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Profaning the Sacred

You’d think nobody had ever abused a Communion wafer before:


Here’s a story that will destroy your hopes for a reasonable humanity.


Webster Cook says he smuggled a Eucharist, a small bread wafer that to Catholics symbolic of the Body of Christ after a priest blesses it, out of mass, didn’t eat it as he was supposed to do, but instead walked with it.


This isn’t the stupid part yet. He walked off with a cracker that was put in his mouth, and people in the church fought with him to get it back. It is just a cracker!


Catholics worldwide became furious.


Would you believe this isn’t hyperbole? People around the world are actually extremely angry about this — Webster Cook has been sent death threats over his cracker.


Death threats. Police protection for Communion wafers. Calls for this poor schmo to be expelled. I know it’s an important symbol, and I know some people think religion’s the most important thing humanity has. But for fuck’s sake – if it really is the body of Christ now, don’t you silly shits think God can take care of his own smiting?

That’s what really terrifies them, actually: the fact that it’s all just fiction. That’s why it’s taken so damned seriously. They know if they let one person get away with it (not like many people haven’t, and without much more than a brief snort of outrage), then their symbol, powerless in itself, will lose its power.

I’d just like to ask: what the fuck has a Communion wafer done for humanity that warrants police protection? And why can’t the Constitution get the same respect these days?

Our Congress is about to take another step along the road to making the basis of our government so much empty rhetoric. Pretty words on old paper. They’d be up in arms if someone walked out with the original document and burned it, but as for the real protections it enshrines, those are okay to destroy.

Symbols are important, but ultimately, they’re just symbols. It’s the actions, the philosophies, and the laws they stand for that are of true importance.

John Pieret responded to PZ’s call for blasphemy by pointing out how we’d feel if Ken Hovind got his hands on Darwin’s original notebooks, defaced and destroyed them. Fair enough. We’d be upset. But what would he have destroyed? Is Darwin’s great contribution those notebooks, or the ideas within them? The notebooks would be gone, and no doubt they’d be a loss. But the ideas within them can’t be destroyed so easily.

I’d argue the same for Communion wafers. One college kid walking out with one wafer isn’t going to destroy the entirety of the Catholic faith. So it was consecrated. So it was the body of Christ. How many millions of those are passed out every Mass? Is Catholicism really so weak that the loss of a single holy wafer can deal it a death blow?

I’d like to say this to all of the folks who’ve totally gone off the rails on this: think about what’s more important, the symbol or the faith? Haven’t you rather mistaken one for the other? Isn’t there something in the Bible about not taking the symbols to be more valuable than the thing itself?

And this is why the whole farce made me think of the vote that’s going to rip a giant hole right through the Fourth Amendment. This will be done by people who would not dream of harming the physical document. Ask them to take a pair of scissors in hand and cut out the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution from the original document, and they wouldn’t. Ask them to vote to destroy the protections it enshrines, and they shall do so with nary a twinge.

A few people in the House and Senate understand. They know that you could put the Constitution itself through a papershredder and then light the fragments on fire, and nothing would change. They know that what is really going to harm that document is voting its protections away.

They know better than to mistake the symbol, no matter how sacred, for the thing itself. It’s too bad so many others get it backwards.

Comments

  1. says

    If Hammer films have taught me nothing else, it’s that stolen communion wafers are an important tool in the fight against vampires. A wafer pressed into the forehead of a vampire, for example, will permanently scar a vampire, making it impossible for the vampire to go abroad in anonymity. Also, I think you can use crumbled communion wafers to mark out a space the vampire cannot enter. So if Webster Cook is a thwarted vampire hunter, I think Catholics are gonna feel pretty foolish when the pope feels the sting of fangs on his jugular and drinks deep the stench of the charnal house.On the other hand, stolen communion wafers are used in the Black Mass, often mixed with blood and/or semen. And, as I believe Ken Russel showed us, they figure prominently in the violent sexual fantasies of nuns driven to histerical madness. I suspect this is what the Catholics are angry about.

