PZ Myers, Bill Donohue, Crackers, the Eucharist, and Right and Wrong

Jul 12 2008 Published by under Religion

Over the last couple of days, I've considered posting something on the controversy that's been sparked by PZ Myers' comments about the eucharist, and the reaction of Bill Donohue and the Catholic League to those comments. I've been putting it off because it's not an easy post for me to write. The entire incident has suffered from a lack of heroes. Instead, it's been a case where someone has behaved badly, but someone else has behaved worse.

I've interacted with Paul Myers on various internet forums for at least a decade now. In that time, he's done many things that I respect, and a few that I greatly admire. His recent post offering to publicly desecrate the Eucharist if someone would be so kind as to send him some does not fall into either of those categories.

To be fair to Paul, it's not like he pulled that idea out of the blue. A college student in Florida smuggled a consecrated host out of a Catholic Mass at the school. When this became widely known, a large number of Catholics became extremely outraged, and the student received a number of death threats. The college responded by supplying armed university police officers to stand guard - not over the student who received the death threats, but at Mass, to protect the eucharist from future kidnapping. The university police will apparently be receiving additional backup from a nun that the diocese is sending to help protect the Eucharist. (No, I'm not making any of that up.)

It's easy to understand why Paul - and, for that matter, any number of rational people - were outraged by that story. The kid removed something from the church that is, as far as anyone can tell from any measurements of any physical properties, a thin wafer made out of wheat. It's about the size of a quarter, costs a lot less, and has both the texture and flavor of glue. It is absolutely, completely, and utterly insane that there are people who are willing to threaten the life of another human being who failed to display proper reverence for an object that is, by all objective standards, nothing more than a Necco Wafer that's been subjected to a flavorectomy.

Regardless of what we believe about the Eucharist, we should all be able to get behind the idea that it's absolutely wrong to threaten to kill someone who treats it disrespectfuly.

Paul's offer to desecrate a host was made in that context. I'm not totally sure whether it was made in the spirit of standing in solidarity with the threatened student, to attempt to show the people making the threats that it won't work, to try to show everybody that there's no apparent difference between desecrating a host and mangling a cracker, some combination of the above, or for some reasons I've missed. To be honest, I don't think the reason really matters. Let's just say that it came in reaction to the absolutely outrageous behavior of others, and leave it at that.

Paul's response to the death threats was to turn around and threaten to do something that's guaranteed to offend (if not horrify) every Catholic who finds out about it, whether or not they were in the select group of pin-heads who wish they'd been born early enough to get an on-the-job anatomy lesson working for the Inquisition. He made it very clear that he has absolutely no respect for anyone who believes in something as irrational as transubstantiation, and absolutely no qualms about hurting their feelings.

I don't think Paul's response is remotely reasonable. He may think that the Eucharist is a cracker, but Catholics disagree. He may think that they are wrong, and he may be right. He may think that the Eucharist is worthless, and he may be right there, too. None of that matters. The Eucharist has a large amount of emotional significance to many Catholics, and it will retain that significance for most of them even if Paul thinks they're all ignorant and credulous mediaevalists.

Please note that I'm not saying that Paul can't do it, or that he has no right to do it. He can, and I think he probably does have that right (although I'd consult a lawyer first if I were him), but he shouldn't.

The mere fact that it is legal (or at least not illegal) to do something says very little about the morality involved. It's not nice to destroy something that you know has a great deal of emotional significance for someone else, and it's particularly jerky to threaten to make a public display of destroying it. This is true for items of religious significance, but it's also equally true for non-religious items that someone finds significant. It may be intended to demonstrate disrespect for their beliefs, but it will be felt as a lack of respect for them as people.

Unsurprisingly, Paul's little offer has stirred up controversy and sparked quite a few inappropriate reactions. He's received quite a bit of hate mail - much of it suggesting that instead of desecrating a host, he should use the Koran for toilet paper. He's collected four death threats so far, and he's caught the attention of Bill Donohue and the Catholic League, who are currently waging a campaign to get him fired from his academic position.

Although at least a few of Paul's commenters seem to have taken the threats and hate mail as proof that religious people in general (or Catholics in particular) are unreasonably prone to inappropriate responses, I don't think it demonstrates anything of the sort. If you insult enough members of any group - religious, ethnic, or social - sooner or later you'll probably find some who will respond to an insult inappropriately. To put it another way, there are something like ten million Catholics in the United States. It would be a miracle if none of them were assholes.

Bill Donohue, leader of the Catholic League, is the living argument against that particular miracle. The man has made a career out of his outrage, and his involvement in this whole fiasco was predictable.

