Evolving Thoughts

When does a person’s religious beliefs constrain someone who is not religious? What sorts of redress can a religious person expect in a secular society?

These questions arise from the recent to-do about PZ Myers defense of the stealing of a communion wafer from a Catholic church. As a result, he got death threats, attempts to have him fired from his university position, and general abuse while the correspondents were simultaneously affirming the niceness of Catholics [see here, here and here for example]. Meanwhile, the Catholic Cardinal of Sydney, George Pell, appears not to have learned anything about sexual abuse by priests, claiming that it’s OK so long as it’s serious love on the part of the priest. We’d protest about this when the Pope arrives, but there’s a $5500 fine for doing so.

What in the hell is going on?

To answer this, one needs, I think, to see what the benefits of being a member of a religion are, in order to see what is at stake. A religious adherent can appeal to coreligionists for aid and succor as it used to be called. This is a classic case of reciprocal altruism, in which the religion acts as an honest advertisement of commitment, or “costly signaling”, which is why religions require acceptance by their adherents of absurd ideas, like the “fact” that the communion wafer is literally the flesh of Jesus [see this pdf].

So when these costly signals are challenged, the reactions get heated. There’s a lot at stake here – the unity of the entire community and the reciprocal altruism that it provides (not to mention the return on investment that each individual hopes to get on the effort already made – losing status by defecting from your community is not helpful, and so a kind of gambler’s ruin occurs). Obviously one must forcibly protect this.

But that’s the internal view; what about the external? Why should I, a non-Catholic (or, if we consider other acts of “desecration” like the smearing of pig fat on Jewish synagogues and Islamic Mosques, non-Jew and non-Muslim), give any consideration to the concerns of adherents in a secular society? More to the point, what protection should the state provide them?

First point is this: a nonbeliever cannot commit blasphemy. To blaspheme, one must be within the set of belief and ritual contrasts of the faith community. Smearing pig fat is merely unhygienic behaviour to me, and throwing wafers on the ground is merely littering (and temporary littering at that, as it will be eaten by birds and ants pretty quickly. As sins go, that act of desecration is quite ecofriendly). This means, so far as I can tell, that a secular state cannot enforce anti-blasphemy provisions, as to do so forcibly includes nonbelievers in the faith community, which automatically means the state is not a secular state. It also means that pretty quickly the state becomes a one-religion state, but that’s another matter.

So protection against desecration cannot be justified on grounds of blasphemy. What about offense? Clearly a society that lacks all respect for others will shortly fail to be a society; and it is good manners not to offend someone unnecessarily. The very term “polite” indicates this, as it literally means the rules of the city (polis). In a multi-moré society if you do not avoid constantly insulting people you will cause social disruption. But a state cannot legislate that standard either; such rules evolve rapidly and without regard to the special interests of all groups. The best one can do is have laws of disruptive behaviour and leave it to a current judge to determine if the behaviour is beyond the pale or not. When I was a kid, the term “bloody” was a very dirty word. Now it’s merely quaint.

So while I might think that the original wafer thief’s actions were disrespectful, in no way are they actions that should permit the kinds of reactions he, and Myers, have garnered. Sure, I think Paul’s reaction to religion is often over the top, but he has that right. If he doesn’t, or if that right is removed from him, the next step is for Protestants to remove the Catholic’s right to protest, and then for the Baptists to remove the Episcopalian’s right to protest, and eventually we get another Thirty Years War.

So if the cost-benefit analysis is done from a global perspective, for society as a whole as well as from a Veil of Ignorance about which religion will always be on top, it serves not only the irreligious freethinker’s interests, but also that of all religions, not to enforce or permit the enforcement of religious standards on the non-religious. And I have a question for those Catholics who are outraged: is Jesus such that being eaten also by ants and birds, who presumably are part of His Plan, is going to diminish Him? Surely it begins and ends with the thief and his moral standing? In which case, why the trouble? Or were Pink Floyd right when they sang

Far away, across the field

The tolling of the iron bell

calls the faithful to their knees

to hear the softly spoken magic spell?

Comments

  1. #1 Lorax
    July 12, 2008

    I wanted to disagree with you, but then you go and quote Floyd! That and the fact I think you are basically right on, interfered with my basic confrontational nature.

  2. #2 Mike Dunford
    July 12, 2008

    So while I might think that the original wafer thief’s actions were disrespectful, in no way are they actions that should permit the kinds of reactions he, and Myers, have garnered. Sure, I think Paul’s reaction to religion is often over the top, but he has that right. If he doesn’t, or if that right is removed from him, the next step is for Protestants to remove the Catholic’s right to protest, and then for the Baptists to remove the Episcopalian’s right to protest, and eventually we get another Thirty Years War.

    Crap. I just posted something that says something sort of like this, but less elegantly.

  3. #3 John S. Wilkins
    July 12, 2008

    Great minds, and yours and mine, think alike…

  4. #4 Susan Silberstein
    July 12, 2008

    I have no idea what the wafer stealer’s motivation was, and think PZ’s comments were insensitive and he was being a jerk, but that’s the beauty of free speech. I don’t have to like what he said; too bad for me.

  5. #5 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    This is not merely a free speech issue; this is an active call for the desecration of very important aspect of Catholic theology.

    If he called for the stealing and then public desecration of a scroll from a Jewish house of worship, do you think he would be anything other than a rabid anti-semite and fired immediately?

    PZ Myers is not speaking his mind – he is calling for acts of desecration and hate against the Catholic people.

    Big difference.

    This call for vile action on the part of his followers is a hate crime – nothing more, nothing less.

  6. #6 peter
    July 12, 2008

    Brett, I think you have the analogy wrong. rather, given that the wafers are mass produced and distributed, what Myers proposes is a bit more like going into a hotel and chucking the gideon bible in the trash.

  7. #7 John Farrell
    July 12, 2008

    Yeah, except his initial provocation, as I recall, was to ask his readers to score him some consecrated wafers: in other words, to steal them.

    If I ask my readers to hack John’s server and steal all his unpublished papers, for example, so that I could print them out and piss on them, would that be considered harmless?

    I think Bill Donohue is a boob–and in many ways was happy to take the bait on this stunt. But and incitement to theft is an incitement to theft.

  8. #8 Mike O'Risal
    July 12, 2008

    Theft? Nonsense. Myers hasn’t encouraged anyone to take anything that wasn’t given to them. Once the magician in the church gives somebody the magical cracker, it’s theirs to do with as they please.

  9. #9 John Farrell
    July 12, 2008

    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.

    “Do what it takes to get some” is not an incitement to theft? Can you find me an attorney that will agree with that?

  10. #10 Charlie
    July 12, 2008

    One of the Boy Scout laws is reverent. Reverent is defined as not only adhering to one’s own religious beliefs, but also respecting the belief of others. I am Protestant. Although I disagree with the beliefs of Catholics (as well as Jews, Muslims, Druids, etc), I respect their rights to worship in their own fashion.

    Removing the “magical cracker” from the church is an act of desecration. If you don’t believe in the religious symbolism of the Eucharist, you don’t take it.

  11. #11 alex
    July 12, 2008

    “Do what it takes to get some”
    presumably, go to church and take part in a mass. theft? hm.

  12. #12 Sam C
    July 12, 2008

    Am I right in thinking your underlying message is “live and let live”?

    Two factors seem to have fueled this hoo-hah: (1) Americans’ obsession with their individual rights, especially the right of free speech (it’s more of a privilege than a right in most countries), and (2) the aggressive nature of American society: whatever the issue, attack, attack, attack.

    I am a profound atheist, but I will always remove my hat, speak quietly, and respect the altar rails, if I visit a church to look at its architecture. It is my (and others’) duty not to cause unnecessary hurt, so we can all live happily in this crowded world of ours. That’s tolerance.

    In this case, it looks like PZ Myers is trying to cause trouble out of pure devilment. It is not constructive. It is mischief-making intolerance. The facts of the cracker’s substantiation, con- or trans- or in-, are irrelevant. He’s trying to cause pain.

    It has been interesting to see the Synod (parliament) of the Anglican churches in action recently on the women-as-bishops issue — one noteworthy aspect of its proceedings is that it tries to work towards a solution acceptable to all its members wherever possible, rather than engaging in verbal battle like adversarial parliaments. Although it failed to find common ground on this issue, I think there’s a lesson for us all there.

    Tolerance is good, but it does have to come from both sides.

  13. #13 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 12, 2008

    At the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, Muslim taxi drivers interpret the Koran to mean that they shouldn’t carry any passengers who have alcohol in their baggage. They shouldn’t carry any blind passengers who use canine guides.

    The taxi authority threatened them with the loss of airport privileges if they continued to deny rides over the prospect of aiding sin. And rightly so. My carrying alcohol in my baggage is not a crime against Islam because I am not Muslim.

    They have been forced by the governmental authority to violate a tenet of their religion. What PZ wrote was far less damaging to Catholics because he didn’t suggest that any Catholics desecrate a host. Yet, here he is with the death threats and the threats to his career. The Minneapolis Airport Authority has received no such threats.

    “Blasphemy cannot be committed by a non-believer.” PZ can rest easy on his role. I was ambiguous about PZ’s post until reading the response against him, and reading up on “host nailing” and the horrific tortures of Jews so accused.

    As an ex-Catholic, even I find it hard to muster sympathy for those offended by PZ.

  14. #14 Sam C
    July 12, 2008

    Oh, by the way, I don’t agree with your assertion that non-believers can’t commit blasphemy. You’re trying some logic-chopping to redefine a well-accepted term in the English language, which is not constructive. A statement like “your religion’s prophet/saint was a slimy slug who ate his own faeces” is irreverent and blasphemous regardless of whose mouth it comes out of (assuming that it’s not a molluscophile religion!).

    More importantly, blasphemy itself is not now regarded as evil or criminal in many countries’ legal codes; the crime is to foment or incite racial/religious hatred. The limit of free speech is on not what one should say, but will it cause harm.

  15. #15 Brian
    July 12, 2008

    Sam C,

    Is the Anglican Church even religious? I had always considered it more as a sort of social party.

    Also, the fact that blasphemy itself is not regarded so in many countries’ legal codes does not mean every country’s legal code. Think Pakistan.

  16. #16 Chris' Wills
    July 12, 2008

    Firstly, what the congregants did to the young man was both foolish and un-christian; in my opinion and they need to be reprimanded for their uncouth actions especially as it seems they threatened someone during Mass. Very strange thing for an RC to do.

    Secondly: Myzzle knew exactly what he was doing, he was poking a wasps nest to annoy the wasps. Unsuprisingly some wasps took offence and tried to sting him.

    Free speach is all well and good; but, as with everything actions have consequences; words can cause a great deal of hurt and it is no suprise to me that Myxxle’s writings have engendered the reaction they did.

    Given the response of some of his acolytes and his silence about their postings, it would seem that denigrating and dehumanising those who don’t agree with his worldview (I know some of his followers claim not to have one) is a righteous thing.

  17. #17 FO
    July 12, 2008

    More importantly, blasphemy itself is not now regarded as evil or criminal in many countries’ legal codes; the crime is to foment or incite racial/religious hatred. The limit of free speech is on not what one should say, but will it cause harm.