  2. says

    Ahh good, you posted about this. My little comment (#473) on the relevant post at Pharyngula was probably seen by about 3 people before it was no longer anywhere near being the latest comment (there are now 505 of them). The good news is that there are a lot of people who are outraged about this incident and the Church’s response to it.Comment #59 linked to “Creative Minority Report”, which was also outraged about the incident — but outraged on behalf of the Catholic Church.By the time I read the CMR post, there were quite a few comments, and a good percentage of them were critical of the Church (a much higher percentage than the were supportive of it on Pharyngula, from what I can tell).I posted a comment on CMR; it is preserved here.Right before I posted, the blog administrator deleted some earlier postings (one of which I wish I had saved, as it was on target) warning posters to write “in a respectful manner. Disrespectful posts will be deleted summarily and we will this all be denied you superior intellects. That would be a shame.”By this morning, my post — and you can decide for yourself if it was “disrespectful” — was not just “removed”, but completely scrubbed, and comments have now been disabled.I call censorship and hypocrisy.—As for Jon Pieret’s comment — I’m sorry, but there’s simply no comparison. Defacing Darwin’s original notebooks would be comparable to defacing, say, an original of the King James Bible — not failing to eat a Sacred Cracker. More comparable might be defacing a reprinting of one of Darwin’s books purchased from a bookstore (i.e. obtained legitimately), which I don’t think would particularly upset anyone although it would be rather childish.If I had the time, I’d be seriously pressing this issue. I’d be writing to the next-level-up in the Catholic hierarchy and daring them to agree that it was a “hate crime”. I’d be writing to the university and asking them what the hell they think their mission is.I have to pay a mountain of bills which I should have started working on about 4 days ago, however, so I’m going to have to let it go.

  3. says

    Dana, is the measure of our respect for other people only whether or not we deal their ideas a death blow? If I come into your house and destroy your childhood pictures, I haven’t removed the memories from your brain or made you change your lifestyle. Does that justify what I’ve done? It is a simple matter of respect for others. Sure, what PZ proposes won’t destroy Catholics or their faith but it is a gratuitous destruction of symbols that are important to them. Woozle:Defacing Darwin’s original notebooks would be comparable to defacing, say, an original of the King James Bible …Yeah? What rational value are you placing on either of them? Someone at my blog tried to argue it was the uniqueness of the notebooks that differentiates the cases. On what basis? Every grocery list I write out is “unique.” Does that make them somehow intrinsically more valuable. The simple fact is that you are placing some special “value” on the notebooks and the original King James Bible based on symbolism. Is the fact that you don’t share the symbolism Catholics hold sufficient justification to intentionally damage the things they hold dear knowing the pain it will cause them?

  4. says

    I agree with John. Yes, symbols are just symbols. But there is a measure of respect that should be paid for people’s beliefs and values.We are dear friends, and I’m a Catholic and you’re an atheist. And while I disagree with your atheism, I respect you as a person and won’t send you tracts about how to become a Christian or why the Church says you’re going to burn in Hell (which I don’t believe anyway). And I don’t think you’d send me books about why I’m an idiot for going to church each week and how my lifestyle is based on a work of purple prose.I’m not as outraged as some of my fellow Catholics may be, but I still think if people had more respect for each other and their beliefs, the world would have a few less problems to deal with on a day-to-day basis.So says I.

