Immaculate Heart radio blankets most of California with its stations. It's hard to miss when browsing through the AM dial and I often pause on it when something meets my own highly idiosyncratic standard of “interesting.” That's how I ran across the installment of Catholic Answers Live, originally broadcast on Thursday, July 17, that dealt with the question of PZ Myers and his deadly threat to disrespect a communion wafer.
The caller was an earnest and concerned citizen from Reynolds, North Dakota, where she listens to Catholic radio on KWTL (Grand Forks). The respondent was apologist Jimmy Akin (who also posted the exchange on his blog).
Joyce: My question for Jimmy is, there's a professor in Minnesota who is vowing to desecrate the blessed sacrament.The best rational argument is to suggest to PZ Myers that he stirred up more trouble than it's worth. It's gotten pretty old. Taking PZ's provocative statement at face value is like denouncing Jonathan Swift for suggesting that the hungry Irish alleviate their famine-induced hunger by eating their babies. Well, PZ is not Jonathan Swift and his supposed pledge to “desecrate” a “frackin' cracker” is no Modest Proposal, but it may be more to the point to note the nature of the reaction. It proves that fanaticism is not the exclusive province of any one particular group. (Didn't we already know that?)
Jimmy Akin: Right. His name is PZ Myers.
Joyce: And I don't know if you've already talked about him, but he said that the response that he's getting on his blog—I assume from Catholics—that they're full of hatred and the comments are irrational and he said no one has presented him with a rational argument as to why he shouldn't desecrate the blessed sacrament. He calls it a cracker. So my question is, what would be your rational argument for this person?
Jimmy Akin, by the way, misses the opportunity to do the rational thing and bases his reply on the assumption that PZ is seriously planning a sacrilegious spectacle.
JA: Well, I would say a number of things. Number one: I am very doubtful that he has the personal integrity to respond appropriately and not desecrate the eucharist even if he's given a rational reason. Because if you read his blog, he shows nothing but contempt for people who don't agree with him. He heaps scorn on them. Now, okay, sure, maybe he's got some comboxers and so forth mouthing off against him, but you can't take the people who are acting ridiculously or going over the line, like threatening his life or something—he says he's gotten death threats, so let's assume he has—that's not a rational response here.Akin says that Myers has “provoked certain people into irrationality,” but one suspects they were already there.
You shouldn't be threatening his life. But the fact that some people threaten his life does not mean that all Catholics who would be offended by this—which should be all Catholics—are in that camp. And so he needs to look past the people who he has frankly provoked—I mean, that's why he's doing this, you know, he's wanting to provoke people—and he's provoked certain people into irrationality, but that's par for the course with human beings. He needs to look past that and realize that regardless of his personal beliefs about the eucharist, he is desecrating something that other people hold sacred. And charity, and just common human decency, should tell him that it is wrong to—for no good reason, just to honk people off—to desecrate what others hold sacred, even if you don't hold it sacred.
JA: I'm not, for example, a Muslim, so I don't hold the Kaaba in Mecca to be sacred, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go to the Kaaba and spit on it, you know, even if there was no threat to my life. Now, of course, if I did that I would be slain instantly, but even if there was no threat to my life I'm not going to go and spit on the Kaaba, you know.Excuse me? “He is behaving like the people who treat other people's religions with scorn”? I'm thinking you'll get no argument for anyone on that account, let alone PZ himself. There's a germ of a clue in that sentence, but Akin skims right past it. Yes, scorn is exactly the issue. Nonbelievers have scorn for those who overreact on the basis of beliefs founded on faith rather than reason, such as those devout Catholics who pummeled Webster Cook because he didn't eat his bread right away and their coreligionists who later threatened to kill him (and PZ, too). PZ was rude and impolite to people who were violent or espoused violence because of a piece of dry bread—a communion wafer. Even if he laid it on too thick (which I'm inclined to think he did, because I am by nature not very obstreperous), it would be nice if the offended parties would give it some thought before denouncing PZ for treating them as caricatures—and then acting exactly like those supposed caricatures.
Similarly, I'm not Mormon. Mormons hold their temples are sacred. I'm not going to go spit on a Mormon temple. I'm not going to go spit on a Jewish synagogue. I'm not going to go spit on PZ Myers' office door, you know. Just because this is how humans who have different opinions about things treat each other. They treat each other with respect, and even if they don't share somebody else's belief that a particular thing is sacred they don't go out of their way to deliberately insult the deepest held sensibilities of other human beings. That treats the other human beings in a dehumanizing fashion and PZ Myers needs to realize that that is what he's doing. He is behaving like the people who treat other people's religions with scorn.
Akin may be missing the main point while wallowing in his sense of grievance, but we can at least give him credit for not threatening violence—or even the salivary baptism of PZ's office door. Let's rewind the replay one sentence and consider the end of the Akin's answer:
JA: He is behaving like the people who treat other people's religions with scorn. He's one of them. So if he thinks fundamentalists are bad for treating nonfundamentalists with scorn, he needs to realize that he's an atheist fundamentalist that is doing exactly the same thing.So that's what is going on! PZ is not simply a rude atheist who makes fun of sacramental bread, he is a fundamentalist. Christian name-calling really clears things up. Thanks, Jimmy, for straightening that all out for us.
Joyce: Well, I appreciate your comments, sir.
JA: No problem. Thank you.
Another modest proposal
PZ has a bunch of communion wafers now. Some are presumably consecrated. Some are probably not. It's even possible that some are both unconsecrated and poisoned, since at least one devout Christian has told PZ he's sending him a wafer laced with death—the better to dispatch him to imaginary hell, no doubt. (Hmm. “No doubt” is undoubtedly part of the problem.) What should PZ do with these wafers if he's not really planning a three-ring desecration event?
My suggestion is to embed the wafer(s) in Lucite. A nice block of clear Lucite. Then PZ will have a sacred (or semi-sacred) keepsake that can serve as a nice paperweight. The beauty of my plan is that the wafers will then be very thoroughly protected from the dangers of physical abuse or destruction. It would be like a reliquary, those ornate boxes used to preserve holy relics. Catholics everywhere could sigh with relief. What's more, they could console themselves with the thought that the emanations from encapsulated Jesus will soften PZ's hard heart and turn him toward God (although brain-softening is probably a better way to accomplish this).
Everybody wins! And if, after three days, the wafers burst out of the Lucite, I promise to go to communion the next Sunday.