UPDATED July 24: Myers did indeed carry out his threat to desecrate the Eucharist.
The PZ Myers debacle has spawned an inordinate amount of blog commentary (two weeks ago, someone claimed more than 1300 blog reactions had been posted, most defending Myers—one can only guess how high that number must now be). Here are a number of worthwhile responses that I’ve seen. I may add more as I find them:
Prof. Myers, Webster Cook, and the Eucharist
This is the most comprehensive analysis of the series of events that preceded Myers’ actions, written from a Catholic perspective.
The Case of the Communion Cracker
This atheist doesn’t address Myers’ own role in the controversy, but he does offer a clear-sighted analysis of the events that preceded it.
Is there anything to the Catholic League’s complaint against PZ Myers?
Analyzes the University of Minnesota-Morris regulation against linking offensive material from the university website. Myers is a tenured professor there, and, until it was removed under pressure from the Catholic League, his blog was linked by the website.
I should add at this point that I would consider it a tragedy if Myers lost his job for this. Don’t get me wrong, what he said and did was reprehensible, and a reprimand is probably in order, but to fire him (which seems pretty unlikely, given that he is tenured) would not only be a serious blow to free speech and the tenure system, it would only confirm the hysteria of Myer’s supporters, turning him from an outspoken atheist into a martyr, and doing terrible damage to Christianity’s reputation.
P.Z. Myers Must Be Fired
Though I disagree, this post provides the most compelling case for Myers’ firing:
He also is in violation of the University of Minnesota Code of Conduct, which holds that faculty members “must be committed to the highest ethical standards of conduct” (II:2) and that “Ethical conduct is a fundamental expectation for every community member. In practicing and modeling ethical conduct, community members are expected to: act according to the highest ethical and professional standards of conduct [and] be personally accountable for individual actions” (III:1).
It also stresses that faculty members must “Be Fair and Respectful to Others. The University is committed to tolerance, diversity, and respect for differences. When dealing with others, community members are expected to: be respectful, fair, and civil . . . avoid all forms of harassment . . . [and] threats . . . [and] promote conflict resolution.”
P. Z. Myers has done none of these things. He is in fundamental breach of the University of Minnesota’s Code of Conduct and must be discharged.
The Institution Of Science Is Going To Keep Losing Prestige
Links to Richard Dawkins’ show of support for Myers, which proves that he is equally clueless about the Christians he criticizes:
Readers of yesterday’s thread “It’s a G——d Cracker” will be aware of somebody called Bill Donohue, whose grasp of reality is so poor that he can’t tell the difference between a wafer and Jesus. The shrieking hysteria of Donohue and other Roman Catholics over the temporary removal of a communion wafer from a church service epitomizes all that is ridiculous in the religious mind.
What alarms me the most about the incident, however, is the major perceptual hit that the scienceblogs.com community and brand continues to take because of PZ’s antics. The Seed sponsored blog portal is supposed to be a place that attracts new audiences to science, but in fact, it has turned into the Web’s leading echo chamber of anti-religious rants and sophomoric discussions of atheism, what the physicist Chad Orzel refers to as the “screechy monkey” problem.
Why the Eucharist is Not Simply a “Frackin’ Cracker”
Ben Kepple offers a helpful explanation, his unfair swipe at Protestants notwithstanding (thanks Alex):
The Eucharist, as all Christians know, is the Body and Blood of Christ, stemming from the Last Supper, when Christ took bread, blessed it and told His disciples, “Take, eat; this is My body,” and took a cup of wine and blessed it, telling His disciples, “Drink ye, all of it; for this is My blood of the New Testament”….
Now in the Protestant tradition, the practice of communion is a symbolic one. The congregation is, perhaps once a month, served some stale white bread and grape juice and the story of the Last Supper is recalled. Communion is given, the worshippers take it, and then leave, some annoyed at having had 15 minutes added to their Sunday worship.
But in the Catholic tradition, Holy Communion is a far more serious and central affair. The giving of Communion is the central act of the Mass. Far from being symbolic in nature, the Eucharist is transformed, through the mysterium fidei, into the Body and Blood, and through taking it one’s sins are forgiven and one is reconciled with God. The Church does not pretend to understand how this works — it is the Mystery of Faith — but as other writers have pointed out, Catholics believe Christ harrowed Hell and in dying defeated death, rising three days later from His tomb. If Christ did that, they argue, then this is a small matter in comparison.
Meyers is, of course, wrong that the Catholic host is “just a cracker.” It is a symbol for many people’s contact with meaning and community, and to flame it in a gesture of disrespect is like going up to someone’s car and keying it because it’s “just a piece of metal.” People are likely to take it as a personal attack, and obviously people have in this case. Likewise, a flag is not just a piece of cloth, and a wedding band is not just a ring.
Indeed, several of the angry emails Myers received suggested that he perform some similar act of desecration against a Koran or Torah scroll, which is a terribly hypocritical thing to say, but it does illuminate how strongly Catholics feel about the Eucharist. To willfully (and “joyfully”) disrespect that is despicable, almost as despicable as sending death threats.