  5. says

    Jon asks “What rational value are you placing on either of them?” The obvious answer is their value as manuscripts, i.e. historical evidence for which we do not yet have the technology to make atom-by-atom copies. Let me know if I should explain why this is important (and no, it has nothing to do with symbolism).Your grocery list, much like mine, is of no historical interest to anyone at the moment, except possibly yourself. If you later become famous for discovering a principle which revolutionizes some scientific field, your grocery list may acquire some more significance — but I would think that people would have a great deal more interest in any notes you might have made in working out this discovery.If, on the other hand, you were somehow to become connected with a tremendous crime involving items you may have purchased at a grocery store, I can imagine that your grocery list might become considerably more significant — although in a somewhat different way from Darwin’s notebooks. If someone were to destroy or deface your list under those circumstances, that person might then be accused of destruction of evidence — but not of “disrespect”.It’s all about the context, and I should think that the difference would be obvious. Since it isn’t, those of us on the non-batshit-insane side of the argument are apparently going to have to keep pointing this out until the other side either gets it or is able to explain how their side isn’t batshit-insane. So far, I’m not seeing anything encouraging.I mean, seriously — are you trying to claim that every god-blessed biscuit dispensed by the Catholic Church is comparable in significance to a revolutionary scientific manuscript?It has to do with the historical significance — the intrinsic value — of the object in question. If those wafers are so damn important, why the freep are they giving them to people to eat? Why aren’t they preserved in nitrogen-filled glass cases with weight-sensitive burglar alarms?The answer is this: they make them by the millions for pennies each, then wave their hands and do magical incantations over them so that people will think they are somehow special, and then they give them to people so that those people will now believe that they have been given something special and unique, and feel beholden to the giver for their gracious expenditure of a cent and a half (and some Sacred Handwaving) for some compressed flavored sawdust. Thus doth Holy Religion sink its claws into the unwary.I’m tired of it. I was tired of it for decades before Dawkins said two words about it, and I’m delighted to see that civilization finally seems ready to tackle this issue head-on.Any “pain” caused to Catholics by this little intrusion of reality into their dogmatic bubble is equivalent, it seems to me, to the pain caused by forcing an abusive alcoholic to sober up. Yes, s/he suffers real pain, and I feel sorry for him/her — but s/he was beating people up and using the alcohol as an excuse, so my forgiveness doesn’t extend to the addiction; it’s got to go.Also, how the hell is breaking into someone’s house and destroying their property equivalent in any way at all to not eating a biscuit that was given to you to eat? This comparison, to me, shows a profound lack of decency and moral sense.NP says “I … won’t send you tracts about how to become a Christian or why the Church says you’re going to burn in Hell” — honestly, if this is what you think, I’d rather know it (and I’m glad to hear that you don’t) than wonder. Other people whose views are very much that radical and worse don’t seem to feel any compunctions against regularly deluging me with “good news” about their insanity; I’d be just as happy if their extremism could be tempered by some more moderate views — which I would probably also disagree with, but perhaps less intensely. All this business about “keeping our views to ourselves” strikes me as just a way for the powers-that-be to stop us from comparing notes.It doesn’t even really bother me that much when the Witnesses or Mormons come knocking; I may resent the time lost answering the door — but it’s the equivalent of spam, door-to-door salesmen, TV advertising. Annoying, but hardly a crime. (Religionist attempts to give creationism “equal time” with evolution are another matter altogether, but that’s a rather different level of crime.)I also am glad to have in writing what many of these people are saying verbally, so I can see if it makes any more sense when I take the time to read it carefully (it doesn’t, and I fear for civilization) and so I have proof that I’m not making up what I thought they said….and “And I don’t think you’d send me books about why I’m an idiot for going to church each week and how my lifestyle is based on a work of purple prose.” — well, I’d try not to be rude about it, but… yes, I would, if I could afford to. I’d been thinking of writing a book about rationality, and how to tell the difference between a complicated argument you don’t understand and an argument that is totally wacky (see my first comment on this post). I think people should tell each other what they believe, and argue about it, and knock some sense into each other’s heads. It’s why I read most of the blogs I read, including the conservative ones.I mean, really, can we stipulate a couple of things here? It sounds like you’re both unwilling to agree to either of the following:1. Abducting the eucharist is not a crime, much less a hate crime.2. Comparing it to a hate crime shows a profound lack of respect for human life.If we can at least agree on those points, then maybe we can move forward and find some common ground — but if we disagree even there, then I fear the gulf is far wider than I realized.

  6. says

    I don’t blame Catholics for being upset, NP. I blame them for making threats and demanding police protection for something that’s just a symbol of their religion, and a rather easily and cheaply obtainable one, at that ($12.29 per 1000, quantity discounts available). In short, I blame them for blowing this thing so out of proportion that it would boggle the mind of anyone who wasn’t familiar with that symbolism. I think Woozle and Dana made a pretty good case for what the differences are.Over at that Pharyngula article, I made the point that it’s ironic that one of the first prohibitions in the Ten Commandments is that believers aren’t supposed to worship idols. While the crackers aren’t idols, they’re still elevated to a status beyond anything that’s reasonable in the minds of these people.

