) nothing more or less than basic politeness."
    Three of the most common words seen on just about all denominations' printed material, websites, and even heard during rituals are:
    "All are invited..."

  • Brandon O'Hara says:

    My problem with the outrage over "crackergate" is that everyone seems to ignore the context. PZ Myers made his threat because a student who took a Eucharist home after being assaulted (albeit not very seriously) in church started getting death threats and calls for expulsion from his college. Catholics claimed taking the Eucharist was a hate crime and akin to kidnapping someone. Those ideas are ridiculous (meaning deserving of ridicule) and PZ rightly riducled them. Now he has received death threats and an attempt to get him fired. Once again, ridiculous.

  • Here's a serious question I've not seen addressed yet:
    If I attend a mass as a non-Catholic (which has happened several times; got some Catholic family), and communion is offered

  • Muse142 says:

    I do not remember where I read this - maybe one of the several thousand comments on PZ's blog - but I had heard an argument that ran exactly the other way around. That it's more acceptable to desecrate the Jeez-It than to draw Mohammed. The rationale being that the Catholic church is a well-respected institution that deserves to be taken down a notch, whereas Islam suffers from very bad PR here in the USA, and the images would spur racism and hatred more than a healthy disrespect for the Islamic faith.
    I'd also like to say that I wouldn't set foot in a Catholic church unless I was explicitly invited. But I do support blasphemy and heresy in all nonviolent forms. Three cheers for the blasphemers!

  • QA's Mom says:

    First just to set the record straight on a couple of points.
    "Just to say it once more: the student in question is a devout Catholic who wanted to show the host to a friend who was, he said, curious about the Catholic faith." - David Marjanović
    If the student in question was a devout Catholic he would have known that to use a consecrated host for any reason other than communion was wrong. He also would have known that if he spoke to a priest - especially the type of priest that are assigned to campus life -- they would probably have been willing to help him using an unconsecrated wafer.
    Under no circumstances does that justify a death threat
    "When the Church demands that you immediately consume a cracker that has been given to you or else you'll be accused of perpetrating a hate crime, that is also a constraint placed on your actions." - NP
    Taking Communion is a voluntary act. You have to physically get out of your seat -- go up and take it from the priest. If you don't plan on consuming it don't take it. And no one said it was a hate crime -- its clearly not -- but that doesn't make it any less a hateful act.
    "If I attend a mass as a non-Catholic (which has happened several times; got some Catholic family), and communion is offered

  • Ivor the Engine Driver says:

    This post is sadly typical of the intellectual bankruptcy of believers. It begins with a false premise, contains illogical deductions, and ends of a self-righteous note of victory. Pathetic.
    It's a CRACKER

  • Ivor the Engine Driver says:

    This post is sadly typical of the intellectual bankruptcy of believers. It begins with a false premise, contains illogical deductions, and ends of a self-righteous note of moral superiority. Pathetic.
    It's a CRACKER, you twit. A CRACKER that some think is human flesh because the local witch doctor waved his hands over it.

  • Hans says:

    And no one said it was a hate crime

    Oh, really?

    "We don't know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was," said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it."

  • Jack Carlson says:

    QA' Mom said, "And no one said it was a hate crime -- its clearly not -- but that doesn't make it any less a hateful act."
    That comparison actually was made:
    "We don't know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was," said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it."
    It was also compared to a kidnapping:
    "It is hurtful," said Father Migeul Gonzalez with the Diocese. "Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family."
    Both notions are completely nonsensical.

  • AL says:

    I think the main distinction is that a newspaper (as well as the public square) is a open forum where a plurality of ideas and opinions should be expected. A Church (or Mosque, or any other private establishment) is not.

    What we are talking about is Sullivan's double-standard in decrying PZ for saying he'd like to get a hold of some wafers, while simultaneously supporting the Danish Newspapers for the suggestive cartoons. In PZ's case, there is no church involved** -- he never went into any church. So the double-standard is very much present. Sullivan permits a Danish Newspaper free expression but suddenly says a science blogger crosses a line with similar free expression.
    **Yes, a church was involved when Cook walked into one and "kidnapped" the magic wafers. But PZ did not necessarily condone the actions of Cook. What PZ said is that the reaction to Cook (including threats of expulsion and death) is absurd and out of proportion to the alleged "crime" he committed.

