Monday, July 21, 2008

This is my bread

Making it perfectly clear

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.

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?
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, 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.

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.
Akin says that Myers has “provoked certain people into irrationality,” but one suspects they were already there.
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.

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.
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.

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.

Joyce: Well, I appreciate your comments, sir.

JA: No problem. Thank you.
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.

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.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I grew up going to Methodist church, and our communion used grape juice and stale bread cubes, almost like croutons.

Interrobang said...

If those wafers burst out of the Lucite, I'll go to Mass, and I'm not even culturally Catholic. (My family are Anglicans, Presbyterians, and United Church of Canada; I was born an atheist and stayed one.)

unapologetic said...

Um. Anglicans are Catholic. The Anglican communion regards itself, like the Roman Catholic communion and the Orthodox communion, it is a full and distinct branch of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church". It's a completely different theological schism than led to the Protestant denominations.

Zeno said...

I don't doubt, Unapologetic, that Anglicans consider themselves to be in the true line of descent of the original universal (catholic) church, but do you really think Anglicans would describe themselves as "Catholic" without hastening to add qualifiers? That is, not Roman Catholic.

Rome has rather effectively pre-empted the label "Catholic" for itself. Other sects may cite "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" in their liturgies, but I never hear them describe themselves as simply "Catholic". Have you heard Anglicans actually do this? Those most inclined to do so probably call themselves "Anglo-Catholics" instead.

llewelly said...


Similarly, I'm not Mormon.

Doesn't this character realize that he's defaming the sacrament of Jesus Christ each time he takes it, as he's not Mormon, and the Mormon church is the sole true church on this Earth? Further, if he dies a non-Mormon, he'll spend the rest of eternity being pestered by Mormon missionaries? (That goes for you too, Zeno. I know you are not Mormon because I had to type 'gleeu' to post this comment. 'gleeu' is obviously the name of a demon lord which you as an atheist must worship.)

Zeno said...

Let's be fair here, Llewelly. I do not choose the code words required to post a comment in Blogger. Blogger is owned by Google. As we all know, Google tithes to the Church of Satan, so I assume they pick the demon names used in Blogger's comment feature.

May gleeu have mercy on you!

unapologetic said...

Zeno, there's Roman Catholics and there's Anglican Catholics. Anglicans I've known have called themselves Catholic, just of a different branch than the better-known ones.

All that said, they're actually close enough that their communions are starting to merge again. I'd have to ask my theology hookup what the status is, but the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are much closer to full communion than with Protestant denominations. I even know people on both sides who receive the other's sacrament, and that with knowledge of the priest involved.

Zeno said...

Thanks for the information, Unapologetic. The mutual participation in communion is especially surprising to me, since Rome does not recognize the validity of Anglican holy orders.

I'm aware that some of the Episcopalian congregations in the U.S. are breaking with the Anglican church over ordination of gay priests and bishops, so I imagine some of those people will cross over to Roman Catholicism, where the priesthood is still jealously restricted to men only, and none of those had better be overtly gay.

trog69 said...

I haven't taken communion for over two decades-now atheist-but I remember confession being on Fridays or Saturday mornings. Meh.

unapologetic said...

Well again, it may not be officially sanctioned, but it's evidently more permissible than taking it to the back pew to show your heathen buddy. But the two churches are negotiating something.

The Ridger, FCD said...

ex-Episcopalian here... Any baptized person can take Anglican communion, no big deal. It's the RCs who have all the turf issues. And the Anglicans are not that close to rejoining Rome - since the only way to merge with Rome is accept the Pope and all the rest of the trimmings. Now there are Anglicans who are put out with the liberal branch, especially the ECUSA with its gay and women bishops, but those parishes are not generally going back to Rome, they're heading for Africa. Though I do know that some individual Episcopalian priests have gone RC - and if married, they've been allowed to (a) be priests AND (b) stay married, which would cheese me off something fierce if I were an RC priest grappling with the problem.

The Ridger, FCD said...

ps - in church camp we used to sing a song containing these deathless lines: Not a Presby, nor a Luth'ran, nor a Baptist white with foam: I am an Anglican, just one step from Rome...

Still, it's an all-important step.