PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame followed through on his threat to desecrate a consecrated communion wafer, piercing the alleged body of Christ with a rusty nail, which also ran through pages from the Koran and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, to demonstrate that nothing is sacred. Myers then tossed the lot into his garbage can, along with some coffee grounds and a banana peel for good measure. Pre-desecration, I questioned the wisdom of this move, arguing that intentionally attacking one of the key symbols of a religion might be great fun, but did little to advance the atheist cause.
Upon further reflection (spurred both by comments to my last post and Myers’ writings on the matter), I stand corrected. Myers’ action was an important act of civil disobedience. Catholics, in particular the Catholic student ministry at which the “kidnapping” of the Eucharist occurred, would have been within their rights to ask that Webster Cook (the Univ. of Central Florida student involved in the brouhaha) not return to their services because he violated their dogma on transubstantiation. But they didn’t stop there. Cook received death threats, an action was commenced to impeach him from the student senate, and a student ethics complaint was filed against him seeking disciplinary action by the university.
In other words, certain Catholics didn’t try to persuade Cook to respect their beliefs, they tried to force him to. When he didn’t, they sought revenge. In this context, Myers was entirely right to fight back. The religious do not get to set the terms on which non-believers exercise our rights of conscience. Unless an atheist commits a crime in exercising his or her views, no one has the right to demand that civil authorities punish displays of irreverence or even blasphemy. When that kind of demand is made, striking back at sacred symbols (again, within legal bounds), stating unequivocally that “your sacred objects are not mine,” is an appropriate way to reassert the equality of our freedom.