Pharyngula

Some local reactions

Our campus has an alternative right-wing rag of a newspaper called the Counterweight, funded who knows how, that throws up horrible little articles that usually sound like the kind of thing that would make Karl Rove and Dick Cheney chortle. They interviewed me recently — yes, I speak politely to even the most conservative students on campus — for a pair of opinion articles of the battling ‘he was right’/’he was evil’ variety, all on the desecration controversy. You can read them both online. The student who was taking my side framed it as an issue of opposition to political correctness, especially campus speech codes, which may be one of the rare, narrow instances where the paper and I might agree.

The student who was arguing against me couldn’t spell my name consistently, claimed my actions were “far beyond decent”, and got the facts wrong, claiming I’d surrounded the cracker with anti-semitic articles. Oh, he will go far in the Republican party, I can tell.

Comments

  1. #1 Will
    September 30, 2008

    Wow, I couldn’t even stand to get through one of those pieces. They just seemed horribly written, and the online editor obviously hasn’t heard that “Paragraphs are you friend.”

    This makes me incredibly happy that my school’s newspaper, the Pendulum, has such great quality to it.

  2. #2 Quidam
    September 30, 2008

    Ouch, so many spelling and grammar mistakes make that unpleasant to read, even if we ignore the factual errors. Let’s have some commas, please.

    “anti-semitistic articles” indeed.

  3. #3 Holbach
    September 30, 2008

    It should be called the Counter”Rag” for all the fair balancing it does. And, did your personality change with each spelling of your name?

  4. #4 Doo Shabag
    September 30, 2008

    I love this:

    “I support the first ammendment and believe it is law”

    As if NOT believing it would change anything!

    lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala
    I don’t believe it
    lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala

    And seriously, more typos than a Rev. BigDumbChimp post.

  5. #5 cervantes
    September 30, 2008

    He actually wrote that you surrounded it with “anti-semitistic” articles. Which might just be true, if you are opposed to being partially tistic — and I’ve never known you to deny it.

  6. #6 Mikel
    September 30, 2008

    “anti-semitistic articles”?

    Would those be written by someone doesn’t believe in the “theory” of plate-tectonics? Earthquakes are caused by God, not by random movements in the earth’s crust?

    No wait, that’s ‘seismic’ . . .
    Is ‘semitistic’ even a word at all?

  7. #7 The Cheerful Nihilist
    September 30, 2008

    Yikes! That turns out to be a scathing indictment against the UM-Morris English department.

    Fuzzy thinking coupled to poor punctuation and misspelling. Shame on the English department! Do the job the taxpayers are paying you to do. (Flunk dimwits like this out.)

  8. #8 Jared
    September 30, 2008

    I read the first article, and it wasn’t too terrible; except for the occasional spelling error and such, it was readable. This changed when I reached the second paper. After misspelling number three and grammatical error 47, my eyes began to bleed and I was forced to quit reading before the end of the first section.

  9. #9 386sx
    September 30, 2008

    I support the first ammendment and believe it is law,

    Oh, a “believer”. Wink wink!

    yet a college professor should hold a ceratain level of character. A college professor should be accountable for his actions and should show a certain level of class. P.Z. Myers

    I’m confused. Why is there a “P.Z. Myers” there at the end?

  10. #10 SES
    September 30, 2008

    The student who was arguing against me… got the facts wrong, claiming I’d surrounded the cracker with anti-semitic articles. Oh, he will go far in the Republican party, I can tell.

    When you know that your fundamental argument is weak, you probably think that you’ve got to embellish it to make it stick. Why let the facts get in the way of your argument? I’m told it happens on Fox (Faux?) News all the time.

  11. #11 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 30, 2008

    And seriously, more typos than a Rev. BigDumbChimp post.

    And that is saying a lot

  12. #12 Kobra
    September 30, 2008

    That kid should run for President in 2012!

  13. #13 stevogvsu
    September 30, 2008

    I can’t believe people are still talking about this like it’s new news. I mean, next thing you know they’ll be reporting on the death of Anna Nicole Smith or some such.

