Santi Tafarella v. PZ Myers: An Agnostic Urges Liberals, Secular and Religious, to Boycott PZ Myers

University of Minnesota biologist, and now illiberal iconoclast, PZ Myers, has managed to get hold of a consecrated host and desecrate it. Here’s his post on it:

OK, time for the anticlimax. I know some of you have proposed intricate plans for how to do horrible things to these crackers, but I repeat…it’s just a cracker. I wasn’t going to make any major investment of time, money, or effort in treating these dabs of unpleasantness as they deserve, because all they deserve is casual disposal. However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel. My apologies to those who hoped for more, but the worst I can do is show my unconcerned contempt.

We all wait with baited breath as Myers proceeds to steal, or procure by deceit, objects from the sanctuaries of other religious traditions, and indulge in iconoclastic gestures toward them (piss on them, drive nails through them etc.).

Or was this just an anti-Catholic thing?

Oh, apparently not. In a gesture that Myers regards as symmetry, and obviously designed to soften charges of anti-Catholicism against him, his blog then shows an image of the wafer in a trash can lying over torn pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. Myers notes that:

I didn’t want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. They are just paper.

Of course, Myers, by adding the Qur’an and Dawkins’s book to the mix, is simply indulging in yet another act of blue pipe smoke obfuscation.

Presumably, these items were not acquired by deceit, nor by entering a mosque. The Qur’an and The God Delusion were no doubt purchased from a bookstore for the purpose of destroying them, as Catholic books might have been purchased for destruction.

The distinction is important.

Myers has not just desecrated a Catholic symbol that he purchased. Instead, he has taken from Catholics, under false pretenses, something that they do not share with nonbelievers. Period.

He, or one of his surrogates, went onto Catholic-owned property, and violated the inner sanctum of a Catholic ritual, disrupting its function and purpose. This is more than just taking a picture of some torn pages from books in a trash can.

Myers conspired with others to interfere directly with a religious group’s religious practice on their own property, and to take something against their will, and then destroy it in public. This is, by any definition, ICONOCLASM, and it is the kind of gesture that we might expect from, say, Neo-Nazis harrassing Jews—but not from responsible, mature citizens committed to liberal values and social tolerance.

I ask liberals, secular and religious, to join me in firmly disassociating ourselves from Myers, and to stop purchasing things that he sells.

Myers should not be someone who is intellectually defended, or treated with deference, by agnostics and atheists, and so perceived by the wider community as a person who is generally representative of our views or movement.

Of course, if Myers’s job is threatened by his expression of free speech and gesture, or if his life is threatened by emotionally unstable religious fanatics, we should defend his rights to freedom of speech and the security of his person.

But we must not let Myers’s fundamentally illiberal gesture get lost in the ensuing controversy, and let him take agnostic and atheist groups in directions that can only harm the integrity of our American Enlightenment and liberal-inspired ideals.

(I speak, by the way, of the American Enlightenment, as represented by such intellectuals as Jefferson, Paine, and Franklin, as opposed to the Enlightenment in general because the French Enlightenment culminated in a revolution that was virulently anti-Catholic and tyrannous.)

As a reminder, here is Myers’s original rant, posted on his website a few weeks back:

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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2 Responses to Santi Tafarella v. PZ Myers: An Agnostic Urges Liberals, Secular and Religious, to Boycott PZ Myers

  1. No, PZ Myers is not being anti-Catholic. Rather, the Catholic Church is simply particularly absurd, in considering not just a book, but a *cracker,* as a sacred entity. Many Muslims are surely just as offended by Myers’ desecration—maybe more so, since Muslims have been known to murder people over cartoons. Dawkins no doubt is unoffended, since Dawkins is a rational man, and destroying his book does no harm to him or anyone else—indeed may provide a benefit to Dawkins personally, if Myers bought a copy (paying royalties of course) just to destroy it. In fact, I wholeheartedly encourage everyone reading this to buy as many copies of my own book as possible, and read and/or destroy them in whatever ways they see fit. (It is entitled Special Relativity from the Ground Up, ISBN 978-1-4116-3394-0, available from Lulu.com.)

    PZ Myers may have chosen a particularly tactless method of demonstration, but his point is sound: Inanimate objects—least of all stupid little crackers—should never be given value above the rights of human beings.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Patrick Julius:

    Did you say “inanimate objects”? And “stupid little crackers?”

    Obviously, these things are in the eyes of the beholder, and to acquire them in a decietful way, and to destroy them, is disrespectful of the integrity of your fellow human beings. You are, in short, merely reinforcing the impression that atheists are obtuse, impatient toward diversity of religious opinion, and illiberal. Some atheists of past generations, such as Albert Camus, are better models for a liberal atheism and agnosticism. Camus would never endorse such incivility.

    And your reductionism (as well as Myers’s) leads to the death of all things sacred. For you, obviously, a female lover’s genitalia is just a hole, a veteran’s flag is just cloth, and the picture of a beloved child is just ink on paper. It’s one thing to buy and destroy things of no value to you—it is another thing to invade the space of others and deceitfully take things from others, and then destroy them. One gesture merely shows you to be uncouth, the other shows you to be both uncouth and illiberal. By your logic, spray painting swastikas in a Jewish cemetary is just putting a little paint on stones.

    —Santi

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