Wafer Desecrated: PZ Myers Makes Good on His Threat & More Besides

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.


23 Responses to Wafer Desecrated: PZ Myers Makes Good on His Threat & More Besides

  1. stand4jesus says:

    Bad: Please read the comment policy. You’re welcome to link to a site, but only in the course of on topic responses. And of course all posters get links in their names if they want.

  2. Grendel The Martyr says:

    Checked out the linked blog entry by PZ and am now even more in support of his symbolic gesture.

    I checked out stand4Jesus, too. Yikes.

  3. Big Jake says:

    Holy Crap, PZ.

    Come down form your ivory tower and get a life already!

    This is what you do for a living?

    Get a real job!

    your pal,

  4. Jon Eccles says:

    Big Jake: no it isn’t what he does for a living. He’s a biologist. This whole farce was given the kiss of life by people who do crackers for a living, and or in the case of Bill O’Reilly by people who give farces the kiss of life for a living.

    Which highlights the important issue here. It wouldn’t have mattered a flying fuck whether PZ mutilated the cracker or not, until people started sending death threats, and until they threatened to try and take his job away. As soon as those things happened, it became vitally important to go ahead and do it.

  5. Big Jake says:

    Jon Eccles:

    WHAT is really the important issue here?

    Desecrate the Host? Defile the Koran? Put a Crusifix in a bottle of Urine name it “Piss Christ” and call it “Art”? For what purpose?

    You may answer “Freedom of expression”. Maybe to bring down “Sacred Cows”.
    Again I ask “To what purpose?

    I answer -For the same reason a lunatic yells “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater-
    to generate perverse excitement.To draw attention to himself or the issue he deems so important that he is willing to start a tumult.

    No ,Little Paul is still upsetting anthills as he did as a child-just to see the ants scurry about.

    Again I say,Paulie ,you’re a big boy now. Get a life.

  6. Jon Eccles says:

    All of those things are trivial. They’re acts against inanimate objects. It doesn’t matter if you do them, it doesn’t matter if you don’t. If people are dumb enough to get upset, that’s got nothing to do with the rest of us.

    But death threats, people’s jobs, those are real world issues. PZ only became involved in the whole sorry saga after the Florida student had been threatened with disciplinary action – another real world issue.

    If you read back previous posts, it’s instantly apparent that there was no seeking of notoriety in PZ’s actions. He rattled off a post in response to an event, and suddenly found himself at the centre of a media storm. The real attention seekers are the people who equate cracker mutilation with hate speech.

    And the Piss Christ was beautiful – a wonderful piece of art.

  7. Bad says:

    Sorry Jake, but I can’t agree that that’s the motive: you’re letting outrage take your accusations overboard. Myers really, truly believes that the beliefs about the sacred in all these cases are mistaken. Demonstrating it is,frankly, not that much different than saying it. Trying to portray that as merely something like shouting fire is, however, unwarranted. It’s one thing to disargee with his method of making his point. But it’s quite another to dishonestly assert that he isn’t making any point at all.

  8. Big Jake says:

    Jon Eccles:

    We are all human beings.

    Something will bother someone at some time.

    You talk about triviality? What is trivial to one person is defended to the death by another.

    PZ isn’t really the issue here.

    The issue is really “do we disturb the anthill?”

    “Do we publish the Muhamad Cartoons?”

    I believe in freedom of speech. I also believe that certain things are sacred to certain people. Wars are fought over “trivialities”. Let’s revisit the Arab Conquest and the Crusades .

    Human nature is human nature. We can act rationally and have a discussion or we can act emotionally and go to war over things.

    People act out of emotion for the most part and lives are lost.

    PZ can say whatever he wants. I can think he is pompous -it doesn’t really matter until someone gets hurt.

    My issue is with the person who instigates the original occurrence.

  9. Jon Eccles says:

    I don’t think many wars are really fought over trivialities. Most wars are fought over resources, markets and labour supply. The Crusades were instigated at least partly to provide an outlet for young men in the late eleventh century who had nothing to do, and were turning to banditry and being a pain in the arse. In total, they killed more Jews and Christians than Muslims, and the Islamic world was far more seriously inconvenienced by the Mongols.

    As you say, different people are bothered by different things, and what is trivial to one person is important to another. The point, though, is what effect other people’s sense of being bothered should have on us.

    Your comments about PZ’s personality and motivations seem to bear little relation to his actual words. As you don’t appear to want to defend your claim that he’s motivated by the desire for publicity, perhaps you could cite an example of his pomposity?

  10. Big Jake says:

    Jon Eccles:

    I meant to say populations are motivated or manipulated to fight wars over trivialities. Of course the real reason for conflict is competition for resources and power. The common footsoldier is just a pawn in the manipulator’s hand.Cannon fodder .