  14. #14 SidBB
    September 30, 2008

    This is mostly irrelevant, but yeah, the grammar is terrible.

    The formatting is another thing. I get the feeling they probably wrote it in Microsoft Word with the appropriate formatting, italicization, and so on, but then copy-pasted that into the HTML code, at which point some of the formatting was lost. Still, that’s no excuse.

  15. #15 Jared
    September 30, 2008

    stevogvsu @ 13
    If they want to go back in history, how about dragging up something fun. You know, like the Spanish Inquisition.

  16. #16 Michael
    September 30, 2008

    yes, I speak politely to even the most conservative students on campus…PZ

    Now that sounds impressive and professional, because you come across a bit differently in this blog.

  17. #17 E.V.
    September 30, 2008

    …and Richard Dawkin’s, The God Illusion. (italics mine)

    Freudian slip.. or willful ignorance?

  18. #18 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    September 30, 2008

    anti-semitistic articles

    Interesting. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

    A translation of the Ko’ran, which is a Semitic holy text. It even says nice things about the ‘people of the book’, or so I have heard.

    The God Delusion says nothing against either the Jewish or Palestinian people, unless you include the religious beliefs commonly associated with them.

    That leaves us with the banana (holy to Christian Creationists?) and coffee grounds. ??

    Hope this youth learns critical thinking skills before graduating. This demonstration of written language skills at a liberal arts university is worrisome. Do people graduate from UMM with this level of education?

  19. #19 Ryan F Stello
    September 30, 2008

    !!!Grammar-nazi alert!!!

    386sx asked,

    I’m confused. Why is there a “P.Z. Myers” there at the end?

    Because. not only can the moron not use a spellchecker. he sometimes uses a period. when he meant to use a comma,

  20. #20 Benjamin Geiger
    September 30, 2008

    This just in: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

  21. #21 PZ Myers
    September 30, 2008

    You should also read his article on Martin Luther, which is really an apologetic for Of the Jews and their Lies. He wasn’t anti-semitic (or anti-semitistic), he was just a preacher! And the Jews also did something to warrant Luther’s hatred.

    In order to understand Luther’s sermon against the Jews, we must ask ourselves why he wrote that sermon. What did the Jews ever do to him? This must be a theological question. The answer is nothing. The Jews did nothing to Luther personally. They did, however, show high contempt against Luther’s faith.

    Uh, no, they didn’t. They just held a different faith.

    No, this isn’t typical for UMM. You have to keep in mind that the Counterweight represents a certain self-selected subset of the population.

  22. #22 Benjamin Geiger
    September 30, 2008

    But… but… but, they KILLED JEEBUS!

    Shouldn’t they burn in hell to the thirty-seventh generation for NAILING JEEBUS?

  23. #23 Kobra
    September 30, 2008

    @21:
    PZ, you should know by now that these cults have a “convert or die” mentality. Some of these whack-jobs try to hide it in our civilized society, but many don’t.

  24. #24 E.V.
    September 30, 2008

    So James Preus’ major is what exactly? I’m suspecting his future vocation will involve the phrase “do you want fries with that?”

  25. #25 Jason Failes
    September 30, 2008

    claiming I’d surrounded the cracker with anti-semitic articles.

    Well, at least that would indicate that you think such articles should be in the trash.

    You anti-anti-semite.

  26. #26 catta
    September 30, 2008

    I could have done a better job of writing this (not that I agree with the nutjob), and I’m not even a native speaker.

    Makes me feel so much better about my University’s English department.
    It’s full of feminists and atheists and liberals and even socialists, too! Maybe that has something to do with it.

    Also, there’s a “P.Z. Myers” at the end for the same reason that there’s a comma at the end of the headline. And for the same reason that the subheadline makes no sense whatsoever. The author can’t (and shouldn’t) write. Simple.