    Right. Now tell that to the Islamofascists who think that anyone not male and Muslim is offensive. To them, it’s not what you DO that’s blasphemous — it’s what you ARE. Your very existence is offensive to those schmucks. Should the law then be changed so that everyone who is not male and Muslim be arrested on grounds of “incitement”?

    As for your last sentence — “I find your words to be deeply offensive, and that you will certainly be harmed if I ever find you!” If I said that, should you shut up? Should you be dragged to the local police station to be locked up for “inciting hatred”? Or should I be reported to the police for making threats?

    Apparently some people forget that PZ is getting DEATH THREATS over a handful of CRACKERS that would eventually wind up as feces after being digested by all those Catholics anyway. So aren’t they desecrating their own “holy symbol”?

  18. #18 CRM-114
    July 12, 2008

    You say it is good manners not to offend someone unnecessarily. I would say it is bad manners to take offense unnecessarily.

    If somebody took offense to my face being clean-shaven, I don’t necessarily have to shave; I could grow a beard to placate them. But then I risk offending people who don’t like beards.

    I hold that it is good manners for the pro-beards and the anti-beards alike to stay out of my face and keep their noses in their own business. The state of my face causes no real harm.

    If they claim I am doing them symbolic harm by shaving my face, then I claim they are practicing magic.

    We should recognize that religious beliefs are no more than opinions, however wacky and silly they get.

  19. #19 Brendan S
    July 12, 2008

    Here’s a list of demands I make for armed guards:

    We much protect all cows to keep them from being desicrated.

    We need guards at art supply shops to prevent their use in depicting muhammed.

    All Butchers should maintain a rota of guards to make sure the pork doesn’t touch the other products.

    Maybe we need cothling tag readters to make sure noone wearing blends is allowed into a temple? By force in nessicary?

  20. #20 John Pieret
    July 12, 2008

    The two Mikes:

    Theft? Nonsense. Myers hasn’t encouraged anyone to take anything that wasn’t given to them. Once the magician in the church gives somebody the magical cracker, it’s theirs to do with as they please.

    No, from a legal standpoint, that’s not right, any more than when a car dealer gives you a car to test drive, you have the right to just drive off with it or to “test” it by entering it in a demolition derby. Property or the use of it can be given to others with strings attached, including how the property is treated.

    Of course this will get all tangeled up in competing interests. For example, the Muslim taxicab drivers or Christian pharmacists who claim they can deny service out of “conscience” are getting an exclusionary license to practice a certain employment with reduced competition. I argue that they thereby have traded the right to their private conscience in return for public enforcement of their licenses. Unfortunately, society doesn’t always take my legal advice.

    As an ex-Catholic, even I find it hard to muster sympathy for those offended by PZ.

    Also as an ex, I have no particular sympathy for Catholic’s offense at PZ’s words, though, of course, they have every right to express it — sans death threats — as PZ has to express his offense at the original story. If PZ actually carried out the threat with misappropriated consecrated hosts, that would be a very different kettle of fish. The implication in his words that people should try to misappropriate eucharists is a troubling grey area.

  21. #21 Anna K.
    July 12, 2008

    I agree with you that PZ has a perfect right to be offensive, and that death threats are the wrong response.

    I just wonder if PZ had expressed equally vividly offensive opinions about a race or gender that he is not a member of, whether he would have the same set of defenders he does now. I suspect that he, like Larry Summers, would be swiftly ousted from his academic job. (Larry Summers btw did nothing so calculated to offend as PZ’s proposal: he lost his position after he simply suggested that women were not as capable as men in science and math.)

    It depends on whose, er, sacred cow is being gored, I guess.

  22. #22 John Doe
    July 12, 2008

    “I just wonder if PZ had expressed equally vividly offensive opinions about a race or gender that he is not a member of, whether he would have the same set of defenders he does now.”

    I wonder if is has occurred to you that religion is a matter of choice but sex, gender and skin colour are not.

  23. #23 Tulse
    July 12, 2008

    I just wonder if PZ had expressed equally vividly offensive opinions about a race or gender that he is not a member of, whether he would have the same set of defenders he does now

    Whether women are actually as capable as men is presumably an empirical question — I think PZ’s point is precisely that the nature of the Eucharist isn’t.

  24. #24 me
    July 12, 2008

    No, from a legal standpoint, that’s not right, any more than when a car dealer gives you a car to test drive, you have the right to just drive off with it or to “test” it by entering it in a demolition derby. Property or the use of it can be given to others with strings attached, including how the property is treated.

    Really, I didn’t know you have to collect your shit and give it back to the church after you eat a wafer.

  25. #25 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    John, I agree a lot with what you say. For example, as a Christian, I don’t believe in transubstantiation while I have no trouble with tossing leftover communion wafers to birds and ants. And perhaps PZ can go over the top. And any violent threat against PZ is unchristian and punishable by law.

    And per your complaints in Australia, ministers should be disciplined for any sex apart from marriage. And in the USA, consensual sex with underage females is statutory rape.

    I also believe that genuflect worship of supposedly transubstantiated wafers is idolatry. Likewise, if some Catholics read this post of mine, they might want to line me up next to PZ.

    With that said, I think that PZ went too far over the top. I’m basing this conclusion while assuming that PZ actually said the following on the air,

    “Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? 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.”

    http://www.catholicleague.org/release.php?id=1459

    This challenge to score some consecrated communion wafers goes beyond the Holy Spirit blasphemy challenge because it actually calls for the disturbance of Roman Catholic property and services. Perhaps he could have expressed his ironic satire with more civility.

    If PZ said the above, then I appreciate PZ’s sense of irony while I think PZ irresponsibly disturbed the peace and deserves some consequences for his irresponsible actions. I’ll immediately reiterate that any violent threats against PZ have no justification and should be punished by law. On the other hand, PZ’s speech may have violated his university’s code of conduct.

    http://www1.umn.edu/regents/policies/academic/Conduct.pdf

    If PZ wants to continue as the Rush Limbaugh of atheism, then he might need another day job. I’m not firm on my feelings about this, and I’m open for civil discussion.

    What do you think?

  26. #26 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    James Goetz,

    Have you read what PZ actually said ? Do you think he was actually wanting people to send him consecrated wafers ? Or given the tone of the paragraph, where he talks of the local churches having stakes prepared for him, do you think he was making a point in a humorous manner ?

  27. #27 Jason F.
    July 12, 2008

    I’ve been following this in the various Sciblogs, and I don’t feel the primary point PZ was trying to make is being recognized enough…

    Believing that a wafer magically turns into the physical body of a guy who died 2,000 years ago is absurd and goofy to a very high degree

    Oftentimes, once such absurdities become ingrained in a society long enough, they are blindly accepted without much thought, and a bit of “blasphemy” serves as a collective wake-up call that exposes the insanity for what it truly is.

    Look at the Sciblogs treatment of the creation museum in Kentucky. We all looked at it and rightly pointed out just how stupid, ridiculous, and insane it is to believe that people rode around on dinosaurs like the Flintstones. Some laughed, others shook their head in disbelief, and others still were rather outraged. Why? Because the whole thing is blatently stupid.

    So maybe someone needs to explain why it’s ok to be rude, disrespectful, and nasty towards fundamentalist Christianity’s creation museum, but it’s in bad taste to be the same towards Catholicism’s belief that not only does a cracker turn into flesh, but that once it does, you’re supposed to eat it?

    I’m sorry, but I put this whole “transubstation” thing on the same level as flat-earth geocentrism, young-earth creationism, and faith-healing. They’re all pathetically ridiculous beliefs that can quite easily be demonstrated to be wrong, and thus not only deserve ridicule and disrespect, their very nature demands it.

    Was PZ rude? Yep…but no more rude than many here have been to various forms of creationism.

  28. #28 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    Matt Penfold,

    I haven’t read an entire manuscript of his radio speech. I’ve read some of his blog. I check his blog a couple of times a week. I don’t doubt that he didn’t want anybody to send him a Catholic communion wafer. And as I suggested, I see PZ attempting humor with similar style to Rush Limbaugh but supporting atheism.

  29. #29 Anna K.
    July 12, 2008

    John Doe wrote: “I wonder if is has occurred to you that religion is a matter of choice but sex, gender and skin colour are not.”

    So, hypothetically, it would be wrong for an academic to make offensive remarks about sex or skin color, but not wrong for an academic to suggest that people steal a Torah scroll and mail it to him, so that he could publicly vandalize it?

    Tulse wrote: “Whether women are actually as capable as men is presumably an empirical question — I think PZ’s point is precisely that the nature of the Eucharist isn’t.”

    So if nonempirical questions do not deserve respect, then why should anyone respect such values-driven, nonempirical notions as freedom of speech or academic freedom?

  30. #30 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    “So, hypothetically, it would be wrong for an academic to make offensive remarks about sex or skin color, but not wrong for an academic to suggest that people steal a Torah scroll and mail it to him, so that he could publicly vandalize it?”

    No, it would not be OK, since theft is not OK. But since no one has advocated stealing a wafer during communion your analogy is flawed.

    Anna, so far we have you thinking religion is not a matter of choice, and thinking being given a wafer and failing to swallow it is theft. Can you not try a bit harder to think before you post ? Only you are coming across as an idiot, which I am sure you are not.

  31. #31 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    “I haven’t read an entire manuscript of his radio speech. I’ve read some of his blog. I check his blog a couple of times a week. I don’t doubt that he didn’t want anybody to send him a Catholic communion wafer. And as I suggested, I see PZ attempting humor with similar style to Rush Limbaugh but supporting atheism.”

    Never having listened to Limbaugh I could not tell if the comparison is valid.

    Has it not occurred to you that he issued the challenge, which you seem to agree he did not intend anyone to actually take up, in order to provoke the kind of reaction he did. And that in doing so he has shown how mean spirited, and quite frankly stupid, a good number of Catholics are ?

  32. #32 Julian
    July 12, 2008

    I fail to see how walking away from a tiny fence in front of an altar to show a friend a cracker is theft, nor how fleeing the church when the people there begin to try and wrestle you to the ground is theft. The student in question kept the cracker intact, in a plastic bag, in his refrigerator until he returned it, which should tell you something about his motives and his opinion of said cracker.

    Similarly, Myers’ statement was that he wanted to know if any of his readers could get their hands on communion wafers and send them to him. Presumably, this included theft, but one can much more easily buy them, in bulk, online, from numerous sources, thanks to all those money-changers modern day religion employs in the temple to encourage its solvency, and I assume that it is this method that Mr. Myers would prefer.

  33. #33 Julian
    July 12, 2008

    Comparing Myers to Limbaugh is a terrible insult. Limbaugh just calls people names. Myers explains why their ideas are irrational, then calls them names.

  34. #34 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    Julian, anybody can buy communion wafers online, but scoring supposedly transubstantiated wafers is a totally different story. Those would have to be stolen from a Roman Catholic church.

