Double standard: Andrew Sullivan on Catholic Wafer Controversy

Blogger and liberal Catholic Andrew Sullivan was a hearty defender of the infamous Danish cartoons that depicted and poked fun at the Islamic prophet Mohammed. But now, the sacred cow is, er… on the other foot, or something. Sullivan Sullivan tells a very different story when it comes to the recent hubbub about PZ Myers merrily threatening to desecrate Catholic communion wafers:

It is one thing to engage in free, if disrespectful, debate. It is another to repeatedly assault and ridicule and abuse something that is deeply sacred to a great many people. Calling the Holy Eucharist a “goddamned cracker” isn’t about free speech; it’s really about some baseline civility. Myers’ rant is the rant of an anti-Catholic bigot. And atheists and agnostics can be bigots too.

“Atheists and agnostics” is just another word for “some people,” and yes, people can be bigots, especially towards groups of which they are not a part. Whether or not you think Myer’s jab is bigoted or not depends quite a bit on whether you think attacking and parodying beliefs can be a form of bigotry or not. I’m open to the argument that it can be in some cases.

But I’m not so open to the argument that it’s bigotry when done against Catholics, but not when basically the same thing is done against Muslims.

Sullivan, however, thinks he can dig his way out of this double-standard:

Thanks for the defenses. My objection to PZ Myers – even as I defended his right to say whatever he wants and wouldn’t want him punished in any way – is not, in my view, a double standard. Printing a cartoon for legitimate purposes is a different thing than deliberately backing the physical desecration of sacred objects. I’d happily publish a Mohammed cartoon if it advanced a genuine argument, but I would never knowingly desecrate a Koran purely to mock religion.

But Sullivan’s distinction here is nonsense. In Islam, creating images of their prophet is inherently very much a form of physical denigration, no different than physically denigrating a consecrated wafer (in this case, oddly, by NOT destroying it!), or improperly treating a written name of God is for some observant Jews. All of these are, of course symbolic acts done to unfeeling objects, and it is a matter of religious belief as to whether it causes any real harm to anything other than people’s feelings or not.

Sullivan’s definition of “legitimate purposes” is also a form of special pleading. Myers and the Danish cartoonists were both seeking to mock religion for precisely the same reasons: to puncture presumptions of special authority in matters metaphysical. Either you think that’s a legitimate purpose or not: but you can’t have it both ways depending on how much you like the target.

I certainly think it fair to object to these sorts of showy, trolling criticisms as unproductive, or rude, or aggressive. But as even Sullivan’s readers have pointed out, the same can be said about people, himself included, attacking or making fun of Scientology. If it were really “about baseline civility” as Sullivan claims, he’d treat this incident as a case of reconsidering his own bigotry when it comes to anything but Catholic doctrine, rather than trying to pin it exclusively on Myers.

Update: Commenter Terry points out that Sullivan’s concern for the desecration of the host is potentially problematic for him. For any number of reasons, if Sullivan himself has taken communion in what his church could consider a state of sin (i.e. unrepentantly defending and/or engaging in gay sex), then he himself would have desecrated the Host.

Dueling Hypocrisy Update: Andrew Sullivan still hasn’t addressed his own lame defense of his cartoon blasphemy apologia, but he has thought to check in on PZ Myers’ take, and implies that Myers wasn’t as enthusiastic about bashing Muslim beliefs as he was about Catholics. But Sullivan is pretty clearly quote-mining here. Myers says immediately after the supposedly damning quote:

So on the one hand I see a social problem being mocked, but on the other—and here comes the smug godless finger-wagging—I see a foolish superstition used as a prod to mock people, and a people so muddled by the phony blandishments of religion that they scream “Blasphemy!” and falsely pin the problem on a ridiculous insult to a non-existent god, rather than on the affront to their dignity as human beings and citizens. Religion in this case has accomplished two things, neither one productive: it’s distracted people away from the real problems, which have nothing at all to do with the camera-shy nature of their imaginary deity, and it’s also amplified the hatred.

In short, there doesn’t seem to be any less willingness to attack sacred beliefs here. Myers’ reservations were, if you read his post, mainly about his feeling that the cartoons traded in racial stereotypes of what he saw as a powerless minority.

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36 Responses to Double standard: Andrew Sullivan on Catholic Wafer Controversy

  1. cubiksrube says:

    Nicely put. People can set all kinds of boundaries for what they’re not comfortable with, or what they’ll be offended by. Sullivan seems to be assuming that physical desecration of an object and more abstract acts of sacrilege are necessarily on opposite sides of the line for everyone.

    It also seems to always be the case that whenever someone says of a controversy, “This isn’t about free speech”, it’s about free speech, and the speech in question they just happen not to like. When death threats are flying around, someone really needs to remind people that it’s a goddamn cracker.