  27. #27 Longtime Lurker
    September 30, 2008

    This was my “WTF?” inducing line:

    I asked him what statement he was trying to make. he said he was protesting the actions that were made against Webster Cook, and the historical complications of Catholic anti-Semitism which the Lords Supper was used, to show that personal superstitions should not hold down people who do not believe in them.

    If this bozo EVER writes an article condemning Affirmative Action, he should be beaten with his copy of “Atlas Shrugged”.

  28. #28 386sx
    September 30, 2008

    Also, there’s a “P.Z. Myers” at the end for the same reason that there’s a comma at the end of the headline. And for the same reason that the subheadline makes no sense whatsoever. The author can’t (and shouldn’t) write. Simple.

    It makes sense like this: “P.Z. Myers: A Lesson in Decency and Respect, Even on an intellectual level”. But then, why does “intellectual level” not follow the same rules of capitalization as the rest of the title? A mystery.

    Man, this just keeps getting deeper and deeper, folks…

  29. #29 stogoe
    September 30, 2008

    Yikes! That turns out to be a scathing indictment against the UM-Morris English department.

    Hey! Hey! You’re not getting away with that. Journalism students don’t get anywhere near the English building. Ever. They have their own language – we’re not responsible for their corporate news-speak. Seriously, no. No blame-shifting, you.

  30. #30 BlueIndependent
    September 30, 2008

    These guys have no shame in making garbage up. Anti-Semitic articles? They reliance on word-of-mouth top-down adherence to figures they put stock in is transparent. This idiot either made that up out of whole cloth, or heard that from someone else and simply regurgitated it.

    Republicanism = Ruining America one youth at a time.

  31. #31 PZ Myers
    September 30, 2008

    Yeah, come on. Writers for the Counterweight aren’t selected for their writing ability, but for their ideology.

    And wow, this thread is a good tool for thickening the skins of students, if that writer should come across it.

  32. #32 Silverloc
    September 30, 2008

    I have to second (or third, or twenty-fourth) the shock at how badly spelled and written the anti-M(e)yers column is. The spelling in the pro-Myers column is better, but the formatting problems, randomly interspersed ?s, use of profanity (“… we change the tune but are stuck with the same fucking song”), and some incorrect word usages (e.g. “… attack ideas that don’t bode well with their own”) still give it an air of unprofessionalism.

    I actually hesitate to call the column pro-Myers, because there really is no defense of PZ’s actions or condemnation of the Catholic response to PZ or Dane Cook, there is only a defense of PZ’s free speech right. While this is important, it misses the point of addressing a person’s right to not hold something sacred just because some other person does.

  33. #33 True Bob
    September 30, 2008

    Where can I get a copy of The God Illusion? Is that by Penn and Teller?

  34. #34 Chris P
    September 30, 2008

    Looking at some of the other threads on that same site indicates a continuing theme of right wing religious idiocy and nuttiness.

    People there seem to be quite ignorant of the reality of the planet.

  35. #35 summatusmentis
    September 30, 2008

    I would like to point out that in no way is The Counterweight our campus newspaper. We’re not really even sure that it’s technically a newspaper, or really even warrants publication status.

    For better content/quality, check out http://www.universityregister.org

    Jacob Thebault-Spieker
    Variety Editor
    University Register

  36. #36 Blondin
    September 30, 2008

    The comments in both articles are very much like these here: critical of Preus and supportive of PZ.

  37. #37 Moggie
    September 30, 2008

    In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, the Counterweight Continent is uncommonly dense. Is that how this rag got its name?

  38. #38 Rey Fox
    September 30, 2008

    I’m increasingly of the opinion that the entire conservative establishment is a sort of affirmative action program for the C-minus crowd, the not-very-bright, not-very-curious members of society who nevertheless grasped on to some axe to grind.

    Now why do we let them run the country?

    “And wow, this thread is a good tool for thickening the skins of students, if that writer should come across it.”

    This has the potential to be more fun than when that one sexist high school lunkhead found his way to Skatje’s blog.

