I am posting two items back to back. This item here on PZ Myers, and nother posting on Bill Donahue.
"Contributions to a stereotype are not tax deductable."
I do not know why this particular quote, from a popular television series several decades ago called Barney_Miller, has stuck with me all of these years. The episode in question involved one in which the precinct arrested a black man for assault. The person he was accused of assaulting was a voodoo priestess that he believed had cursed him.
The quote above was uttered by Detective Harris (played by Ron Glass), who was also black.
It applies today to the stereotype that atheists lack any connection to morality or, in the absence of a belief in God, are capable of committing horrendous deeds that a person with a belief in God would not commit. These claims are used to promote an attitude of fear and hostility towards atheists.
The question of "contributing to a stereotype" in this case means acting in a way that contributes to the belief that atheists lack a fundamental understanding of morality.
When PZ Myers called for the 'scoring' of a consecrated communion wafer, Myers not only became guilty of the crime of promoting fraud or stealth as a way of acquiring the property of others, he also became guilty of contributing to a stereotype. He provided others with a tool that they can use to argue that atheists have no connection to morality and see themselves free to do evil (to engage in fraud or burglary) whenever it suits them to do so.
This contribution to a stereotype is an additional moral crime – even though it is grounded on the wrongful acts of others. In this case, in order for Myers' act to promote bigotry, others have to be guilty of making a hasty generalization from the specific (Myers' endorsement of the use of fraud or stealth to acquire property from Catholics) to the general (atheist disregard for morality). This is as bigoted as drawing an inference from a black person's robbery of a convenience store to the conclusion that blacks are criminals.
However, in an environment in which one is aware of the fact that others will behave immorally, that is a fact that the moral person would consider, and which we can morally blame a person for failing to consider.
Suppose I discover that a co-worker of mine is a serial killer with a preference for young long-haired brunettes. I have a neighbor who is a young long-haired brunette who regularly keeps me awake with loud parties, fights with various boyfriends, and a dog that never stops barking. As a way of dealing with this issue, I invite my co-worker home and introduce him to my neighbor.
In this case, I would be guilty of her murder. The fact that the murder was committed by somebody else – without a word of encouragement from me – does not change the fact that if I have reason to suspect that a particular outcome would result from my actions, then I am morally responsible for that outcome.
Similarly, even though it takes an act of bigotry to apply an individual atheist's detachment from morality to all atheists, and bigotry is itself a moral crime, it is a moral crime that we are all aware of. As such, there is an additional level of moral condemnation that is appropriate whenever any atheist demonstrates a detachment from moral requirements – particularly when their detachment from moral requirements is as public as Myers' has recently become.
This criticism does not only apply to Myers, it applies to all who decided to blind themselves to the moral prohibition against acquiring property through fraud or stealth – those who acquired consecrated communion wafers through fraud or stealth, and those who cheered them on.
When responding to the 9/11 attacks, I have often made the comment that it is illegitimate to blame anybody for those attacks who did not participate in them or who did not celebrate them. To celebrate a wrong done to others is to endorse that wrong, and is itself a moral crime.
So, in the Case of the Communion Cracker, moral condemnation for promoting fraud or stealth as a way of acquiring the property of a Catholic Church applies not only to PZ Myers, but to those who actually performed those actions, and to those who endorsed it
[For those who deny that Myers promoted fraud or stealth as a way of taking the property of others, I ask you – how else was somebody going to score a consecrated communion wafer other than fraud (pretending to participate in the ritual of communion) or stealth (grabbing one when nobody was looking and sneaking it out of the church)?
I have also dealt with the claim that the stealing of a cracker is a minimal crime that deserves only mild condemnation. Yet, the damage done from such an act is not the loss of a cracker. The principle that it is a trivial concern to take the property of another whenever one does not agree with the reasons the owner has for valuing that property puts all of our property at risk. We are made worse off whenever people think they can enter somebody else's property and walk off with anything that the other person (in the opinion of the thief) does not properly value.]
It is also the case that moral condemnation for contributing to the stereotype that atheists are detached from morality, and will abandon moral restraints when it suits their purpose to do so, belongs not only to Myers and those who acquired consecrated communion wafers through fraud or stealth, but those who embraced those acts.
The entire atheist community has been made worse off by this demonstration of the eagerness of atheists to ignore moral the moral prohibitions on fraud and stealth when acquiring the property of the Catholic Church. Because, by this action, those atheists have reinforced the stereotype that a lack of belief in God is associated with a lack of conviction to obey moral restraints. They have done us harm.
Note: I am not condemning the desecration of the consecrated communion wafer. I have also said that, if Myers had acquired rightful possession of such a cracker, he would then be free to do with it what he choose, including the use of it in a demonstration like the one he performed. However, the need to have a particular prop for a demonstration does not give one the right to acquire that prop through fraud or stealth. Nor does it give legitimacy to asking others to score such a prop when one knows (or should have known) that the only way to score one is through fraud or stealth.
The best thing for Myers and those who supported using fraud or stealth to acquire the property of a Catholic church to do now is to admit that moral transgression, to apologize for it, to disavow the legitimacy of using fraud or stealth to acquire property from another, and to disavow the principle that a person may take property from another whenever he disagrees with the reason the owner has for valuing that property.
This, then, would repair some of the damage done by those who contributed to the stereotype that atheists are incapable of comprehending or of being motivated to live within moral constraints.