  7. says

    Suppose a self-identified member of Ethnic Minority X makes a music album reflecting their ethnic and cultural identity. They go to great trouble (and not inconsiderable expense) to write lyrics, compose the musical accompaniments, engage musicians and so forth. It’s a labor of love. Other members of the ethnic minority esteem it highly. The artist stands on a street corner handing away free CDs. One day, I am handed one of these CDs, I take it home, and I throw it away unheard.Is this rude? Quite probably.Does it devalue the ethnic heritage which the artist tried to express? Well, it indicates that I, myself, don’t heap so much virtue on that heritage that I delve into it at every opportunity, and that possibly reflects poorly on me.Is it a hate crime?By any standard I can imagine, the CD in this example is worth more than a damn cracker.

  8. says

    … historical evidence for which we do not yet have the technology to make atom-by-atom copies …Ah, I see. You can speculate that there may be some sort of valuable evidence we can’t obtain now from the notebooks that somehow, some way, someday in the future we will. And that speculation is okay? Hey! In 100,000 years my grocery list could be the only evidence of early 21st century diet and may be priceless. If you can speculate, so can I. But you’re right about context determining value. But the context is what is interesting to people. Thus, historically “valuable” merely means that people think it’s valuable and, last time I looked Catholics are human too. What right to you have to dictate that they are wrong?… are you trying to claim that every god-blessed biscuit dispensed by the Catholic Church is comparable in significance to a revolutionary scientific manuscript?What I have shown is that you cannot articulate a rational reason, unaided by vague speculation, for why we should value the actual manuscripts, other than for our emotional attachment to them. In other words, bat-shit insane is a relative term that the entire human species shares and, therfore, is a poor criteria for inflicting gratuitous emotional pain on others.Also, how the hell is breaking into someone’s house and destroying their property equivalent in any way at all to not eating a biscuit that was given to you to eat? This comparison, to me, shows a profound lack of decency and moral sense.In exactly the same way that buying a ticket to a movie and making a bootleg copy for your own purposes violates the law. But I do agree there is a a profound lack of decency and moral sense at work here.1. Abducting the eucharist is not a crime, much less a hate crime.2. Comparing it to a hate crime shows a profound lack of respect for human life.Taking a eucharist under the false pretense that you are a believer and then using it contrary to the conditions under which you received it is misappropriation of the property of others (i.e. theft), just as bootlegging a movie is, even if you got entry to it legally. (And, if you are wondering, the property taken does not have to have monetary value in order for the taking to constitute a crime.)While I think the kid didn’t have criminal intent, PZ, in asking people to “do what it takes to get me some,” is very arguably inciting people to commit burglary or other “real” crimes. If someone does that with an intent to harm others because of their religion, they could be committing hate crimes. Receiving the stolen goods is also a crime, BTW.Blake:As far as I know the kid wasn’t standing on a street corner when someone tried to get him to take a eucharist. He had to go to the church, stand in line and ask to get one, with the understanding and agreement to treat it in a certain way. Maybe a closer example would be going to an unemployment office, signing up, being told you can only get a check if you qualify by being unemployed and taking the check, despite having a job and with no intention to give the money back.

  9. says

    1. Abducting the eucharist is not a crime, much less a hate crime.2. Comparing it to a hate crime shows a profound lack of respect for human life.—I agree with both of these points. And after reading more about the story, I am unhappy with how Catholics are reacting, but I still stand by my initial statement that regardless of how we share our values and beliefs and regardless of whether we want to persuade people to our way of thinking, there needs to be a level of respect for each other’s beliefs and values.

  10. says

    Personally I think he should have gone and picked up a cheap wooden cross of the appropriate size, and nailed their stupid fucking cracker to it and then mailed it back. (since I’m not 100% sure I’d have the balls to walk up and just hand it to them)This is amazingly stupid, and I’m torn between outrage and laughter BUT I hasten to point out that the idea of literal transubstantiation (while a good deal creepier) is no more insane and without factual support than the rest of the misbegotten mindpoison they call a religion.

