Thursday, July 24, 2008

Am I alone on this fence about PZ Myers?

In case you haven't heard the howling, PZ Myers has created the greatest stir of his career by soliciting a consecrated host to desecrate.

Now, I agree with every criticism of the Catholic church he makes in that post. I sympathize with his combined puzzlement and contempt for a group of people who somehow believe that the all-powerful creator of the universe becomes a wafer and can thereby be hurt by a puny human being. And by the way, the wafer is literally and truly the body of Christ, semi-human flesh, but it has no features of human flesh. They just know that it is, because, well, it just is.

To anyone outside the fold, this is patent insanity. Even to this confirmed Catholic (I suppose they still count me among their rolls, in fact), looking at it with fresh eyes, it is loopy beyond description. Furthermore, the history of pogroms inspired by fabricated cases of host desecration shows that this is not a silly benign belief, but can easily become full-on homicidal insanity. As do the death threats Myers has received.

So yes, let us skewer these stupid, benighted, harmful, ridiculous beliefs. Let us laugh at the overly earnest "defenders" of Christ's vulnerable flesh. Let us challenge the assertions made by these people and vociferously point out that their claims are contradicted by all evidence.

But, I do think that stealing a consecrated communion wafer is, well, dickish. And probably technically illegal. It seems to me overly inflammatory, and therefore counterproductive. Most people who are cheering PZ on are already on his side in this. People who might be convinceable that Catholicism is crazy bunk, but are not yet convinced, are more likely to be put off by something so intentionally rude. And as we've seen, believers are driven batshit crazy by it.

Actually, though, that brings me back to thinking maybe this was a good thing in that it exposed how dangerously out of their minds many true believers are.


By the bye, many critics called PZ out for not targeting the Koran. They imply he is a coward to spit in the eye of the relatively peaceful (i.e., only threatening death, rather than following through) Catholics, while carefully giving Muslims a free pass.

Now PZ himself was not involved, but I'd like to point out that when the Danish Mohammed cartoon debacle occurred, one of the very few publications to reprint the offending cartoons was Free Inquiry, a secular humanist magazine. When it comes to boldly facing up to would-be theocratic thugs, atheists are one of your best bets. Probably because, as PZ points out, we don't request a general "hands off" rule regarding beliefs in order to shelter our own. When you submit your own beliefs to rigorous criticism, you become free to stand up against the faulty beliefs of others.

So, here I am on my fence. Part of me says, "Yeah, go PZ!" and part of me cringes, and part of me raises her eyebrows and says, "Well regardless, the reaction is very illuminating," and I just can't come down anywhere solid. Am I the only person not successfully polarized by this scenario?


Nick said...

You're not alone. I'm an atheist (doing a search to see what blogs are talking about PZ) and I'm actually upset about it.
Only half of Americans even know an atheist, so having PZ Myers going out and representing atheism is making atheists look awfully rude.
I say, if it's just a cracker, leave it alone. I am going to let people believe what they like.. that doesn't mean I can't fight them if their beliefs interfere with government or science. It just means no situations like this, where nobody is happy.

Cogito said...

Yes, you're right Nick, if we want people to accept atheism, we need atheist ambassadors, not necessarily gadflies.

I guess I don't mind if someone is offending religious people if it's done in the service of something worthwhile - Madalyn Murray O'Hair was amazingly obnoxious, but she had the guts to file suits and get the law changed, so I can accept that.

In this case, one wonders if the game is worth the candle.

Ron in Houston said...

I'm glad to find a group of like minded individuals.

The problem to me is that PZ is such a narcissist that he likes to try to take on the mantle of atheism. He fashions himself as some sort of leader or some sort of example of what atheism is about.

Unfortunately, a number of people seem to think that PZ is sort of a demi-god. I went on PZ's site to disagree with him and someone actually issued threats against me. (So much for high minded rationalism.)

I'm actually thinking of rejecting the term atheist and adopting Sam Harris' term secularist.