Thoughts on Crackergate

There’s been a major blog brouhaha circling over a young man’s “theft” of a Eucharist wafer from a Catholic church and a blogger’s subsequent remarks, which drew the ire of none other than Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.  The story started with a Florida college student taking the wafer with him instead of eating it, as is required by Catholic doctrine.  The young man apparently received death threats, and the church asked his university to discipline him.  Finally, he relented and returned the wafer unharmed.

Enter science blogger and Univ. of Minnesota biology professor PZ Myers.  In a post entitled “It’s a frackin’ cracker,” Myers lambasted the church and university for its treatment of the student over, as he put it, “a goddamned cracker.”  Then Myers issued this request:

So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address.

That was when the shite hit the fan.  The Catholic League fired out not one but two press releases on the Myers post, the first encouraging people to contact the university and state legislature to go after Myers’ job, the second stating that a Virginia delegate to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis had requested additional security to protect god-fearing republicans from the frenzied atheist hordes at Myers’ beck and call.  The comment threads on Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, exploded with thousands of posts, and other blogs got in on the action with their own huge comment threads.

Myers’ fundamental assessment of the situation is dead on – death threats are NEVER an acceptable way of expressing disapproval, even of someone who trashes your most cherished beliefs.  And the university would be completely out-of-bounds to discipline the student for an action taken outside of the school context that did not result in harm to a person or property damage.  Committing blasphemy is not an expellable offense; the First Amendment guarantees that, especially where a state school is involved.

But I don’t get the point of Myers’ “score me a wafer” idea.  He finds the idea of protecting “a goddamned cracker” absurd.  So do I — transubstantiation is a silly belief (for the non-Catholic, transubstantiation is the belief that, at the moment of consecration [blessing], communion wafers and wine, although retaining their appearance as simple bread and wine, actually become the body and blood of Jesus), and was the one that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t accept when I was practicing as a Catholic. 

But what’s the point of going out of your way to desecrate a communion wafer?  How does poking a very sharp stick in the eye of Catholics advance the cause of rationality that we atheists hold so dear?  I suppose there’s a certain amount of glee in tweaking the most powerful religious body in the world.  And holding transubstantiation up to ridicule isn’t inherently overboard.  But aren’t there better ways to do it?  I’m not suggesting giving religious beliefs the kid-glove treatment.  Far from it.  But is this the most constructive way to support The Atheist Agenda (TM)?

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4 responses to “Thoughts on Crackergate

  1. How do you stop the harassment by people like Bill Donahue? You respond to their actions by doing exactly that what they do not like. If Bill Donahue had not asked for the expulsion of the kid, would Myers have responded in with the request?

  2. Kim,

    Thanks for your comment. I’d agree if that sort of thing ever worked. But it doesn’t. It just reinforces the idea that all atheists care about is mocking religious people, which is not true. (We also care about kittens. But that’s another topic.) That feeds Christians’ persecution complex, which further entrenches their beliefs. I think we touch off a vicious cycle that makes real communication and persuasion impossible. Again, don’t get me wrong — I’m all for trying to “deconvert” the converted. Holding their Jesus cracker hostage doesn’t help that cause.

    [Your comment sparked a great image in my mind -- PZ Myers on YouTube wearing a bandana on his head with a communion wafer in a pair of pliers. "Bill Donohue resigns from the Catholic League today or the Messiah gets it. C'mon, Donohue, do you love Jesus or not?"]

  3. I agree, it is not going to work in the long run, but this is a story of two sides. I think Myers is just an Evangelical Atheist, and in that way nothing better than his Christian Evangelical counterparts.

    The solution only starts when the playing field will get leveled, and that is when Christians and Atheists agree to albeit by the same rules. If anything at this stage, this playing field is hugely screwed towards the Christians, just by claiming all kind of rights just because they believe them. What often happens is that as soon as someone objects to special treatment of religions, they scream persecution, what often means that they loose only some of their unjust privileges.

    I am all in favor of leveling the playing ground, and if that needs to be done by upping the stakes, so be it. If the churches do not like that, maybe they should come down from their persecution pedestal and start to agree with an even playing field. I doubt that it will happen, and that they will keep taking the position that they have the moral high ground.

  4. There is one thing to keep in mind, a point that PZ Myers has also made on numerous occasions: we’ve tried the nice, respectful approach for a long, long time. The result? The USA is very well near a theocracy, an ex-president can openly say that he doesn’t think atheists are citizens etc etc etc. In short, it has gotten us nowhere. This whole cracker brouhaha has done more to expose the total insanity of the religious in less then a week than the nice approach has done in centuries. This sort of thing should finally force the reasonable believers (and they do exist) to stop turning a blind eye to the actions of their fellow believers. It may polarize, but I hope that will show that the religious groups who now have such an influence on politics will be shown to be nothing but fringe groups which can be ignored by politicians because they command much less votes than they make us believe.

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