  11. says

    “Ah, I see. You can speculate that there may be some sort of valuable evidence we can’t obtain now from the notebooks that somehow, some way, someday in the future we will. And that speculation is okay? Hey! In 100,000 years my grocery list could be the only evidence of early 21st century diet and may be priceless.”Jon, are you serious? Not all speculation is equal. Valuable insights have often been obtained from further analysis of manuscripts such as Darwin’s; as new analysis techniques become available, our understanding of the past increases.(In your highly speculative example, the “uniqueness” argument applies. Assuming your grocery list was the only one surviving from this era, then it would have considerable value as a cultural artifact many thousands of years from now — but not today, where there is no shortage.)However, thinking this through, perhaps I see the underlying point you are trying to get at: if someone were to intentionally destroy those manuscripts specifically because of their interest to scientists (as Mr. Cook abducted the cracker specifically to violate the ritual), my upsetness would indeed go somewhat beyond the loss of potential evidence.I would see such an act as a smirking celebration of ignorance over knowledge. And yes, that would be mainly symbolic; the significance of those manuscripts would not be somehow undone. The theory of evolution would not be disproved or even called into question. It would be the moral equivalent of a book-burning (an act almost exclusively perpetrated by Christians and other religionists, if I’m not mistaken).If I understand you correctly, you are then asking: what is the difference between that smirking celebration and Mr. Cook’s smirking celebration of his disregard for deeply-held Catholic beliefs?My answer is this: The former is valuable, and the latter is not. I have respect for scientific achievement, and negative respect for enshrined religious ritual. (And unlike some smash-and-run vandal, I am willing to enter into dialogue about this belief and back it up rationally.)Civilization has been entirely too lenient in allowing religion to elevate its baseless ideology to a status not only equal to but greater than that of science and rationality. The Church’s overreaction to Mr. Cook’s trivial prank — and your defense of that overreaction, despite your being also a defender of science — shows how serious the problem is, and reveals that prank as an entirely reasonable act of protest. Would we ever have guessed that the Church would react in this extreme manner? I might have expected it of, say, Westboro Baptist Church — but somehow I thought the Catholic Church was a little more sane than Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, or John Hagee. The results of Mr. Cook’s informal experiment clearly demonstrate that this is not as much the case as we might think.“Thus, historically “valuable” merely means that people think it’s valuable and, last time I looked Catholics are human too. What right to you have to dictate that they are wrong?” I already answered this one: 1. (earlier comment) “If those wafers are so damn important, why the freep are they giving them to people to eat? Why aren’t they preserved in nitrogen-filled glass cases with weight-sensitive burglar alarms?” (The reason is that it’s a loaded gift, a manipulative tool — and has nothing to do with actual value of the object being given.)2. (this comment) Science deserves respect, and dogma does not.3. (my main thesis, really) There is no rational argument for considering the eucharist to be valuable.4. (earlier comment) “Historically valuable” is not just “whatever a group of people think is valuable”. Things are valuable for specific reasons. If those reasons are not obvious to you as applied to Darwin’s notebooks, let me know.“What I have shown is that you cannot articulate a rational reason, unaided by vague speculation, for why we should value the actual manuscripts, other than for our emotional attachment to them.” Um, no, I’ve been giving you nothing but rational reasons, until this most recent response where I thought I understood that you were introducing emotional attachment as a rationale for the Church’s overreaction.You have replied in ways which you apparently believe are effective rebuttals of my rationality-based arguments; I have refuted your refutations. Your turn.If you’re specifically forbidding emotional attachment as a justification, though, how do you justify the Church’s response? Seems to me that emotion (which should be taken into consideration at least a little — I think I’m agreeing with NP on this point) is pretty much the only justification for anything beyond mild annoyance about the brutal wafer kidnapping. (If it had been me, my response to all the righteous outrage would have been to film myself stomping on the stupid biscuit and flushing it down the toilet, to indicate the level of my regard for their superstitious nonsense. Is anyone harmed by this? No. I respect Mr. Cook’s restraint, but I doubt that it will do him much good; bullies don’t respect restraint. In any case, he has shown himself to be far more mature and reasonable than the grand, time-honored institution of the Church, of which we are supposed to be so endlessly respectful.)In response to my question of how failure to eat a cracker is equivalent to breaking, entering, and destroying personal property, you say “In exactly the same way that buying a ticket to a movie and making a bootleg copy for your own purposes violates the law.” Umm, no again.Taking the wafer wasn’t illegal; it was given to him to eat. Once you are given something, it’s yours, and you are free to dispose of it essentially however you see fit — by our laws. (If Mr. Cook wants to remain within the Church community, then it’s up to him to accept any penalties imposed by their rules — but Catholic rules do not extend beyond the Catholic community.) Even copyright law is an actual law; there is no law against failure to properly consume sacred food. I disagree with your legal interpretation, but even if you are correct that he obtained the cracker under false pretenses and that there should be some kind of legal penalty for this, the penalty would be based on the damage to the Church — and the cracker cost them no more than a penny or two.If he has some kind of special contract with them which obligates him to anything outside normal secular law, they need to produce it if they want secular law to enforce it. If they want to claim that Mr. Cook made a verbal agreement to eat the wafer, they’ll need to spell out the nature of this agreement and when it was made (assuming verbal agreements are binding in that state; in my view, they should not be).Otherwise they’re just throwing their weight around. I respect bullies even less than I respect dogma.NP: I would have respected the Church’s reaction if they had merely politely asked for the cracker to be returned. The prank would then have been truly a prank, and Mr. Cook could have been rightly chastized. Even that much strikes me as excessive; it’s not as if it was in any way unique or valuable.I can respect unfounded beliefs as long as they are not taken too seriously. Threatening hellfire, damnation, excommunication, etc. is all very well; the moment a religion starts giving people a hard time in the real world for not respecting its beliefs, the game has gone too far.