  35. #35 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    “Julian, anybody can buy communion wafers online, but scoring supposedly transubstantiated wafers is a totally different story. Those would have to be stolen from a Roman Catholic church.”

    I think you will find they are given away freely at communion.

  36. #36 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    Matt Penfold, if you actually read my first post in this thread, then you’d have an idea about the answer to your last question.

  37. #37 John Pieret
    July 12, 2008

    Really, I didn’t know you have to collect your shit and give it back to the church after you eat a wafer.

    I believe the official term is “tithing.”

    Presumably, this included theft, but one can much more easily buy them, in bulk, online, from numerous sources, thanks to all those money-changers modern day religion employs in the temple to encourage its solvency, and I assume that it is this method that Mr. Myers would prefer.

    Actually, PZ’s words were:

    Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?

    Now, there is one possible way to obtain consecrated hosts short of theft. If my erstwhile theology lessons have not been gobbled up by encroaching senility, priests can be “defrocked” but not “de-priested.” Once a priest, always a priest. If PZ can find a priest (defrocked or not) willing to consecrate some eucharists for him, he can avoid the misappropriation/theft problem.

  38. #38 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    James,

    I have, I doesn’t.

    Here is what PZ said on his blog. It is sad some people take things so literally. I note you failed to supply the fill quote.

    “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.”

  39. #39 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    “I think you will find they are given away freely at communion.”

    They are given to faithful who promise to revere the sacrament. If I went to a Roman Catholic communion line and said to the priest, “I’m a Protestant who doesn’t believe in transubstantiation”, then I wouldn’t get the wafer from the priest. I’d have to play an impostor to get a supposedly transubstantiated wafer.

  40. #40 Anna K.
    July 12, 2008

    Matt,

    When it comes to degrees of toleration of expressions of various bigotries, what is the relevance of whether religion is a matter of choice or not? (On that note, I have heard of studies claiming that religious and political tendencies are genetically influenced.) We have the same issue with political views, which are as chosen, more or less, as religious ones are: was McCarthy right to use his power to blacklist people in the ’50s, whom he suspected of being Communists?

    My point is not about choice or nonchoice when it comes to people’s identities. My point is that some forms of bigotry appear to be more socially acceptable in academia than others. I’m interested in where people draw the line, and why.

    Re the acquisition of consecrated wafers through deception, if John Wilkins calls it stealing at the beginning of his post, why don’t you?

  41. #41 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    Matt,

    You give atheists a bad name…

    Communion are not given “away free” — the acceptance of the communion is part of a creedal “contract” within the community and, if you are not a believer in Catholic theology, it is extremely unethical to participate – esp. with malicious intent.

    Are you really so morally obtuse? So socially autistic?

  42. #42 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    ‘If my erstwhile theology lessons have not been gobbled up by encroaching senility, priests can be “defrocked” but not “de-priested.” Once a priest, always a priest. If PZ can find a priest (defrocked or not) willing to consecrate some eucharists for him, he can avoid the misappropriation/theft problem.’

    You’re close, John Pieret. I’m not sure about the “Once a priest, always a priest”. But in any case, the priest would be doing the misappropriation.

  43. #43 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    “When it comes to degrees of toleration of expressions of various bigotries, what is the relevance of whether religion is a matter of choice or not? (On that note, I have heard of studies claiming that religious and political tendencies are genetically influenced.) We have the same issue with political views, which are as chosen, more or less, as religious ones are: was McCarthy right to use his power to blacklist people in the ’50s, whom he suspected of being Communists?”

    You seem to be getting dangerously close to demanding respect for all viewpoints. It is not bigotry to point out believing that a wafer becomes the body of Christ, as thinking it does is absurd. Are we bigoted to consider creationists to be either ignorant, stupid, liars or insane ?

    “Re the acquisition of consecrated wafers through deception, if John Wilkins calls it stealing at the beginning of his post, why don’t you?”

    Simple. Because I do not consider it to be stealing. The wafer was freely given the person, who simply failed to swallow it. It so happens that although it is normal for communicants to swallow the wafer, it is not unknown for them to take it back to their pew and pray. He was then assaulted by a member of the congregation.

  44. #44 David Marjanovi?
    July 12, 2008

    The — arguably — thief is a devout Catholic himself. He 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.

    ——————————-

    And, no, replacing an inscribed scroll is much more difficult than replacing even a consecrated host.

  45. #45 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    Brett,

    Webster Cook is a Catholic. He was therefore entitled to stand in line for communion. I guess that part of the story passed you by.

    Why did you need to lie ?

  46. #46 David Marjanovi?
    July 12, 2008

    Why did you need to lie ?

    He didn’t lie. He just failed to inform himself and preferred going by the laughable traditional idea that Satanists steal hosts to do supposedly evil things to them.

  47. #47 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    “He didn’t lie. He just failed to inform himself and preferred going by the laughable traditional idea that Satanists steal hosts to do supposedly evil things to them.”

    Ah, just ignorant then. I was assuming that someone discussing all this would have least bothered to read what started it all. My mistake, I was expecting to much of him clearly.

  48. #48 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    “Why did you need to lie ?”

    Matt,

    Why do you need to project?

    I am talking about PZ, not Weber; however, Weber’s actions were also a violation of conduct and the congregation has every right to defend this very important aspect of worship.

    It has been a historical fact that occult groups have actively tried to steal Holy Communion for desecration in private ceremony and THIS is a big part of the reason for defensive actions.

    As for “death threats” these are completely inappropriate and are the result of a couple of unstable individuals – NOT the majority of Catholics or the Church.

    For *extreme* atheists (such as yourself) to harp on these “threats” is a canard and simply a way for them to express inherent bigotry.

    PS – isn’t it interesting that Satanists (theists) and Atheists (anti-theists) have the same goal….

    Maybe there is something to it after all!

  49. #49 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    “I am talking about PZ, not Weber; however, Weber’s actions were also a violation of conduct and the congregation has every right to defend this very important aspect of worship.”

    Well we know were you are coming from then. Violence seems to be OK by you.

  50. #50 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    David: “He didn’t lie. He just failed to inform himself and preferred going by the laughable traditional idea that Satanists steal hosts to do supposedly evil things to them.”

    Too bad there are plenty of documented cases and history of such action.

    Also, regarding the scroll vs the communion, if you had even a basic grasp of theology you would understand that these are comparable offenses.

    Ignorance is no excuse…

  51. #51 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    Demanding respectful/appropriate action within a community is not violence.

    Are police acting violently when they arrest a shoplifter and return the stole merchandise to the proprietors?

    Wow!

    Do atheists know nothing of logic and contractual obligation in civil society? Or are they simply raving anarchists?

  52. #52 Anna K.
    July 12, 2008

    Matt wrote: “You seem to be getting dangerously close to demanding respect for all viewpoints. It is not bigotry to point out believing that a wafer becomes the body of Christ, as thinking it does is absurd. Are we bigoted to consider creationists to be either ignorant, stupid, liars or insane ?”

    I have no problem with people criticizing ideas, theological or otherwise: that’s what academia is for. But you see no distinction between criticizing the content of ideas, versus proposing to vandalize a stolen object which is deeply valued by its community?

  53. #53 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    No, he doesn’t, Ana.

    Extreme, dogmatic atheist like Matt are caricatures of the extremism they oppose in religion. How ironic!

    Both extreme atheist and extreme theists lack the use logic, civility and common sense…

  54. #54 Matt Penfold
    July 12, 2008

    “I have no problem with people criticizing ideas, theological or otherwise: that’s what academia is for. But you see no distinction between criticizing the content of ideas, versus proposing to vandalize a stolen object which is deeply valued by its community?”

    And who actually proposed that ? As opposed to suggesting he would in a humorous attempt to show how a good number of people claiming to be Catholics behave ?

    This is third time you have made a pathetic and disingenuous comment. I suspect you not capable of anything else. If you cannot be honest there is no point continue this discussion.

  55. #55 Anna K.
    July 12, 2008

    Matt, I don’t think PZ was joking. And you have repeatedly evaded my points, instead resorting to name-calling. Which tells me all I need to know about your ability to engage in discussions.

    And I agree that there is no point in continuing.

  56. #56 John Pieret
    July 12, 2008

    James Goetz:

    It’s not authoritative but Wikipedia confirms my memory:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laicization

    In Roman Catholicism, a priest, deacon, or bishop may be dismissed from the clerical state as a penalty for certain grave offenses, or by a papal decree granted for grave reasons. A dismissed priest is forbidden to exercise ministerial functions, but an indelible priestly character is held to remain on his soul (as is sung at a priest’s ordination, “You are a priest forever, like Melchizedek of old:” ).[3] Consequently, any exercise of his sacramental power to consecrate the Eucharist is considered valid even though illicit.

    In other words, the act of a defrocked priest consecrating hosts (or plain old bread — it doesn’t have to the manufactured hosts) legally purchased by him or PZ would be a theological or canonical violation but not a legal one.

  57. #57 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    I agree, John Pieret. It would be a Roman Catholic Church violation, but not a USA legal violation. But if you tried to get a priest to do it in Rome….

  58. #58 octopod
    July 12, 2008

    The most astoundingly dumb thing to come out of this is the claim that this situation is equivalent to offering to “steal a Torah scroll from a synagogue and {burn it/piss on it/feed it to a pig}”.

    Come on, people. Ignore, for a moment, any legal and theological implications. How can anyone claim that a mass-produced cracker is analogous to a work of art?

    The legal implications, as mentioned above, can be evaded quite easily by having a renegade priest (and there are some of those floating around) come and consecrate them for you. Problem solved

    And Brett, although I have a (probably more than) “basic grasp of theology”, that doesn’t prevent me from thinking critically about it. That’s why I think it’s all bullshit.

  59. #59 James Goetz
    July 12, 2008

    “The legal implications, as mentioned above, can be evaded quite easily by having a renegade priest (and there are some of those floating around) come and consecrate them for you. Problem solved.”

    Octopod, that wasn’t PZ’s plan. PZ said, “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.”

    So nobody can claim that PZ planned to get a defrocked priest to supply the consecrated hosts. That’s an afterthought brainchild of this thread.

  60. #60 Anna K.
    July 12, 2008

    Octopod,

    Wouldn’t the real analogy be: Eucharist is to cracker as Torah is to newspaper roll? It is all about theological implications, and not legal ones, to those respective communities. A Torah scroll is not primarily valued because it is a work of art. Its primary value, to the community that originated it, cares for it, and values it most, is that it is a sacred object, and therefore worthy of taking the time and trouble to make it beautiful. The communion host is considered sacred to the Catholic community, and therefore to that community, worthy of having ritual built around it, and beautiful and valuable objects built to hold it.

    I see claims of allegedly critical thinking here, but not much evidence of critical feeling, or reflection, if you prefer. Certainly we are legally permitted to be offensive. But it doesn’t follow that if it’s legal to be offensive, that it is desirable or admirable to be. Certainly it may give people satisfaction to destroy others’ sacred objects. I am sure the Taliban felt satisfaction in destroying the Bamyan Buddhas and that the Soviets felt satisfaction in destroying Kazan Cathedral, and that the Maoists felt satisfaction in destroying temples, and that apparently some people feel satisfied with the thought of destroying communion hosts or Torah scrolls. But that doesn’t make it admirable or right or an object lesson in critical thinking.

