Thursday, July 17, 2008

Myers and "This 'theft' nonsense"

I have decided that it is unpleasant being ignored.

The Catholic News Agency has an article titled, Professor who threatened desecration claims to have consecrated Host.

It contains the following:

"I'm not taking the crackers from any church. I'm not interested in attending church, nor would I misrepresent myself as a Catholic to receive it.

"It is freely handed out to people taking communion in the church. The people who are sending me crackers have received it openly," he wrote.

Myers also could not see how others could consider taking a consecrated Host to be theft. "No. This 'theft' nonsense is a rationalization people are making up to justify hysteria."


Making up rationalizations to justify hysteria?

That’s a bit harsh.

It is also, as far as arguments go, question-begging, since calling an objection 'hysteria' presumes the very irrationality on the part of a response that one actually needs to demonstrate.

I haven't actually seen an argument against the thesis that property acquired through deception is fraud, which is a type of theft - and 'deception' means any act that intends to communicate some conclusion that is not true (e.g., an intention to fully participate in the ritual of communion).

I can understand that Myers is unlikely to be reading my blog, so I sent him two emails outlining my arguments. These were not the long 1,700 word essays that I post here. These were much smaller, focusing on the main point – that an object is not 'freely given' if the person receiving it practices deception to get it.

Well, he could have missed those as well. No doubt he has obtained a great many emails in the past weeks and, per chance, he is in the habit of skimming over them looking for triggers that one might contain something worthy of a more detailed reading and, finding none, moves on to the next.

And nobody else, apparently, has made the same arguments in any way in which he has noticed.

Or, maybe, he is not listening. He has made up his mind what he wants to believe and, at this point, he has made himself immune to reason. No matter what argument one puts up, he will conceive of a reason to dismiss it – even if it means ignoring it – based on the assumption that "there can be no rational argument against my position; so, anybody who claims to be presenting one, must be wrong."

Now, I do not want what I have written to be interpreted as being hostile to Mr. Myers. I think he is making a mistake. The tendency people have to be blinded by emotion into rationalizing away the moral arguments against what one sincerely wants to do is very strong and very common. Yet, a strong human disposition to dismiss the soundness of a moral argument does not prevent it from being sound.

Is there, perhaps, an obvious whole in my reasoning that I have not blocked?


bpabbott said...

It's a bit like taking *a* tooth pick each time you visit a restaurant with the intent of building small log cabin when you've collected a sufficient number.

Is that theft?

Has it cost anyone more than they had committed to give?

I'm uncertain theft applies if the item is given freely. Would it be appropriate for a Christian soup kitchen to charge those they serve, and don't prey as expected, with theft?

I'm not taking sides, but analogies can easily be made that make the claim of theft quite objectionable.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


To use the word 'charge' here suggests that one might be talking about the legal concept of theft, as opposed to the moral concept.

Law is an unwieldly tool. Many immoral acts cannot be made illegal simply because it would be like removing a blood clot in the brain with a chain saw.

I mentioned earlier - the value of a theft is determined by what it takes to put the individual from whom the property was stolen on the same indifference curve. The restaurant really doesn't care if you take the toothpicks. The church really does care if you take a consecrated wafer.

And the operative point is . . . it's their wafer.

Let's say you do not want to take something of mine - you just want to borrow it for a little while with every intention of returning it in its original condition.

You ask to borrow it.

I say, 'no'.

It does not matter whether you judge my reasons for saying 'no' to be irrational.

It does not matter whether the reasons that I have for saying 'No' really are irrational.

'No' means no.

That's it.

End of discussion.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Transplanted Lawyer

On the importance of the theft. There are actually two reasons why I give this a measure of concern.

(1) Many of the examples used in defense of Myers are things where the owner doesn't really care about what gets taken. In the case of the communion cracker, we have a case where the owner has made it abundantly clear, "I do not want my property taken for this purpose." Lack of respect for the owner's emphatically expressed wishes as to how his property is to be treated has moral weight.

I do not want people coming into my house ignoring my instructions on how to treat my things because they disagree with my reasons for doign so. The very nature of private property is that the owner gets to decide how the property is to be used. (Within certain limits, which do not apply here.)

(2) There is the issue - which is very much at the core of this blog and of my dedication to this issue, that 'atheists' are somehow disconnected from morality and only 'theists' are capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong. I am concerned about such a public demonstration of an atheist showing such a clear inability to recognize the boundaries of a simple concept such as theft - and of so many atheists supporting him.

In addition, I still do not hold that ridicule, in this case, is a moral fault. These people are pretending to be the final judge of all things moral. Given that they advance so many programs that are harmful to others - that are killing people, destroying lives, and putting future generations at risk (through overpopulation), questioning their authority is a good thing. Causing people to lose respect for their authority on the matter of the cracker may help people to question their authority on matters of ethics. People who so blindly accept the belief that a cracker is the body of Christ apply the same unquestioned acceptance to the Church's claim that stem-cell research, family planning, early-term abortions, and homosexuality are all moral crimes.

However, it would be nice, in making this demonstration, if Myers would not, at the same time, offer such a public demonstration that atheists cannot understand the moral concept of 'theft'.

Ron in Houston said...

My hysteria detector says Myers is much more hysteric than you Alonzo.

Dan Doel said...

For part of my time in college, I was still a Catholic. I had been a Catholic my whole life, and I had gone to 13 years of Catholic school. Yet, somehow, had managed to not be aware that anyone who doesn't believe in transubstantiation (along with probably other criteria) should not participate in communion.

So, one day, a Christian friend, but one who wasn't Catholic, asked to come to mass with me. And he asked me if it would be all right if he went through the communion line. And I said, yes, because I didn't know the answer was "no," and couldn't think of any good reason why it would be (I certainly didn't think god would care).

Of course, no one else knew about the transgression, so no nation-wide scandal resulted, but I nevertheless aided in the perpetration of a theft. What is my just punishment?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Don Doel

Your case is clearly not theft.

Theft requires intent. Your case does not contain intent.

It's like a case here somebody accidentally walks off with somebody else's suitcase at the airport, or who walks off with the store's pen after using it to write a check.

Now, these types of mistakes do not make the property yours. It still belongs to the person you took it from. What you should do with this property depends on what the owner would want you to do with the property.

In your case, there is not much that can be done. I suspect that the owner will forgive the debt in this case.

Joe Otten said...

I don't see how the body of Christ can be anybody's property. That would be slavery. And if it is not property, it cannot be theft.

So it is only theft if transubstantiation is false. Is that the upshot of what the church is saying?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Joe Otten

I'm not defending the church's position. I am beginning with the assumption that we are talking about a cracker, and that it remains a cracker throughout.

In other words, I am looking at the theft more from Myers' position than the church's, and demonstrating that the claim that this is theft is consistent with the claim that this is just a cracker.

Is the theft of a cracker a serious crime?

As a violation of autonomy, yes it is. None of us can be secure in our homes and with our property if others can think it 'trivial' to walk away with our things if they disagree with our reasons for valuing it.

I don't need people to respect the reasons I may have for the value I put on my property, but I do need them to respect the fact that it is my property and, thus, not theirs to walk away with or destroy.

Unknown said...

We're discussing a Catholic student who brought a communion wafer back to his pew to show his companion. Another congregant demanded he eat it immediately, then she assaulted him when he didn't, so he left the church -- with the wafer. And then the Catholic League started calling for his expulsion and he received death threats.

Where is this fraud you allege?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.