  12. says

    Mmm, deliious chaos.Destroy all the symbols. The moment value is placed upon objects rather than ideals and people, it’s fucking pointless anyway. Nothing is sacred in a world where humans will gladly kill another for things as foolish as communion waifers or forbidden images of their prophets.

  13. says

    If I understand you correctly, you are then asking: what is the difference between that smirking celebration and Mr. Cook’s smirking celebration of his disregard for deeply-held Catholic beliefs?You’re closing in on it.My answer is this: The former is valuable, and the latter is not. I have respect for scientific achievement, and negative respect for enshrined religious ritual.So, you personal “respect” is the measure of the value everyone else should place on things? Anything belonging to others that you don’t respect can freely be abused for any reason or no reason?“If those wafers are so damn important, why the freep are they giving them to people to eat?Please! Anti-cancer drugs aren’t valuable? Stupid doctors keep giving them to people to put in their bodies instead of keeping them in safes. Yes, I know, you don’t think eucharists do anything, but your criteria here doesn’t make any sense.There is no rational argument for considering the eucharist to be valuable.If you’re specifically forbidding emotional attachment as a justification …The Church’s overreaction to Mr. Cook’s trivial prank …Now I’m completely lost as to your thinking. You seem to be wobbling back and forth between recognizing that this is an emotional issue for Catholics based on symbolism that you may not share but can understand and (maybe) respect to the extent of not deliberately offending it and a complete rejection of any consideration of your fellow citizens’ feelings.But as to there being no “rational” reason to respect the eucharist, we’re back to Dana’s childhood pictures. What criteria is there to think they’re valuable except what they mean personally to Dana? Does that mean I have the right to destroy them?Once you are given something, it’s yours, and you are free to dispose of it essentially however you see fit — by our laws.No, that’s what I am telling you from a legal standpoint (my job). When something is given to you under some condition, taking it with the intention of violating that condition or doing so later without offering to give it back first, is misappropriation of property. People can give you property or access to it with strings attached, requiring that you will use it only in certain ways.And the issue isn’t whether there will be a prosecution (and certainly the Church hasn’t, as far as I know, asked for one — though PZ’s proposal could be different on both counts if he were to go through with it). The issue is the nature of the act. If you want to defend it as justified, be my guest but you’ll need more support from the student, who seems to be denying it was a “protest.” And before you volunteer PZ, remember that the point of such protests include going to jail.Civilization has been entirely too lenient in allowing religion to elevate its baseless ideology to a status not only equal to but greater than that of science and rationality.I’m sorry, when exactly did your personal beliefs become “civilization”? Why don’t I ever get the memos on these things?