  2. Will K. says:

    Who is Andrew Sullivan to say this controversy hasn’t “advanced a genuine argument”? I’ve had several civil, thorough discussions about this incident both on the Internet and in real life, and I’m sure I’m hardly representative of anything more than a casual observer. I’ve learned more about Catholic rituals than I really wanted to know, and some of my Catholic friends have been forced to re-examine their beliefs in light of the mockery this situation has gotten (mockery which they might otherwise never have heard).

    In spite of the overreactions on both sides of the fence, I feel like this has been an eye-opening experience for those willing to speak and respond civilly with one another, and because of that I’m glad this happened.

  3. Grendel The Martyr says:

    If the cracker is so important, doesn’t the Church hold at least *some* responsibility for taking better care of them? I could easily see some Catholic three year old stuffing one in his pocket , unnoticed till after he and his family got home after services. Would that event ‘count’ as a religious tragedy for that church, risking damnation for the whole congregation?

    Thanks to the worldwide practice of copycat-ism, you gotta wonder if there’ll be a rash of stolen crackers now. There are more than a few teenaged hobby-Satanists, or teens otherwise experimenting with alternative spiritual beliefs (a new one every other month, lol) that just happen to drive mom and dad nuts. Stealing a Eucharist wafer could become a sort of badge of teen social inclusion. Attentions seekers of any age, anywhere, now know one great way to attain it.

    I could go out right now and be back with a stolen wafer within a few hours, risking that church congregation with God’s evil eye. Could something so easy to do hold any real meaning?

  4. If you got enough of them (and some communion wine), could you rebuild Jesus?

  5. Bad says:

    We have the technology. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

  6. Grendel The Martyr says:

    And no saturated fats!

  7. Apparently Jesus didn’t take those “not eat blood” passages from the OT literally. Either that or it was a case of “Do as I say, not as my Father (who is also me) said.”

  8. Terry says:

    Hmm… with even the question being asked “If you got enough of them, could you rebuild Jesus” it is obvious nobody actually read my explanation of Eucharistic doctrine in the previous flare up of this controversy. You know, if you want to combat the church for irrationality, you should at least present an accurate picture of what the church believes and then satirize the actual beliefs.

    I will agree though that Andrew Sullivan doesn’t have a leg to stand on here. If it is a matter of civility and respect then you follow the path of non-aggression. The Mohamed cartoons were deliberately designed as an antagonism for the purposes of debating the limits of free speech. There is perhaps a little murkier because we are dealing with property and tresspass issues, but I think Andrew Sullivan would likely be just as angry if a blessed icon, a crucifix or a rosary was dropped into a jar of urine.

    I will reserve the right to be angry myself, but I think both religious and secular law are in agreement that you have to stop short of violence or death threats when no human being (or their property) is being harmed. This is why I say the diocesan authorities in the Cook case acted correctly, by quietly enquiring as to their legal options and publicly asking for the host to be returned. Unfortunately in these days of culture war the lay citizen seldom listens to authority whether it be moral, legal or ecclesiastical.

    It is on the last point where you get a taste of delicious irony. Andrew Sullivan is most likely guilty of the same crime he pins on Cook. Whenever you take communion in a state of sin, you are also guilty of desecrating the host. While Mr. Sullivan is completely orthodox when it comes to everything in the Nicene Creed and the sacraments, he publicly dissents from any of the catechism that dissents from his socially liberal/libertarian views. Even if he doesn’t engage in sexual relations with his male partner (and it is possible due to his HIV positive status), he certainly advocates publicly positions which are at odds with church teaching and I would very surprised if he is not latae sententiae (automatically) excommunicated.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excommunication#Automatic_excommunication

    Now I’m sure he believes that he is in the right, and that the authority of the church is wrong, but they call it excommunication for a reason. Namely, that you are not in communion with the wider church and do not take communion together. One bread, one body.

    As for people stealing Eucharistic hosts, it has been a problem for 2000 years. You can probably find some pikers desecrating the host on youtube if you look hard enough. It was generally never really a problem before because by in large people didn’t want to be called putzes and make people angry for very little gain. If it becomes a fashionable fad I imagine in the short term we’ll adapt to protect ourselves. Some ideas right off the top of my head include making sure people who take communion are on the parish rolls, having visitors sit in a separate section, or having people take communion with the wine only (harder to spit into a ziplock bag that way). Then when the fad passes and people realize that we’re not going anywhere we’ll go back to what we did before.

    One thing we are very, very good at is outlasting fads.

  9. Terry says:

    Jesus did a lot of things that were against the laws of Moses. Rabbinical authorities called him on it in the gospels. One example would be breaking the sabbath.

    Another example of course is one that is quite difficult for Christianity, namely the cleansing of the temple. Here Jesus goes in, causes a ruckus, beats on the moneylenders and people selling sacrifices, and scatters the sacrificial animals. This is actually perfectly germane to the discussion at hand here. After all, the Jews were just minding their own business changing Roman coins for Jewish coins so Jewish worshippers could buy animals there and offer them up in sacrifice. Jesus obviously wasn’t showing much *ahem* respect for another person’s religion here. There are many different interpretations of what this is supposed to mean among the various branches of Christianity, though I like C.S. Lewis’ observation that this was one of the reasons Jesus wasn’t a good man, he was either a liar, a lunatic or the Son of God.

