Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Not so very long ago, Americans mocked muslim nations for rioting and issuing death threats over the publication of a few cartoons in Danish newspapers. A little over one month ago, Americans once again sat back in a cloud of smug judgmentalism as they laughed at the uproar caused by a teddy bear that was named “Mohammad” by a classroom full of kids. American christians aren’t so backward and superstitious as all those muslims, the religious amongst us congratulated themselves arrogantly. Afterall, we don’t threaten to kill people over cartoons and teddy bears, nor do we fly airplanes into buildings, and kill thousands of innocent people like they do!

But the religious fundamentalists among us are now being faced with the cold hard reality of their own lurking insanity as they threaten a college professor’s job and his very life because he dared to mock the catholic church when they exploded in outrage after a teen-ager “kidnapped” a host — a goddam cracker served at the holy eucharist in a catholic church. Unfortunately, that same mentality — or lack of mentality — that caused some muslims to commit acts of violence is the same militant kneejerkism that lurks in every fundamentalist religious movement, even here in America, the land of egalitarianism and tolerance.

Except for the uncomfortable fact that there is very little tolerance shown towards anyone who is “different” in this country. Tolerance is the lack of discrimination against anyone who is different — and this includes people who do not share your religious beliefs and who might even ridicule them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that tolerance is something that the religious in every country of the world are sorely lacking.

Some people accuse atheists of possessing the same militantism as the religious wingnuts, while noting that there is a disproportionate number of atheists in science. But they are conveniently overlooking the fact that atheists/scientists have endured the burning of their books (and their bodies) at the hands of institutionalized religious insanity throughout the ages without rioting and killing people, or even threatening to do so. Don’t believe me? As a modern day test, why don’t you steal a science book from your local library — Darwin’s “Origin of Species” if you must — photograph it and include it in a letter to the local newspaper telling the public that you kidnapped this book from the library and plan to burn it on the front steps of your local catholic church. What would happen to you?

You would be issued a fine from the library for not returning the book and you might possibly be charged with a misdemeanor for burning without a permit or for vandalism or for something similar. And maybe your library card would be revoked since you have publically proven yourself to be a hopeless cretin. But would such an act result in threats to your livelihood? Your life? The lives of your family?

But if you steal a tasteless piece of unleavened bread from your local catholic church after it was given to you — well! That is a horrible act that should result in your death! And if you have the audacity to agree with someone who committed such a heinous act, as PZ Myers has done on his blog, then you deserve to lose your job (nevermind the freedom of speech that is supposedly held dear in this country). Further, you and those whom you love should be killed for your blasphemy!

But, the religious wingnuts whine, unleavened bread is transubstantiated into the body of Jesus Christ upon consecration by a priest! So of course this kid stole the body of Christ! And PZ Myers is advocating the same — so of course they are horrible people who should be killed so they can begin burning in hellfire earlier than they would have otherwise!

But transubstantiation is a load of horseshit, as anyone — catholic or not — with a wheat allergy can tell you, since they are just as likely to suffer anaphylaxis from consuming unconsecrated host wafers as they are after consuming a consecrated host. (I assume that vegans who are also catholics realize that consecrated hosts haven’t really undergone “transubstantiation”). Worse, the wafers taste the same before and after consecration — if god was real, you’d think he would have the common decency to at least improve the flavor of consecrated hosts, even a teensy bit (although, I have heard that human flesh, which I presume, includes the flesh of JC himself, tastes a little sweeter than chicken — which sounds much tastier than those horrible disgusting wafers). And all this outrage overlooks the fact that christians are endorsing ritual cannibalism, either symbolic or real, depending upon your beliefs, as a central part of their belief system — you don’t have to be a vegetarian to find that practice absolutely revolting.

The real enemy here is the irrational attachment of exceptional emotional value to silly objects like hosts. This irrational belief that some objects are “holy” and therefore deserve more respect and consideration than do mere people should stop — how many millions of “mere people” have been murdered in senseless wars that began in the name of Christ or Mohammed for the purpose of protecting holy objects and rituals? Who are the real lunatics here?

Comments

  1. #1 WTFWJD
    July 12, 2008

    Hell, I would have taken it home and fried it for a miniature Jesus burger.

  2. #2 Glendon Mellow
    July 12, 2008

    I’ve been following and reading the commentary on Crackergate these past few days, and I must say I agree with your post in its entirety.

