Andrew Sullivan was not amused by P. Z.’s post:
It is one thing to engage in free, if disrespectful, debate. It is another to repeatedly assault and ridicule and abuse something that is deeply sacred to a great many people. Calling the Holy Eucharist a “goddamned cracker” isn’t about free speech; it’s really about some baseline civility. Myers’ rant is the rant of an anti-Catholic bigot. And atheists and agnostics can be bigots too.
But wait a minute! Wasn’t Sullivan leading the charge in defense of the Danish newspapers that published caricatures of the prophet Muhammed? Yes, I believe he was. So here he is desperately trying to explain why what is obviously a double standard is, in fact, not a double standard:
My objection to PZ Myers – even as I defended his right to say whatever he wants and wouldn’t want him punished in any way – is not, in my view, a double standard. Printing a cartoon for legitimate purposes is a different thing than deliberately backing the physical desecration of sacred objects. I’d happily publish a Mohammed cartoon if it advanced a genuine argument, but I would never knowingly desecrate a Koran purely to mock religion.
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.
In fact, it is worse than that. In his initial post Sullivan singled out the part where Myers referred to the host as a “goddamned cracker” as the place where Myers crossed the line into bigotry. This he considered such a violation of baseline civility that Myers is to be deemed a bigot just for saying it. Not, mind you, the part where Myers encouraged people to abscond with consecrated hosts. Being disrespectful towards a doctrine of Catholicism makes you a bigot, but caricaturing a figue of veneration among Muslims is perfectly fine. Charming.
Do I really need to point out the obvious? Sullivan isn’t making any coherent distinction here between the Danish newspapers and P.Z. Myers. He’s just sore because Roman Catholicism is his religion, while Islam is not.
The reality is this: In both cases religious attitudes in desperate need of goring were criticized in provocative ways. Also in both cases the bounds of good taste were crossed, and both the Danish newspaper editors and P. Z. Myers would probably have done better to find a more tactful way of making their points. But, again in both cases, the insane reaction from many religious people and institutions was so out of proportion to the offense that it made the point far more powerfully than any blogger or newspaper editor could hope to do on his own.