His response to PZ started off over the top. His reaction to a threat that Paul made, on his personal blog, to desecrate the host has been to organize a letter-writing drive to try and get Paul fired from his day job at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Most of the threats made against Paul came after Donohue issued his first press release about the issue. The same seems to apply to the earlier case involving the student. Donohue has not, to my knowledge, explicitly encouraged these threats. He does, however, appear to be far more concerned that his beliefs have been insulted than that the lives of fellow humans have been threatened.

Donohue's second press release, on the other hand, is absolutely farcical - so much so, in fact, that I'm only bringing it up to inject a moment of much needed levity into this whole post. He accuses PZ and his followers of "hysteria", goes on to say that there better not be any threats against his own life, and demands - I kid you not - more security at the Republican National Convention because the convention is in "Myers' backyard". (With 150+ miles of backyard to mow, I'm not sure how

PZ manages find time to blog.)

Seriously, though, here's what the issues come down to. Paul was rude. He was impolite, and he said things that were absolutely, completely guaranteed to hurt and offend a large number of people. He should not have done it. But none of that makes Donohue right.

I dislike what Paul wrote, but he has the right to write it, and that right needs to be defended at all costs. If the freedom to believe (or disbelieve) what you want is going to keep any meaning, it needs to cover everyone. If you remove an atheists' right to criticize and offend Catholics, what is there to stop the Protestants from removing the Catholic's right to criticize and offend them, or the Muslims from demanding that Jews be barred from criticizing them?

As it turns out, there's really a delicious irony here. In essence, I am arguing that it's stupid for Bill Donohue to try and silence PZ, because PZ's right to be an offensive ass is ultimately the only thing that protects Donohue's right to be an offensive ass. (And, this case notwithstanding, Donohue needs the protection a hell of a lot more than Paul does.) So all let's go save Donohue from himself, by writing a letter to Paul's boss. Let him know that even if you disagree with what Paul said, you support his right to say it.

Update: While I was writing this, Wilkins went and published something that makes a lot of the same points that I was trying to make near the end. He uses bigger words, and philosophical-type terms, and stuff, but somehow or another still managed to be clearer and more eloquent than I was. So read his post before you start yelling at me.

54 responses so far

  • Just don't yell at me. I am easily offended...

  • Zeno says:

    Yeah, I've joined the commentary chorus, too. I have actually Jesus-eating experience!

  • ngong says:

    It's not nice to destroy something that you know has a great deal of emotional significance for someone else
    Some of the important moments in my own development have involved getting my feelings hurt. I hardly see it as a strike against PZ if he hurts some feelings along the way.
    Whether he intends to point the way to insight, or has the skill to do so, is another matter.

  • Pleco says:

    Sometimes the only way for people to realize the ridiculousness of their beliefs or position is to be slapped in the face, figuratively speaking of course.
    I do not agree that one should tread lightly on issues like this.

  • Jeb, FCD says:

    But, it's still just a cracker.

  • D.N.V says:

    Overall a nice post, but it appears that you come pretty close to falling prey to the same fundamental confusion that apparently fuelled some of the negative reactions to PZ:
    You write:
    "He made it very clear that he has absolutely no respect for anyone who believes in something as irrational as transubstantiation, and absolutely no qualms about hurting their feelings"
    What has PZ written to support the claim made in the first part of that sentence? You seem to be guilty of the same equivocation that many people seem to make in connection to the concept "tolerance". Like Myers, I have absolutely no respect for the beliefs held by Catholics, nor those held any other religious people (with respect to their religions, obviously). I don't respect any religious ideas. That doesn't mean that I have no respect for the persons who hold those ideas. Tolerance is about respecting people and their rights to hold religious beliefs without being prosecuted or physically harmed or discriminated against for having them. It's not about awarding those beliefs immunity frome criticism or even ridicule. Those two things should be kept firmly apart: "there is no global warming and that's my belief and you have no right criticizing my view", "gays are sinners and should be burned and that's my religious view and you have no right criticizing it", "the earth is flat and I believe that and I would be offended and get my feelings hurt if you didn't take that view seriously" ... come on - and relgious beliefs cannot be awarded any special status here; many people do appeal to their religious beliefs when making decisions that do have an impact on their surroundings, e.g. voting.
    And while I can see Myers displaying profound disrespect for the catholic faith, I do not really see him displaying any disrespect for catholic people in general. Of course, a lot of people get personally offended when things they believe in are ridiculed or just criticized. That reaction might seem childish, but it will in the end actually be a threat to democracy when those people attempt to censor utterances that go against their beliefs because they find the attacks "offensive" or to "hurt their feelings".
    Myers did write some rather scathing remarks directed towards certain people, true ('demented fuckwits'). These, however, were people who had actually actively participated in the original series of events (e.g. sending death threats, calling Cook's actions a "hate-crime" etc). Those, however, are hardly the "anyone who believes in something as irrational as transubstantiation".