  • Philip Boncer says:

    matthew wrote: Three of the most common words seen on just about all denominations' printed material, websites, and even heard during rituals are: "All are invited..."
    My response: But that doesn't give you the right to disrupt their activities. I might hold an open house and say all the neighbors are invited, but that does not mean that any of those neighbors are free to come in and steal or damage my belongings, ridicule my beliefs, or piss on my carpet. Entering still carries with it the agreement to behave oneself, to abide by the rules of the house.
    =====
    Bluegrass Geek wrote: Here's a serious question I've not seen addressed yet:
    If I attend a mass as a non-Catholic (which has happened several times; got some Catholic family), and communion is offered

  • 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.

    In his initial post Sullivan labelled Myers a bigot solely on the grounds that Myers had used the phrase “goddamned cracker” in reference to the Eucharist. That is, merely being disrespectful toward the doctrine itself was enough to put you beyond the pale. So at least in Sullivan's case you are mistaken about what is being asked.
    Furthermore, Sullivan wrote, “It is another to repeatedly assault and ridicule and abuse something that is deeply sacred to a great many people.” That is precisely what the Danish newspaper editors did.
    Finally, honoring the request by Muslims that newspapers not publish caricatures of one of their holiest figures is hardly a big sacrifice of personal freedom. In fact, I would say that falls well within the purview of baseline civility. And P.Z., let me remind you, did not go anywhere he was not invited and did not desecrate anything. It was merely expressing his desire to do so that got him into trouble. It is words, not actions, that have earned the condemnation of Sullivan and the Catholic League, which again shows that the distinction you are trying to draw here is misguided.
    And while we're at it, do you honestly think that either Sullivan or the Catholic League would have responded differently if, in response to the goings on in Florida, Myers had published a series of cartoons featuring caricatures of the Pope and anti-Catholic messages? You know full well they wouldn't have.

  • Coriolis says:

    Great job of pointing out what I wanted to say Jason Rosenhouse.
    The simple truth is that the danish cartoons performed the action that was sacrilegious to muslims - making an image of their prophet. PZ has up to now just expressed a desire to desecrate the famous cracker, he hasn't even done it yet (and probably won't).
    And yet we are to believe that the threat of desecration merits a response while an actual desecration doesn't? Because well "we" can all agree that printing a picture of a dude with a bomb in his hat is less offensive then threatening to burn a cracker?
    And this supposedly has nothing to do with the fact that the people making the claim believe in one religion and not the other?
    That's quite a leap of faith there.

  • jj says:

    Good points, but in PZ's defense, he never did anything, so I don't understand why any of the fuss.

  • Phil Boncer says:

    For the same reason that it is a crime to incite a riot, conspire and plan a robbery, gather a lynch mob, or (even more relevant here) make a death threat. All of those are "just words", not actions in themselves. Yet they all have real follow on effects beyond differing opinions or hurt feelings. We make a distinction between words and actions, but when the words are specifically a call to action, the line gets a lot fuzzier.
    PhilB

  • Kaerion says:

    PhilB-
    And, strangely, all of the actions in your examples are actual crimes, while PZ's action (IF he goes through with it) would be 100% legal. Making PZ's "just words" completely legal as well, and your comparison not actually comparable.
    Why does every single example made up by people in the "Dude. Not cool." and "Where's the firewood?" groups involve things that would be illegal, when the case in question does not? Are you all incapable of coming up with an example that would be equally disturbing to you, and not ridiculous, without having to invent and insert criminal actions? I can honestly say that I've yet to see one, and I don't expect I ever will.

  • Phil Boncer says:

    The law is not the only arbiter here. This is more of an ethical/moral question. Many things are legal but unethical, and many things are illegal that are not actually crimes in the sense of having victims and causing harm to others than the acting person.
    Regardless of the laws in question, which themselves might change or be subject to interpretation (maybe if the filching of the Eucharist is considered to be a theft, and the incitement to do so a conspiracy charge, or maybe it gets interpreted as a hate crime), the point is that urging people to cause harm to other people is no longer simple free speech; it is a call to action, which requires those others to take guard against it, and itself crosses the line from free speech into threatening behavior.
    Given that these people do believe that the transubstantiated wafer is a genuinely holy item, a call to desecrate it is not ethically different than a call to paint pentagrams on their churches, to make bomb threats, or otherwise to terrorize them. Even if you do not take any of those actions yourself, urging others to do so is still wrong.
    I am not defending Donohue. His actions are a good demonstration of the "two wrongs don't make a right" principle. But I am saying that PZ is far from a blameless victim here; he also has done wrong.
    PhilB

