PZ Myers is Wrong About Host Desecration: An Agnostic Urges Other Agnostics and Atheists to Shun PZ Myers Until He Reaffirms Liberal Values

University of Minnesota biologist, PZ Myers, has seriously dug-in on the host desecration issue, once again confirming his illiberalism. In an interview with the Minnesota Independent this week, there was this exchange:

MnIndy: Has the outrcry over your post given you second thoughts about getting a host and treating “it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web”?

Myers: The response has done nothing but confirm it: I have to do something. I’m not going to just let this disappear. It’s just so darned weird that they’re demanding that I offer this respect to a symbol that means nothing to me. Something will be done. It won’t be gross. It won’t be totally tasteless, but yeah, I’ll do something that shows this cracker has no power. This cracker is nothing.

Myers’s response here is mendacious. It is not “respect to a symbol” that is being demanded. It is respect for harassment-free religious assembly. 

If a Catholic approached Myers on the street and offered him a piece of religious literature, or a statue of the Virgin Mary, or told him to bow and receive a communion wafer on his tongue, Myers would be within his rights to receive such items from the evangelist and then desecrate them on the Internet. He is equally free, any time he pleases, to go to a Catholic bookstore, purchase an item, and desecrate it on the Internet.

It would be uncivil and juvenile, but he could do it.

But what Myers is actually wanting to do is of a different order. He is going out of his way to procure, by deceit, within the confines of a church’s property, an object that Catholics do not share with nonbelievers. Period.

He is, in short, encouraging his readers to interfere with a particular people’s ability to practice their religion without interference within their own property boundaries.

And he is indulging a primitive and volatile human passion: iconoclasm (taking from a religious people, against their will, objects sacred to them for desecration or destruction).

This is an enormously serious breach of the liberal foundations of our society. We would not, for one moment, condone or tolerate an anti-Semite interfering in a similar fashion with a Jewish synagogue service, and we must not condone or tolerate an atheist attempting to interfere with a Catholic mass.

Tolerating such behavior threatens the very foundations of a liberal society. 

To illustrate the seriousness of this issue, let’s imagine that, not Myers, but an anti-Semite, was interviewed by the Minnesota Independent, and let’s replace the word “cracker” with “Talmud” in the interviewer’s question and Myers’s response:

MnIndy: Has the outrcry over your post given you second thoughts about getting a Talmud from a synagogue and treating “it with profound disrespect and heinous Talmud abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web”?

Anti-Semite: The response has done nothing but confirm it: I have to do something. I’m not going to just let this disappear. It’s just so darned weird that they’re demanding that I offer this respect to a symbol that means nothing to me. Something will be done. It won’t be gross. It won’t be totally tasteless, but yeah, I’ll do something that shows this Talmud has no power. This Talmud is nothing.

If an anti-Semite gave such a response, would we not hear the illiberalism, intolerance, paranoia and hate undergirding it? And wouldn’t we recognize immediately that the Jewish community was being harrassed by a fanatic?

Myers needs to come down off his high-horse, admit he exercised poor judgement in a rash moment, apologize to the Catholic community, and reaffirm liberal values. Otherwise, agnostics and atheists should treat him as an illiberal pariah upon our community.

Below is Myers’s paragraph, from his blog last week, that generated the initial controversy. We need to keep it in mind that this, and not something else, is what he is defending:

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. 

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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20 Responses to PZ Myers is Wrong About Host Desecration: An Agnostic Urges Other Agnostics and Atheists to Shun PZ Myers Until He Reaffirms Liberal Values

  1. Madeleine, Brussels says:

    Suppose a Catholic stole say a first copy of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” then, because he didn’t agree with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, threatened to deface it on the internet. That person would, quite rightly, be considered a bigoted nutcase. Myers is just that – a bigoted nutcase – only for the other side.

    • Ian says:

      A cracker is a cracker! Show me otherwise. It is exactly this liberal attitude that we must tolerate everyone else’s unjustified and downright ridiculous beliefs that has allowed faith to be elevated to the top of human virtue in our society. It IS respect to a symbol that is being demanded. When somebody believes that a cracker becomes a human body after some latin words have been said, we must explain to them that it is just a damn cracker!

  2. santitafarella says:

    Madeline,

    Exactly. Your Darwin example is telling. Free-thinkers often love FIRST EDITIONS of old books. Imagine how violated we would feel if somebody entered a property owned by a secular group, and when nobody was looking, snuck and tore a page out of a displayed first edition of the Origin of Species, then brought it home, recorded a narrative of how he had obtained it, shot video of it being pissed on, and posted it on the Internet.

    Or how about fossils. Perhaps an atheist group gives a fossil trilobite necklace to new group members, kind of like a Kurt Vonnegut “granfalloon” for group identity. It’s something that the group identifies with and wears. And lets say that a group of religious fundamentalists enters a meeting and pretends that they are new initiates. They receive ten of these necklaces, under pretense of joining the group, then go home and smash them with hammers and post them on the Internet. They scroll this message over the smashed pieces: “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. Period.”

    Isn’t this obviously illiberal behavior, and a threat to an atheist group’s right to form an efficiently functioning association, without interference, infiltration, or harrassment?

    Until atheists leave their property and go out into the community to distribute literature, there is an expectation that their group has a reasonalbe degree of privacy.

    Myers’s momma surely must have taught him to respect people’s boundaries. What’s his problem here? Might it be that he is not a liberal—but instead has an authoritarian personality—but just happens to be on our side (the agnostic/atheist side) of the God question?

  3. Matteo says:

    Here’s an allegory, which, I think, shows the completely disingenuous “arguments” supporting the desecration:

    link

  4. Tauriq Moosa says:

    Whilst I do agree with what you are saying, I think the issue is not entirely grasped. Yes, as a member of a free-thinking group in a majority religious environment, I would feel offended if someone defaced something important.