    I think the lesson it could possibly teach us today though is that if you get too angry about what someone is doing and attempt to crucify him, there is a chance you’ll regret it.

  10. Bad says:

    You’re not going to get much sympathy from me for the Loon,Liar,Lord argument: I think it’s one of the worst in all apologia. :)

  11. Terry says:

    Well certainly the trilemma (sp?) certainly doesn’t prove anything about God’s divinity. It just says that unless there is some weird mystical shit of cosmic significance going on, Jesus certainly shouldn’t be followed as a teacher.

    If you are a reductionist, the choice is quite clear, and C.S. Lewis pointed out that the first two options are more reasonable than the position of those who wear the W.W.J.D. bracelets.

    Even if you do believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we certainly wouldn’t accept that he was always behaving the way a good person should act. Nor do we accept his grand pronouncement that he brings not peace but the sword, and will divide everyone against each other as an ideological goal we should shoot for. The idea of how Jesus would act being a guide to how we should do things is simply intellectual mush. You appeal to compassion and moderation for ethics, not some vague understanding of how you think God should act. (Which not so oddly, seems to justify whatever you are doing at the time).

    To put it bluntly, Sam Harris is right when he says that people can sit down and write a more consistent work of ethics than the bible. That’s why intellectual Christian ethicists do exactly that. The Bible is a narrative story to try and show (not explain) the ineffable in human history, and to teach things we cannot learn or understand on our own. It is the hagiographical story about a people, a life of a man who claimed to be the son of God, and the early church. You can certainly appreciate ethical statements when they conform to intellectual ethical understanding, but both your understanding and ethical statements in general should always be considered with the deepest care. Moral dilemmas after all aren’t a matter of choosing between black and white, but rather choosing between the grey and greyer. That is why they are dilemmas in the first place.

  12. Bad says:

    The problem is that it’s a false trilemna: it’s not a compelling argument in any direction, it falsely implies that people can’t be simply wrong without being truly “insane”, or that they can’t be a mix of sincere, full of it, and a little loopy (as, in fact, most people are: people today believe all sorts of out there things, without necessarily being insane, liars, or lacking in insight). And it does not exhaust possibilities (for instance, that Jesus is portrayed in the story by others, not necessarily as he truly was). Indeed, nearly every great moral teacher was, first and foremost, a person, with their own quirks and inconsistencies. Why would a secular Jesus be any different?

    There’s no reason at all why someone cannot consider Jesus to be an instructive and useful moral thinker: even if he was nutty, or even if he was a liar, or even if he was wrongly represented. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, did just that by excising all hint of superstitition from his special copy of the Gospels.

    As for Harris, I agree with him too, but I’d go farther: if we can learn about the ineffable from the Bible, I don’t understand why that, too, cannot be improved and expanded upon. Surely ineffable insight did not cease at some arbitrary time in the development of early Christianity, after generating texts for a thousand years. In fact, the mere fact that its ineffable makes an effort to nail down and codify “the” canon representation of it all folly, no?

  13. Terry says:

    I admit that people can be insightful despite having delusions, and admit I might be one of them. The simple fact of the matter though, is that there isn’t much that Jesus says that can’t be found elsewhere so he is largely extraneous to the history of ethics. The sermon on the mount and the attempted stoning of the adulteress are perhaps the only things that are perhaps without contemporary parallels. Perhaps. However, that doesn’t explain why you need the rest of the gospel story, which is about religious themes not moral ones. Without the rest of the gospel story, Jesus certainly casts a smaller shadow in philosophy than Paul. Why not ask what Paul would do?

    In fact, Thomas Jefferson’s bible is an example of extremely bad scholarship and biblical exegesis. The gospels as they stand tell the story as the followers of Jesus understood him, as the Son of God. By taking out the information that these followers were trying to convey you make this a less factual document. You do not create a legitimate or equally legitimate history. Even if you don’t believe the gospel narratives, you at least know what the authors were trying to say. Simply put, you distort what the Jesus of the text was trying to teach and make him into something he isn’t in the text.

    As for your last paragraph, I agree. I do not believe in Sola Scriptura or that the faith is founded upon the Bible. Jesus didn’t write a Bible or instruct his followers to do so, but he did found the Church. These followers and their followers gradually accumulated a variety of texts which were meant to expound the Christian faith. The texts which were selected as canonical were done so under the Church’s authority, not their own.

    Today, I also submit to the authority of the Church and its tradition. I also accept the texts they have chosen as that which they want to teach me. I know having authority mixed in with your religion is a faux pas these days, but without orthodoxy an intellectual tradition simply isn’t possible, though of course orthodoxy must always be challenged and questioned.

