Well, for better, and probably for worse, PZ Myers has done as he promised and treated a communion wafer in a manner unbecoming of the sacred, all to definitively demonstrate that, indeed, he doesn’t think these things are sacred. For good measure, he trashed not only the wafer, but also some torn pages of the Koran, and even torn pages of Dawkins’ writings.
This is one of those odd situations in which I know what other people will likely think far better than I know what to think.
I can imagine Mark Shea right now, in full fume over how Myers dared lecture him about Church doctrine, of which Myers, and indeed any critics at all, cannot possibly understand the brilliant subtly of, and thus has no right to comment. I can imagine him decrying the arrogant audacity of, perhaps putting Dawkins on the same level as any religious text (even though that wasn’t really the point). And so on.
I can hear PZ’s many cackling commenters cheering him on.
And I can hear all sorts of ordinary people being at turns confused, indifferent, and vaguely annoyed.
It’s certainly not what I would have done to make a point. Not because I respect the idea of communion wafers, or because I don’t have sympathy for all Jews who were persecuted and murdered because of insane paranoia about their desecration. It’s simply because I don’t like hurting people without a very good reason: without being sure that I’ve exhausted all the alternatives first. And I’m not much of a showman in any case.
Myers repeats the “just a cracker” line, as he’s always done, but still doesn’t give a convincing acknowledgement that he understands that it’s a cracker that some people, for whatever reason, care about. And that one does not have to invest the same beliefs or significance in an object as someone else (or endorse their beliefs) to know that they’ll be outraged by someone harming it.
Still, as I’ve previosuly observed, I don’t think the “Myers is breaking an important principle of respect in our society” complaints have merit. There’s no evidence (at least so far) that Myers has prevented anyone from practicing their religion as they see fit with his act. We’re not talking a question of rights being violated. We’re talking about a question of whether upsetting Catholics (and Muslims, and perhaps people who worship Richard Dawkins) is worth it or not to make his point in the way he has.
When it comes to the issue of there being some principle that everyone should respect everyone else’s beliefs and sacred objects, I think Myers has it dead-on, like him or not. There is no such legitimate principle. And on this issue, there is not a whole lot of middle ground for those that wish to simply wag a finger at Myers’ rudeness. When it comes to the question of whether certain objects, invested by some with important beliefs, are worth more than the treatment human beings, we’re dealing with a moral issue on which one simply cannot plead indifference, speaking of mere politeness as the only relevant concern.
Catholic blogger Mark Shea thinks Myers is an evil man, not just a rude one. Either he doesn’t really mean those words, or we’re dealing with a serious degree of moral confusion, and have gone far beyond the bounds where any side of the debate has any right to complain about a lack of “politeness.”
We can, of course, look upon a lack of politeness and decorum as a sad loss that makes thoughtful discussion far more difficult.
But if decorum has, in fact, broken down, that cannot then be an excuse, as many people seem to make it, to end the debate and dismiss all the arguments on the table as a bad deal. We have to weather on, nonetheless.