  39. #39 Ktesibios
    September 30, 2008

    PZ, do you by any chance number a high school English teacher among your circle of friends? If so, here’s a suggestion:

    1. Print out the article.
    2. Give printout to English teacher and let her do her thing (you may have to spring for a new red Sharpie).
    3. Send corrected printout to the author.

  40. #40 Longtime Lurker
    September 30, 2008

    You should also read his article on Martin Luther, which is really an apologetic for Of the Jews and their Lies.

    Same last name, different first names… remember the surname-methinks we’ll be seeing a lot of the Brothers (Cousins?) Preus on Fox in a few years.

    At the very least, they’ll be staff writers for “National Review”.

  41. #41 Ichthyic
    September 30, 2008

    In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, the Counterweight Continent is uncommonly dense. Is that how this rag got its name?

    *winner*

  42. #42 Ouchimoo
    September 30, 2008

    This guy sounds ripe for a job at Fox news!
    “I had a little chat with PZ today to get his side of the story: *crickets? Quickly change topics to:* I’m not going to be judgmental on what he did: *Say something distracting then follow through with PZ is a horrible childish ass hole because . . .

    Uh, huh. . .

    LOLZ @ True Bob’s Comment.

  43. #43 Umilik
    September 30, 2008

    “Oh, he will go far in the Republican party, I can tell”.

    Maybe, but only if he can see Russia from where he lives. Or at least Canada.

  44. #44 PZ Myers
    September 30, 2008

    We are in Minnesota, which borders on Canada, which means that all of us have valuable foreign policy experience.

  45. #45 Mrs. Schaarschmidt
    September 30, 2008

    I am wondering if English is James’ first language. If my daughter turned an assignment this poorly written in to her 10th grade English teacher, I suspect I would receive a phone call.

    That being said, the most substantive argument I could find in his article is that professors should not have the right to say or do anything offensive.

    It seems as if all aspects of a University education have been lost on this particular student.

  46. #46 Caveat
    September 30, 2008

    No, but seriously, can I get an extra large cracker, light on the sauce, double cheese, black olives and artichokes for delivery? Oh, and a couple of cans of Brio.

  47. #47 Geral
    September 30, 2008

    The Counterweight? Ohhh I get it, because all school papers are liberally biased so they are a counterweight to that bias.

    i c wut thai did thar

  48. #48 Kel
    September 30, 2008

    The kid doesn’t seem to have much of a clue. How is it they let people like that write opinion pieces?

  49. #49 The Cheerful Nihilist
    September 30, 2008

    #29 stogue

    Sorry, yer right. I forgot about journalism.

    Sometime ago, I was going to supplement some degree requirements and took a couple journalism classes. Dropped them after hearing the professor (a freakin’ PhD) refer to Hobbes’s work as The Levi-a-than, and the class didn’t fall apart in gales of laughter.

    (I dropped the other class “Ethics in Journalism” when the prof agreed with me that there couldn’t be such any such thing in the corporate media.)

  50. #50 Crudely Wrott
    September 30, 2008

    James Preus, no doubt an amiable and enthusiastic young man, makes a rather Lightweight Counterweight.

    Perhaps time and experience will be kind to him . . .

  51. #51 woozy
    September 30, 2008

    That is disturbing. It isn’t hard to get facts right and I’d like believe ones opinion on this “controversy” is uncoordinated with intelligence. I’m on P.Z.’s side on this but as Catholics, supposedly, believe these are *not* “just crackers” but *are* the consecrated body of Christ, I’d think this could be viewed as though he had thrown Jesus’ corpse into the trash. Thus, I’d have liked to believe that somewhere there’d be an offended *intelligent* argument. (I mean, entering a church and spitting on the floor; calling a press conference when your going to wipe your ass with a bible; sunbathing nude on the neighering plot during a funeral– could all be intelligently argued against so one would think throwing the consecrated body could be just as intelligently condemned.) Shoot. Just confirms folks make up their minds first and make up the facts to support them.

    Actually I missed the beginning of this. What prompted this good-natured blasphemy again?