    The Bible is not a magic book which any shlob can open and reach an understanding of the secrets of the universe. It is something that requires a knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, Jewish culture, classical history, Hellenistic literature, Jewish literature, and textual analysis. Thus if you are going to make yourself an authority on the text, you had best understand it. I wouldn’t expect someone to be an authority on the “Lord of the Rings” as an English professor unless he understood Tolkien’s Catholicism, his biography, his social circle, his society and his English language. Why would I expect any less from my faith?

  14. Terry “Why not ask what Paul would do?”
    I hate to point this out, but people ask WWPD all the time. Luckily, it’s far easier to extract doctrine from Paul’s letters (except, of course, for the apocryphal Pauline Epistles to the Editor, where he mostly ranted about his neighbour and the way that the curvature of speed bumps in profile vaguely resembles a nipple-less breast) than from a parable of Jesus (The Parable of the Unstarched Collar? The Parable of the Dented Subway Token? C’mon!).

    Jesus was all “Don’t be a dink” and “Hey! Don’t be a dink!”, which is nice, but hardly original, while a good Pauline “Chicks keep quiet (in church)” or “The man of the house is the Man of the house” is useful every time the other guy (or gal) does or says something that infringes on your right to sit in your underwear and watch football while drinking beer at ten in the morning on a Sunday.

    We’re just lucky that Paul didn’t speak for Jesus, right? Right?

  15. […] over on the Bad Idea Blog, we have an entry about the ridiculous double standards that die-hard Catholics like Andrew Sullivan are willing to […]

  16. Bad says:

    The fact that Jesus may not have been a particularly original moral teacher or example still doesn’t mean that one cannot see him as an interesting moral teacher or example, especially when most of the original sources are far more obscure to most people relative to Jesus. But again, you’re arguing almost a side point here: none of this demonstrates that Lewis trilemna has any force or merit.

    And I don’t see how Jefferson was practicing bad anything. He never believed the supernatural side of the story was historical in the first place, and simply wanted a collection of the things he did think were of merit, stripped of what he considered mythical. So he picked and choosed. Nothing wrong with that.

  17. Ciaran says:

    Are readers here familiar with the online cartoon “Jesus and Mo”? If not, I recommend it. It takes religious satire to ever higher heights. It’s latest subject is the wafer controversy. Follow the links-

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/07/09/wafer/

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/07/14/mass/

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/

  18. Except that Jefferson’s picking and choosing denies the testimonial evidence of many who observed the supernatural or fantastic side of Jesus’ ministry (and they reacted to it as we would today- with wonder, surprise and even temporary doubt (Thomas v. Jesus’ resurrected body). Funny how so many deny this testimonial evidence of the Bible when it’s still such an important and reputable part of our legal system today.

  19. Bad says:

    I’m not sure what you mean: the Bible, and certainly not specifically the ressurection part of it, is not a part of our legal system. Unless you mean witnesses swearing on it, but that’s an optional ritual, not actually necessary or required by any court in the land.

    As for Jefferson, he obviously, like many, had no more reason to take seriously the “testimonial evidence” claimed in the Bible than that of any other religious tradition or supernatural observance. He had no problem rejecting the assertion that the Gospels were credible historical testimony, a position taken by countless people today.

  20. No I am not saying that the fantastic elements of the Bible are an inherant part of our legal system. We’ll leave that discussion to The 700 Club (Pat Robertson gets bored, you know). But testimonial evidence- that is a very persuasive and reputable part of our legal system as demonstrated by countless court cases which were decided on the accounts of eye witnesses.

    In the case of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and other supernatural accomplishments, you have a group of very disconnected individuals (meaning they did not stem from the same philosophy or thought camp) and yet they acknowledged the same fantastical experience; some so much that they were almost begrudgingly changed by it. Those who weren’t changed by it (many of the Pharasees) saw it still as an unfamiliar and supernatural power (and then claimed Him to be satanic). You see that the interpretation of the events were the same regardless of the reaction by the eye witness?

    And before you say “but many of those who observed were followers” that is exactly the point- many of these people were in no way associated with His ministry until an event THEN turned them closer.

    To look at this another way- those who swear by UFOs and aliens- many of these folks would admit to a prior interest or desire to believe in such an outcome. By contrast- many in the Bible- even John the Baptist, were dismayed by Christ for initially failing to meet their expectations for a Messiah and yet were changed by Him and became followers.

    While I am a huge fan of Jefferson, he should’ve looked closely at the effect of these episodes on those who witnessed them. The crowd was NOT reinforced in their present understanding by these events, like so many cults and thought camps today. The testimonial evidence is more reputable because of that.

    And whatever may be “taken by countless people today” is irrelevant to actual truth and you know it.

  21. Bad says:

    But testimonial evidence- that is a very persuasive and reputable part of our legal system as demonstrated by countless court cases which were decided on the accounts of eye witnesses.

