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.