  52. #52 Arbutus Bark
    September 30, 2008

    The pro-free-speech article was quite well done, given it’s published in a narrow-minded little rag. As a “counterweight” to the lightweight catholic boy’s article, however, all they needed to publish was the conclusion:

    If you came to college with the expectation of never being offended, you may want to reconsider why you came at all.

  53. #53 Kel
    September 30, 2008

    Thus, I’d have liked to believe that somewhere there’d be an offended *intelligent* argument.

    I’m sure there would be an intelligent argument out there, but while people feel they have the right not to be offended they won’t look past their own emotional state and bring one to the table.

  54. #54 Ichthyic
    September 30, 2008

    We are in Minnesota, which borders on Canada, which means that all of us have valuable foreign policy experience.

    Hell, I’m sure the Canadian PM has even flown OVER Minnesota, preparing for the inevitable Canadian invasion of Minnesota by godless Canucks!.

  55. #55 themadlolscientist, FCD
    September 30, 2008

    @ woozy: IT’S A FRACKIN’ CRACKER!

    Allow at least a week to read the whole story. It spawned over 15,000 comments here (and quite a few on some of the other Scienceblogs), and the Sb webmeisters had to resort to the Heimlich maneuver several times. There’s a lot(!) more to the story, but that’s a start.

    You’re welcome. =^..^=

  56. #56 woozy
    September 30, 2008

    I’m sure there would be an intelligent argument out there, but while people feel they have the right not to be offended they won’t look past their own emotional state and bring one to the table.

    If I were to argue for the other side, I wouldn’t think it’s a case of a “right not to be offended” which most intelligent people regardless of bias would conclude they do not have. It’d seem to be more of deliberate sacrilege for no other purpose than to antagonize. After all, free speech mean I should be legally allowed to hang a nazi flag in my front yard and my neighbors do not have the right to be protected from their inevetible offense.

    Likewise tossing a peice of pork into the local mosque or digging up your grandfather’s corpse and pissing in his eye socket wouldn’t be viewed very sympathetically.

    The thing is communion wafers are *not* just crackers if people believe they literally and physically and in all reality *are* the consecrated body of Christ, thus this is a more severe crime to their mind then the mere desecration of a bible or koran which is merely a single edition of an unendangered book. (Where it the last copy and only known resource to the text, I’d be first in line throwing my body to protect it. I’d do that for *any* book.)

    This all raises, what’s to me, an interesting question as to what’s the reasonable response to blasphemy. It’s excedingly naive to be shocked or surprised at the thought that it actually might occur. It’s barbaric to actually believe blasphemy deserves a death sentence. It’d be downright … weird … to believe blasphemy will actually harm the church. (So I cut off Jesus’ hand and ate it and wiped the resulting poop on my wall… your church is kind of weak if you think that I actually *hurt* it in doing so. Offended it, yes. But *hurt* it?) A reasonable response seems to me to be shocked and shake my head at thought of the blasphemer’s soul’s evential eternity in hell, but practically… Well, death threats are barbaric.

    had to resort to the Heimlich maneuver several times

    So… what happens if someone chokes on a communion wafer. Is giving the Heimlich sacrilege.

    There probably is an official answer.

  57. #57 Kel
    September 30, 2008

    Likewise tossing a peice of pork into the local mosque or digging up your grandfather’s corpse and pissing in his eye socket wouldn’t be viewed very sympathetically.

    Yep, that’s a far better argument. Now it brings it into what is socially acceptible and what isn’t.

    This all raises, what’s to me, an interesting question as to what’s the reasonable response to blasphemy. It’s excedingly naive to be shocked or surprised at the thought that it actually might occur. It’s barbaric to actually believe blasphemy deserves a death sentence.

    Priests will pardon thieves but not philosophers. – Lemuel K. Washburn

    This crime called blasphemy was invented by priests for the purpose of defending doctrines not able to take care of themselves. – Robert G. Ingersoll

    The quote section of this site is awesome :D

  58. #58 woozy
    September 30, 2008

    While this [free speech] is important, it misses the point of addressing a person’s right to not hold something sacred just because some other person does.