  61. #61 windy
    July 12, 2008

    Wouldn’t the real analogy be: Eucharist is to cracker as Torah is to newspaper roll?

    No. How easy is it to replace a Eucharist wafer, compared to a Torah?

  62. #62 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    windy,

    It is not the physical object that is being analyzed here.

    Are all materialists so obtuse?

  63. #63 windy
    July 12, 2008

    Are all non-materialists so quick to resort to insults? Anna K. spoke of the “time and trouble” to make a Torah beautiful. The effort required to impart spiritual properties on an individual Eucharist wafer is negligible in comparison.

  64. #64 me
    July 12, 2008

    I believe the official term is “tithing.”

    Ah, so you have to buy the wafers. Usually car dealerships don’t charge you for a test drive.

  65. #65 Maragon
    July 12, 2008

    There’s a world of difference between making a satirical ‘call to arms’ post(ala Swift’s A Modest Proposal) and actually stealing a cracker.

  66. #66 John Pieret
    July 12, 2008

    Ah, so you have to buy the wafers. Usually car dealerships don’t charge you for a test drive.

    They make that up by charging you $250 for a radio that costs them $39.95 to install.

    And no, I won’t get tangled up in who is more honest, car dealers or religions.

  67. #67 Eamon Knight
    July 12, 2008

    I don’t know what PZ really had in mind with his request, but to me the important point is that the loony-Catholic reaction (ie. Donohue and his clones) has gone well out-of-bounds. The Church is free to reprimand the orginal student (who is a Catholic); make him say a zillion Hail Marys or whatever — but not to ask the secular authorities to sanction him as well, eg. academic expulsion (never mind the death threats, which are clearly beyond the pale).

    Normally, I would not advocate – I would even oppose — the desecration of sacred objects, out of simple courtesy if nothing else. But when the religious illegitimately try to extend their demands into the secular arena, I think it becomes legitimate to push back, and show that we’re not having it. Some people really need to have their noses rubbed in the fact that they and their precious traditions aren’t nearly as important to the rest of the world as they think. And I tend to regard PZ’s suggestion in that light.

    (But I still hope PZ doesn’t follow through).

  68. #68 Nick Gardner
    July 12, 2008

    “Are you really so morally obtuse? So socially autistic?”

    Well, if this wasn’t offensive, I don’t know what is.

  69. #69 Badger3k
    July 12, 2008

    Brett, as somone said on another blog, are you the same Brett who was sockpuppeting on PZ’s blog:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/fyi.php
    “By their actions you will know them. We have had a number of raving angry Catholics in various threads here…or have we? I’ve had a moment to clean up a few threads and post some of the stuff that was held in comment moderation, and discovered that Naz, k8, promo, baker, PZ is a fool, Burns, rumrunner, Dobbs, NYTs, KKKAthiest, Andy, CDV, BradJ, Brett, b7, PCD, NVFU, Your daddy, facebock, baker and several other loud-mouthed asses who have been braying here are all one and the same person.”

    Just curious, and just to let you know, the Church has long had a tradition of blaming Jews, Protestants, and others among those “occult groups” trying to steal the holy cracker. Here’s a clue. Anyone who wants to steal one to use in an “occult ritual” is just as deluded as the catholics who engage in ritual cannibalism. The fact that they are scared that someone doing something other than eating, digesting, and defecating their god does not mean that it is justification for what the bigots over at the catholic league, or those in that church, are doing or did. Is their, and your, god so small that all it takes to have power over him is steal a cracker and…well…what? snap it in two, feed it to the birds in the park, drive a nail into it in a tiny cross made of tongue depressers? If I got one and flushed it, eliminating the middle man, would that be enough?

  70. #70 John Pieret
    July 12, 2008

    Eamon:

    I agree fully that Donahue is a loon and a lot of the reaction we’ve heard from Catholics has been over-the-top. But there are around 77 million Catholics in the US and we haven’t heard from more than the tiniest fraction of them. Most, I suspect, would, if they heard about it at all, put the young man’s actions down to youthful indiscression and shrug, perhaps after a brief emotional frisson of the sort that led people who should know better to speak of “kidnapping” and “hate crimes” before they thought things through. As far as I know, no one but the loons (if them) has suggested any action against the kid. Even the talk of the campus diciplinary system was just presented as a procedure that was open to bringing complaints, if anyone wanted to. (And the kid himself apparently has complaints filed against other participants — it’s pretty obvious that there is some history behind this event that hasn’t made it into the stories I’ve seen). No group of 77 million people can fail to include some Bill Donahues and it’s wrong to tar them all by the same brush.

    The danger is, should PZ go through with his threat, that this is the kind of act that otherwise reasonable people could become (justifiably) enraged at, which could poison the relationship between Catholics and the secular and/or science communities needlessly. Quite apart from its legal ramifications or its moral implications, it’s just damn bad public relations at a time when secularism and science are already under attack from many quarters and have enough to deal with.

  71. #71 Pierce R. Butler
    July 13, 2008

    Calling Webster Cook “the original wafer thief” is like calling early civil-rights protesters “lunch counter trespassers” and “bus invaders”.

    The measurable economic value of Cook’s cookie was clearly several orders of magnitude less than the personal cost to him of the University of Central Florida’s unconstitutional subsidies for a certain reactionary Church.

    Cook was lucky, compared to the University of Florida’s Andrew “Don’t tase me, bro!” Meyer.

  72. #72 Pierce R. Butler
    July 13, 2008

    John Pieret @ # 70: …it’s just damn bad public relations at a time when secularism and science are already under attack from many quarters and have enough to deal with.

    Tactically, is it wise for “secularism and science” to remain permanently on the defensive? For once, the data on the issue of transubstantiation are technically within the grasp of public (& possibly even media “personality”) understanding. Would it be better “framing” to address only genetics and radiocarbon dating?

    The only way “science and secularism” can lose is if even “friendly” reportage omits the physical assaults, death threats, general-purpose abuse and potential expulsion with which Cook was immediately inundated, or even his subsequent apology and restoration of the precious Christ Krunchy™ to the loving bosom of the Mother Church. Oh, wait…

  73. #73 Magpie
    July 13, 2008

    1. PZ absolutely did not seem to be joking to me. Humorous, yes, but he seemed serious to me. Given the opportunity I probably would have helped him out.

    2. A few nuts can be found in almost any candy bar. There are a lot of Catholics in the world. Surprise, some are nuts. Hardly inciteful commentary about the state of the human condition, or whatever people think it is.

    This was trolling, pure and simple.

    3. PZ is being a dick, but if anyone wants to be a dick, they can be. Perhaps the weight of social censure will get to him in the end. But in the mean time he can do what he likes as long as he doesn’t break the law.

    4. If the Catholics want to whine about hate crimes, they can take the death penalty for gays and wearers of poly cotton out of their bloody book.

  74. #74 Magpie
    July 13, 2008

    …that wasn’t very coherent, was it? I meant that, although being a request written in a way meant to entertain readers (“funny”), PZ was genuinely asking for a Jesus Cracker.

  75. #75 John Morales
    July 13, 2008

    When Swift made “A Modest Proposal”, actually acting on it would’ve been abhorrent. PZ is in a much better position, therefore.

    Sacred cows indeed.

  76. #76 John Farrell
    July 13, 2008

    I agree with John Pieret. At the outset, this thing sounds like it was a stunt. If Cook is a Catholic, and he wanted to show the wafer to his friend, why didn’t he just take him into the sacristy after the mass and ask the padre, ‘hey, my friend’s not RC but would like to see what the host looks like.’ Most priests would’ve said sure.

  77. #77 Henry Gee
    July 13, 2008

    John, I think you are wrong about blasphemy. One can blaspheme whether or not one is in the faith group concerned, and even if one doesn’t know one is doing it. To say otherwise is to licence all manner of desecrations, and I think that is very worrying. What PZ said was, I think, an incitement to religious hatred, but I have come to expect no better from him.

  78. #78 John S. Wilkins
    July 13, 2008

    So, Henry, if I say that L. Ron Hubbard is a fraud, or if I declare that Mohammad is not a prophet of God, then I commit blasphemy and can be punished? It seems to me that I must share the values of those who think such actions are blasphemous if I am to be convicted of that sort of a crime. To say otherwise makes me commit a crime dependent upon the beliefs and actions of others. I have no control over whether I commit that crime, they do. That seems to me to be wrong.

    Paul’s comment was in very bad taste, and if he followed through I would censure his lack of manners, but I think Paul’s attitude is dislike of all religion, not of particular religious adherents. And I also think that hate crime is an unnecessary bit of law – it is enough that people be protected from violence or harm, and no harm is done by these crimes. Inciting violence would be a crime, and Paul has not done that.

  79. #79 Lorax
    July 13, 2008

    There is one small point that has been lost by all the hand-wringing Protect-the-wafer contingent have overlooked (ignored) in PZ’s post. He was initially comparing the response of the Catholic church and churchgoers (at least locally) to a young man walking away from the altar with a piece of bread. 1. This student received death threats, 2. The student was reported to be physically assaulted (although not hurt), 3. The bread-to-flesh contingent has petitioned for the student’s expulsion, 4. Armed guards and nuns (complete with wooden yardsticks I expect) have been dispatched to protect said bread from being eaten taken from the facility to the response of the Catholic church and churchgoers to priests sexually assaulting little boys. 1. Remove priest from office, 2. Protect priest from the legal system, 3. Relocate priest to a new church (after some praying and stuff), 4. Resupply priest with a fresh stock of boy meat.

    It sure seems to me that a cracker that has been talked to is much more important to the Catholic church than a boy.

  80. #80 John Pieret
    July 13, 2008

    Pierce:

    For once, the data on the issue of transubstantiation are technically within the grasp of public (& possibly even media “personality”) understanding. Would it be better “framing” to address only genetics and radiocarbon dating?

    PZ isn’t proposing to do a scientific test on a consecrated host, either ethically (with the permission of the owner) or otherwise. He is proposing to do an essentially barbarian act of willful destruction in the nature of (if not on such a secularly “valuable” object as) the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha. Nothing in PZ’s threatened action will convince anyone, me included, of the scientific invalidity of transubstantiation for the simple reason that PZ’s act wouldn’t remotely be scientific.

    If it’s PZ’s intent to show that science is superior because of its rationality, it’s bad psychology and bad public relations to engage in irrational acts of provocation.

  81. #81 Henry Gee
    July 13, 2008

    John wrote: So, Henry, if I say that L. Ron Hubbard is a fraud, or if I declare that Mohammad is not a prophet of God, then I commit blasphemy and can be punished? It seems to me that I must share the values of those who think such actions are blasphemous if I am to be convicted of that sort of a crime. To say otherwise makes me commit a crime dependent upon the beliefs and actions of others. I have no control over whether I commit that crime, they do. That seems to me to be wrong.

    John, you may be right, but we live in the real world. If you went up to a Moslem and said that Muhammad wasn’t the Prophet, and it’s your right to say so, you would probably get a reaction that you would think was disproportionate.

