13 July, 2008

The Great Cracker Controversy of 2008: My Best Friend Weighs In

The controversy continues to unfold. Instead of getting actual work done today, I spent most of it chasing blog posts about the Great Cracker Controversy through the blogosphere, reading comments and laughing my arse off at some of the most beautiful smack-downs I've seen in a long time. The best raging argument I've seen so far that's short enough to follow is in Ed Brayton's delightful post on the subject.

I now have ammunition for all of those "respect my religion!" bleaters. I hope I never have to hear another damned word about Communion wafers and the profaning thereof, but if I have to debate someone over the mess, I don't think they're necessarily going to like the result now.

Three things have completely stolen the outraged Catholic's thunder for me, completely aside from the fact that, as an atheist, I don't think any religion deserves extraordinary respect and universal reverence for its sillyness.

Firstly, there was the fact that my own dear NP took the calm view of the situation. As a Catholic, she could've assumed the outrage position, but she didn't.

Secondly, there's the little gem of information I stumbled across today that people in the Middle Ages used to take the damned things home for good luck. (And yes, if you're wondering: Rev. AJB is an actual reverend. I think he probably knows church history.)

Thirdly, there's my best friend. Since he's a Christian whose church, while not Catholic, celebrates Communion - I believe they call it the Lord's Supper, but I could be wrong here - I figured he'd be on the "PZ Myers is a bad, bad man!" side. Instead, when the subject came up (as it inevitably did), he started chuckling, then laughing from the belly, and then said, enunciating every syllable, "It's. A. Krac-kur."

And yes, that is the spelling we've settled upon: krac-kur. This is going to be our catch phrase for years to come.

His church is definitely not on the transubstantiation side - if it's not expressly spelled out in the Bible, they don't buy it - and so they don't have the "You're kidnapping Christ!" syndrome. In fact, I came away from that conversation with the impression that, if asked, they might just ship PZ a whole box of sanctified wafers to have his way with. After all, they're just krac-kurs.

Garrett and I agree on very few things religious these days, but on this issue, we're in perfect accord. Refreshing, that.

I've spent entirely too much time thinking about this whole issue today. It's forced me to search my own (metaphorical) soul to discover why, exactly, PZ's provocation didn't bother me. After all, I don't believe in going out of one's way to be offensive. Love, respect, and toleration would be welcome additions to the world.

And those are exactly the things the Catholics involved in this debacle didn't show.

They blew a minor situation completely out of proportion. The original transgression, by their own teachings, should have been handled with grace, compassion, and understanding. Yes, the young man who absconded with the Host should have known better. But he hadn't even left the damned church. Would it seriously have been so much trouble to just simply ask, "What are you doing? Showing your friend? You plan to complete the ritual afterward? Fine, then. Next time you want to satisfy someone's curiosity, just talk to the priest first instead of taking matters into your own - ah ha ha - hands."

Instead, they overreacted to the point where Webster Cook decided it necessary to teach them a lesson. And from there, they escalated to threats, more threats, death threats (which I have yet to see condemned by the Church, by the way), and the whole mess spilled over into the secular sphere, where it manifestly does not belong.

PZ blew a hole in their hyperbole by offering to show them precisely what real desecration looks like. He showed them up for what they are by incurring their wrath: bullies. Far from being a reasonable bunch we can share a dialogue and eventually come to an understanding with, they've demonstrated that there's no middle ground: if we don't pander to their every religious whim, we become targets of threats to our jobs and our lives.

They haven't earned the slightest bit of love, respect or toleration.

PZ stood up to a bunch of bullies, and I respect him immensely for it.

I want you to understand that I'm not applying this to all Catholics. I think NP shows that there are plenty of Catholics out there who aren't utterly unhinged. I think there's plenty of room for love, respect and toleration, but it has to be mutual. With people like her, Garrett and other amiable Christians, it absolutely is.

Not so much with bullies. And I think we all know what happens if you don't stand up to bullies.


Woozle said...

