Atheist Dittoheads?: Camouflage, PZ Myers, Rush Limbaugh, and the Corruption of Public Discourse


I’d like to offer the above old drawing of Native Americans hunting deer as a kind of parable for the PZ Myers Catholic host stealing incident, and for thinking about the corrosive effect of camoflauge on human relations and discourse.

There are many things that secular and religious liberals agree upon—and one of those things is that discourse and civility are preferable, in disputes with others, to all forms of human objectification, as in 

  • war,
  • violence,
  • cruelty,
  • or deceitful manipulation

Part of the problem with what PZ Myers organized and did is that he essentially turned Catholics into “deer”—that is, something to be objectified, treated with disrespect, and manipulated.

Like the deer in the above drawing, Catholics, in their religious services, are on ‘their side of the river’—and in a liberal society, there is an expectation that a group’s boundaries possess integrity and will not be interfered with, or be breached by deceit or outright agression.

By contrast, PZ Myers, or one of his readers, took on the camoflauge of a Catholic, crossed the line of a church’s private property boundary, and made off, under false pretenses, with something that Catholics do not share with unbelievers. Period.

One of the highest ideals of a liberal society is that human beings will talk civilly with one another, and respect, at a minimum, one another’s boundaries, and not deceive one another as to our thoughts and intentions, or to treat one another with cruelty. 

Obviously, our cultural discourse rarely approaches this ideal, and is usually saturated with deceitful advertising, lawyerly manipulation, fraud, cynicism, and cruelty. We see and hear more from people like Mark Penn and Rush Limbaugh than people like William F. Buckley, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Shermer, and Paul Kurtz. 

But we shouldn’t want to see, if we identify ourselves as agnostics or atheists, the public face of our movement look more like Rush Limbaugh than Paul Kurtz.

We shouldn’t be rewarding and defending people who take the neo-atheist movement into illiberal territory—someone like Myers, who can’t apologize for moments of incivility, who is emotionally rigid and inflexible, and who treats his opponents with gestures that are, frankly, inhumane.

As a reminder of the problem that PZ Myers poses for liberal agnostics and atheists, here are his two blog posts—one promoting iconoclastic gestures, and the other narrating his actual doing of them. How does a person who regards himself or herself as liberal, defend this kind of emotional primitivism, incivility, and boorishness?:

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.

And this one:

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.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Atheist Dittoheads?: Camouflage, PZ Myers, Rush Limbaugh, and the Corruption of Public Discourse

  1. Rob Rumfelt says:

    Well done. A thoughtful and intelligent analysis of the controversy. Unfortunately, the blogosphere has given this man exactly what he desired above all else: attention.

    Again, well done. I’ll be back.


  2. Steven Carr says:

    Of course this all student because a Catholic, Webster Cook, received death threats because he did not chew the communion wafer , but put it in his pocket.

    It is a wafer that some guy claims he did magic on.

    But just because somebody claims he has done a magic trick with a wafer, does not entitle you to issue death threats to people who do not eat it.

  3. Pingback: The Rhetorical Atheist Falcon and Yeats’s “passionate intensity”: Directness of Speech and the Problem of Nuance and Qualification in Debating Religion « Prometheus Unbound

  4. Pingback: PZ Myers Finally Rises into Bryan Appleyard’s Radar « Prometheus Unbound

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