  • MartinDH says:

    Perhaps PZ was being a bit of an arse.
    But consider...the Catholic church and its representatives have been riding roughshod over the sacred symbols of other beliefs for 16 centuries and maybe PZ thought it was payback time.

  • Ian H Spedding FCD says:

    I agree entirely with what both you and John and have written about this incident. While what PZ did was clearly offensive to Catholics, there is simply no right not to be offended. There are, however, rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief, rights which must apply to all if they are to be true freedoms rather than privileges for the favoured few.
    I believe that for a civil society to be civil requires a measure of that much-maligned, good old British virtue of politeness. You do not go out of your way to offend people who have done nothing to offend or harm you. It's simply another expression of the Golden Rule.
    As for some sort of general right not to be offended, it is impracticable, to say the least. For almost speech or act you could probably find someone, somewhere who would be offended by it. Are we to take political correctness to its most absurd extreme and stand mute and immobile for fear of offending someone? Besides, I dare say most of us here find censorship itself offensive so where does that leave us?
    PZ found the reactions of some Catholics to The Story of the Purloined Eucharist offensive, as did many of us, but, as Mike as pointed out, instead of concentrating his fire on the offenders, his request for some holy crackers for himself for another demonstration of desecration was bound to offend almost the entire Catholic community. It is undoubtedly his right to do so but does it serve any useful purpose?
    The usual atheist response to any questions of this kind is that, while they accept that there are moderate believers, they argue that they are fair game because they facilitate the extremists; their tolerance and moderation provide a congenial environment in which the radicals are able to flourish. While there is some truth to this claim, the fact is that not all Catholics are like Bill Donohue and it is neither fair nor just to treat them as such. Yes, atheists and agnostics find the doctrine of transubstantiation to be absurd and should have no hesitation in saying that if need be but, unless Catholics are trying to force the rest of us to believe it and munch the crackers, what they believe is up to them.
    Finally, Mike, I would like to say that, while Wilkins's post has the polish one would expect of a professional philosopher, yours was just as eloquent in its way. It is a different style, not necessarily a better or worse one.

  • PA says:

    Look: the fact that an action-type offends someone --whether or not it is offensive in a normative sense -- provides a moral reason against performing an instance of it: other things being equal, one shouldn't go around offending people. But the fact there is a moral reason against performing an action -type does not mean that it is inappropriate all things considered to do so. After all, there may be moral reasons for engaging in it that outweigh the reasons against so doing.
    The various actions one might take vis-a-vis a consecrated communion wafer aside from consuming it in church are a case in point. Apparently removing one from church and putting it in a baggie, among other things, is offensive to a lot of Catholics. And that counts against engaging in actions of these various kinds. But Catholic theology has had policy impacts around the world which have been seriously harmful to very many people. It's influence on abortion policy, the legalization of gay marriage, birth control and the spread of HIV in various nations has been devastating. Insofar as ridiculing that theology by actions of these kinds reveals how specious it is and as a result undercuts its policy impact, doing so is appropriate despite any offense caused. After all, a little offense is far less harmful than the policies Catholic theology has bred.

  • Wes says:

    It's not nice to destroy something that you know has a great deal of emotional significance for someone else, and it's particularly jerky to threaten to make a public display of destroying it.

    Well, to be fair, this is the role that the blasphemer and social satirists have always played. They mock and deride things which people irrationally hold dear. This is common to every "outrageous" comedian, for instance. Sometimes, it needs to be done. To quote the Catholics' own scripture, to everything there is a season.
    Maybe PZ was wrong to do it in this particular case, but we shouldn't automatically discount the action of offending people in order to make a point. Sometimes it can be very effective communication. And sometimes people just need to be jarred out of their self-righteous complacency and offended just a bit, if for no other reason than to let people know that they aren't as superior to everyone else as they think, and not everyone worships their sacred cow.

  • Bee says:

    What Wes said.
    I've thought hard about this, because I would not have said what PZed did. Then I thought about the context in which he said it, and realized that he struck the heart of the matter - all religions have sacred cows - including sacred cows - and most religious people are perfectly content with mockery regarding other people's totems. Catholics are not immune, and should not be.
    Also, Bill Donahue, I discovered while surfing a bit, appears to have a history of calling up a mob to attack bloggers, with sometimes horrifying results.

  • I agree with your position. Myers should be a little more considerate but Donohue is being an even bigger jerk about it.

  • JLT says:

    Does anyone remember the story about the chocolate Jesus? An exhibition in a New York arts gallery was cancelled due to protests by the Catholic league (among others).
    Nice parallels. Don't know whether the artist got death threats though.