    And PZ’s pomposity?-that’s just his taking things to the extreme to make his point.

  11. Jon Eccles says:

    According to my copy of Collins English Dictionary, pompous means ‘exaggeratedly or ostentatiously dignified or self-important’, or ‘ostentatiously lofty in style’.

    Of course if you think ‘get a life’ is an argument you probably don’t much care about language, but pompous just isn’t the word you’re looking for.

  12. Big Jake says:

    Jon Eccles:

    Merriam-Webster Dictionary

    Main Entry: pomp·ous
    Pronunciation: \ˈpäm-pəs\
    Function: adjective
    Date: 15th century
    1 : excessively elevated or ornate
    2 : having or exhibiting self-importance : arrogant
    3 : relating to or suggestive of pomp : magnificent
    — pomp·ous·ly adverb
    — pomp·ous·ness noun

    I am very satisfied with my usage of Pompous and I reference entry 2 above.

    Even you have to admit the blatant arrogence PZ exhibits in making his point.
    I guess he became tired of upsetting real life anthills or pithing frogs and needed
    something more exciting.

    Oh ,and by the way,I detect a wee bit of arrogance in your commentary about whether or not I care much about language usage.

    Jon -get a life.

  13. Big Jake says:


    You wrote:
    “Myers really truly believes that beliefs about the sacred in all these cases are mistaken, ”

    I have no problem with what he believes or doesn’t believe. I have no problem with what he says or chooses not to say.

    You go on to say:

    “Demonstrating it is .frankly not that much different than saying it.”

    Here ,I beg to differ.

    To obtain a consecrated Host, someone with the intent to defile it must get in a Communion line in church and obtain it under false pretenses.
    IT IS NOT GIVEN OUT FREELY TO ONE AND ALL contrary to what PZ says.

    This act of defilement is the same as an anti-semite breaking into a synagogue and stealing Torah scrolls then desecrating them.

    And his point… somethings are sacred to some people and not others . If those things are inanimate objects ,he believes that they have no significance ,therefore he has the inalienable right to do whatsoever he wishes with it…because he doesn’t believe?

    Therefore it is totally permissable to Jew-bait,Catholic bash incite Moslems…on and on if he doesn’t agree with some concept of their belief systems?

    I indicated that he wasn’t making a point. I stand by that statement. His point was stated in his argument. Going to the extremes he did was unnecessary and offensive.
    It did nothing to enhance his argument. It only incited those who were content to accept his opinion as his opinion- not theirs.

  14. Bad says:

    To obtain a consecrated Host, someone with the intent to defile it must get in a Communion line in church and obtain it under false pretenses.

    This is stretching things quite a lot. The wafers are given freely to people who come to Mass. If the churches do not police who gets to have communion, then no one is breaking any laws by coming up and getting a wafer. Yes, they may well not be advertising their intentions. But they are not “breaking into” anything or stealing anything. And once someone gives you a piece of food, especially with the intention that you will DESTROY IT, it’s nonsense to argue that it’s still the church’s property.

    Therefore it is totally permissable to Jew-bait,Catholic bash incite Moslems…on and on if he doesn’t agree with some concept of their belief systems?

    He’s pretty clearly attacking the beliefs that he finds silly. He’s not asking anyone to persecute anyone, discriminate against anyone, or get anyone fired: which is what people are trying to do to him in return.

  15. Terry says:

    The proper response for PZ Meyers is to simply give him the same respect that he would give me. He has every right to be rude, and I have every right to be angry. So if I ever meet PZ Meyers, I will just have to call him a putz, explain why he is a putz and move on. It is quite clear his mind has been poisoned not by his atheism, but by the crap ideologies he has married his atheism to. The reason he needed to desecrate this Eucharist is for a symbolic victory in a cosmic struggle.

    See, this was exactly what I was talking about in my previous post. True atheism can be rational and reserved but it can also be tied to ideologies that have nothing to do with evidence and everything to do with emotion.

  16. Bad says:

    Perfectly fair enough to think him a putz. You didn’t grab Webster Cook. You didn’t send anyone death threats, or lobby for anyone to be fired or expelled, or anything else. And yet he’s doing something that essentially attacks you along with all the people who did do those things. You’re collateral damage in a fight you didn’t pick.

    I don’t quite agree on your assessment with why he’s wrong though, of course: the real issue, as I see it, is that you have differing assessments of where the underlying problems are. He blames the belief itself for inspiring so much insanity that he thinks the problem has risen to the level of necessitating more than a mere verbal statement. Myself, I don’t think it’s fair to give all the credit to the belief itself, and in any case, that his “more than just a mere verbal statement” will actually be more effective than just a verbal statement. Reasonable people can disagree on that, I guess. Myers thinks your feelings are collateral damage in a war of the utmost importance. But even if he were right (and I think he’s overplaying things quite a lot), you have every reason to feel like you were attacked without provocation and demand an apology.

