Mutual disrespect

PZ Myers’ Catholic insults do harm to everyone.

Shortly after the Fourth of July, a University of Central Florida student named Webster Cook was accused of absconding with a communion wafer, a sin of the highest order among Catholics. The outrage that followed was out of dimension. Cook was accused of hate crimes, his life was threatened and UCF even considered institutional action. But when University of Minnesota Professor Paul Z. Myers caught wind of it, he decided to fight the outrage by provoking further outrage: on his blog, he announced an intention to desecrate a communion wafer that he described as “a frackin’ cracker.” True to his word, he proceeded to “casually demolish a sacred cow” and display the photographic proof on his blog.

To Catholics, the consecrated wafer is the literal body of Christ, and its desecration is not only bad manners, but an assault upon their savior. And though he is an atheist, Myers is certainly aware of that. On his blog, he described the proceedings of Catholic councils and the “swarms” of e-mails he’d received, no doubt a few of them attempting to inform him that a communion wafer is more than a cracker. In light of this, his decision to carry on with the act of desecration cannot be considered a “protest” of the conduct of UCF Catholics as he claimed in an interview with the Star Tribune. Rather, it is a retributive insult.

Like Morris Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson , the editorial board supports Myers’ right to speech as both an academic and a citizen. However, we find it unfortunate that he chose to engage in a petty, Catholic-baiting flourish rather than honestly engaging the issue. There is great need for skeptics and believers across the world to reach a consensus on the role of religion in society, and it is in the interest of both groups to stand fast against the intolerance that intrudes on the rights and dignity of humanity. Myers’ casual scorn for the beliefs of others is a failure to work towards this goal, if not a roadblock to forward progress.