    The Gospels are not “testimony” in any sense similar to court testimony. We don’t even know who wrote them, let alone can hold them to account and question them directly a we can in a court. We can’t ask for evidence, and we in fact have no evidence to confirm any of it. The few major historical events referenced in the Gospels are furthermore missing from or inconsistent with what we know of ancient history: for instance, Herod’s killing of children, or the claim that tombs burst open and dead people walked around. These things surely would have been of note in the many histories of the period, but are never mentioned anywhere until the Gospels are written, and even then are not mentioned as anything more than claims until Christendom joined with Rome.

    You see that the interpretation of the events were the same regardless of the reaction by the eye witness?

    The problem with your claim about many witnesses is that we don’t have anything from the witnesses themselves: what we have are the Gospels telling us about witnesses, which is not the same thing at all. The only person we know for sure who wrote in his own words in the New Testament was Paul, and he never actually saw any of the Gospel events. Nor, strangely enough, does he mention any of them specifically aside from the basic Kerygma.

    And before you say “but many of those who observed were followers” that is exactly the point- many of these people were in no way associated with His ministry until an event THEN turned them closer.

    The exact same could be said of virtually anyone joining any cult or religion though. No one starts out believing weird things: everyone for one reason or another comes to believe them. And virtually every group tells stories of being doubtful but then won over.

    To look at this another way- those who swear by UFOs and aliens- many of these folks would admit to a prior interest or desire to believe in such an outcome.

    Some, but plenty would dispute your claim. Most people seem to come to these beliefs because they misinterpret other phenomenon, like sleep paralysis.

    y contrast- many in the Bible- even John the Baptist, were dismayed by Christ for initially failing to meet their expectations for a Messiah and yet were changed by Him and became followers.

    Again, you’re talking about people described in a narrative, not the people themselves.

    And whatever may be “taken by countless people today” is irrelevant to actual truth and you know it.

    I wasn’t claiming that as an authority, just pointing out that Jefferson is hardly alone. For instance, I am of the same mind. And so are tons Biblical scholars. You’re going to have to contend with our arguments instead of just dismissing them as flippant, or (wrongly in my opinion) trying to assert that Gospels are eyewitness testimony, let alone particularly historically credible testimony.

  22. How do you know these events were not marked by other historical scribes? Name your source.

    So then you must scrutinize all history- even very recent history, and dismiss it largely because most was not written by those written about. So anything less than autobiographical works should be thrown out? I guess the media has no function, then? Funny, because if Jesus had written his own story, and others would have written their first-person account, then you would’ve accused Jesus of embellishing or alterior motives and the eye witnesses of being manipulators or fame seekers. Sounds like a lose-lose for ‘ol J.C..

    Luke tells us that his sources were closely investigated, and eye witnesses. The gospels were written between 30-70 AD and long before legend would be allowed to influence and breed given that so many witnesses were living still. Paul switched from killing Christians to being Killed for his Christian faith. Why do that unless he truly was changed by his encounter with Christ? He just became delusional one day and then decided to join the enemy? You are very good at giving your skepticism a pass while calling the skepticism of others meritless. Convenient.

    “tons of Biblical scholars.” Unfortunately the vast majority of theologians, historians and scholars affirmed the Biblical account which is why it has so much credibility 2,000 years later and why people like you are having such a good time trying to pick it apart. If it were so trendy, dismissable and transparently absurd like Zeus or something, then we wouldn’t need Bad in 2008 to explain what is apparently obvious. Or do you see yourself as riding the tide of change for the first time in millenia? Lucky you.

    So why did scores of Christians die in Rome (documented endlessly unless you stick to the Sam Harris school of total historical ignorance)? Sounds pretty silly for so many who knew Jesus to just up and get murdered for his cause if they hadn’t witnessed it personally or been effected by the testimony of those who had. “That’s a cool story- I’m going to go get tortured and murdered in the arena for it!” Literally Nero and others gave Christians the chance to save themselves if they would only deny Christ and they would not. Uhhh….

    So just to confirm- Jesus was instead just a pleasant guy recycling old themes? Think of the millions who have been killed in his name. You must really think that most of the world and its history is filled with folks just itching to find death.

  23. Bad says:

    How do you know these events were not marked by other historical scribes? Name your source.

    Read virtually any book on the subject. Josephus, for instance, writes fairly detailed accounts of the period, and doesn’t record these events (nor do they really work timewise in any case). Rabbinical tradition also in any case was pretty good about keeping records of major events (a genocide against Jewish young-uns would most certainly have merited some mention), and the Romans were meticulous record keepers.

    You’re making some pretty conventional arguments here in this realm, but they don’t hold up. If people’s willingness to fight and die over ideas validates those ideas, then we have a tiny bit of a problem, because people have been dying and martyring themselves for all sorts of contradictory creeds and beliefs. Are they all true, by your logic?