  • Jeff Johnson says:

    For close to twenty years, I have been suggesting to my seniors that they should consider the University of Minnesota Morris; every admission cycle I write about 25 letters, and some end up in their admissions office. I write to tell you that I will never ever recommend Morris again. Why? Because I am utterly offended by the escapades this summer of UMM Professor Paul.Z Myers. His public desire to degrade the Eucharist has shocked Catholics around the world. You might wonder about the logic of judging a school by a single faculty member, but then ask yourself if students from a Catholic school should have any business with a University that would hire such a person. Would he defile something Jewish? Islamic?
    Of course not. His hate speech simply represents the contempt for Catholicism that is epidemic in this country. Among the things I don't understand is why my tax dollars fund this.

  • Tulse says:

    PZ found the reactions of some Catholics to The Story of the Purloined Eucharist offensive, as did many of us, but, as Mike as pointed out, instead of concentrating his fire on the offenders, his request for some holy crackers for himself for another demonstration of desecration was bound to offend almost the entire Catholic community. It is undoubtedly his right to do so but does it serve any useful purpose?

    Well, in retrospect it makes clear that the reaction to the original incident was not an aberration. I'm not sure how on the one hand one can complain that the reaction to what Webster Cook did was overblown and offensive, and then say that PZ shouldn't do the same thing because it will make people upset. I thought the whole point was that people got unreasonably upset at Cook's actions.

  • themann1086 says:

    Would he defile something Jewish? Islamic?
    Yes.
    This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

  • ringo says:

    I think most USA'ns consider Canada to be a milquetoast version of the United States, but this time there's a much more interesting (and somewhat similar) controversy that made the news there. Here is the article (and the first comment trumps anything I've seen on the wafer brouhaha):
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2008/07/10/swastika-child.html

  • WBK says:

    I had a nice, long post written, then realized most of my best points were already made (by Ian H Spedding, Wes).
    Just one additional point - you can't buy Eucharist in your local grocery store, you have to obtain it by going into a Catholic church, lining up for communion, and then carrying the wafer away with you. Although I in no way agree with any of the responses by any of the Catholics involved in the story (original parishoners, Donohue, writers of death threats, etc), bear in mind that both the original act and PZ's threatened protest were a little more than just saying offensive things. The definition of tolerance that Ian Spedding cited above (which I like very much) should probably include not going into places of worship to remove symbols of the faith for the purposes of desecrating them. I'm not terribly comfortable, therefore, calling what the student did originally, or what PZ is threatening to do, "tolerance". If they want to go to some kitschy Christian bookstore and buy a plastic Jesus to mess around with, more power to them.
    At his best, PZ does a good job of pointing out that to an outsider everybody's religious beliefs and practices look like mythology and superstition. I think even his choice of language serves that purpose. Considering that the religious find other people's beliefs bizarre, I think his message is universal. But, this wasn't one of his better moments.

  • QA's Mom says:

    I'm not here to argue PZ Meyer's right to write whatever he chooses ---
    But please understand that to Catholics desecration of the host (it's not a cracker) is much more than shocking -- it is desecration -- akin to painting swastikas on a synagogue.
    Hate talk -- and this is hate talk - is protected speech.
    As for its usefulness as an argument --- how many times have you changed your mind because someone slapped you in the face?
    At best this is extraordinarily counterproductive.
    I'm about as far out on the Catholic left as you can find -
    I think Bill Donahue is a publicity seeking idiot who does more harm than good.
    But so does this ugliness.

  • Anna K. says:

    D.N.V. wrote: "And while I can see Myers displaying profound disrespect for the catholic faith, I do not really see him displaying any disrespect for catholic people in general."
    If you say you will desecrate or vandalize something that is deeply valued by a group of people (which you further plan to obtain by deceptive practices) that is certainly not being respectful to that group. It is calculated to hurt and offend, just as drawing a swastika on a synagogue or stealing and destroying a Torah scroll would be calculated to hurt and offend.
    PZ of course has a right to say offensive things, and I think it is wrong that others have responded with death threats. But it's silly to claim that he respects Catholic people. The disrespect comes through loud and clear.

  • Anna K. says:

    QA's mom, I was writing my post at the same time as yours went up -- as you can see by our use of analogies, I agree with you. 😉
    -- Another religious leftie

  • ringo says:

    Legally, you can't really compare stealing and destroying a Torah scroll to not eating a communion wafer - one is vandalism, the other is at best breach of contract.
    (emotional investments aside, of course)

  • QA's Mom says:

    Taking a consecrated host out of a Catholic Church is stealing it.
    And using it for something other than what it was intended for is destroying it. The only difference is the cost to manufacture.

