The hate-filled P.Z. Myers

ROD DREHER

"It is finished," professor P.Z. Myers wrote on his popular science blog.

You've heard the line before. Those were the last words Jesus Christ was said to have uttered on the cross.

What had Dr. Myers finished? His long-promised desecration of a consecrated communion wafer, considered by Roman Catholics to be literally the body of Christ. "I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus' tetanus shots are up to date)," the University of Minnesota-Morris biologist wrote. "And then I simply threw it in the trash."

The militant atheist photographed his sacrilege, which also included his tearing a page from the Quran and soiling it with banana peels and coffee grounds. He posted the photo on his Web site.

His parting shot to believers: "Nothing must be held sacred."

He doesn't believe that, of course. The hateful Dr. Myers and his spittle-flecked supporters insist that their right to profane symbols that Catholics and Muslims hold most sacred is absolute and sacrosanct. To be sure, there's little doubt that what he did -- obtaining a consecrated Host and a copy of the Quran and defiling them -- violates no criminal statute.

But his audacious act of sacrilege crossed an important moral, social and psychological line, one that calls up metaphorical demons that, once summoned, are difficult to control. It is one thing to say that belief in God is foolish and wicked and that Catholicism and Islam deserve scorn. It is quite another to physically desecrate the artifacts believers hold sacred.

The Eucharist is merely a "sad little cracker," Dr. Myers wrote, and the Quran nothing more than words on paper. That may be true, and no one is bound to believe that Catholics or Muslims are correct. What we are bound to do, especially in a pluralist democracy, is show basic respect for the human beings who hold beliefs we don't respect. People don't lose their dignity because they believe implausible, even offensive, things.

There's something about these new atheists, for whom P.Z. Myers is a folk hero, that's profoundly inhuman. "The ridicule is [their] goal; the contempt is the end; the sheer fun of sanctimony, self-righteousness and loathing are the purpose," writes a nonreligious blogger named Freddie (lhote.blogspot.com), distancing himself from the rancid preening of the Myers mob. "This is classic adversary philosophy: I think this thing is true because in its being true it debases you and elevates me."

Dr. Myers' university says he will not face sanction for his acts, even though he clearly has violated the university's code of conduct, which commits employees to "the highest ethical standards" and requires them to be "respectful, fair and civil" in dealing with others. Except, apparently, religious believers. What kind of fairness can Catholic or Muslim students in Dr. Myers' biology classes expect now?


Cultural restraints and traditions of mutual respect and common decency that allowed us to debate civilly among ourselves, despite our diversity, are fast disappearing. On both the left and right, our culture is increasingly an adversarial one, in which individuals are encouraged to elevate themselves by debasing The Other.


If Dr. Myers had carried out a similar extreme act of contempt against homosexuals or racial minorities, for example, does anybody doubt that he'd be shown the door? And should have been. It's absolutely defensible to advocate for unpopular doctrines, especially within a university. But to engage in such shocking and unhinged acts of spite is to strike at the core of what makes a diverse community possible.

And not just a scholarly community. Cultural restraints and traditions of mutual respect and common decency that allowed us to debate civilly among ourselves, despite our diversity, are fast disappearing. On both the left and right, our culture is increasingly an adversarial one, in which individuals are encouraged to elevate themselves by debasing The Other.

Sociologist James Davison Hunter, an expert on the culture war, has pointed out that the fiercest battles in any society take place around symbols. Dr. Myers' highly public desecration of the holiest Christian and Islamic symbols has already called forth atavistic reactions -- including death threats -- from the aggrieved. Once this kind of thing starts, it's hard to stop.

This does not augur well for our democracy. Culture, Dr. Hunter says, is "prior to, and leads politics. And therefore, it is more important than politics in tracking the nature of the social order and its changes."

The Myers mob is carrying out a "Eucharist Challenge" on YouTube, encouraging atheists to film themselves desecrating consecrated Hosts. What does this say about the direction of our social order? What kind of politics will emerge from this?

It is finished? No, in some ways it's just getting started. And it's not going to end well for anybody.

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Rod Dreher. "The hate-filled P.Z. Myers." The Dallas Morning News (August 3, 2008).

Reprinted with permission of Rod Dreher and The Dallas Morning News. This permission does not constitute an endorsement for any product or service.

THE AUTHOR

Rod Dreher is assistant editorial page editor and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He is the author of Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plant to save America (or at least the Republican Party).

Copyright © 2008 The Dallas Morning News




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