    What I am saying is this – your argument gives licence to the following: for a person to (say) smear pig fat over a Jewish gravestone and say that they didn’t mean it, guv, they didn’t know it was blasphemy (even if they did), thus discounting the very real offence caused.

    John said: Paul’s comment was in very bad taste, and if he followed through I would censure his lack of manners, but I think Paul’s attitude is dislike of all religion, not of particular religious adherents.

    Yes, Paul’s comment was in very bad taste indeed, and had he made it in the UK he might well be in very serious trouble. In any case, Paul’s attitude is neither here nor there – it’s what he said that counted. And I am also disturbed by the attitude common among atheists that says ‘oh, I like you, it’s your religion I can’t stand’ as if one were separable from the other. This to me suggests a fundamental misreading of humanity.

    As you have mentioned Paul’s attitude, I’d say this. Paul seems to think that just because some creationists have given him a hard time then this gives him the right to be unpleasant about religion, wherever it is, without let, hindrance or consequence. This is not the behaviour of a person who claims the rational high groun – it is the behaviour, frankly, or a petuylant seven-year-old. I’m amazed that Science Blogs haven’t politely asked him to concentrate on science and to pursue his campaign or religious intolerance elsewhere.

    And I also think that hate crime is an unnecessary bit of law – it is enough that people be protected from violence or harm, and no harm is done by these crimes. Inciting violence would be a crime, and Paul has not done that.

    Perhaps. But he has hardly been very helpful towards the prevention or cessation of violence, has he?

  82. #82 Coturnix
    July 13, 2008

    “…atheists that says ‘oh, I like you, it’s your religion I can’t stand’ as if one were separable from the other. This to me suggests a fundamental misreading of humanity….”

    I think the problem is with those people who identify too strongly with their religion and are incapable of separating their persons from their beliefs. They need to rethink their attitude, and do some introspection as to why they allowed themselves to feel so personal about their beliefs – it’s just beliefs, after all, not their eyes and ears. Atheists who correctly separate the person from the belief are a useful trigger for such introspection.

  83. #83 Henry Gee
    July 13, 2008

    I think the problem is with those people who identify too strongly with their religion and are incapable of separating their persons from their beliefs.

    This may be a problem to you, Bora, but there are zillions of people out there for whom religion means a great deal. It is something they identify with, and even die for. I get very angry when people come up to me and say, well, Henry, I like you, it’s just religion I can’t stand – buts simply because they have failed to understand what religion is about, even to the extent that they can condemn it. But there are others to whom if you said that you’d probably get lynched. What price a principled atheism then?

    But we’re getting off the point. I think that what Paul has done is inexcusable, whatever one might say about religion, and the proper response is not to find excuses for his behaviour, but to condemn it. I think Paul would much rather such condemnation came from his friends. Don’t you?

  84. #84 michel
    July 13, 2008

    “Perhaps. But he has hardly been very helpful towards the prevention or cessation of violence, has he?”

    from a different perspective, pz has managed to start a discussion. agreed, not in the subtlest way, and not everybody’s contribution is top quality, but i think there’s something to learn for both sides.

    it shows non-christians how serious some christians can be about their claims. for instance, i read the original post when it just was just posted, and could not foresee that it would cause such a storm.

    on the other hand, christians get their beliefs questioned, although the question is wrapped in insults. so maybe it takes some cooling down for the question to be asked again, and more politely. but at least it’s clear there is a question. hopefully christians realize that their beliefs are not obvious to everyone, and ask themselves why. that of course doesn’t mean they have to get rid of their beliefs.

    at an abstract level, i think this whole discussion boils down to the question how far religious doctrines should reach. should everybody respect them? and i think that question is best asked from outside of religion. maybe pz’s way is actually a good one, as it avoids the woolly answers of theologians, but cuts right to the heart of the matter, motivating the religious people on the street to speak out.

    until now, pz has had my full support. but that would certainly stop if he would actually show pictures of him desecrating crackers. because that surely be the stuff of 7-year olds. and i think he knows that all too well.

  85. #85 michel
    July 13, 2008

    brett:

    “Matt, You give atheists a bad name…”
    “Are all materialists so obtuse?”
    “PS – isn’t it interesting that Satanists (theists) and Atheists (anti-theists) have the same goal….”

    your eagerness to generalize is telling. especially as you felt he need to point out that:

    “As for “death threats” these are completely inappropriate and are the result of a couple of unstable individuals – NOT the majority of Catholics or the Church.”

  86. #86 Thony C.
    July 13, 2008

    Henry wrote:
    <>simply because they have failed to understand what religion is about, even to the extent that they can condemn it.

    It would appear that you are claiming that the people who condemn religion only do so because they don’t understand it! An interesting standpoint I would to see how you defend it?

  87. #87 Thony C.
    July 13, 2008

    The last statement should of course read: “An interesting standpoint I would love to see how you defend it?”

  88. #88 Owlmirror
    July 13, 2008

    One can blaspheme whether or not one is in the faith group concerned, and even if one doesn’t know one is doing it.

    Sort of how like Christianity is blasphemy in the context of Judaism?

  89. #89 Henry Gee
    July 13, 2008

    It would appear that you are claiming that the people who condemn religion only do so because they don’t understand it!

    Actually, I should really have refined my statement. I think that there are people out there who claim to think that religion and the people who practice it can somehow be separated from one another. A small amount of knowledge of religious people would show that this is wrong. There are people who identify their religion very strongly with their own being, to the extent that they feel considerable distress if not allowed to practice it, ad to whom this simple dichotomy is simply incomprehensible.

    On the other hand, there are people out there with too much exposure to religion who are fleeing from it or have disowned it, and whose violence towards religion should be weighed against this personal context.

    Sort of how like Christianity is blasphemy in the context of Judaism?

    Sorry, but that’s just nonsense.

  90. #90 Owlmirror
    July 13, 2008

    Sort of how like Christianity is blasphemy in the context of Judaism?

    Sorry, but that’s just nonsense.

    Only in the sense that all religion is nonsense (which is itself a blasphemous statement, of course).

    However, some of the specific doctrines of Christianity — the Incarnation and Communion, for example — are not merely nonsense for Judaism, but are actually blasphemous.

    Hey, speaking of blasphemy, the Talmud records the fascinating story of Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya. Have you read that one?

      http://www.pathsinjudaism.com/judaism/handouts/elisha0.htm

  91. #91 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 13, 2008

    Henry Gee wrote

    John, you may be right, but we live in the real world. If you went up to a Moslem and said that Muhammad wasn’t the Prophet, and it’s your right to say so, you would probably get a reaction that you would think was disproportionate.

    In other words, critics of religion are more cautious about criticizing Islam because we have tragic evidence that some Muslims are much more liable to resort to violence when they believe their faith has been insulted than are Catholics, for example. Is this a good or a bad thing? There are certainly some Christians who wish their faith was being defended with similar zeal. Would you want criticism of your own faith to be suppressed by the threat of force? I am assuming not.

    This leads to one of my pet hobby-horses which is that people’s instinctive need for a sense of security leads them to look for certainty in their knowledge and explanations of the world. For most, the agnostic position of doubt is very hard to sustain. Thus, those faiths or ideologies which claim to have discovered or had revealed some sort of absolute or ultimate truth have a tremendous appeal. They feed a basic human need and history has shown how much power they have accumulated as a result.

    It doesn’t take much either. Consider the fictional religion of the Jedi Knights portrayed in the Star Wars movies. It inspired thousands to claim it as their faith in censuses in various countries a few years back. Mostly, it was done tongue-in-cheek but there are a few who apparently took it more seriously and have set up a few small churches. All that based on a few lines of poorly-written movie dialog given a sense of much greater profundity than they deserved by the consummate acting skills of Sir Alec Guinness. Did it take much more to originally inspire the great religions of today’s world?

    The problem with being in possession of Ultimate Truth is that it makes you right and everyone else wrong. What is worse is that Ultimate Truth, by definition, cannot be wrong so anything that contradicts it must be wrong and the people who promote that dissenting view have either been misled or have a more evil purpose of trying to destroy your truth for reasons best known to themselves. What is worse still is that this can lead to the position that dissenters must either be persuaded – where ‘persuasion’ can include all manner of force – to accept your Truth for their own good or be destroyed for the good of all.

    While contemporary atheist criticisms of religion have much to recommend them, there appear to be two main problems which, to be fair, could be more a matter of presentation than substance. The first is that the attack on religion is too broad in that it seems to tar all believers with the same brush as the extremists, which is neither true nor just. The second is that it is too narrow because it focuses primarily on religion and largely ignores those political ideologies which have proven just as harmful for much the same reasons.

    The fundamental problem of religions laying claim to Ultimate Truth remain, however. The fact that contemporary versions of faiths like Roman Catholicism or the Church of England have adopted relatively bland and inoffensive demeanors simply means that the problem is hidden not erased.

  92. #92 Paul Hutch
    July 13, 2008

    In response to:

    Once the magician in the church gives somebody the magical cracker, it’s theirs to do with as they please.

    John Pieret wrote at #20:

    No, from a legal standpoint, that’s not right, any more than when a car dealer gives you a car to test drive, you have the right to just drive off with it or to “test” it by entering it in a demolition derby. Property or the use of it can be given to others with strings attached, including how the property is treated.

    This is ridiculous, there are major legal differences between lending and giving. When a car dealer lends you a car or, a library lends you a book, there is an expectation by the lender that the item will be returned undamaged. If you fail to return the item undamaged you are liable for the item. When someone gives you something without making you agree to a legally binding contract limiting your usage then the item becomes yours to do with as you please.

    If you can provide a reference to US statutes that say otherwise I’d change my mind on this and also start lobbying to have the law repealed as being totally ridiculous. Without a solid reference I consider the statement that giving and lending are the same as completely false and ridiculous.

  93. #93 Beowulff
    July 13, 2008

    And I also think that hate crime is an unnecessary bit of law – it is enough that people be protected from violence or harm, and no harm is done by these crimes. Inciting violence would be a crime, and Paul has not done that.

    In general I agree with hate crime laws being unnecessary, except for one part: if a crime is committed out of bigotry and prejudice, it has a higher risk of repeat. I think the law should have a way to try and prevent that, although I’m skeptical that a simple longer sentence will do it.

    However, I agree that in no way should what the student or PZ did be considered a hate crime.

  94. #94 Toddahhhh
    July 13, 2008

    It’s a fracking cracker! Acknowledge and move on already!

  95. #95 mandrake
    July 13, 2008

    PS – isn’t it interesting that Satanists (theists) and Atheists (anti-theists) have the same goal….

    um… they do? I assume you mean “they both want to wipe out Christianity”?. Not quite. Atheist want people to think rationally, and to them this precludes *all* religions. Satanists, I assume, would see it as a your God/ Our God conflict.
    Conflating Atheism & Satanism is frequently done, but patently ridiculous. Anyone who believes in Satan is participating in the same theological system. An atheist does not want to participate in any theological system.