  • Kaerion says:

    PhilB-
    Well, now you're making multiple unsupported allegations, without even bothering to back them up. So lets see if I can help point you in the right direction, and maybe you'll even surprise me and be able to prove them. If you can give a positive answer to any of the first 3 questions, you'll very likely change my mind on this case, and I'm repeating #4 from my last post.
    1. Where did Prof. Myers incite anyone to steal anything?
    2. Where did Prof. Myers urge anyone to harm someone?
    3. If Prof. Myers did happen to get his hands on a consecrated cracker, and desecrated it, who would be hurt? (And no, simply hurting someone's feelings does not apply, since that is covered by free speech.)
    4. Can you come up with a single comparative example of what Prof. Myers has done, or threatened to do, that would factually match this case (i.e. the actions committed, or encouraged, are not illegal ones), be equally offensive in your mind, and not be ridiculous?
    You still don't seem to get it...for anything to move out of the realm of protected speech, the actions being encouraged absolutely have to be illegal (and even that is often not enough, by itself)! And regardless of how unethical something might be, no one has the right to stop anyone from doing anything, unless that action is also illegal!
    But yet again, all of the examples you mention just happen to be illegal ones. Do you really think that an action that only hurts someone's feelings is as ethically bad as an action that also hurts someone physically or economically (and thus, is illegal)? Do you honestly think that telling a 'Yo Mama'-joke (if the target's feelings are hurt) is on the same ethical level as making bomb threats, vandalizing property, or beating someone up?? Are you completely insane?!?
    And no one is claiming that Prof. Myers is a blameless victim. His main motivation for threatening to desecrate the cracker was to point out just how completely batshit insane some religious people are, in that they value a cracker over a human life and see nothing wrong with threatening the lives or careers of someone who only hurt their feelings; so he knew exactly what he was getting into, and hurt those same people's feelings intentionally, just to show how crazy, irrational, and dangerous they are. And whaddya know, they showed up in droves, with even more death threats!
    So congratulations! If you actually meant your assertion that hurting someone's feelings is just as bad as doing physical injury, you've helped prove his point, and earned a free membership in the Crazy Club(tm)!

  • Phil Boncer says:

    1. PZ Myers, directly from the post this furor is all about: "Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them

  • Kaerion says:

    PhilB-
    1. When "what it takes" to get something, is to show up in an effectively public building and hold out your hand, why would anyone bother stealing it? They give them away for free, so assuming that PZ wanted people to actually steal them, makes no sense at all. Or maybe you're the kind of person who'd go through an elaborate plot to steal one, if your friend asked you to pick up a flier for him, from the guy handing them out on the street?
    2. I'm sorry, but the word 'stealing' has a very specific meaning, and no matter what you want it to mean, if something is freely given, it - by definition - cannot be stolen. And as soon as the priest gives a cracker away, it is - again by definition - no longer his, or the church's, which again leaves us with no one having been hurt (except possibly their feelings, anyway).
    Or, are you're saying that if I were to give you something, say a hamburger at a public barbecue, with the understanding that you were to eat it, it would be ethically wrong, or even illegal, for you to give it to someone else or throw it away, if you realized that you were no longer hungry? Are you saying that I'd have the right to physically stop you, or threaten you, if I noticed that you were gonna throw it in the trash?
    3. No. With the crackers being given away for free, and more than one practicing catholic already having offered to send PZ a consecrated one, there is no reason to assume that any theft has been committed, unless you can actually provide some evidence of that. If you have to assume that some criminal action has already taken place before PZ desecrates it, to show that someone's been hurt, we're right back where you started and you haven't proven a thing.
    4. It's funny that you should mention "other religiously venerated objects", because the best example I could come up with, was the sanctity of the cow, to hindus. Which means that if you've EVER eaten a hamburger, steak, or some other beef-product, you're guilty of desecrating a religiously venerated object, hurting millions of people's feelings. And, since PZ hasn't actually desecrated a cracker yet, you would've done something considerably worse than him.
    So tell me, do you feel bad about all the beef you've eaten throughout your life? Are you going to keep eating it, knowing the consequences? Or are you simply a hypocrite who only cares about his own "holy cows", like all the catholics who emailed PZ and told him to desecrate a Koran instead?
    As far as your example with the neighbor and the wife goes...*Sigh*
    You seem to be unable to keep yourself from mixing up the action of talking about doing something and the action of doing it, which makes what could've been a simple example unnecessarily convoluted. So, I'm gonna ignore the parts that don't make any sense as a comparison to PZ's actions (which is anything except words), and comment on the rest.
    If someone were to tell me that they were planning on seducing my wife, of course I'd be upset! Of course I'd "have a beef with" him! But him saying something like that, IS STILL PROTECTED SPEECH! The second I start trying to get him prosecuted for his words, or making death threats, I've stepped over the line!
    So YES, actions DO "absolutely have to be illegal" before encouraging them crosses the line from free speech, and becomes illegal by itself. And no, I do NOT have the right to stop someone from TALKING ABOUT seducing my wife, no matter how badly my feelings are hurt. Hell, as long as my wife happened to consent to being seduced (see, we're sticking with the "no laws being broken"-thing, to keep it comparable to PZ's situation, if he were to actually commit the desecration), I wouldn't even have the right to stop them from having sex, either (you have heard about people being prosecuted for assaulting or killing their spouse, or their spouse's lover, right? That's cause it's illegal, see?), though I'd obviously be divorcing my wife afterward, for cheating on me.
    Ah, I see. You did such a great job differentiating between words and actions in your previous paragraph, I must've gotten confused... So, since we're sticking with words only, then you feel that telling a 'Yo Mama'-joke, or threatening to desecrate a cracker (both of which are legal, and causes no physical or economical harm, as long as no laws are broken in the process of obtaining the cracker), is on the same level as threatening to kill someone, is that right? That's the comparison you've been making from your first post, at any rate. Or do you now agree that words are only illegal (by themselves) if they encourage people do commit already-illegal actions, or if you threaten to commit an illegal action yourself?
    And I'll repeat it one more time: As soon as a priest gives away a cracker, said cracker no longer belongs to him or the Catholic Church (or even Bill Donohue), it becomes the property of the person it is given to. And said person has the right to do whatever he wants with it (including desecrating it, or sending it to someone else who'll desecrate it), unless he's actually signed a contract saying he'll eat it immediately.
    Also, if the blessed crackers are so valuable, would any representative of the catholic church or faith be able to identify a consecrated one, among a group of unconsecrated crackers? Personally, I'd say that's the least we should expect if they want anyone else to respect it, unless the value of the item in question is wholly imaginary.

  • Phil Boncer says:

    1., 2., and 3. The Eucharist is not given freely; it comes with a covenant of use. It's kind of like a license for software -- by accepting the object, you agree to certain terms of usage. You are free, if you do not wish to abide by the terms, to not use the software or to not accept the wafer, but not to claim to agree and then violate the agreement; doing so is considered, yes, theft. So by your example, yes if I give you a hamburger and you agree that you will eat it, and that is a condition of the gift, then it would be ethically wrong for you to go and throw it away then. Or if I sell you a historic house that carries a covenant that you agree not to tear it down or destroy its historical value, and you then violate that covenant (this last one would be written contract and thus legally actionable, but it is the same principle as the other examples, thus again showing that it is the principle not the law that defines right and wrong). I did NOT say I would have the right to physically stop you or threaten you for throwing away the burger; I have likewise NOT defended at all the Catholics who have made death threats or that physically attacked Cook. But I have demonstrated that you have done an unethical thing -- you have lied, accepted an item under false pretenses. Maybe this would be better termed as fruad than theft, but either way it is still a wrong action.
    4. So yes it would also be wrong if I were to buy a cow from a Hindu with the agreement not to harm it, and then grill it up. Or to take one from the streets of a town in India and do so, even if it specifically belongs to no one but is considered part of their community. If the cow is yours and not theirs, they have no right to proscribe your actions with it, but if it actually is *their* sacred cow, you would be wrong to desecrate it as well. And it isn't about my "holy cows" at all; I'm not a Catholic, not even an ex-Catholic. I'm a lifelong atheist who believes in respecting people's rights to life, liberty, and property.
    =====
    OK, so your neighbor doesn't say HE is going to seduce your wife; you hear him asking his friends to do it, and he's telling his friends about the moves that get her hot so they can improve their chances of success. And that if anyone succeeds, he plans to film it and post it on the internet. You have no objection? That's OK with you? You think he has then done nothing wrong at all? No violation of ethics or morals there?
    Note AGAIN that I have not defended the death threats, and thus your "counterpoint" about the illegality of assaulting your neighbor for this is irrelevant. You might note also that I have not advocated that PZ get fired, or sanctioned, or otherwise face any material consequences for his action, although I would not be terrinbly upset to hear he had suffered some consequences to his career or such from his foolishness. I am simply trying to show that PZ did an unethical thing by asking others to commit a desecration for him, and that such incitement to actions that harm others is over the line of protected free speech.
    And you are still hung up on "illegal", when I haven't mentioned the law at all. My point is that the words are unethical and morally wrong, if they encourage people to commit an unethical and morally wrong action. Laws vary widely from place to place and time to time, and while the laws *ought* to be consistent with ethics and with people's inherent rights, they very often are not. I'm sure you would have no trouble thinking of examples yourself if you gave it a moment or two. But what is right and wrong, what respects or violates people's rights to life, liberty, and/or property is much less variable. I would have been fully on PZ's side had he posted exactly the same thing, insults and disrespect and all, without the request for purloined Eucharist; it is that last part -- the call to action -- that went over the line of acceptable behavior.
    And you can repeat yourself all you like, but it's still the case that the cracker is not given with no strings attached; there is a condition of acceptance, and the person it is given to is bound to abide by that, or to refuse or return it. Even if he has not physically signed a contract, there are plenty of examples (legal and societal) of implied contract, and entering the church or home or other property of others carries with it the implied contract that you will abide by the rules of the place or that you will leave. If I decide that in my home no one may wear shoes, you agree or you don't enter. You may not come in with your shoes on -- that is unethical, and an invasion of my property and rights. If the church decides that you may not accept the Eucharist without completing the ritual, you may not rightfully do so. You can leave, you can stay and not accept the Eucharist, you can accept the Eucharist and abide by the rules (although if you are not a confirmed Catholic, you oughtn't do that either).
    And no the crackers are not physically distinguishable once trans-substantiated; that's WHY they place such importance on tracing an unbroken chain of physical custody of the consecrated wafers. And again it matters not whether the value is wholly imaginary or not, if the object belongs to someone else, they may assign any value to it they wish, and it's none of your concern. Your neighbor may sincerely believe that marriage is a corrupt patriarchal institution that has historically caused huge damage and loss of rights for women, and that it is time to rid society of this practice and that he is only trying to enlighten you and expose your irrationality if you respond strongly to his words. Doesn't matter what he believes about it, though. He is free to arrange his own relationships according to those beliefs; he is NOT free to take action to interfere with yours, or to incite others to do so.
    PhilB

  • NP says:

    QA's Mom:

    Taking Communion is a voluntary act. You have to physically get out of your seat -- go up and take it from the priest. If you don't plan on consuming it don't take it. And no one said it was a hate crime -- its clearly not -- but that doesn't make it any less a hateful act.

    Exactly...it's a voluntary act, and it does stop being one when the priest hands you the wafer. Is it disrespectful to take a wafer if you're not going to eat it or if you don't believe it magically houses the body of Christ? Perhaps. Is it hateful to do so? Not even close. That would be like saying that it is hateful to get a palm reading done when you know its bullshit.

  • Grimalkin says:

    When I first read this, I agreed with you. Now that I've thought about it, I'm not so sure. You say: "After all, "don't go places where you haven't been invited" is (in most circumstances) nothing more or less than basic politeness." Well, why should I need an invitation? By getting tax exempt status, churches have made themselves public property, no? Wouldn't that be like saying "if you don't support the US in every way, get out"? Or, for a more strict example, how about "if you don't think William Penn was da man, stay out of Pennsylvania unless invited!"
    Because I am essentially paying for churches to be there through my taxes, I ought to have the right to a) go there, invited or not, and b) take a cracker if I wish. Technically, I paid for that cracker.
    Now, if churches depended on their own communities of believers to support them and didn't receive any government hand-outs that secular organizations don't get, I'd agree with you 100%. But the whole tax exempt status thing is a huge barrier for me when talking about any special church privilege as a closed and private facility.