    Technically speaking a right to not hold something sacred is simply the right to be indifferent or to express indifference toward it. This is about the right to affect said object in a non-sacred manner despite some other person holding it sacred. Do we have that right?

    I guess that’s equivalent to asking whether we have a right to ‘blasphemy’. Of course, then we have to figure out just what ‘blasphemy’ is and whether one has a right to not be blasphemed. Off hand, I’d think we have a default right to ‘blaspheme’ as result of a right to speak and a right to action. And, yes Kel, those quotes are spot on!

    *But*, thought experiment, suppose there were a recognized religion that worshipped a colony of bats (not bats in general but *this* specific family of individual bats). Would I have the right to exterminate them because I want to show “they are just bats”?

    I’d say off-hand “no”. Although some of you may disagree. I’d say “no” because I’d think the right to belief and freedom of religion as a “protected right” means no-on has a right to destroy a religion and physically destroying the entire sacred definition of a religion destroys it. Thus I don’t have the “right” to dig up the prophets body and decimate it or bomb Mecca to rubble. Nor do I have the right to “cleanse” an entire population. (Not that I’d have these rights any way…)

    But that’s a slippery slope. When do actions “harm” a religion?

  59. #59 Kel
    September 30, 2008

    *But*, thought experiment, suppose there were a recognized religion that worshipped a colony of bats (not bats in general but *this* specific family of individual bats). Would I have the right to exterminate them because I want to show “they are just bats”?

    Aren’t we living in that experiment now though? The Hindus hold the cow as sacred, why is not eating beef blasphemous when there are plenty of other food sources? Surely the argument could be made that while the cow isn’t protected by law, the religious tradition does protect it. The difference is that Hindus don’t kick up a fuss, just as the zoroastrians don’t kick up a fuss that the God Mazda is now a car company.

    That’s where I see the thought experiment breaking down anyway. That we already do have double standards in our society where the sacred is ignored because those who adhere to it are more tolerant (or at the very least less vocal). It seems that intolerance is shaping tolerance.

  60. #60 woozy
    September 30, 2008

    Surely the argument could be made that while the cow isn’t protected by law, the religious tradition does protect it. The difference is that Hindus don’t kick up a fuss

    Good point. Maybe. Do hindus hold that the cow in and of itself is sacred or that it is sacred only to hindus? That is.. well, why don’t they kick up a fuss.

    My point was more to the idea that performing an act of blasphemy would *end* (or at least weaken) a religion. An outsider kills a cow and, well, there are plenty more. The world is knocked off kilter and evil gets another toe-hole but hinduism is not ended. Likewise if I toss christ’s corpse into the trash, God gets pissed and withdraws his goodness and considers condemning the human race a bit more strongly, but catholocism still goes on unhindered as there are plenty more of christ’s corpse to be transubstantiated. And a catholic *can’t* (and shouldn’t) object on the ground that evil is prevailing as that is a religious belief.

    Sorry for going on; I *do* find it an interesting question.

  61. #61 themadlolscientist, FCD
    October 1, 2008

    So… what happens if someone chokes on a communion wafer. Is giving the Heimlich sacrilege.

    LOL! I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose some people might think so.

    Of course that would also raise the question of why the person had choked on the wafer. Some demon closing up their throat so they couldn’t receive it? Uh-oh, time to call the exorcist, maybe?

  62. #62 bastion
    October 1, 2008

    At #31, PZ Myers wrote:
    And wow, this thread is a good tool for thickening the skins of students, if that writer should come across it.

    Surely, this can’t be the first time that the student has had his writing criticized WRT critical thinking skills, factual accuracy, grammar, punctuation, and writing style. Or is it?!

    Were his primary and secondary English teachers that inept? My kids wrote better than that in middle, if not elementary, school.

    The only two possible excuses I can think of for this student’s wretched writing is:

    1. English is not his first language, and he hasn’t been writing in English long enough to be a proficient English writer; or
    2. He has a learning disability, or some other type of disability, that has impaired his ability to learn to write standard English.