  96. #96 Nomen Nescio
    July 13, 2008

    there are zillions of people out there for whom religion means a great deal. It is something they identify with, and even die for. I get very angry when people come up to me and say, well, Henry, I like you, it’s just religion I can’t stand – buts simply because they have failed to understand what religion is about, even to the extent that they can condemn it.

    no, Henry, i dare say i have quite adequately understood what religion is about, and that is the reason i am an atheist.

    i don’t know if i’d like you or not, were we ever to meet face to face. i do know i would dislike any religion such that would make itself inseparable from your personality, in anyone’s opinion, and worst of all if it did so in your own opinion. to me, that is a harmful effect of religion upon its believers, and quite sufficient reason in and of itself for me to condemn religion — not that i was lacking for other ones.

    to me, your words in that quote paints you as a somewhat pitiable victim of a great and harmful social evil. you, the person, may very well still be a charming and wonderful human being — i would have no way of knowing, these short text-only scribblings is nowhere near enough to judge by — but by that self-description i can only conclude you have been unjustly harmed by a parasitic meme.

    that last sentence likely offends you. that offense is the problem. such a description of religion is mild, coming from me, yet i cannot see my opinion of religion as anything but fully justified — and i’m judging religion by the words and deeds of the religious, here! try to keep that last fact in mind, no matter how offended you may become.

    But there are others to whom if you said that you’d probably get lynched. What price a principled atheism then?

    i can’t quite understand your point here. are you trying to say principled atheists should hold our tongues for fear of being lynched? i would hope not; that would be a death threat.

    but back to the effing cracker. the whole point of PZ (and me) being so flabbergasted by all this outrage is that stealing the holy cracker is only offensive in the minds of the religious, not to us. to me, that’s a very minor issue — misappropriation of a nearly worthless piece of pastry that’s given away in any event. it’s impolite to lie or dissemble in order to get hold of anything, of course, but this particular lie is essentially victimless and harmless. it may be morally imperfect, but by such a small margin as to still be very far from outright wrong.

    the outrage and protest over it is all because some people have decided to be outraged and protestful. they have no good reason for it. they’ve decided to refer to it as a “consecrated host” — a term which, if you aren’t one of them, is effectively meaningless, because only buying into their belief system can give it any definition. they’ve likewise decided to take enormous, disproportionate offense at any use of the cracker which they’ve decided to disapprove, but all these rules of theirs are a castle built on air; to anybody outside their religion, those rules serve no purpose.

    to me, it’s a cracker that’s given away with a couple of strings attached. if i violate those strings to get hold of the cracker, to me, i’m mostly offending against my own personal integrity. to me, i would not be offending against Catholics at all by stealing the cracker, since i would in no way be harming them. only the Catholics disagree, and they disagree only because they’ve completely arbitrarily decided to do so!

    people are now demanding that any group of people’s completely arbitrary in-group rules should be held inviolable by out-groupers, simply because the group in question has made those rules and called them important. that, to me, is ludicrous. it’s trying to allow people to make up their own reality as they go along and forcing others to humor their delusions. well, okay, usually i do humor the crazy people — but mostly because going into their churches and telling them they’re all deluded is a lot of work with no payoff for me. i do not humor them because it’s right — it isn’t — but because it’s convenient.

    i suppose at this point it’d be superfluous to state i do not respect people’s religions. i try to respect people, unless they’ve convinced me somehow they do not deserve respect, but i do not respect their religions, which are epiphenomena separate from the people who hold them. the notion that the two would be inseparable is quite sufficient reason for me to condemn religion.

  97. #97 John Pieret
    July 13, 2008

    This is ridiculous, there are major legal differences between lending and giving. When a car dealer lends you a car or, a library lends you a book, there is an expectation by the lender that the item will be returned undamaged. If you fail to return the item undamaged you are liable for the item. When someone gives you something without making you agree to a legally binding contract limiting your usage then the item becomes yours to do with as you please.

    Is this how scientists feel when creationists start lecturing them on biology?

    The general common law rules for the transfer of either ownership or possession are the same. You can put conditions on both and an example of one is an example of the other. If you really can’t wrap your head around that, take the example of a charitable gift with the condition that it be used in a certain cause. Courts will enforce such a condition by preventing other uses of the money and if the donee cannot or will not meet the condition, any remaining money will be ordered to be returned.

    If the donee has a secret intent not to follow the condition, it can be fraud (depending on the intent) and taking the money and using it for other purposes is misappropriation, as is changing his mind about following the condition and refusing to return the property. In effect, the transfer never occurred because the conditions of the transfer were not met and the right to ownership/possession never passed to the donee.

    Accepting the property with knowledge of the conditions is an implied contract or a quasi-contract. The conditions of the quasi-contract themselves can be implied. I don’t ever remember signing a written contract with the library to return books or seeing any signs that explicitly state “these books must be returned.” However, the condition is implied in the very nature of a library and I cannot claim ignorance of the requirement because it is so commonly known that the law will not recognize claims of “ignorance” of it.

    You might try to argue that the rules of communion are not so commonly known as to prevent a claim of ignorance (though I’d maintain that the ceremony itself is obvious enough about what is to be done with host and anyone joining in a religious ceremony taking place in a private church has a duty to understand the rules or not to participate). Unfortunately, the young man in this case was at least raised a Catholic and can hardly claim ignorance credibly (though I think he probably didn’t have criminal intent). Nor can PZ or any of his correspondents on his blog credibly claim ignorance now, after all this brouhaha.

  98. #98 Nomen Nescio
    July 13, 2008

    The general common law rules for the transfer of either ownership or possession are […]

    …much younger than canon law.

    but i’m glad you’re analyzing the situation by means of the common law. the very assumption that that is the code that should apply, basically already means us atheists won. thank you.

  99. #99 James Goetz
    July 13, 2008

    I think PZ might be a man of his word according to an interview in the Washington Time.

    In an interview Friday, Mr. Myers said he already had received “a double-digit number” of positive responses, from people saying that they would try to get consecrated Catholic hosts for him and that the writer already had one.

    “Enough that I could sculpt a statue of them,” he said, declining to say what he’d do to desecrate them. “I’ve got a few ideas, but I want to keep the surprise.” He speculated that he might “make myself a coat of armor of them to protect myself from Catholics who would do me harm.”

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/12/professor-solicits-hosts-to-desecrate/

  100. #100 Tulse
    July 13, 2008

    Consider the fictional religion of the Jedi Knights portrayed in the Star Wars movies. […] there are a few who apparently took it more seriously and have set up a few small churches.

    …and who must feel like right gits after Phantom Menace came out, and it was revealed the Force is just an infection…

  101. #101 Coturnix
    July 14, 2008

    First, I know Henry and he is a good friend and he is very nice – but we know we disagree on this one topic.

    The inability of religious people to differentiate between persons and their beliefs has a number of negative consequences.

    First, it makes it very difficult to discuss religion as an important social phenomenon. After all, most of the recent books about religion, especially those by Dennett and Sloan Wilson (and to some degree even ‘The God Delusion’) are research proposals: ideas how to use methodologies of history, anthropology, sociology, ecology and evolutionary theory to study the origin, evolution and adaptive function of religion. The way religious people balk at the idea, due to their personal identification with their religion (and fear of what this research may uncover), makes it very difficult to conduct this important research.

    Second, it makes it difficult to fight against the negative social forces of religion in the political sphere. If religion cannot be criticized, then religious groups can push through all sorts of bad, anti-social, anti-democratic legislation. All they need to do when someone objects is to say “do not insult my religion because you insult me”.

    Third, inability to distinguish between one’s self and one’s belief is a sign of incomplete emotional development (it does not matter if you follow Piaget’s scheme, or some other – emotional development does happen) – such a person is not fully an adult. Yet, such a person has a right to run for office, vote, be a TV pundit, etc. Providing a test and forbidding them from voting is not a solution. The solution is to help them mature and become adults. The only method to do this is to make them uncomfortable. And that is what PZ did. Some will recoil and balk at it. But many, especially young ones, will read this and think to themselves: “hmmm, I believe, but I never really thought about Eucharist and stuff, and now that I stop to think – it really makes sense”. There, you have an adult.

  102. #102 Brian
    July 14, 2008

    What people are failing to realize here is that at least 75% of people who take the Eucharist in any given service are committing far worse blasphemy than anybody who purloins a cracker for PZ. If you’ve not confessed any mortal sins (masturbation with an intent to do so in the future counts, as does divorce, out-of-wedlock sex, using birth control – pretty much anything to do with wangs or vajayjays), you’re taking the Eucharist with an unclean spirit. And you believe in all this!

    Literally, maybe one or two of the hundreds or thousands of Catholics that are criticizing PZ over this actually have a right to do so. Catholics are relying on whoever’s falsely taking the crackers to have a sufficient understanding of their theology to understand that it’s not just some guy handing out crackers in a gaudily-decorated, apparently public building. But the problem is, once you reach that level of theological understanding, you realize that almost nobody who’s up there supplicating actually has a right to do so. So it’s already a joke. At what point does this become so absurd that it passes the event horizon of hypocrisy?

  103. #103 Barn Owl
    July 14, 2008

    If adulthood requires attention-whoring and the attitudes expressed in the article that James Goetz linked, then I am quite happy to number my (atheist) self among the psychologically neotenous.

  104. #104 Mike O'Risal
    July 14, 2008

    In the meanwhile, Webster Cook — the student who “stole” the magic cracker — has filed an anti-hazing charge against Campus Catholic Ministries. The university’s rules prohibit any campus organization from forcing students to consume any food against their wills as part of their anti-hazing prohibitions. It brings up some interesting questions.

    And at the same time, Christians in India have rioted over the depiction in a local newspaper of Christ holding a beer, smashing the offices of the newspaper that ran the image. Shades of the Danish Mohammed cartoon incident, perhaps?

  105. #105 Andrew
    July 14, 2008

    Anna K. | July 12, 2008 2:00 PM (#29) wrote: “So, hypothetically, it would be wrong for an academic to make offensive remarks about sex or skin color, but not wrong for an academic to suggest that people steal a Torah scroll and mail it to him, so that he could publicly vandalize it?”

    One major difference. A Torah is not eaten, digested and shat out by anyone passing who wants to partake of the service. Oh – and the other major difference: sex and skin colour are things you are ejected from the womb with. Wacky ideas are not. Care to defend the doctrines of the Norse or Greek Pantheon?

    Or another: if a Rabbi takes a roll of toilet paper and utters some magic incantations, does that make it a Torah?

    Finally, as an atheist, I would not know if a particular Torah had some actual historic value beyond some subjective value as a reproduction of a valued document. But if the Rabbi was willing to feed me bits of factory-produced paper to eat so that I absorbed the word of YHWH and he had a few rolls of them out the back to be magically converted into God’s breathed Word by a handwave and a few incantations in Hebrew, I might seriously consider that there was no actual value in the paper I was eating but rather in the act of absorption itself and the giving over to doctrine.

    Do you see the difference?