  • dan says:

    Hey, PZ said something stupid and ignorant. And when you're in prominence in your field, saying something stupid and ignorant has its price.
    It's not as blatantly stupid and ignorant as Jesse Jackson's "I'd like to cut off his nuts," (Jesse, that black dot that they clipped to your suit jacket is a microphone, you moron) or even Jesse's "Hymietown" comments from the 1980s, but it was blatantly stupid and ignorant enough that I, as QA's brother and a non-practicing, quasi-believing Catholic, am borderline offended.
    And you know what? When you say stupid things about Catholics, Bill Donahue's there. He's a moron, as far as I'm concerned, but as a self-styled "defender of the faith," he's doing his job. That's the price you pay, PZ. It is what it is.
    I have no sympathy, really. You go into the neighbor's yard to piss, you have to deal with the neighbor's retarded pitt-bull. That's why you don't go into the neighbor's yard. Lesson learned, hopefully.
    If you want to see someone do a number on Donahue, check out the South Park where they skewer him: http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/ (Episode 5 of Season 11).

  • MH says:

    How dare PZ (threaten to) treat a religious symbol disrespectfully. You would never see Catholics do that (except for several hundred years in The Americas, Africa, Asia, etc, etc, etc).
    WBK wrote "you can't buy Eucharist in your local grocery store, you have to obtain it by going into a Catholic church, lining up for communion, and then carrying the wafer away with you."
    Wrong, you can buy them in grocery stores.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip says:

    I will never ever recommend Morris again. Why?
    Because you think your feelings about sorcerous crackers are more important than your students' futures. There is literally no other explanation. Typical of the "me first" mentality so prevalent among American Christians.
    You go into the neighbor's yard to piss, you have to deal with the neighbor's retarded pitt-bull.
    But he didn't go into his neighbor's yard. He posted on his own blog. By your analogy, the retarded dog saw PZ pissing in his own yard and gave chase. Perhaps we should call Animal Control and have Donahue put down for out own safety.
    Sorry if that sounded like a death threat. Unlike those pious Catholics, I don't think people should be killed over baked goods.

  • MH says:

    Of course, Catholics like Donohue would really like to burn people like Cook and PZ, like in the good-old-days:

    The first recorded accusation [of host desecration] was made in 1243 at Berlitz, near Berlin. As a consequence all the Jews of Berlitz were burned on the spot, which was subsequently called Judenberg. Another famous case that took place in 1290, in Paris, was commemorated in the Church of the Rue des Billettes and in a local confraternity. In 1370 in Brussels, the charge of host desecration, long celebrated in a special fest and depicted in artistic relics in the Church of St. Gudule, led to the extermination of the Jews of the city. The case of 1337, at Deggendorf, still celebrated locally as "Deggendorf Gnad", led to a series of massacres across the region. In 1510, at Knoblauch, near Berlin, 38 Jews were executed and more expelled from Brandenburg. The alleged host desecration in 1410, at Segovia, was said to have brought about an earthquake, and as a result, the local synagogue was confiscated and leading Jews were executed; the event continues to be celebrated as a local feast of Corpus Christi. [source]

    Catholics celebrate the murder of people who dared to not respect their biscuits. Surely we can all agree that this is insanity?

  • Julian says:

    Drawing swastikas on a synagogue? Oh come on now, that just depresses me. Offering to desecrate a cracker is the same as plastering the symbol of a philosophy that killed your grandparents and millions of members of your ethnic group, whether they be practicing members of your religion or not (the nazis killed Christian converts and even long-converted "Jewish" families as well), all over the physical symbol of your communal identity?
    When people accuse you of over-reacting on this issue, this is what they mean. You've just shown more disrespect and callousness for the millions who died in the holocaust and the millions who descent from those who barely escaped than Mr. Myers ever could or would to anyone. Have you no humanity to cool your fanaticism?

  • WBK says:

    MH - okay, one more attempt at the point...
    Priests don't bake the things, they buy them and then bless them. You don't find the trans-substantiated ones anyplace but a church. If PZ (or anybody else) wants to buy something that resembles a eucharist and do whatever with it, I would consider that to be exercising free speech. Same as if somebody bought a plastic Jesus and floated it in his own urine, or bought a flag and burned it. I doubt very much that Donohue, or any of those sending PZ hate mail, would agree with that distinction, but it's an important one to me. PZ is asking us to write in his support after all, so I'm considering whether he's still in the "I don't like what you say, but will fight to the death for your right to say it" zone.
    Personally, the fact that the original incident (and PZ's threat) involved entering a church and removing something is a major distinction. My impression is that even PZ often states that he would be fine with religious people if they practiced their beliefs privately. The original incident occurred inside of a church, not out on the sidewalk - in other words, these Catholics were just going about their business. What the student did was to provoke them in their own church - their house, their rules, and seems to me he's lucky that all they did was try to wrestle the thing out of his hand. If somebody came into my office, or home, and tried to mistreat something I was attached to I might get physical too. Given what Catholics think the Eucharist is, it's pretty obvious why they reacted as they did.
    So, this is a tough one. If all PZ had done was to point to the story and say "wow, how ridiculous that all this is being caused by a cracker" (insert the phrase "demented fuckwit" wherever you see fit), he probably would still have drawn a lot of fire, and I would have unhesitatingly backed him. But, going into a church to protest is an important line, and both the original incident and PZ's threatened follow-up crossed it. I'll probably end up writing a letter for him, because I'd hate to see a professor fired over something like this. But I'd be much happier about it if he recognized he went overboard, and apologized at least for not considering in the heat of the moment what his protest would actually involve.

  • Matt Penfold says:

    WBK,
    Here is what PZ actually said:
    "So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them -- my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure -- but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I'll send you my home address."
    Now if having read that you think he was seriously asking for people to send him consecrated wafers then I think there is something wrong with your comprehension skills. It is clearly intended to humorous, and whilst you might not laugh it is simply disingenuous of you to claim otherwise.

  • Sempronious says:

    PZ Meyers seems to be poking around just so he can achieve some Higher Good, namely, his martyrdom at the hands of some religious nut. What's the point of that? I'm amazed I still have his bookmark. The cure for this is simply not to pay any attention to any of it; then the jerks on all sides would simply fade back into the idiocy from which they emerged.

  • MH says:

    Sempronious wrote "PZ Meyers seems to be poking around just so he can achieve some Higher Good, namely, his martyrdom at the hands of some religious nut."
    Atheists are not into martyrdom as we do not believe in an afterlife.
    Hey, maybe you should delete his bookmark, and replace it with a link to a spelling and grammar site.

  • WBK says:

    Hi Matt - yes, I read it. I don't know if he was serious or not, and since he didn't actually do anything to any wafer of any kind, I guess it's a moot point. I think I've read all his posts on the topic, and I don't think he's claimed to be joking.
    And actually, I'll give him some credit I failed to give him in previous posts - I think what he was doing was responding to bullies, and saying "hey, why don't you pick on somebody your own size, like me!" I think that was pretty brave of him, given who he's taking on. The problem is, they took him up on his offer. So, no, it didn't read at all like a joke, it read like a chest-thumping attempt to defend a victim.
    The thing that has bothered me enough about the whole thing to prevent me from jumping to his defense is that going into a church and taking away something the parishoners think is sacred is going too far. I don't think the student who did it deserves to be treated so harshly, and I think the threats leveled at him and at PZ are way worse.
    I started posting on this thread because Mike's article expressed much of the ambivalence I feel about this case. I usually don't mind PZ's style at all, but something about this one bothered me. Mike expressed some of what bothered me well, but he didn't address that what started this whole fracas was that somebody went into a church and did something the parishoners consider highly offensive. I would be happy to live out my daily life knowing nothing about the details of religious faiths, but if I go into one of their churches I think it's up to me to treat them with some respect. Acting as though this whole mess was completely unprovoked is simply disingenuous.
    Feel free to continue to be insulting and dismissive, I can make up my own mind about whether to write on PZ's behalf without constructive input here. Of course, if anybody has anything constructive to add, I'd be glad to read it.

  • zbart says:

    What the kid did was rude but also incredibly brave. Imagine entering a den of lunatics stealing their god and coming out alive. Although the mansions,palaces and cathederals wherein these acts of make- believe canibalism are conducted are in some sense private property they are also financially supported by every single american due to its tax- free status and unconstitutional faith-based grants . It is not like he broke into someones' home or fraternal hall but walked in to an open, come one- come all to grovel and genuflect before the father,son, holy ghost, etal session.

  • MRW says:

    Thanks for one of the better commentaries on this.
    My take:
    Donohue is being an ass, as we should expect by now. PZ is being an ass, as we should expect by now. Both of them are legally entitled to be asses, but that doesn't mean they should be. PZ should not be fired for being an ass, but I do think it's good that the link from UMM's site to Pharyngula seems to have disappeared.