    You should really read more on the the actual politics and controversies of the time, because they are a lot more complicated than simple proud Christian martyrs. In many cases, you had Christians turning each other in to the Romans, because martyrdom had become sort of a cult fad.

    But then, by your logic, since the Heaven’s Gate folks were all willing to die for their nutty UFO beliefs…

    So then you must scrutinize all history- even very recent history, and dismiss it largely because most was not written by those written about.

    Yes, we must scrutinize all history, but no we largely don’t dismiss it because it is well confirmed by multiple independent lines of evidence. The religious testimony of then-tiny fringe cults, however, are notoriously unreliable. And the thing is that you yourself have to accept this in order to dismiss all the other non-Christian examples.

    Luke tells us that his sources were closely investigated, and eye witnesses.

    Who is Luke? We don’t know. When and where was this document written? We don’t know.

    And in any case countless religious texts claim that they have been well verified and witnessed by thousands. Again: your problem is that you aren’t willing to apply the same standards you need to get the Gospels to be historically credible to these other texts: only to the Gospels.

    Why do that unless he truly was changed by his encounter with Christ?

    Again, you can apply this logic to nearly every follower of any other faith: are they all true as well by this logic? Or you can accept that people sometimes believe things, and act on those beliefs: something you know is true and just as plausible as “really” meeting a god.

    “tons of Biblical scholars.” Unfortunately the vast majority of theologians, historians and scholars affirmed the Biblical account which is why it has so much credibility 2,000 years later and why people like you are having such a good time trying to pick it apart.

    Once you leave the realm of apologetic tracts, and actually look at the field of real academic Biblical scholarship, you’ll find that this claim just doesn’t hold up.

  24. But I’m not so open to the argument that it’s bigotry when done against Catholics, but not when basically the same thing is done against Muslims.

    Ah, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. In the case of the Danish cartoonists, they were mocking specific actions of fundamentalist Muslims, namely, their proclivity towards blowing things up and killing innocent people in the name of Allah. Sure, the cartoonists’ approach was injudicious and heavy handed, but then, surely no more heavy handed than the actions of their subjects. And besides, political cartoons have never been known for their subtlety.

    In this case, the cartoons were not intended to depict at ALL Muslims, simply an odious minority who engaged in violent and, one might daresay, sociopathic behavior. I think most people will agree that this sort of behavior is rightly condemned by all right thinking people.

    On the other hand, taking communion is a benign expression of faith that is partaken of by almost all Catholics. Even if you don’t believe it has any benefits, I think you’ll agree that it harms no one. Unlike the Danish cartoonists, Myers is deliberately antagonizing an entire faith for participating in a harmless act of faith.

    The world needs saving from fanatical Muslim suicide bombers. The world does not need saving from people taking communion on Sunday.

    I think Myers was perfectly right to defend Webster Cook, whose motives, from what I’ve read, were perfectly innocent. My understanding is that Cook, himself a practicing Catholic, simply wanted to show it to a non-catholic friend.

    Furthermore, I can perfectly understand Myers’ bewilderment/outrage over the reaction of many Catholics to Cook’s actions. If he had stuck to simply lambasting the stupidity involved, then in my opinion all would have been well and fine.

    The problem here is that Myers comes off as a total dickhead on this one: “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.” And: “It’s so darned weird that they’re demanding that I offer this respect to a symbol that means nothing to me.”

    What Myers either can’t or won’t understand is that it’s not the symbol that deserves respect, (although I realize that some will disagree with that) it’s the people. To me, the Bible and the Koran are just books. Interesting (in places) and historic, but still just books. But I still would not desecrate either, not because I respect the books, but rather because I know my actions would offend.

    Now, call me hopelessly old-fashioned, but I still believe in an old concept known as “consideration for the feelings of others”. An outmoded concept, I realize, but one which still has some value. Clearly, Myers does not share my view.

    Oh, and by the way, calling the Eucharist a “cracker” gives it a little too much credit. Those things taste awful.

    -smith

  25. Bad says:

    The distinction still doesn’t quite fly: you’re assuming that it was depicting violent Muslims that was the relevant offense. But reason people were rioting in the streets was the actual depiction of Muhammad (which itself would be bad enough even without further demeaning that image) which is considered a desecration of the sacred in Islam. For Muslims, depicting the prophet is pretty much analogous to consecrating a wafer and then flushing it down the toilet. Some Jews have a similar belief about names of God: if you or anyone writes one down somewhere, then you are duty bound not to harm the paper, and it can only be disposed of in a very particular fashion. To not do so is, again, a wilful desecration.

    In short, all of these acts are deliberate acts of religious desecration in the eyes of certain believers.

    I agree that Myers is being rude of course. I just don’t think one can defend one act of defiant desecration and not another, or condemn one as rude and hurtful and not another.

    And in his case, while I disagree with him, he believes that his description of desecration is aimed at puncturing the power of a belief that needs puncturing, and that this is so important that it needs to be confronted in the style of a sort of dramatic intervention.

