Catholic Idiocy Roundup

Behind PZ Myers, a priest inhales helium through a bong.
(Photo:
Catholic News Agency)

The blagosphere has been abuzz over the story of a
eucharist held “hostage”.

Summary

Basically, a student at the University of Central Florida, at a
Catholic mass, wanted to take a eucharist
back to his pew
to show it to a friend with whom he’d been having discussions about
religion. Someone didn’t like the fact that he didn’t eat Jesus right
away, and tried to pry the bread from his hand. He got understandably
pissed and took the wafer home with him.

Catholics went absolutely apeshit over this. An Orlando priest
compared this to the kidnapping of a loved one. The student (whose
name I won’t mention because AIUI he now just wants the whole thing to
go away) has received threats and been harrassed.

He bowed to pressure and
returned the cracker
a week later. Campus police were dispatched to make sure nobody tried
to steal any more magic bread. (How long until people have to take
their shoes off before being allowed to take communion?)

Of course,
professional offendee
Bill Donohue d/b/a the Catholic League had to
jump in the fray
and accuse the student of “taking the Body of Christ hostage” and call
for his expulsion.

Enter PZ Myers, who wrote
a post
about the whole ridiculous affair, ending with a request to readers to
“score me some consecrated communion wafers” so that he could
desecrate them.

That’s when Donohue went
batshit, underpants-on-head crazy:

It is hard to think of anything more vile than to
intentionally desecrate the Body of Christ. We look to those who have
oversight responsibility to act quickly and decisively.

Aside from demonstrating that he has no imagination, Donohue also
demonstrated the lack of any sense of proportion by writing to PZ’s
employer, as well as the Minnesota legislature.

His
next press release
shows a further descent into histrionic madness, calling PZ
hysterical. There’s also this deliciously paranoid nugget:

As a result of the hysteria that Myers’ ilk have promoted,
at least one public official is taking it seriously. Thomas E. Foley
is chairman of Virginia’s First Congressional District Republican
Committee, a delegate to the Republican National Convention and one of
two Republican at large nominees for Virginia’s Electoral College.
His concern is for the safety of Catholics attending this year’s
Republican National Convention in Minneapolis
, Myers’ backyard.
Accordingly, Foley has asked the top GOP brass to provide
additional security while in the Twin Cities so that Catholics can
worship without fear of violence.
Given the vitriol we have
experienced for simply exercising our First Amendment right to freedom
of speech, we support Foley’s request.

(emphasis added)

(I think I now understand why the Republicans have been so successful
in playing the fear card: they’re afraid of a man who would stomp on a
piece of bread. To these people, I only have one word to say: Boo!)

The story has even reached the Moonie
Washington Times:

Mr. Myers said he already had received […] “Enough
[offers] that I could sculpt a statue of them,” he said, declining to
say what he’d do to desecrate them. “I’ve got a few ideas, but I want
to keep the surprise.” He speculated that he might “make myself a coat
of armor of them to protect myself from Catholics who would do me
harm.”

Commentary

So did PZ act in an immature and/or sophomoric manner? Sure. But can
you really blame him, in the face of such over-the-top dickishness?
Yes, he’s pushing people’s buttons, but when the buttons are so large
and shiny and tempting, can you blame him?

(BTW, John Wilkins has an
explanation
for why the buttons are there. Like so many things in religion, it
basically boils down to tribalism.)

The whole thing reminds me of nothing so much as going on road trips
when I was a kid, and of walking my fingers across the median line of
the back seat, just to make my brother say “Mo-o-om! He’s on my side
of the seat!”

The proper response is not to throw a hissy-fit, but to cock an
eyebrow and say, “So? Are you quite done yet?”

So why are people bent out of shape over this? If you take them at
their word, it’s because they actually believe, as they claim, that
that cheap tasteless cracker is a god, or a piece of one. This is, of
course, ridiculous. Calling what the student did “kidnapping” or
“holding hostage” implies that the god that Catholics worship can be
held captive and harmed by mere mortals (as kryptonite is to Superman,
so apparently are Zip-loc bags to Jesus).

(BTW, this also seems to imply that sick Catholics should be denied
communion. After all, you don’t want to give Jesus your germs, do
you?)

Now, no one’s denying Catholics the right to hold and express
ridiculous beliefs. The question is rather, should non-Catholics be
required to give a rat’s ass what Catholics believe? Or to put it
another way, should Catholic (or other religious) beliefs enjoy
special protection? To what extent should one person have to go to
avoid offending another?

Let’s dispose of the “religious” part first: no, religious claims
should not have special protection, either under the law or, ideally,
in practice. If it’s okay to ridicule a movie for being laughably
unrealistic, or a political party for viewing the government/free
markets/a strong military/whatever as a magic wand that’ll solve all
problems and give everyone a pony, then it should be okay to point out
how ridiculous it is to believe that a cracker can contain a god.