    But I do not see how, if it did not belong to me, if I never met him, if I was urged into rioting against him, demanding death-threats, his resignation – I do not see how that would follow. In fact, at the time when this had reached its tipping-point, to use Gladwell’s phrase, Myers had not even done anything except threatened. It was words – and since you seem to support free-speech, I think you must say that the reaction was entirely illogical and irrational.

    I see you are an agnostic (I don’t understand that position, even though it is incorporated into being an atheist because no one can say whether god exists or not). You gave the example of a first edition, “On the Origin of Species” (not “the” species as Madeleine wrote). But here’s a challenge to you:

    If you heard about a crazed Muslim stealing a copy of “Origin”, because the Quran says that Allah made the world in two days, followed by heaven (and other times in the Quran its the opposite because its a book made in our infancy). “Origin” goes against the Quran. Let’s say this happens in my city of Cape Town, and this guy puts a notice everywhere saying he did it (online, etc.). Here’s the question: would you demand him to be killed? Because that is the reaction from people concerning Myers and mainly what troubles me. That for some we still live in a society that demand death – I’m not even worried about his post (that is another matter). But “death”? Fatwas concerning death all over again – we’ve entered a new dark age and the recurring words “Rushdie Affair” are being whispered again…

  5. santitafarella says:

    Tauriq Moosa:

    Your post above is thoughtful, and I do think that you are right to be fearful of religious fanatics who make death threats towards those exercising their right to free speech.

    Obviously, Myers needs to be protected from psychologically unstable people. But what Myers did must not be clouded over by the emotionally distorted reaction of unstable people.

    Myers’ broached a boundary of privacy with regard to a religious sanctuary, and he is a public figure. Liberals need to firmly disassociate themselves from someone willing to engage in iconoclasm. It suggests that Myers is trying to drive the neo-agnostic and atheist movements into illiberal territory, and we must speak out against this.

    As for desecrating Darwin’s books, go ahead. It’s within your rights. Obviously, we would have to deal decisively, through the law, with anyone who attempted to harm you for doing so.

  6. heinrich says:

    In the United States of America Mr. Myers has the right to throw his cracker in his trash.

  7. santitafarella says:

    heinrich,

    PZ Myers did not obtain this “cracker” by honest means. Catholics do not share consecrated wafers with non-Catholics. Period. Myers obtained the “cracker” by deceit or stealing. He violated a basic respect for the integrity of other people’s ability to practice their religious tradition without interference.

  8. Tony says:

    All people of good will should demand that Myers apologise and they should get that apology.

  9. heinrich says:

    santitafarella

    please call the police if you know any specifics.
    Good luck!

  10. Pingback: Timothy Birdnow » P.Z. Myers Desecrates the Eucharist; Intends to Burn Cross on Mike Steele`s Lawn Next

  11. Dan O'Hara says:

    Suppose Myers had decided to desecrate an American flag at a Veterans Day rally. He would not have been popular, to say the least. But would he have felt it sufficient to answer his critics with a bemused claim: “It’s a fracking rag!”? Would he be surprised if the Veterans declined to respond with a shrug: “Oh, that’s alright then”?
    Quite apart from the religious significance of the Host for Catholics [or the national significance of the flag for Americans] would not such behavior be rightly condemed as crass and insensitive, at the very least?

  12. Bruce says:

    I like Myers, because he and others like him push religious people to these emotional extremes, thereby making them more dis-tasteful to the general public. Where religious people might otherwise feel indifferent or even positive about science, this gets in their face and forces a confrontation, a confrontation which religion will inevitably lose, because it is a farce!

    The Soviets for example, brought Comosol (young communists) groups into churches and told those who believed in god to ask god to shower candy on them. Obviously, none came. When the communists ordered candy to be thrown, officers would throw it through holes in the ceiling. Things like this demonstrate the fallacy of faith and religion. And why should anything be different if Myers were to do this with the Talmud? I afford Jews, Zionists or Talmudists no greater respect then I do any other religion.

  13. santitafarella says:

    Bruce:

    It’s the disrespect for human rights, human dignity, and human boundaries that links show trials and your Comosol youth example. Picking and choosing what to like and not like about the former Soviet Union (in the way that you are) is, in my view, dubious.

    —Santi

    • Don’t Catholics pick and choose what to like about their Church? Holocaust complicity, the sex abuse scandal, anti-gay-rights, anti-contraception stances and aids in Africa…. and the list goes on! One might cite ancient examples of indulgences, the crusades, or the inquisition.

  14. santitafarella says:

    Captain:

    I agree with you that both the nonreligious and the religious are very good at cognitive dissonances. But I think some things are more tightly linked than others, and harder to wall off the links between. Comosol youth and the show trial abuses aren’t things I’d decouple, nor would I decouple the sexual politics of the Catholic Church from adherence to its theology (as a lot of lay Catholics obviously do). But I’m not a communist nor a Catholic. I have my own eccentric cognitive dissonances that I adhere to.

    —Santi

  15. kyuss says:

    Last time I checked, catholics GIVE AWAY their crackers to anyone who shows up in line, every sunday. What I choose to do with MY cracker is MY business. If catholics are so worried about their precious spirit cracker, maybe they shouldn’t give them away to anyone who wants one.

    • Anonymous says:

      Only confirmed Catholics are allowed to receive the Eucharist. The priest operates under the assumption that all the people in line have the common courtesy to respect church doctrine (and the religion itself) and only take a Eucharist if they are confirmed. Although with the low quality of people running around lately, perhaps the Catholic Church should look into assigning ID cards to its members, to discourage unsavory types from trying to steal Eucharists from communion.

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