    You’re the post-est with the most-est. Well said.

  3. #3 Fat Kid
    July 12, 2008

    Shamefully ignorant.

    Let’s draw some distinctions, shall we?

    1. The college kid came INTO a worship service and proceeded to desecrate the most sacred thing Catholics believe. Whether or not they’re right, it’s a pretty crappy thing to do. It’s akin to going to a Synagogue and taking a whiz on the Torah. Whether or not the Torah is a load of manure, that’s profoundly disrespectful.

    2. If a kid went to a gay pride rally and started waiving hate speech signs, would you be as approving? Maybe. But would you also be as approving if your governor then started blogging about what a wonderful thing it was on his state-tax-payer-funded website and how he would LOVE do the same if given the chance? No? Why not? Because the governor is a state actor? Well…so is the prof.

    3. Beheading and getting canned are not the same thing, Bright-eyes.

    4. Catholics say that the ‘substance’ is mystically transformed into the body of Christ, while the ‘accidents’ of bread and wine remain. If you had payed attention in your Philosophy class in college, you’d know that under Aristotelian thinking of it looked/smelled/tasted/reacted any different than normal bread or wine it would DISprove transubstantiation. That’s tran-substance-iation, for the less sophisticated.

    5. You’re a moron. You probably deserve to be fired, too.

  4. #4 Heather
    July 12, 2008

    Great post! You’re right. “The real enemy here is the irrational attachment of exceptional emotional value to silly objects like hosts.”

  5. #5 Brett
    July 12, 2008

    Keep it up, atheists on “science blog”!

    You look like a group of autistic, morally obtuse, angry teenagers!

    Thank you for proving YOUR insanity and intolerance.

    Andrew Sullivan, WorldDaily.net, The Washington Times, the National Review and a wide variety to other media have picked up the story of your call for hate crimes.

    Thank you!

  6. #6 oaksterdam
    July 12, 2008

    Brett:

    Are you the same Brett that just got called out for sockpuppetry over at PZed’s place?

  7. #7 who cares
    July 12, 2008

    @Fat kid:
    Point 1) Which is exactly what this post says. The people who are now going nuts about the removal of this wafer were loudly condemning the people who went nuts when that danish newspaper publish those cartoons of Mohammed. Depicting Mohammed is absolutely forbidden, being about the same level of sacrilege (can’t be blasphemy since you need to believe in said religion for that) as desecrating a communion wafer (after it is blessed). Why can’t they take their own medicine.

    Point 2) Before you make spurious claims do a bit of research. ScienceBlogs is not a state institute. PZ is not paid by his university or any government institute to blog on ScienceBlogs. Further there is the distinction between work time, when PZ works for the university, and free time, the time that PZ can make this type of argument.

    Point 3) So you are one of those persons who won’t look (behind the curtain) at the death threats that PZ got instead arguing (badly) that he should be fired.

    Point 4) Sophistry to get around the point. The people who went nuts about this don’t see it like that. They haven’t had the benefit of a philosophy class and when the priest gives them the wafer and says “the body of christ” they take it literally. So they are not only performing ritual cannibalism but actual as well. That is why the kid got accused of kidnapping christ.

    Point 5) splinter, beam, eye. Oh and you might want to learn a bit about logical fallacies (ad hominem in this case), your insult doesn’t invalidate the arguments made.

  8. #8 Who Cares
    July 12, 2008

    Had a brain fart.
    Blasphemy is just verbal sacrilege.

  9. #9 Fat Kid
    July 12, 2008

    who,

    1. No one went INTO a mosque to post the picture during their times of worship. So there’s a difference you’re completely ignoring. As for depicting Mohammad, you’re simply wrong about it being a categorical rule of Islam.

    2. Myers was linking to his blog under his official faculty webpage. State university, state employee, state funded webpage -> state action is a permissible inference, even without going into the rather likely issue of whether or not Myers worked on his blog using his state-funds-provided computer and state-funds provided internet (perhaps during state-funded working hours?). But even if you disagree, it’s still a highly offensive act in flagrant violation of University policy -> firing is not unwarranted.

    3. Canning is not beheading. I’m not defending anyone who says kill the guy – they’re just plain wrong. Even (as far as I’m aware) under Catholic teachings. (See, e.g., the 5th commandment.)