    Now, you and I both clearly agree that nothing so important is at stake here that it’s worth hurting anyone’s feelings. But I think even you would have to agree in principle that its not always wrong to hurt someone’s feelings by a demonstrative act: sometimes the act is justified by the importance of expressing the cause (for instance, burning a communist flag during Poland’s independence movement probably sincerely hurts the feelings of dedicated communists and Soviets, but it was a powerful and important symbolic act as well).

    In that sense, what’s going on here is a judgement call on what measures are worth it for what cause, not a violation of any absolute principle against hurting feelings by symbolic acts.

  26. Murder of Ravens: I think you have Myers motivation wrong. Myers is deliberately antagonizing an entire faith, but he is not doing so *because* they are participating in a harmless act of faith. Myers is deliberately antagonizing Catholics because they grossly overreacted to an action that harmed no one.

    Their act of faith is hardly harmless, since it apparently motivates them to physical assault, death threats. Furthermore, they assert the legitimacy of these acts of violence precisely *because* they are religious, i.e. irrational.

  27. Bad says:

    Myers is deliberately antagonizing Catholics because they grossly overreacted to an action that harmed no one.

    To be fair, according to their beliefs Jesus’ body was harmed: desecrated. Of course, we don’t have to accept that, not believing it. But it’d be a little silly to expect them not to get upset about it just because we don’t believe it.

    And I think it’s blowing things out of proportion to blame the scuffle on faith. If someone came up at a college graduation ceremony and took the cap off a professors head and walked away with it, there might be a scuffle there too. As for death threats, well, they generally aren’t worth the internet they are printed on.

  28. Bad- you’re not living in the real world on this issue. The facts spank your so-called assurance of Biblical decay. In this case your sources syphon from the gnostics, and you’ve thrown in the typical josephus-in-fragments attempt. Saying “virtually any book” doesn’t make that right even if you really wish it were so.

    To your larger point about martyrs and truth/ your heaven’s gate example makes my point nicely for me. This is one of skeptics worst arguments, and it’s similar to the flying spaghetti monster brain fart. As for heaven’s gate- that was a handful of people who advertised their views and lasted all of about- years? Months? How’s that movement doing now? Dead in the water. Laughed off the stage. Pick your cliche. It’s gone. So no, being a martyr attached to some silly pet theory doesn’t make the beliefs true, but someone like yourself should be able to look at the length and influence of Christianity and the volume of those persecuted and martyred for their faith, spread out over millenia, and come to realize fairly easily that it is quite unlike short-lived fads, cults or armies who died for a whole host of ideas that never really got much farther than the deaths of those involved.

    This is why Dawkins’ “Zeus and faries” crap-ism and the flying spaghetti monster fail: those ideas have not ENDURED. And that doesn’t prove truth but it does demand your consideration, which is something that I don’t sense from your blog. What you continue to demonstrate instead is a hunger to reinforce your worldview which is no different than the religious faithful who are often in your crosshairs.

  29. Bad says:

    Bad- you’re not living in the real world on this issue. The facts spank your so-called assurance of Biblical decay.

    You’ll have to explain how then. I’m certainly aware that standard apologetic tracts make bold claims in this regard. But leave that echo chamber and enter the world of actual scholarship, and it’s a very different picture than advertised.

    We do not have original copies of the Gospels. We don’t even know which of the many copies are the most original. We don’t have any kind of provenance on them. If you want to hold them up on faith, great. But if you want to make claims about historical certainty, then you are going to have to play by the rules of that realm.

    How’s that movement doing now? Dead in the water. Laughed off the stage. Pick your cliche. It’s gone.

    Which is relevant… how? Your assertion was that the fact that people are willing to die for a belief proves that there must be something to it. Clearly though, people are willing to die for all sorts of things that you yourself do not think are true. So you don’t really take your argument very seriously. The fact that Christianity was long-lived doesn’t really have anything to do with anything. Islam has been around a heck of a long time. So has Buddhism. Both religions have prominently featured people willing to die for their beliefs.

    In fact, what you have to deal with is that religious beliefs that people aren’t willing to die for is an exception, not the rule. And regardless of how long the particular beliefs lasted, once someone has died for something… well that’s pretty much the best they can do on that score. Sure, other people might be willing to live on for that belief as well. But so what? Heck, the Heaven’s Gate people were, if anything, far more dedicated to their beliefs, because they ALL died for them. The fact that they are no longer around is, if anything, a demonstration of how much they believed, not a refutation of it.

    This is why Dawkins’ “Zeus and faries” crap-ism and the flying spaghetti monster fail: those ideas have not ENDURED.

    I don’t think you understand the arguments that employ those ideas then, because they don’t have anything to do with endurance, but rather straight philosophical logic, or taking claims made by ID people and applying the same logic. I’m not a big FSM fan though, so you’ll have to take that up with others.

