Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Case of the Communion Cracker II - PZ Myers

As I mentioned, a member of the studio audience asked me to render moral judgment on the Case of the Communion Cracker.

In my first post I discussed the original theft, attempts to use force to prevent the theft, and the series of death threats that actually followed the theft.

Now, I would like to look at PZ Myers’ response to this news story, posted in the blog entry, It's a Frackin' Cracker.

Myers is clearly responding to the absurd reaction generated by what amounts to the theft of a cracker. He is clearly and accurately describing this reaction as an absurdity, and the fact that if one starts off with crazy premises (e.g., that the cracker has been changed into the body of Christ), one gets some equally crazy conclusions (the death threats and hysteria following upon the theft of a cracker).

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 . . .

There is a problem here in that Myers statement here calls upon others to perform immoral acts.

The morally acceptable way for a person to acquire the property of another is to ask the person for the use of their property. If one has reason to believe that there are strings attached, and the person wanting the property fully intends to violate those conditions, then the person asking for the property must state that fact. If it means that one does not acquire the property - so be it.

Now, I am not, in any way, going to treat seriously the proposition that this cracker is, was, or ever will become the body of Christ. It is just a cracker.

However, the cracker is somebody's property, and there are limits in what a person may and may not do to acquire the property of another person.

Myers asked his readers to acquire communion crackers and send them to him. There is no morally legitimate way for anybody to acquire a communion cracker. (Or, at least, it would be extremely difficult.) So, Myers has asked his readers to act immorally - to engage in deception and theft.

That's not right.

Any communion crackers acquired through deception still morally belongs to the Catholic Church and, as such, ought to be returned to its rightful owner.

If anybody happens to acquire a communion cracker honestly, then that is a different matter. But, like I said, I do not think that this is going to happen. Anybody acquiring a communion cracker has acted dishonestly (immorally) in acquiring it.

Setting that issue aside, there are charges of intolerance and 'hate speech' going on here.

If it is 'hate speech' to deny that a cracker becomes the body of Christ in the face of a religious doctrine that says that it does.

Then, clearly, it is 'hate speech' to say that a cracker does become the body of Christ in the face of a-religious doctrine that says that it does not.

Why is the denial of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation 'hate speech', but the denial of the atheist doctrine of non-transubstantiation not 'hate speech'? What gives the Catholic Church the right to demand that their beliefs not be questioned, but denies the atheist the right to make the same claim about their beliefs?

In fact, I think it would be useful for atheists to begin to show people the absurd way in which people hide behind the accusation of 'hate speech' by using the term the way it is used against us - here every statement that asserts that an atheist has a false belief is branded 'hate speech' and is accompanied by demands that it be removed.

As long as those communications were done with tongue firmly planted in one's cheek - because the intent is to show the absurdity with which people use the charge of 'hate speech' against atheists.

If somebody denies the theory of evolution, accuse them of engaging in 'hate speech' against those who believe that evolution has taken place and, in doing so, infer that anybody who makes such a statement in the face of those who believe it is true should be morally condemned for not respecting the beliefs of others.

The claim, "It is just a cracker," is not 'hate speech'. Just as the claim, "It is not just a cracker," is not hate speech.

Now, the claim that evolution is responsible for the Holocaust - that is hate speech. Here, we are talking about an absurd implication that a person uses to promote unjustified and unfounded hatred of others. The only reason somebody would make such a claim - the only reason that a person would believe it - is because they hate the people that they are claiming to be responsible for the Holocaust, wish to promote that hatred in others, and do not care what lies they utter in order to accomplish that end.

The claim that all Catholic priests sexually abuse children would be hate speech, because it is not true, and those who assert that it is true are doing so to promote hatred and fear of people who are innocent of the accusations made against them.

Atheists have engaged in hate speech against theists. I have condemned some instances in the course of this blog. See, for example, Connecticut Valley Atheists: Imagine. I classified that as hate speech because it took an act that some religious beliefs are responsible for and used it to condemn all religious beliefs - an attempt to use false claims to promote hatred of others.

"It's just a cracker," is not hate speech - no matter how forcefully it is made.


anticant said...

Alonzo, if you want to inform yourself and your readers of where we in the UK are now going in relation to 'hate speech' and religious demands for 'respect', please read and comment on the following:

Anonymous said...

Just going to disagree on a slight point here...

A lot of fuss has been made over PZ asking/encouraging people to "invade churches" and disrupt services and steal crackers etc...

I've never believed it. I don't think PZ was actually asking people do it. I think it was a sarcastic joke. I also think that all of Myers' regular readers will understand this, and probably jokingly reply that they'll get some in the comments.

Although some non-regular readers might take his joke seriously and think that he is actually calling for people to steal, these people will not be motivated enough to actually do it.

The wording is key here:
"...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..."

He does not say "Go and get me some", he does not say "Go steal some wafers", he suggests that if someone were willing to do so, he would take the wafers in. The difference is subtle, but significant. So even if he *were* being serious, the accusation that he is encouraging stealing is a bit off.

As a side note, the most ironic thing about this whole affair (for me) is that I never even considered trying to get a communion wafer, even after Myers' post. But now all this insanity has been kicked up by the Catholic side, I feel the urge to go and do it, simply out of spite. The annoying thing is that I'm sure others feel this way too, and they may go and do it, and it'll get blamed on Myers.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Any claim that Myers asked people to disrupt services is an outright lie. That claim is not implicit or explicit in anything he wrote.

He did not even ask people to steal communion crackers. However, given the fact that the only way to get a communion cracker is to steel it, a request for people to get him communion crackers is certainly an incitement for them to steal such a cracker.

This is important. "Go and get some X" - combined with the fact that the only way to get X is to steal it - is the same as saying "Go and steal some X."

This, I would say, was a statement written in haste, without fully considering its implications. It is, at worst, a case of negligence. Myers negligently overlooked the fact that there is no way to get a communion cracker other than to steal one.

Hopefully, once he realizes this fact, he will insist - even demand - that nobody steal anything.


Ron in Houston said...

I agree that nothing PZ said amounted to hate speech or a hate crime.

However, from a legal perspective, if someone followed through on his suggestion, gone into a Catholic church and stolen a consecrated communion wafer, they would have committed a hate crime. If they delivered the fruits of their crime to PZ, he would be an accessory to that hate crime.

Anonymous said...

As a Catholic I don't see anyone calling it "hate speech" to deny Transubstanciation. Protestant Fundamentalists deny the Eucharist is the Body of Christ. For doctrinal reasons Catholics don't believe Lutheran or Anglican Eucharists are the body of Christ.
In all the debates I've had with true believers of these persuations the charge of "hate speech" never came up in the discussion.

The issue here as correctly pointed out is one of thief & lying.

Threating people's lives is also immoral(thought I don't regard Webster Cook as a truthful person when makes that claim however I clearly acknowlege people thanks to Myers have now threatened both Cook & Myers post Myers provocation).