    4. Do Catholics claim to eat their God? Yes. Wrong? Perhaps. Regardless, what little miss smarter-than-thou said about transubstantiation was shamefully ignorant of Catholic teachings (and basic philosophy / semantics).

    5. Heh heh. Doesn’t mean she’s not a moron who is too dangerously unqualified to discuss religion.

  10. #10 Fat Kid
    July 12, 2008

    Oh…and would you still be as sympathetic if he was posting pictures of nooses and spewing racist rhetoric (linked, of course, from his faculty webpage), or would you think some kind of disciplinary action might be appropriate?

  11. #11 Who Cares
    July 12, 2008

    @Kid (#10):
    1) Again sophistry (and selective quoting) to get around an argument. The more fundamentalist muslims find that chapter 42, verse 11 not only applies to allah but also to Mohammed, the reason for this is to prevent idolatry of mohammed (interpreted from chapter 21, verse 52-54). Interpretation of the koran is not static and all of those paintings in your second link happen to be made before the prohibiting against depicting Mohammed was generally accepted by the more fundamentalist streams in the islam.
    Also nitpicking to try to weasel out of having to admit you are wrong. You simply cannot “kidnap” a consecrated wafer other then by going into a temple and receiving it from the resident priest, you can make a cartoon and distribute it virtually everywhere.

    2) Wrong. ScienceBlogs is a project from the private company named Seed Media Group. He writes the blog for them and if he gets paid for this it is by SMG. Then you make unsubstantiated claims that about his computer and internet. For this to work you need to prove that he either doesn’t write his blog entries at his house(which you can’t)and that he uses the computer at the university for this or that the universtity provides his computer and internet at home with a explicit provision he can’t use it for private use (which is normal implicit due to the surroundings the computer is placed).

    And as last another unsubstantiated claim about something being violated. There is no prohibition against linking to websites (not even if they are your own). So you lose again. There is nothing you can use to stitch Paryngula to the UMC.

    3) Oh but you are by defending those people and making claims about why PZ should be fired that are so ludicrous that anyone trying to make them in a courtroom would be laughed out of it.

    4) Actually you were being a sophist again. Seeing that your claim of this disproves doesn’t it would just be a miracle (and an indication that there is a god).

    5) Seems you are not smart enough to understand an oblique hint. So instead of “eye, splinter, beam” I’ll be explicit. Take your own advice and do not discuss religion since you are a moron who is dangerously unqualified to discuss religion.

    6) Like Voltaire said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”. The only time I would not defend him would be when this freedom of expression trips over laws (think of slander, libel).

  12. #12 Wisaakah
    July 12, 2008

    Fat Kid, your arguments are absurd.

    1. Doesn’t matter which one is more offensive, or which over-reaction was more over the top – it’s all fucking ridiculous. He didn’t desecrate the damned host; he didn’t piss on it, crush it, or set it on fire in the church. He just didn’t eat it. He didn’t eat a cracker.

    2. Bullshit. My income is federally funded. I thus paid for my computer with federal funds, which I now have in my apartment (also paid for by federal funds). I buy my food with federal funds; why, that means that the very carbon that makes up my body is federally funded! But, you know what? I can say whatever the fuck I want about whatever religion I care too. Just as anyone who works for any company can profess his or her opinions, offensive or no, as long as he or she does not do it at an official representative of the company. PZ didn’t write the post in his capacity as professor of a university, nor did he go on a tirade in the classroom.

    Your statement about “university time” isn’t very helpful either. Folks in academia don’t clock in and clock out during certain hours during the day, and then return home and leave work behind. This a job that entails going into lab at weird hours (4am if need be), and working from home (aside from the hours spend actually at work during “normal” hours). Including on weekends. I’m right now taking a break from working on my qualifying exam – does the fact that I have the word document of the proposal open, on my federally funded computer, mean that I’m on university time and must therefore keep my mouth shut? Bull. Shit.

    3. Again, didn’t post in his capacity as a professor. Getting fired for that would be unreasonable, regardless of the fact that beheading him would be even more unreasonable. The fact that beheading would be worse doesn’t make taking his job right.