  17. Terry says:

    I’m wondering about the rhetoric about lobbying to have him fired or Webster Cook expelled. If I was a homosexual and a Catholic student was being a disruptive presence at an LGBT meeting then I would certainly lodge a complaint with both diocese and university administration officials. If a professor was teaching a class and he belittled my atheism both inside and outside the classroom, I might lodge a complaint if I was concerned about his fudiciary authority over me. Even if I wasn’t a student but I personally heard about either of these cases, I might write letters expressing my concern and asking for the offending parties to be disciplined. I think you would too.

    I also don’t really see the big problem with a few parishoners trying to get the communion wafer back at the time. I certainly wouldn’t consider it a huge tragedy if someone was handing Jack Chick tracts about the evils of evolution at a Museum of Natural History was bodily removed by a security guard. Sure technically anyone touching or threatening to grab or restrain someone is guilty of assault, but I think this is a case of bloggers and pundits perhaps feeling things a bit too intensely and overstating the case.

    As for the death threats, well you saw the link I posted last time about the storm trooper being destroyed right? Audience + anonymity = dickwad.

    As for the culture wars in general, social ostracization is not only the most effective way to handle persons deliberately causing offense, but it is the only way to ensure civil liberties for everyone. I genuinely believe that if PZ Meyers didn’t want to provoke a reaction, he wouldn’t be posting blogs and supporting a community designed specifically to provoke reactions. Getting angry and sending him hate mail simply gives him more publicity and confirms his biases.

    As well, your statement “a war of the utmost importance” is key here. The symbolic victory and pursuit of utopia by crushing an opposing ideology is a very religious idea. In fact, it is the real key to religious violence. Bill Donohue also ascribes to this creed, as do the most vitrolic imams and preachers. He literally believes that me (and if not me then clergy I consider friends) to be a poison upon the earth that must be purged (by attrition from our culture if nothing else) so that human beings can reach true fulfillment. It is extreme fucking stuff.

  18. Bad says:

    If I was a homosexual and a Catholic student was being a disruptive presence at an LGBT meeting then I would certainly lodge a complaint with both diocese and university administration officials.

    Sure, but I’m sure the situations are really equivalent. To read this fairly, Cook was a (lapsed?) Catholic who got into a one-time scuffle with someone during a service, after which things spiraled out of control from there. That’s really not the same thing as sitting down in a LGBT meeting and harassing someone. But even so, if it was just harassing someone with speech, then I don’t think there’s grounds for a complaint. In fact, if school groups are sponsored with school money, I’m not even sure that they should be able to kick the Catholic out, as long as from there on he agreed to wait his turn to speak and participate like everyone else.

    Likewise, if there is some evidence that a professor would be grading you harshly over your beliefs when they do not affect your work, you really would have grounds for complaint. But not if they merely criticized beliefs you happen to hold.

    I also don’t really see the big problem with a few parishoners trying to get the communion wafer back at the time.

    I don’t really see a big problem either, other than as it happened, it turned out to make the situation worse, not better. Who knows? I wasn’t there and I can’t judge people’s attitudes and conduct. I certainly am not any sort of fan of calling minor physical interactions “assault” in this or any other case. And I agree that they have every right to ban Cook from further services: if he can’t play by the rules, he isn’t going to be invited back.

    And Myers definitely wanted to provoke a reaction, not doubt about it. But it takes two to troll, and while anonymous yucksters are common, that doesn’t mean that people don’t have any right or reason to react to them. I stand by my general estimation of things here: a situation that never had any business becoming anything more than a personal matter between Cook and the church group, but that spiraled out and up and in rhetoric from there.

    I’m not sure about your final paragraph. This was, for Myers, a symbolic demonstration, not a victory per se (nor is Myers a utopian).

  19. Terry says:

    I think there is always grounds for complaint in an academic setting. There just has to be grounds for dismissal of nuisance claims, and the rights of free speech upheld. In this case, the matter was handled responsibly by both the academic and diocese authorities. The diocese ignored him, and the chancellor simply stated that the administration finds his actions reprehensible but because they value academic freedom they won’t discipline him. It is pleasant for me when institutions of authority get it right. I know many say that “the human is smart, humanity is stupid” but I generally tend to find that the opposite is true.

    So it makes me happy that it has been a bad week all round for self-appointed crusading ideologues, bloggers, media sluts and pundits.

    Myers isn’t a utopian? Seriously? He doesn’t believe mankind and society would be better off if religious ideas and organizations didn’t exist? Wow, I must have been reading too much into his words when he says them clearly and forcefully. I guess the Marxists weren’t utopian etiher.

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