    But even if one of these explanations apply, that still doesn’t explain the lack of critical thinking skills or the “making up facts” (AKA Lying for Conservatism).

  63. #63 Joe Dunckley
    October 1, 2008

    The student who was arguing against me couldn’t spell my name consistently, claimed my actions were “far beyond decent”, and got the facts wrong, claiming I’d surrounded the cracker with anti-semitic articles.

    Hello?

    Satire?

    Anyone?

    No?

  64. #64 Emmet Caulfield
    October 1, 2008

    Shouldn’t they burn in hell to the thirty-seventh generation for NAILING JEEBUS?

    Maybe… assuming, of course, that his boyfriends had any descendants to burn.

  65. #65 catta
    October 1, 2008

    It makes sense like this: “P.Z. Myers: A Lesson in Decency and Respect, Even on an intellectual level”. But then, why does “intellectual level” not follow the same rules of capitalization as the rest of the title? A mystery.

    True; although I did consider and dismiss this option because it still makes very little sense as a headline for the article. There are so many things wrong it, the list would be longer than the entire article.

    But you’re right, that’s probably it. Give the reader something he has to work to read! Also, bad formatting distracts from the even worse content.
    So this is what happens when you study journalism? Again, hooray for English departments.

  66. #66 Iain Walker
    October 1, 2008

    woozy (#58):

    *But*, thought experiment, suppose there were a recognized religion that worshipped a colony of bats (not bats in general but *this* specific family of individual bats). Would I have the right to exterminate them because I want to show “they are just bats”?

    One problem with this analogy is that there are additional moral considerations that are relevant here, quite independent of the religious aspect. Bats are living animals (and are often protected species). Trashing a cracker and killing an animal really aren’t of comparable moral magnitude.

    Now if the religion was handing out little plastic models of bats, which they claimed (once the correct polysyllables were intoned) turned into the body of Nyarlathotep in his Haunter of the Dark avatar …

    Thus I don’t have the “right” to dig up the prophets body and decimate it or bomb Mecca to rubble. Nor do I have the right to “cleanse” an entire population. (Not that I’d have these rights any way…)

    Well, that’s just it – you don’t have those rights anyway. There are other relevant moral considerations.

    One can make a case that the right of sacrilege and blasphemy is limited by the material and cultural harm that one might do. Thus (for example) a synagogue’s Torah would be off-limits – it’s not an ephemeral consumable like a communion wafer, but a cultural artefact in which a lot of work has been invested (IIRC, traditionally they are hand-inscribed over many weeks or months), and which provides an ongoing focus for the activities of the religious community.

    More generally, any action that would restrict the abilities of a religious group to practise their religion would have to be considered questionable (I’m assuming here that the religious practices in question do not themselves infringe the rights of others). Although having said that, there might be circumstances in which (for example) the disruption of services would be a legitimate act of protest.

    So yes, there are limits (albeit slightly fuzzy) to permissible acts of sacrilege/blasphemy. But these are ordinary moral limits of the “the right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose” variety, and there’s nothing peculiar to religious practices or beliefs that accord them any right to protection not due to any secular activity.

  67. #67 Gem Newman
    October 1, 2008

    Cross-post from my response to the James Preus article:

    I’m rather impressed that an article with so many factual, logical, grammatical, and spelling errors could have been published in any newspaper, even a school newspaper. I’m unwilling to waste my time pointing out every error in detail (and others seem to have undertaken that task already), however I find it alarming that a person incapable of: (a) reliably beginning sentences with a capital letter, (b) using commas or apostrophes correctly, (c) spelling names properly or consistently, or (d) understanding the difference between disrespect toward a voluntary belief or position and disrespect toward an ethnicity, could possibly be responsible for presenting informed news or opinion pieces to any readership.

    I’m not keen to live in a theocracy, and if anyone is constrained to show respect toward a belief on the grounds that it is sacred to some sect or other, that is exactly where we are.

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