Of course, free speech laws exist specifically to protect offensive
speech, but that doesn’t mean one should go around offending everyone
within earshot just because it’s legal. Or in other words, don’t go
around pissing people off unnecessarily. If I’m at dinner at someone’s
house and they say grace, I keep my thoughts to myself, because I want
to have a nice pleasant dinner, not an argument. I don’t flip off
people going to church, and I don’t make a point of eating bacon
cheeseburgers in front of Jews.

At the same time, I don’t go out of my way to avoid meat at a
restaurant if my dinner companions are vegetarians. There has to be a
balance between some people being offended, and other people going
about their business. And there has to be some wiggle room: if someone
goes out of his way to call you an asshole, it is not appropriate to
hit that person over the head with a hammer. Burning an American flag
is an action calculated to be offensive, but it is inappropriate to
throw people in jail over it.

So I don’t think it inappropriate to tell the offended Catholics to
take a chill pill and untie their knickers. After all, if PZ’s only
doing it because it’s fun to watch you get riled up, isn’t the best
response to stop making it fun? Cock an eyebrow, ask him whether he’s
still in fifth grade, and leave it at that.

Special message to Bill Donohue

Bill, it is just adorable the way you get apoplectic over
trivial issues like this. Not only is it fun to watch a grown man act
like a petulant brat, you’re also playing into the hands of everyone
who says that religion leads to irrationality and intolerance. And the
more people see that, the more people you can turn away from your
magic-man-worshiping tribe, the better off the human race will be.

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2 Responses to Catholic Idiocy Roundup

  1. Eamon Knight says:

    Actually, according to my source on Jewish practice (my wife), eating a BCB in front of a Jew would not be offensive. Jewish law is understood only to be binding on Jews, not Gentiles (except for converts, which Judaism does not actively seek, and actually erects some barriers to). It’s wrapped up in the idea of being the Chosen People, with whom God made his Covenant, and on whom alone rests the burden of the Mosaic Code. The rest of us are obliged only to observe universal moral laws such as not to murder or steal, to aid those in distress, etc.

    My cynical view is that this tolerant, live & let live, attitude is an historical result of the fact that, for the last 2000+ years, Jews have been a marginal minority among a frequently-hostile majority. They couldn’t have imposed their rules on anyone if they wanted to, and survived often by staying as inconspicuous and inoffensive as possible. Had (in some alternate history) Judaism managed to dominate the Roman Empire instead of Xty, I assert that the picture today would be rather different (for examples, look at the Sharia countries, a system derived from the same tradition). This in no way implies that Jews are particularly power-grubbing, bullying people — it’s simply the nature of humans and their institutions to behave that way.

    Back to the main topic: I am still thinking through a notion implied by John Pieret the other day that we each have a right to a sphere of personal irrationality, which we are not obliged to justify, and which others should avoid violating (as a matter of social custom only, not law). This does not rule out pointing out the irrationality of it, but it should give some caution to deliberately provocative acts like desecrating sacred objects. There is no blanket right not to be offended, but at the same time people’s feelings do actually matter, and should be one of the factors considered. I think a lot of us on the “rationalist” side are border-line Aspergers and similar, and often forget that emotions are not to be ignored as irrelevant.

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  2. arensb says:

    Eamon Knight:

    Actually, according to my source on Jewish practice (my wife), eating a BCB in front of a Jew would not be offensive. Jewish law is understood only to be binding on Jews, not Gentiles

    Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of someone brought up to find pork unpalatable. Sorry for not being clear.

    My cynical view is that this tolerant, live & let live, attitude is an historical result of the fact that, for the last 2000+ years, Jews have been a marginal minority among a frequently-hostile majority.

    I’ll take the book of Joshua as evidence for this view. That, and the old joke about how every Jewish holiday boils down to “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.”

    I am still thinking through a notion implied by John Pieret the other day that we each have a right to a sphere of personal irrationality, which we are not obliged to justify, and which others should avoid violating

    Is this what you’re talking about?

    There is no blanket right not to be offended, but at the same time people’s feelings do actually matter, and should be one of the factors considered. I think a lot of us on the “rationalist” side are border-line Aspergers and similar, and often forget that emotions are not to be ignored as irrelevant.

    There is a lot of merit to this idea. I myself used to be a hard-line rationalist, but have greatly softened that stance over the last N years with the realization that yes, emotions do matter.

    And of course this is a vast gray area, as it probably should be. Just as no one can know all of the thousands of laws on the books, no one can be expected to worry about every little thing that might offend someone. At the same time, we all need to know both the most important laws and the major taboos of the society we live in. We come to build a mental model of the sorts of things that are permissible. A friend of mine, a photographer, has learned that there are surprising laws about photographing federal property. And likewise, I’m sure the student who started Crackergate didn’t expect to be assaulted for taking the eucharist back to his pew.

    So really, the disagreement is over whether the Catholic belief that the eucharist is really a god is a belief that should be accommodated, or not.

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