  • Phil Boncer says:

    Here is an area of confusion that seems to get a lot of people mixed up about things. "Tax exempt" does *not* mean you are paying for them. If a group is tax exempt, that means the government is not taking their money. It does not thus follow that the government is giving them any of your money.
    And tax exempt status does not make a place public property. A place is public property if it is actually owned by the government (schools, roads, parks, etc.); otherwise it is private property. The owners/operators of the property still have the right to set the rules and conditions of occupancy, even if the property is generally open to the public.
    PhilB

  • Bill anderson says:

    It's not a cracker. What's the big deal?
    Today YZ Meyer reportedly carried out his desecration of our Lord Jesus Christ by nailing Him to a Quaran , dumping coffee grounds on Him and throwing Him in the trash. He apologized to his fans for not being more creative.
    PZ needs our prayers, and if anyone knows where he lives they need to retrieve It and return It to a priest. Anyone who has threatened this poor soul is not a Christian let alone a catholic. Pray for YZ, he will face Christ one day as will we all, believer and non.
    It (the Eucharist) is a gift from the hand of Jesus at the Last Supper. After the consecration It is not bread & wine, They are the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ in the appearance of bread & wine (for palatability).
    The mass is not a re-enactment of calvary, it is the mystical union of the present moment with the one and only crucifixion of Christ. You are literally brought to the foot of the cross before He who died for your sins at the precise moment of it's ocurance.
    By the very act of receiving the eucharist, you are presenting yourself as a believer in Jesus Christ and everything He teaches through His one and only church. Thus the term "communion". All christians were Catholic before the "Orthodox" schism & the Protest-ant reformation.
    When Nero fed catholics to the lions or covered them with pitch & stuck them on poles as human torches to illuminate the roman night (amongst many of his other heinous acts}. He did so because these martyr's refused to denounce the Holy Eucharist and stop receiving it. Why do you think the catacombs existed? They were a place to celebrate the mass in safety. How many people would willingly die for their beliefs today.
    The ancient Jewish historian Josephus who lived at that time writes of the persecution of christians because they were " cannibals eating the flesh and blood of their christ". In the 6th chapter of John, 5000 disciples of Christ left him because of His " hard teaching". They knew he was being literal not symbolic about " this is my body..this is my blood.....this bread is true flesh, this wine is true blood". The saying " to be ignorant of history is to be doomed to repeat it.." couldn't be more true today.
    Now for unbelievers, there is no discussion or argument that will make you accept these facts. Only our prayers, the mercy & grace of God can do that. I do have a question for you. If you don't believe, other than being invited to a wedding, christening or perhaps attending a funeral of someone out of respect; why would you even be in a church? Curiosity?
    Don't get me wrong, all are welcome and encouraged to come to mass. What we catholics & it's denominations who believe in the Real Presence don't understand is why would you come to desecrate something you don't believe in. If I disliked you I wouldn't disrespect or harm your loved ones to "get your goat" or to spite you, that would be childish and ignorant.
    When the Eucharistic minister tried to retrieve the Eucharist from the student, it was out of sworn duty to protect the real presence of Christ. Admittedly it could have been done in a more tactful way. It is a very serious offense against God to abuse the Eucharist. Mr Donohue & his organization have every right to defend the Eucharist and the faith.
    For those Catholics and other Christians who doubt the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist I present the first of many Eucharistic miracles . A 1300 year old, scientifically irrefutable example of the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ. Even without these miracles I believe in Jesus Christ & his Church.
    http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/lanciano.html
    For you atheists,I offer my prayers that your confusion be removed, you do believe in God you just don't know which one Darwin or Gore.
    Seriously, I pray that you one day realize that Jesus Christ died for you ( even if you were the only human in existence) 2000 years ago. He loves you even in your unbelief, He wants you to know joy, peace, and calm beyond any you can know from this world
    .

  • Chris P says:

    Aren't religious folks nuts. They make up crazy rules and expect us to "respect them". Well, I have NO RESPECT for the crazy religious rules made up to take rights away from gays.
    So, NO respecting a cracker is BS when the religious folks take peoples rights away with the other hand.
    No respect warranted.