    Personally, I find PZ’s little challenge to be typical of his hyperbolic self; also tongue in cheek and playing up the big bad atheist with tentacles and a sharp beak. But he is not the one who threatened to kill a young man or destroy his potential academic career. And he is now also the one who is taking the misdirected venom from the baying nutbags trying to get him sacked (plus death threats).

    A sense of proportion can take you a long way. Too bad that these idiots lack that sense. I hope you are more wise. In case you are confused: not respecting an opinion that is patently silly is not the same as threatening harm to someone.

  106. #106 clinteas
    July 14, 2008

    Ok.
    as a veteran of the cracker wars I can say that however you try to twist it or make it fit your particular belief system,it all boils down to :
    You have all the right to call your cracker god,but I have all the right to call a cracker a cracker !

    And it has amazed me throughout this whole spiel,how many people do not grasp the concept of satire.Or the concpt of living in the 21st century,for that matter…..

  107. #107 Trinifar
    July 14, 2008

    Coturnix: The solution is to help them mature and become adults. The only method to do this is to make them uncomfortable.

    The “only” method? That’s a pretty limiting stance, and not one that I think that many educators or parents would sign on to.

    IMO when rationality forgets about compassion and human understanding it ceases to be rational.

    When PZ titled his post “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker” he ceased being rational. The wafer was no more just a cracker than a child is just a piece of meat or the US Declaration of Independence is just ink on paper or The Origin of Species is just a book. Myers failure to acknowledge that is especially absurd coming from a scientist who’s supposedly interested in see rationality spread.

  108. #108 liz
    July 14, 2008

    Goa was a portuguese colony during the inquisition. It was a predominantly hindu state in india. people in goa thought that eating bread would make them lose their religion…(early indians did not bake bread, but we had/have it in a form similar to tortillas).
    so what did the dear missionaries do. they dropped bread in the village well which was the only source of drinking water for the people living there. they forcibly converted many many hindus to christianity. they gave the converts economic benefits which obviously lured their relatives to xtianity.
    guess what…we have 25% roman catholics in goa bcos of deceit, force and luring.
    there is nothing that is pure abt xtianity. nothing.

  109. #109 Coturnix
    July 14, 2008

    The only one that works. The trick is to make people a little bit uncomfortable a little bit at a time – in person. It sound actually very respectful and gentle. Sara Robinson on Orcinus described the process in a series of posts last year.

    But at the same time we need to make people a LOT uncomfortable in an unpersonal public venue – which is what the books, blogs, etc. do, thus pushing the Overton Window into the right direction: making it OK to discuss religion in public.

  110. #110 Anna K.
    July 14, 2008

    Andrew,

    I agree that a sense of proportion is a valuable thing; I do not see much of it here. I am not sure why you think this has anything to do with defending the validity or invalidity of religious doctrines. I am defending the rights of communities not to have things they value stolen and publicly vandalized. I have said above that academia should be a place where the content of ideas is analyzed and critiqued. And I have also said that PZ has a right to free speech, and that death threats are the wrong response. But basically what PZ is doing — and I have no doubts he will follow through — is analogous to sending people out to steal a flag from a soldier’s coffin, so that someone who says he objects to nationalism can ‘teach’ people that it’s just a piece of cloth which is not worth dying for, by posting a video of himself wiping his boots on it.

    What I am taking from many of these posts, including yours, is that many seem to think the following is a valid ethical principle:

    If you and I value something, but we value it for different reasons (I think it’s a sacred object, you deem it a worthy artistic or historic artifact), then you will graciously allow me to keep it unmolested. But if you do not personally value something which I value, and you think my reasons for valuing it are stupid, it is fine for you to urge people to steal it from my community, and to publicly trash what my community holds valuable.

    For those who think this is justified because they call it a teachable moment when those stupid religious people will wake up and say, “Goldurn, Clem, it IS just a cracker! I’m gonna go larn me some science, ’cause Notre Dame’s bin holding me back!” — well, it’s naive at best to think that that’s how it will be received. It will be received as a public expression of contempt for Catholics, designed to cause pain to that community. Which of course, is exactly what it is.

  111. #111 Anna K.
    July 14, 2008

    Coturnix, I am a reader of your blog and enjoy your work, but I must disagree with much of what you’ve said. What PZ is doing is not pedagogy. Stealing a consecrated host and using it in a way to cause pain to the community is a very old form of vandalism historically used to publicly demonstrate one’s contempt for Catholics. It is no different than, as Henry Gee said above, smearing a Jewish grave with pig fat. It is no different than publicly demonstrating contempt for any other group, except in academia, those who say things that offend women and people of different races get ousted, whereas those who say anti-religious things apparently get applauded. Personally, I will be writing a letter to support PZ’s keeping his job, because I think the best way to combat stupid speech is not to attempt to silence the speaker, but to encourage thoughtful people to speak up. And I hope that UMM will foster some public dialogue on this, so that PZ is not perceived as the public voice of UMM, or of the science community.

    If you would really like to make people squirm about their unquestioned assumptions, have them take philosophy classes. (Unexamined positivism, verificationism and scientism are rampant on these threads.)

    I am also wondering why you think the scientific study of religion has somehow been stopped dead in its tracks by obstreperous religious people. Monks and nuns are perfectly happy to have their brainwaves scanned, fundies are happy to let filmmakers trail along with them to ‘Jesus Camp,’ the origins of religious texts are analyzed, historical sites and artefacts with religious import are routinely examined and publicized and anything that looks like it would bring a religious doctrine into question is all over the popular press (the Judas gospel, etc.) — I dunno, historians and anthropologists and research psychologists and archaeologists and filmmakers and neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists seem to be funding plenty of careers and publications by studying religion. Dennett, Harris and Wilson and Dawkins are collecting some generous royalties, and I myself graciously participated as a subject in one of Sam Harris’s studies of religious belief. (Nice of me, don’t you think? ;-) ) What important research on religion have scholars been unable to conduct because religious people rose up to prevent it?

    Re your worries about political action, saying ‘do not insult my religion’ was not enough for the religious right: abortion is legal, and gay marriage becoming increasingly so. In a free society, it is simply a given that people with whom you do not agree will attempt to influence the political process. The answer for others is to round up votes, publicity and money to attempt to influence things their way. That is what the religious right does, and we can do it, too. I donate to the candidates of my choice, protest against introducing creationism or ID into the science classroom, promote legalizing gay marriage and preserving reproductive rights and I follow up in the voting booth every chance I get, from the school board on up. (Especially the school board.)

    Regarding identifying oneself with one’s views, by the amount of bristling on these threads when some hapless theist expresses the notion that atheists can’t be moral, atheists personalize their worldviews as well. You will find that along with religion/anti-religion, people tend to identify with their politics too. What people consider to be most true and real about existence, and about how we should shape our societies, is indeed highly personal. How could it be impersonal?

    Regarding demonstrations of adulthood, if your definition of maturity means that we must all subscribe to the intellectual monoculture of your choice, well … what can I say, but that part of growing up is realizing that mature people can engage in critical thinking and reflection and still come to hold very different viewpoints? And that mature people engage in reasoned argumentation, rather than demonstrations of public vandalism which are designed to show contempt for anyone unlike one’s own brilliant self.

    Having more adults around this business would be nice.

  112. #112 brian levine
    July 14, 2008

    The question your essay didn’t answer, which, to me, is the heart of the matter, is along the lines of, “is it more illegal to smear pig fat on a Jew’s grave than an atheist’s grave?”. In other words, should there be hate crimes, crimes which take into account the sensibilities of the victims.

  113. #113 Brian
    July 14, 2008

    Re: Anna K

    “If you and I value something, but we value it for different reasons (I think it’s a sacred object, you deem it a worthy artistic or historic artifact), then you will graciously allow me to keep it unmolested. But if you do not personally value something which I value, and you think my reasons for valuing it are stupid, it is fine for you to urge people to steal it from my community, and to publicly trash what my community holds valuable.”

    They don’t value it, though. Like I said above, I’m sure that well more than half of the parishoners taking communion are in a state of mortal sin, and most of them have no intention of changing. The priests are not ignorant of this, and yet the Eucharist is given without question. Everybody that takes the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin is far more guilty in the Church’s eyes than PZ or his acolytes would be, because they don’t believe.

    Given that Catholics routinely and wantonly break their own rules on this matter, I have to assume that the anger in this type of case comes from somebody pointing out, in no uncertain terms, how very, very stupid transsubstantiation is. Because they all know this. Even the priests know how absurd the Eucharistic Mystery is. So they manufacture anger to keep their fantasy alive for a little while longer.

    And when death threats and physical harassment are directed at somebody (the student in Florida) who, from all reports, had no desire to insult or blaspheme this idiotic ritual, I’d say that tearing down a few sacred cows is in order. Sitting around while somebody is sacrificed (hyperbole intended) because Catholics are afraid of being exposed as superstitious, hypocritical peasants is not my idea of a good time.

  114. #114 Tel
    July 14, 2008

    (I am an ex-Catholic, if that has any relevance to the comment).

    Imagine a symbol of the one thing that you love most in all the world. It might be the flag of your country, or your wedding ring, or some other symbol with deeply personal meaning to you.

    Now imagine that somebody takes that and defecates on it.

    It doesn’t matter how silly that symbol might be, you would be furious, and rightly so. I might not believe that your country is the best one in the world, or that your wife (or husband) is the person most deserving of love, or that your religion is the one and only path to truth. It is deeply, and personally, offensive to see a symbol of that mistreated in any way.

    It would be absolutely reasonable to assume that mistreating those kinds of symbols is likely to arouse passionate anger in the person to whom they’re dear. It’s the equivalent of fighting words. Society does have the right to limit it. Just where the line is drawn, and what counts as “mistreatment” versus “art” or “criticism,” is open to debate.

  115. #115 Nomen Nescio
    July 14, 2008

    Regarding identifying oneself with one’s views, by the amount of bristling on these threads when some hapless theist expresses the notion that atheists can’t be moral, atheists personalize their worldviews as well.

    false analogy. the “atheists can’t be moral” trope is not a slur on atheism, it’s a slur on the personal standards and ethics of each atheist. we’re justified in taking offense at that, because it’s calling us individually immoral; it actually doesn’t say anything untrue about atheism per se.

    You will find that along with religion/anti-religion, people tend to identify with their politics too.

    and they’re just as wrong for it. belief systems that seek to graft themselves inseparably to the personalities and individualities of the people who hold them are deeply suspect to me for that reason alone, whether it be a religion or a political platform.

    What people consider to be most true and real about existence, and about how we should shape our societies, is indeed highly personal. How could it be impersonal?

    if you seriously can’t see how it could be otherwise, how are you not part of the problem?

    of course it could be otherwise. your opinions are not your person, not even those opinions you happen to really, really like. insulting your political views is not the same as insulting you. nor is insulting your religion. each of those insults says, at most, that you hold an opinion which the insulter finds insultingly wrong. the option of changing your opinion, and thus escaping the insult, is always there. for that matter, the possibility that your dearly held opinion might in fact be insultingly wrong can never be ruled out! how could it be otherwise?

  116. #116 Tulse
    July 14, 2008

    It would be absolutely reasonable to assume that mistreating those kinds of symbols is likely to arouse passionate anger in the person to whom they’re dear.