    And Zeus, by the way, DID endure for a very long time: many many generations at least, which is more than enough to show that entire lifetimes and cultures can be based around what are almost certainly false beliefs. The fact that Christianity has endured is neither here nor there: SOME belief would have to be the most long-lived. If it happened to be Baal cults, then you, a Baal cultist would be here telling me that Baal is real because belief in him had endured.

  30. Thus spake Barefoot Bum:

    Their act of faith is hardly harmless, since it apparently motivates them to physical assault, death threats.

    Can’t quite agree with that. It’s like saying that becoming a cop motivates one to become a brutish, racist thug because a group of brutish, racist thugs–who, incidentally, also happened to be cops–once beat the crap out of Rodney King. I really want to believe (there’s that word again) that you’re just being facetious here.

    Rest assured that, even when I WAS a Catholic, I never felt the need to assault anyone. ;)

    -smith

  31. In that sense, what’s going on here is a judgement call on what measures are worth it for what cause, not a violation of any absolute principle against hurting feelings by symbolic acts.

    I was going to respond to this, but I see I’ve been given a guest-starring role on another of your posts, so I’ll see you over there!

    -smith

  32. TMLutas says:

    Oh please get muslim cartoon situation right, would you all? The situation started when someone wrote a children’s book. It was perfectly inoffensive and the publisher wanted to have an illustrator draw for it. Nobody would touch the book. The reason was that Mohammed was a character in the book and they wanted to not endure the death threats and assassination attempts that would follow.

    It is in the face of that already existing “chill wind” of fear and self-censorship that the call went out for cartoons depicting Mohammed. So what was the pre-existing fear that denied relatively normal atheist expression in fear of existing Catholic vigilantes? What pre-existing grievance led to the idea of desecrating the host? If there was none, and I’m reasonably sure that there was none then the two situations simply aren’t comparable.

  33. Bad says:

    The reason was that Mohammed was a character in the book and they wanted to not endure the death threats and assassination attempts that would follow.

    Would it make it any less blasphemous to Catholics if Cook just innocently wanted the wafer for some cute child related reasons? I doubt it.

    And all of that is beside the point. Committing blasphemy isn’t something you can target at only those Muslims, or those Catholics, that you think are extreme.

    So what was the pre-existing fear that denied relatively normal atheist expression in fear of existing Catholic vigilantes?

    In this case, it was the reaction to the Cook incident which inspired the commentary of Myers and others. It doesn’t seem like Cook himself ever set out to desecrate the Host: it was a situation that simply got out of hand, leading to people spinning it into a national outragoversy complete with calls for Cook’s expulsion, alleged death threats, and all sorts of bombastic rhetoric.

    In both situations we have an escalating situation in which a relatively innocent act of attempted blasphemy turned into various people piling on pro and on, leading to calls for deliberate acts of blasphemy to prove the point.

    That Muslims are more violent than Catholics is utterly beside the point.

    If there was none, and I’m reasonably sure that there was none then the two situations simply aren’t comparable.

    You seem to define “comparable” as “exactly the same in every degree and detail.” But that’s not what it means, and that’s not how I compared the situations. I compared them along the lines of whether it’s rude to go out of ones way to desecrate something to prove a point about how the beliefs about desecration are silly. That is the basis on which Sullivan tried to excuse himself and condemn Myers at the same time.

  34. TMLutas says:

    Bad – Funny enough, I actually know the answer to that question, yes it would make a difference. It certainly made a difference when Bill Clinton inappropriately took part in the sacrament some years prior. According to the rules, Clinton committed blasphemy but most people grumbled a bit and let things go at that.

    In case you’ve never entered a Catholic Church there are instructions on what to do printed in just about every latin Catholic misalette that I’ve seen over the past few decades. In plain english the rules are spelled out. Cook violated just about all of them starting when he left his seat with the intention to partake in the sacrament without actually being in communion with the Church.

    To make things perfectly clear regarding my thoughts on the extreme bits of the reaction, death threats, whatever there were, are contemptible things and wrong, wrong, wrong. I condemn them as do most Catholics including just about all the leadership. But when you have a group that includes over a billion people, some will end up being jerks you’re ashamed to have as co-religionists. It’s virtually inevitable.

  35. Bad says:

    Bad – Funny enough, I actually know the answer to that question, yes it would make a difference. It certainly made a difference when Bill Clinton inappropriately took part in the sacrament some years prior. According to the rules, Clinton committed blasphemy but most people grumbled a bit and let things go at that.

    Funnily enough, this means you agree with me: blasphemy is blasphemy. Which is all that’s necessary to make the comparison valid, and Sullivan guilty of a glaring double standard.

    I’m not sure why you think I said this has anything to do with characterizing all Catholics as anything in particular.

  36. […] And bless his little non-Communion receiving soul, Andrew Sullivan comes up with the answer: “Jesus loved the poor. He thought they were better than the rich.” […]

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