Now that would be perfect -- PZ could desecrate some sanctified crackers with the permission of the sanctifier. I'd love to hear what the indigniholics say after that.

Maybe we could even get some of the more moderate Christian bodies to take interest in the interfaith treaty, which states in part:

"We the undersigned are in agreement ... That religious extremism is a problem ... [Where religious extremism includes] Any claim that religious law is supreme over secular law, or that believers are entitled to violate secular law if their religion claims this is acceptable [and] Any claim that any religious law should or must be obeyed without regard to the reasonableness of that law, or without consideration for the harm that obeying it might cause ... We therefore, unite ... in condemning all religiously-based violence and threats, whatever the cause, including: ... Attacks* on individuals or groups for any reason not firmly grounded in rational thought
.. including justifications solely based on a supposed understanding or interpretation of "God's will" ...*where we define "attack" to mean any kind of physical violence or harm, or threat of same."

That seems pretty applicable to the situation at hand. (...although I dunno what Jon Pieret would say, but I see he at least hasn't disagreed with my latest reply in our little dialogue...)

george.w said...

I've been following this controversy as addictively as anyone, but uneasily. Even PZ should step carefully here, but the rhetorical meme of dropping a "Concern Troll!" ad hominem attack on anyone who raises objections to matters of style is like putting ductape over the temperature gauge.

Respect religion? Of course not. But certain strategies are just not a good investment of one's public credibility. Actually desecrating a host may be one of them. And unnecessary when plain old mockery and derision will have almost as much effect with far fewer side-effects.

Nevertheless I sent an actual snail-mail letter of unequivocal support for PZ to the University president. It involved finding something called a "stamp" and since the stamp was old, looking up how much postage is required to send a letter now.

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

I think I've laid out (in my reply to JP's latest comment) an ethical framework which is how I see the situation and which justifies PZ's "threats" (otherwise I wouldn't defend his actions) -- at least until such time as there is some kind of level playing field where we can negotiate with the Catholic Church.

I'm sure JP won't agree, but thus is civilization forged.

P.S. on JP's final point which I forgot to answer: the spanking isn't the discussion; the discussion is about whether the spanking is deserved, and what methods are appropriate.

Cujo359 said...

One of the things I've decided about how our society works is that there are people who are in the outrage business - always ready to stir up feelings for no particularly good reason. Needless to say, Bill Donohue is one such person. There are also plenty of people who are willing to go along, for whatever reasons. I suspect that lashing out just makes them feel less insignificant.

That's not to say that I don't understand why Catholics might be a bit upset about this. It certainly could be taken as an affront, and we all get attached to things for one reason or another. I get attached to computers that work well for me, for instance.

It also isn't wise to upset people when there's no good reason. If you're in someone else's place, you should obey the rules. I don't think anyone here questions that principle.

But this is a distinctly minor affront, and some fool categorizing it as a "hate crime" just blows this thing so far out of proportion that you have to wonder what they'd call a lynching or a cross burning in someone's yard.

All this just strikes me as more manufactured outrage, which is convenient or even helpful for the manufacturers, and very unhelpful for the rest of us.

Cujo359 said...

Hmmm. Looks like someone needs to start a Conserva-Answers.com. These guys clearly aren't with the program:

Wafers also played a significant role in localized religious observances in many parts of Europe. In Franconia (a subdivision of modern Bavaria), wafers were especially important on Ascension Day and Pentecost. On Ascension, for example, the Auswerfung des Himmelbrots (showering the manna) was practiced, whereby priests threw wafers and other treats down from the "sky" painted on the church ceiling in imitation of manna falling from heaven—this after a figure of Christ was hoisted up through a trap door as though rising into the clouds. In Alsace, communion wafers were purchased from monasteries and used to ornament the earliest known Christmas trees. In most cases, these wafers were ornamented with religious pictures, Christian symbols, or a simple cross.

Yep, throwing them across the room and putting them on Christmas trees was OK, but showing one to your friend is a hate crime.

Too bad they don't let the church burn people any more.