    4. OK – so most Catholics and GrrlScientist don’t understand the deeply complex meaning behind transubstantiation. Thank Christ on a Cracker that we have you to explain it more thoroughly – maybe some unenlightened Catholic will read your post and finally grasp the true meaning of the Eucharist! Will you tell us how to be a real live Scotsman next? You already hit the nail on the head here: “Do Catholics claim to eat their God? Yes.” So why would you expect someone who’s not Catholic to understand the “real” meaning, and then use that to say that she has no right to call the idea dumb?

    5. Clearly, your reasoning on this point is beyond reproach. Do you think that all people who disagree with you should be fired? I disagree with you, and you’re clearly an asshole – but don’t worry. I don’t think you should be fired for that. Just ridiculed.

  13. #13 Wisaakah
    July 12, 2008

    Who Cares,

    Sorry to step in, as you clearly have this handled! Just couldn’t resist.

  14. #14 Lepas
    July 12, 2008

    Transubstantiation is a very peculiar process, which even Christians don’t understand (they call it a “mystery” after all).

    However, what about people burning a flag? Would you say it’s just a piece of cloth? Not that I would condemn someone for burning a flag, but I wouldn’t overlook the issue of the meanings attached to material objects like a piece of cloth, or a cracker.

  15. #15 G.D.
    July 12, 2008

    “Transubstantiation is a very peculiar process, which even Christians don’t understand (they call it a “mystery” after all).”

    … and remarkably enough: apparently it doesn’t remotely occur to you, Lepas, why they’re still bumping their heads against the wall on this one? Then again, that little “even”-inflection in the first sentence of yours sort of suggests why the solution just doesn’t get through to you.

  16. #16 sbh
    July 12, 2008

    Shamefully ignorant:

    Let’s draw (and maybe quarter) some distinctions, shall we?

    1. The kid was on his own campus. What the hell was the Catholic Church doing there?

    2. You don’t waive a sign; you wave it.

    3. A death threat is still a death threat, lard-ass.

    4. If you had paid attention in spelling class, you would know that the past participle of pay is not payed. Oh, yeah, Dr. Shamefully Ignorant, wherever you got your theology degree from–get your money back.

    5. You’re terminally clueless, Fat Kid. Arrogance and rudeness are a bad combination, even when you know what you’re talking about. Since you don’t, they’re lethal.

  17. #17 phisrow
    July 12, 2008

    @Brett: Can’t you, please, try varying your accusations a touch from blog to blog? Having to read verbatim copies on every single blog is getting more than a bit tiresome. (Though, I do find your novel concept of “creedal contract” as legally binding quite entertaining.)

    @Fat Kid: The fact that there exists a moldering mass of Aristotelian droning on why transubstantiation has no physically observable effects doesn’t make the concept any less absurd. There are equal volumes of work, displaying the same levels of philosophical sophistication, on the subjects of why the planets travel in perfect circles around the earth, how the universe is made of earth, air, fire, and water, and how the heavens are perfect and unchanging. This is not to mention the reams of nonsense about teleology. While historically interesting, Aristotelian physics and metaphysics are essentially bankrupt and have been for some centuries now.

  18. #18 alex
    July 13, 2008

    Lepas:
    However, what about people burning a flag? Would you say it’s just a piece of cloth?

    you would grin and bear it. the flag-burner is clearly trying to rile you up, and if you start spluttering like Bill Donohue, you’ve proven yourself to be an oversensitive fool. it’s a frackin’ flag, dammit – cope with it.

  19. #19 Fat Kid
    July 13, 2008

    Ok. Lots of ground to cover here.

    First – no one seems to ‘get’ that I’m not terribly concerned whether any non-Catholics believe in transubstantiation or how ridiculous the idea may seem to non-Catholics. It’s an article of faith – only Catholic should believe it. What I’M on about is how in attacking the idea of the Eucharist there’s a shameful amount of ignorance about the concept which should preclude the verbal diarrhea splattered forth above about how “it still looks and tastes the same – not like sweet chicken!”. That’s laughably bad at best and ignorant bigotry at worst. Before you attack a belief system, at least learn what the beliefs are.

    Second – I also don’t care that Meyers was saying something terribly offensive. People say offensive things all the time. But there’s a difference between being verbally offensive (“Niggers!”) and inciting highly offensive action (“Let’s all go right now to burn us some crosses to scare the black folks away!”), and there’s a difference between being offensive all by your lonesome and using a state-funded university faculty webpage link to drum up hits to an otherwise-irrelevant blog in contravention of university policies.