Although I don’t have the stature of Obama, I can totally relate to his disentanglement with Rev. Wright right now. Although PZ has been a hero to me in the past year or so, I really have to point out right now that although I’m an atheist, PZ Myers doesn’t speak for me. I found his comments to be not only inflammatory, but extremely disrespectful… not only of religion and the ‘cracker’ but of people. I also found it to be inconsistent with his promotion of rationalism. After all, what is rational about asking people to remove consecrated hosts from the churches and send them to him so he can desecrate them on video?
“[Myers had] better be careful what he says, because if I get any death threats, it won’t be hard to connect the dots.”
Let’s see … yesterday Donohue issued his fatwah … er … press release and by that very afternoon PZ had received 4 death threats.
Now, Bill, go ahead and show off your dot-connecting prowess!
Who gets to decide what constitutes “mocking religion”? To the Muslims who objected to the Danish cartoons, they constituted an unacceptable “mocking” of their religion, just as Myers’ advocacy of eucharist desecration constitutes an equivalent “mockery.”…
That is to say, just as Myers has a right to be a dick, so did the newspapers. But the fact that they had those rights does not make their mockery and denigration of the sacred symbols of widely held religious faiths any less offensive or worthy of criticism.
What I think Myers is not yet acknowledging is that the destruction of cultural symbols typically forebodes the marginalizing and destruction of people, and that a civil dialogue between people is rarely possible in an atmosphere of iconoclasm.
Iconoclasm, in other words, is an ancient form of prejudicial expression that ought to draw as much horror from contemporary people as racism and sexism.
I’m not sure (truly) whether I would go quite that far, but it’s got me rethinking the issue.
Also, in case there was any doubt, please recognize that those sending hate-mail and death threats make up only a tiny minority of Catholics. Francis Beckwith provides just one example of a more balanced and respectful Catholic response:
Professor Myers should not be punished by his employer for what he said. Because he teaches at a state institution, Professor Myers has many protections at his disposal that insure and secure his academic freedom, which I wholeheartedly support. Having said that however, there is absolutely nothing wrong with those citizens who are drawing public attention to Professor Myers’ imprudent and thoughtless comments. If, for example, I were to insult a colleague’s mother by suggesting that he has had intimate relations with her, I should not be shocked if he were to punch me in the nose or not invite me to the faculty party he is hosting at his home.
Civil society requires that we treat others with respect, and that means that if we find their beliefs unreasonable, we should offer our arguments against those beliefs in a winsome and attractive way. When it comes to Catholic theology, we are talking about a complicated, rich, and sophisticated theological and philosophical tradition that has wrestled with a whole array of challenges, concepts and ideas during its two millenia. It stands to reason then that detractors such as Professor Myers have an obligation to study what they reject with the depth and diligence such a tradition demands of a truly curious and probing mind. “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker” is not the prose of an adult. It is the ramblings of what G. K. Chesterton said of the atheist, “who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification.”
It’s more important to find out what the Catholic authorities do once the emotions cool, rather than the words they used when emotions ran high (just as I’d be more interested in what PZ actually does if he happens to come into the possession of some consecrated hosts, rather than what he said he’d do when this story first broke).
Poking peoples’ emotions with a sharp stick is likely to make ’em squeal and it’s no use pretending to be surprised.
Is PZ Myers an Atheist Supremacist?
I have to answer No, but the post is interesting:
I have in my mind the image of a small frail women I once saw in a small parish church in England. Dressed in black and wearing a communion shawl over her head, she knelt at the communion rail to receive. “Amen,” she said as she struggled to her feet. You could see in her face how meaningful this was. She probably knows little about molecules and atoms and cares nothing about arguments of substance about substance. It is, for her, the body of Christ. It is the moment of receiving the elements that for her is important.
Myers thinks this is mere superstition. He is entitled to this opinion. He is entitled to his belief in scientism, for ultimately that is his philosophy. Myers, who frequently argues intellectually, scientifically and rationally well, now wants to make a point with a stunt that has none of those redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Myers wants to shake the silly woman and explain to her that her belief is “silly superstition.” On his blog he repeatedly tries to do this. His attacks on creationism and Intelligent Design and the existence of God have often been formidable and well articulated. But that is not what this is about now. He seems to have lost it, emotionally and intellectually.”Okay, woman,” he now seems to say. “Since I can’t convince you I will trample on your holy bread, on your holy moment, on your faith.”
P.Z. Myers Thinks Like a Bronze-Age Pagan
Responding to Myers’ claim that:
The point of desecrating the host isn’t to make people angry–it’s to demystify and desanctify nonsense. It’s how we wake people up–by showing that their beliefs are powerless.
Jeff Martin retorts:
That’s quite right. In this enlightened age, we do not settle religious and philosophical questions of inestimable importance by reasoning, examining the historical evidences, or any such recondite activity, but by subjecting the participants, or symbols dear to them, to the ordeal, to the end that Fate, the womb of possibility, the numinous power of whatever, might speak and deliver its verdict… let a singular communion wafer represent the entirety of the Christian claim, and let his sacrilege represent the claims of enlightenment, and if no bolt of lightning or pillar of fire descends from the heavens to smite him, Christianity stands exploded as rank superstition.
Now contrast all of that with Myers’ latest, in which he destroys a Eucharistic wafer, along with copies of the Koran and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, all to prove that… well, that he really doesn’t believe anything is sacred.