    Certainly.

    It’s the equivalent of fighting words. Society does have the right to limit it.

    Certainly not. You have no right not to be offended.

    There are plenty of people offended by gays, and see gay marriage as mistreating the symbol of their religion. There are plenty of people offended by women who run for public office, or by blacks in positions of authority. There are plenty of people offended by men who wear long hair. I’m personally offended by Celine Dion. But none of that matters, because we as a society generally don’t believe that other people should not be allowed to be offensive.

    If you think that PZ shouldn’t be able to do what he did, then you should also think that Dutch cartoonists shouldn’t be able to represent Mohammed, as the situation is precisely parallel. Do you really want to stifle free speech in that fashion.

  117. #117 Brian
    July 14, 2008

    “Regarding demonstrations of adulthood, if your definition of maturity means that we must all subscribe to the intellectual monoculture of your choice, well …”

    Oh, and by the way, an intellectual (or at least an ideological) monoculture is exactly what you want, at least when it comes to people that are on your side. You’re embarrassed that one of the public faces of liberal atheism is somebody as puerile as PZ, and you’re embarrassed to be associated with that. Because ‘we’ should be enlightened enough to respect others’ sacred cows, without any demonstration of respect or even human decency in return. Well, you know what? I’m embarrassed to be associated with somebody who has sufficient cognitive dissonance that the important thing is not that somebody’s life was threatened over a cracker, but that you might be associated with somebody who is not sufficiently enlightened. Or ‘adult.’ Or whatever you want to call it.

    Oh, and to Tel:
    “Society does have the right to limit it.”

    No, it doesn’t.

  118. #118 Anna K.
    July 14, 2008

    Brian,

    Just for the record, I am not an atheist, and I find intellectual monocultures boring. I’m not at all embarrassed that PZ is one of the public faces of atheism. He and other atheist public boors are good for church recruitment, which is good for me, since I work at a church. A minority of religious people act like boors in return, but most of the religious people I know, when listening to the bile of a Dawkins or a Myers, just shake their heads and say that we ought to pray for them. (It’s them thar polite and thoughtful atheists that pose a potential threat to my salary!)

    I am, however, bothered that PZ might be considered one of the public faces of science (maybe not so much any more?). I have children in a school system which resides under the very buckle of the Bible Belt, and the more that real science gets associated in the public eye with people like PZ, the more attractive ID looks to local school boards and state legislatures.

    You and I might possibly be associated if it comes to valuing scientific literacy, but otherwise I do not think you need to feel personally embarrassed by me, any more than I feel personally embarrassed by your failing to understand the dangers of a professor of science with a national platform substituting expressions of bigotry for argumentation. Perhaps other readers might get what I am talking about, though they may not bother to post on Science Blogs. And if no one else who posts thinks I am talking any sense at all, oh well. As I said, I do not believe in intellectual monocultures, and so true to form, I have provided this thread with my own irrational, non-atheist views for your entertainment.

    And I will now repeat for the third or fourth time on this thread that I think the death threats are wrong. And downright unenlightened and immature, when it comes down to it. And most certainly not what Jesus would do.

  119. #119 bre
    July 14, 2008

    I’m a bit late to this but I want to chime in.

    #5 Brett says, “PZ Myers is not speaking his mind – he is calling for acts of desecration and hate against the Catholic people.”

    There’s an important distinction Brett is missing. PZ is not calling for hate against any individual or group. Even as much as he has railed against religious faith, he has never specifically attacked adherents of any religious persuasion EXCEPT on the basis of criticizing bad (or merely ridiculous) ideas they hold. This is especially the case when believing bad ideas cause people to do bad things that they normally wouldn’t otherwise do.

    Myers’ rant may seem mean to people who believe in transubstantiation or wish to protect religious beliefs from criticism. However, it is perfectly reasonable to point out that believing that a cracker turns into Jesus as nothing short of one of the most preposterous things you’ve ever heard in your life. Calling on “abuse” of the cracker is simply a funny way of pointing out the absurdity of such a belief, particularly in light of the actual abuse, in the form of death threats, both he and Webster Cook have received.

    If Catholics on the whole are offended by this, that’s their problem. If you’re going to hold silly beliefs, then you deserve all the liabilities that comes with such beliefs.

  120. #120 windy
    July 14, 2008

    What people are failing to realize here is that at least 75% of people who take the Eucharist in any given service are committing far worse blasphemy than anybody who purloins a cracker for PZ.

    Exactly! This ritual, if considered on its own terms, puts all their souls into grave risk week after week. Is the Eucharist fugu for the soul?

  121. #121 Pierce R. Butler
    July 14, 2008

    John Pieret @ # 80: He is proposing to do an essentially barbarian act of willful destruction… Nope, Prof. Myers is proposing an act of desecration, particulars carefully unspecified: those who interpret this as violent or scatological do seriously need to consider their own extreme mental tendencies. I’m personally anticipating something that would make the surviving members of Monty Python gnash their teeth in raw comedic envy, but then I already know my mental tendencies reflect my absurd environment.

    Henry Gee @ # 83: … there are zillions of people out there for whom religion means a great deal. It is something they identify with, and even die for.

    I don’t know which batch of religiosos you might hang out with, but the ones I monitor are excessively fond of the condescending slogan, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” You may think it appropriate to treat them as if they were children incapable of making such distinctions, but can that (ahem) indulgence stretch to cover their inability to make them about their own ideologies?

    Speaking of conceptual confusions: If it’s PZ’s intent to show that science is superior because of its rationality, it’s bad psychology and bad public relations to engage in irrational acts of provocation.

    His proposed actions are in the name of atheism, not science. Webster Cook has suffered significant abuse for reasons of pure superstition & institutional power-politics; if defiance of same now qualifies as “science”, then the definition of that term has gone beyond Behe’s liberal extrapolation, and even uneducated minor-league heretics like myself can strut about wearing lab coats.

    My apologies to both for the unseemly lag on my side of this dialog: some god or gods unknown chose to hurl a tree limb at my phone/DSL line yesterday, thereby seriously limiting my sacrileges to a small area (which, however, I did knowingly clear of sticks on the Sabbath).

  122. #122 clinteas
    July 15, 2008

    @ 107,Trinifar :

    //When PZ titled his post “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker” he ceased being rational. The wafer was no more just a cracker than a child is just a piece of meat or the US Declaration of Independence is just ink on paper or The Origin of Species is just a book//

    This has been refuted so many times in the last week that I can only just stifle a jawn over your comment.

    How did he cease being rational,took some E,snorted some Coke? Didnt think so…I guess you mean did something irrational,but even that is not true,he responded with satire to the catholic reactions to Webster Cook pinching a cracker and in the process being manhandled and given threats,and if you dont get satire,thats not PZ’s fault.

    The US declaration OI,or to give some examples from the crackergate threats on Pharyngula,the Mona Lisa,or the US constitution,are objects of intrinsic artistic or political/social value,and do not require a robed pedophile on crack mumbling stuff in Latin over them to turn into something valuable.

  123. #123 John Morales
    July 15, 2008

    So, after all this, it would be nice to think someone’s (anyone’s!) opinion may have been swayed.

    Given the footprint this affair has had, I personally already consider it a win for PZ. He seems happy enough about it – maybe he’s a good actor too.

    It will be interesting to see how PZ treats his hosts.
    The stage is set.

  124. #124 BKKKJ
    July 15, 2008

    I haven’t read the entire thread so I apologize if I am repeating someone else’s prior perspective, but I believe PZ’s purpose is not to insult or humiliate individuals. It is to use the tactic of ridicule to erode the very widely held belief in society at large that religious ideas deserve immunity from criticism. To me, this seems like the most immediate and possibly effective way to counter the efforts of religion based power structures to impose the foundations upon which they justify their bid for power on the rest of us.

  125. #125 DSKS
    July 15, 2008

    What initially started out as an isolated event, an inappropriate reaction to an inappropriate act, is now spiraling out of control as new players step into the ring to add further layers of inappropriateness to the proceedings.

    I would argue that the majority of Catholics would agree that a guy getting beat down over a wafer, even a consecrated one, is a tad excessive. A more measured reaction along the lines of, “That is unacceptable to our faith, if this is a disagreeable position for you then perhaps you should reconsider you Church affiliation” would have been more appropriate, and probably more usual. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a private group adhering to a set of standards, however seemingly arbitrary to others. It’s a common phenomenon not at all restricted to religion. I doubt this is the first time somebody has been guilty of blasphemy in a church; it’s just happens to be the one rare even to be handled with sufficient incompetence as to end up in the news.

    So with that in mind, I think PZ’s heavy-handed response was simply adding a further level of inappropriateness to a situation that was already snowballing into the realm of the sublimely irrational. Now, the danger is that the initial cause of this nonsense will melt away, replaced as it is with the instance of a university professor making highly inflammatory statements with regard to a specific faith. I defend PZ’s rights to say what he said, but that doesn’t mean it was at all wise or constructive for him to say it.

  126. #126 Matt Hussein Platte
    July 15, 2008

    @Brian#102: so absurd that it passes the event horizon of hypocrisy

    I am so stealing this phrase!

  127. #127 Eamon Knight
    July 15, 2008

    I have nothing useful to add except to note that this must be the first 100-comment thread Wilkins has ever gotten. That should be a big boost to his ego, except that we’re all talking about someone else…..

  128. #128 John S. Wilkins
    July 15, 2008

    You aren’t suggesting I have an ego, are you? Anyway, it doesn’t count if nobody knows the other guy’s name… Moxie? Murcka? I can’t recall…

  129. #129 Thony C.
    July 17, 2008

    Eamon Knight wrote:

    I have nothing useful to add except to note that this must be the first 100-comment thread Wilkins has ever gotten.

    Not true! I distinctly remember congratulating the Aussie Anthropoid on an excellent double century on one of his threads. Just don’t ask me which one ;)

  130. #130 Owlmirror
    July 17, 2008

    Anyway, it doesn’t count if nobody knows the other guy’s name… Moxie? Murcka? I can’t recall…

    Mutagen. It must definitely be Papa Zebrafish Mutagen.

  131. #131 Jérôme ^
    July 21, 2008

    Your paragraph about the Thirty Year’s War is full of deep wisdom. Never before have I seen that important truth expressed with such clarity (and I live in totally secular, «laïque» France!). It really belongs to some FAQ or something like that.

    But there’s a little something to add to that point: it’s that, collectively, we actually have the duty to blaspheme once in a while. For, as much as you shewed that the right to blasphemy is essential, it is also true that any unused right will decay (methinks this must be some corollary to a famous sentence by Ben Franklin). So the boundaries must be enforced once in a while, and as we are civilized, we don’t do that by urinating along our territory, but by blaspheming.

  132. #132 John S. Wilkins
    July 21, 2008

    Thank you Jérôme. That means a lot to me. I fully agree too that a little blasphemy, if it doesn’t involve destruction of property or violation of anyone’s actual rights, is necessary from time to time. So here goes:

    Zeus is a fart-arse!

    That feels better.

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