    Third – if Myers actually lacks judgment to the unbelievable degree he’s shown and has violated the school’s ethical policies (perhaps as a state actor?), he doesn’t deserve to keep his job. I’m not sure why you’re so up in arms about this, other than that he’s a figurehead in the hierarchy of your own cultic screedal anti-religion.

    Fourth – I have no idea how to be a real live Scotsman.

    Fifth – I see little miss smarter-than-thou isn’t the only moron in the pack.

    Sixth – go here to read a much more charitable article from a Jesuit about the matter. Maybe then you’ll see what the issue is, and you’re much more likely to hear something intelligent regarding what Catholics believe about communion.

    Heh heh.

  20. #20 Lepas
    July 13, 2008

    @alex (Re: flag-burning)

    the flag-burner is clearly trying to rile you up, and if you start spluttering like Bill Donohue, you’ve proven yourself to be an oversensitive fool.

    Agreed. However, I believe it would be correct on my part to see the flag-burning as a display of hostility (a stupid display, since I am undersensitive to it). I could ask myself if I should worry about what can come next. I might think that in order to prevent the flag-burner from doing any harm I’d better ask the authorities to check their compliance with the rules. My point is that this chain of reasoning has nothing to do with the physical properties of the “desecrated” stuff.

  21. #21 radical sapphoq
    July 13, 2008

    to #5. Please note: we are autistic and proud. You have the right to use the word autistic in a derogatory manner. I have the right to call you on it. And so I have.

    ***

    As for the heisted hostaged host, I understand it has now been returned. Perhaps it can be auctioned off and the proceeds used to pay up on a few of the lawsuits brought on by the folks who were sexually abused by priests as children.

    spike

  22. #22 Fat Kid
    July 14, 2008

    How nice. Apparently (contrary to some earlier assertions), Myers had UMN servers mirroring his blog since ’06.

    Nothing beats tax-payer-supported religious bigotry by a tax-payer-funded bigoted hypocrite.

    This guy has no place being in front of impressionable minds as an authority figure.

  23. #23 Woodwose
    July 15, 2008

    Your note was well done, perhaps the most balanced I’ve read, but I see that few have picked up on the brief discussion of “tolerance”

    As a culture, we pride ourselves on our tolerance for those who have different lifestyles, religions, skin colours or values. The problem s that “tolerance” is not equivalent to the acceptance of these other viewpoints as an equally “right” worldview. It is more like the old Brit concept of “the white man’s burden”, we’re so right that we can withstand the ignorant milling around us until they come to their senses. Unless, of course, they get too uppity and we have to whack them down just to remind them that they are the ignorant.

    A lot of the comments on this event seem to be troll based, granted some folks don’t seem to be aware of their inherent trollishnesss. I certainly would include most of the noise from the Catholic League here as the controversy is a “look at us, we’re important” gambit.

    It would, perhaps, have been a more fruitful discussion if someone had examined the implied contracts between all the parties. As a start, folks going to a Catholic church to receive a magic cracker are more or less agreeing to act like they believe it is magic and the church shamans have a reasonable expectation of them to follow the magic formulae. Same as attending a Masons meeting. This is parallel to folks going to a cafe expecting to get food, and the cafe owners expecting to get paid for it. In this example folks fed garbage, or owners not getting paid would have a legitimate complaint.

  24. #24 Richard Eis
    July 16, 2008

    You take a child’s dummy and it cries. Naughty PZ.

    Still, I think the catholic church needs a good mocking. They clearly take themselves far, far too seriously and put far too much faith in magical incantations and ritual.

  25. #25 Heather
    July 16, 2008

    I am disappointed that bloggers I respect can have such disrespect for my religion. Believe it or not, there are Catholic scientists out there who can differentiate between faith (what goes on at church) and science (what goes on at work). Although faith and science certainly are present in all parts of our daily lives many of us have enough brain power to discriminate between the two and recognize the points where they intersect.

    Being snarky about intolerance while actively portraying your intolerance is a less than successful way to illustrate your point. No one deserves death threats. No group of individuals – be they scientists or religiously faithful – deserves to be grouped together as fundamentalist or irrational. And bigotry of any kind should not be tolerated.

  26. #26 Ian
    July 17, 2008

    Those crackers are FAKE!!!! That’s not a cross it’s a plus sign! The cartoon is real.

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