Pharyngula

R. Joseph Hoffmann really doesn’t get it. He’s written an article that is basically doing nothing but decrying blasphemy on some very strange grounds: that it’s stupid and pointless and cowardly. He also compares me and the desecration of a cracker with Terry Jones and the burning of a Koran that led to riots in Afghanistan, differentiating between the two of us in that I was just a petty grandstander, while Terry Jones’ intent was to purposely fire up Muslims into violence, and therefore Terry Jones “needs to be charged with and convicted of murder”.

Well. I guess the trial would be only a token formality if Hoffmann had his way — he’s calling for a conviction already.

I am put in a weird position. The purpose of his essay is to contrast Myers and Jones: I am merely a stupid, shallow showman, while Jones is an actively evil thug, and therefore, Myers can be dismissed while Jones must be arrested for murder. I suppose I should be grateful that I’m not going to have charges brought up against me, but again, Hoffmann misses the point.

Let us grant Mr Hoffmann the full weight of his characterization. Imagine (it’s easy if you try) that I’m some capering fool, posturing annoyingly from my remote, secure, isolated fastness in the godless fortress of Morris, Minnesota, surrounded by 5000 atheist fanatics (I shall call them…my athassins!). I am completely safe, since there isn’t a single religious person anywhere in Minnesota who has any clout with the university board of trustees or the local gun club, and I am free to give religion the raspberry, which I do. Let us also assume that Terry Jones is a brilliant evil mastermind who has devised a nefarious plan to destroy the entire Muslim world with an elaborate sympathetic magic ritual in Florida, inflaming the passions of devout Muslims far beyond anything mere Predator drones and bombs can do, and setting them to commit an orgy of violence which, so far, seems to mainly have led to the death of UN peacekeeping forces, rather than any Muslims.

So yes, let us assume that we are both, in different ways, malign feces-flinging subhumans, a clown and a monster.

In what way does this rationalize the Catholic and Muslim reactions? Hoffmann is straining mightily to turn all the focus on a jerk and a hate-monger, while neglecting the actual results of religion’s actions: that some people are so dedicated to their delusional superstitions that they will threaten or even commit violence at slight provocation. We live in a world where some Catholics will froth at the mouth and send death-threats and call for people to be fired over insults to a scrap of magic, holy bread; we live in a world where some Muslims will kill random people if someone insults their magic, holy book. That ought to be recognized as the real problem and a call for more criticism, not less, of religion, yet what is Hoffmann’s desired solution? Lock up the transgressor in Florida for the murders in Afghanistan.

I don’t much like Terry Jones — he’s just another religious fanatic — but it seems rather illiberal and self-destructive to start imprisoning critics of religion because ignorant mobs might indulge in religiously-motivated violence in response. Personally, Hoffmann has left me off the hook this time, but that could change: if an outraged Catholic had retaliated against my cracker offense by shooting a nearby Unitarian, Hoffmann-logic would make me guilty of murder. In a world ruled by Hoffmann-logic, martyrs for the faith would get a two-fer: kill an atheist, and then blame another atheist for incitement. And then, as a bonus, the killer’s actions would be excused as justifiable homicide.