  • Ktesibios says:

    Yes, PZ's gambit has served a useful purpose. Beyond what merely publicizing the lunatic reaction to a college kid's prank could do, it has clearly and unambiguously demonstrated the sort of vile hatefreakery that commonly hides behind a claimed belief in an Invisible Sky Fairy and the "you must respect our irrational thinking (or else)" crap.
    It has clearly shown that contrary to the claims of the "framing" crowd and assorted concern trolls, there can be no meaningful dialogue with such people, nor any reasonable accommodation with them.
    Donahue and his little claque of maimed authoritarian-follower personalities are the enemy of every decent free thing this country has ever stood for. If we want to preserve the things we were all taught to honor back in elementary school civics, we have to recognize that and learn these bullies some common sense by fighting back against them.
    Neither they nor their beliefs deserve respect. How long will it take for the Neville Chamberlain wing of rationalists grasp something so obvious?

  • John Morales says:

    I've think the sentiments expressed in this post seem to be shared by many (IMO) sensible bloggers.
    Re Matt Penfold's point above, how can anyone read "...If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony..." and not realise it's jocular?

  • Pineyman says:

    Okay - first time posting here. Not going to say much. First, thanks & that I echo what MRW posted.
    I've already posted similar thoughts on a couple of other blogs and been taken to task even though I specifically state that the initial reaction and Bill D were assinine. Probably because I also said PZ was over the top.
    As I said on Ed Brayton's blog - too much chest puffery and not enough deep breaths. On both sides.

  • Pineyman says:

    Okay - second time posting.
    John Morales (not singling you out for any reason other than I read your post after I submitted mine) - yes, most rational people realize what you said, but as Mike points out when rile up a group of millions, you get some loonies. Are you going to say no one will take PZ up on his request? Some closet social autistic of any stripe who wants some recognition like his idol? And the wheel will keep turning....

  • John Morales says:

    Pineyman, I'm not claiming to speak for anyone else.
    For myself, I say of course he'll be taken up. I'm pretty sure he has been already.
    It may be a bit of a stretch, but think of it as "A Modest Proposal" in the Swiftian sense.
    It has brought attention upon the claim of belief in Transubstanciation made by practicing Catholics.
    I think that's his motive - exposing the double-think believers embrace.
    Needless to say, though I think his post would've been boorish had it been gratuitous, I don't consider it was.

  • Pineyman says:

    John -
    Reread my post and if it came across as a challenge, not meant to be.
    As an ex-RC and current agnostic the transthingee always gave me pause. When I attended church I went for the symbolism. Most RCs that I know now also do. Not that they don't take the Eucharist seriously, they do. And since this has happened, I have talked to a few. And they all consider both sides over the top. I'd say that they echo Mike's reasoning. (Reasoning Catholics? ;-))
    I'm going to toddle over to the Gutenberg Project. I need to reread my Swift (thanks for the reference). Its been years...

  • Badger3k says:

    Consider: the kid, at first, merely did not eat the cracker but wanted to take it to his seat (which is "allowed" in some sects), was accosted first, put it in his mouth, then took it out when he got back to his seat. That is when the fanatic fun really got cute, with the tackling nun and all (Ok, so that bit is probably not true, I remember something about a nun, but I am not sure that there was one at the actual service).
    Why not try this story, which has more details:
    http://www.wftv.com/news/16798008/detail.html
    To me, that doesn't sound like "smuggled", especially the connotation that I get when I hear smuggled, namely that it was done illegally and with malice, as opposed to sheer anger, which is what I would feel if those halfwits assaulted me.

  • John Morales says:

    Pineyman, I too would like to add I wasn't trying to be disputatious. Coincidentally, I was brought up Catholic too.
    I encourage you to keep commenting - I'm pretty sure Mike appreciates sensible voices like yours (and I hope, mine).

  • Muse142 says:

    That was a most reasonable post.
    I didn't read many of the comments, but I hope that no one yelled at you. (I am very squishy as well and do not like to be torn a new one, however much I deserve it at any point.)
    =)

  • WBK says:

    Interesting experience - I think my comments are being dismissed as concern trolling. Probably my own fault, I don't have a history of posting here...probably better to post a bunch of agreements with consensus opinion for awhile before going contrary. So, for the record, I sent an email to PZ's president supporting him. Whatever PZ did wrong from my perspective, the bullying from the Catholic League was pure intimidation, and should be opposed.
    I have to say, though, that it's a little shocking to me that so many here seem to think this didn't cross any boundaries to appropriate treatment of religious people. Maybe since the reaction was so over the top it made the issue seem unimportant. But I'm seeing comments about how it was brave to invade the church, how it was not as bad as breaking into somebody's home, etc. I've always liked the "freedom of religion is freedom from religion" construction, and one of the principles is that if religion stays in churches I have no issues with it. Now, maybe the kid was naive, and didn't know what he was doing was offensive, and should have been treated more gently, but he did go into a church and did something highly offensive to the people there. PZ's reaction suggested more of the same (whether he was joking or not). Just because you think people are loonies doesn't mean it's justified to do whatever you want to them.
    And sure, much of this fracas is exactly what you'd expect from all the players involved - PZ specializes in inflammatory rhetoric, the Catholic League specializes in righteous indignation. He knew who he was dealing with, he knows he has a national platform, and he absolutely brought this on himself. Then when the trouble he invited was more than he bargained for, he asked for help. If you have a friend who likes to pick fights in bars and then expects you to back him up, you have a right to wonder whether going out with this guy is a good idea - it isn't concern trolling to discuss it. PZ is pretty hostile to the "framing" crowd, but this is a good example of how a little more attention to how one's message will be received might have saved himself some grief (maybe not from the Catholic League, but perhaps from his fellow bloggers).
    And really, the "it's just a cracker" defense loses its force when you start talking about intentionally mistreating it. A Darwin fish on your car is just a piece of plastic, but it has been shaped in a way that makes it a symbol. If somebody takes the fish off your car and burns it, you aren't upset because of the cost, or because of the air pollution, you're upset because it's a symbolic act. Even those of us that are quite certain that trans-substantiation doesn't actually convert a piece of cracker into the body of Christ _should_ be able to see that it _does_ convert it into a symbol of the Catholic faith. Mistreating it is a symbolic act - expect it to be treated that way by Catholics, even the ones that only regard the Eucharist as a symbol (clearly many actually think it's the body of Christ, and we've seen what their reaction looks like).
    So, to wrap this up - the Catholic League is peopled by lunatics, who answer the question "what would Jesus do" in some mind-bogglingly stupid ways. A short list of things that one could do that don't bother me, but would bother them includes: drawing pictures of the Eucharist being mistreated, buying the wafers from a Christian store and using them in your chowder, pointing out that from a non-Catholic's perspective that the Eucharist is not actually the body of Christ but just a piece of cracker. What is not okay with me, or the Catholic League, is going into churches to remove objects they consider holy. If you think that's a good idea, in my book you're part of the problem.

  • Bubba Sixpack says:

    The wafer is symbolic, in the context of church service. Symbolic of being a member of a community acting in concert with Christianity.
    Other than that, it's just a wafer, a cracker. Donohue is a cracker, too, but at least a person is worth more than a symbolic piece of bread. To the sane, anyway. Donohue would be well received in the Taliban, if only he replaced his veneration for crackers with a veneration for cartoon drawings.

  • Trinifar says:

    WBK, well said.

  • JohnnieCanuck, FCD says:

    So every one of the good Catholics kept a piece of the body of Christ in their mouth and letting it dissolve on the tongue, began the process of digesting it. Later they too, left the building with their cracker.
    In presumably every case, they sooner or later deposited the digested remains of their God in a most unholy place, followed some hours later by the undigested remains. Virtual cannibalism.
    And the kid was disrespectful for not doing the same? Wow.
    Note that as a Catholic himself, the kid is entitled to go up and receive the wafer, so it isn't theft or fraud by a non-Catholic. They only get physical if he doesn't follow their instructions as to what to do with the gift.

  • JohnnieCanuck, FCD says:

    Poorly phrased, Bubba6. Actually, the original point of their objection to depicting their prophet is that images should not be venerated. They fear that the image might come to be an idol, worshipped for itself, supplanting the One True... PBUH. Creating a disrespectful image literally adds insult to the injury perceived.
    Religion. Where might we have been without it?

  • phatkhat says:

    Even among non-religious people, we seem to have a reluctance to really nail religious superstitions, since they are dearly held by the religious, and we don't want to hurt their feelings. Somehow, we can poke all kinds of fun at fat people, old people, goth people, foreigners, Jews, Muslims, vegetarians, you name it, but the Christian religion is off-limits, along with its followers.
    Well, history shows what nice people the Christians have been, from the Inquisition to the Salem Witch Trials and beyond. And all the ritual cannibalism is so PAGAN, it is absolutely hilarious.
    It IS just a cracker, and the sooner people recognize that fact, give up the brainwashed superstition, and join the 21st century, the better.

  • K T Cat says:

    I'm sorry, but this was just PZ acting out like a 5-year-old boy who wants attention. He is not a serious atheist.

  • BobC says:

    "It's not nice to destroy something that you know has a great deal of emotional significance for someone else"
    Yeah, so what? That's the point. If crackers weren't worshiped, nobody would bother to abuse them.
    I saw nothing in your article about the two students who might be expelled from their university for cracker abuse. That's reason enough for PZ to abuse crackers. It would be immoral to not abuse crackers while two students could become victims of what should be called Catholic terrorism.