  14. says

    JP says: “So, you personal “respect” is the measure of the value everyone else should place on things?”It is my opinion of what would be good values to have — stated firmly so as to indicate the intensity of my opinion.JP says “Anything belonging to others that you don’t respect can freely be abused for any reason or no reason?” By itself this is just rehashing something we already discussed, but later in your comment you offer an objection having to do with contractural obligation; I’ll get to that shortly…JP said “Please! Anti-cancer drugs aren’t valuable? Stupid doctors keep giving them to people to put in their bodies instead of keeping them in safes.” Those are bought and paid for by the people who are given them.JP said: Now I’m completely lost as to your thinking. You seem to be wobbling back and forth between recognizing that this is an emotional issue for Catholics … and a complete rejection of any consideration of your fellow citizens’ feelings.I think we’re actually making some progress with that question.On the one hand, I do respect people’s feelings. On the other hand, I don’t respect their right to act, solely on the basis of those feelings, in ways that harm others.So far, I don’t think we’ve seen any good arguments supporting the idea that they have any real right to be upset — so I’ll advance one, for the sake of working towards standards of behavior we might all agree on for this circumstance. (I’m not saying you’ll agree with it, but it’s a start.)Suggested situational metaphor for judging appropriate behavior in religious rituals:A religious ritual is like a play. In this case, the “Host” was a sort of consumable prop in that play; it was “given” to Mr. Cook, whose next action as given by the script was to eat the prop. By breaking from character and departing completely from the script, he arguably ruined the play, to some extent, for all those attending and participating. It was understood within the rules of the performance that it was never really his to dispose of as he saw fit; his “line” was to eat the Host.So his malfeasance was the metaphorical equivalent of a community volunteer actor — an “extra”, really — walking off the set of a routinely scheduled pageant with a piece of set-food he was supposed to have eaten for the performance.So far so good?That justifies upsetness. It does not justify the howling outrage and threats from the Catholic community. The CC’s overreaction in turn justifies PZ’s (entirely verbal and non-threatening) outrage — which again does not justify the further outrage from the Catholic Complainer’s Guild, much less the threats to PZ’s employment and person.Further: to the extent that the Catholic Church fails to repudiate the claims that this was a “hate crime” (and “beyond hate crime” and “hard to imagine anything worse”), it seems to me that they have utterly lost their moral authority with regard to the “sanctity of human life” — if they ever had any. (Just to make my position clear.)Addressing the rest of your points…JP said: “…we’re back to Dana’s childhood pictures. What criteria is there to think they’re valuable except what they mean personally to Dana? Does that mean I have the right to destroy them?” She didn’t give them to you to eat.JP said: “When something is given to you under some condition, taking it with the intention of violating that condition or doing so later without offering to give it back first, is misappropriation of property. Where and how was the condition specified and agreed to? Also, my understanding is that the penalties for violating such a contract — unless specifically stated within the contract — are tied to the damage to the other party. What damage is consequent from failure to consume a cracker?JP said: “If you want to defend it as justified, be my guest but you’ll need more support from the student, who seems to be denying it was a “protest.”” I’m unclear at this point whether Mr. Cook was actually trying to make a point or not, so I’ll go with the less charitable interpretation and say that it was a silly stunt that revealed some very valuable information — and given the verbal abuse and threats Mr. Cook has endured in (perhaps unintentionally) revealing that information, he has already overpaid any penalty that might be due.As for further stunts: again, unless people are actually signing contracts agreeing to specific use of the wafers they are given, it is my understanding that they can, as I said earlier, legally do whatever the hell they want with them instead of eating them. It’s arguably mean-spirited — but given the continued indignation and overreaction, I think the Catholic community and leadership might do better having their noses rubbed a bit in the fact that our nation does not operate under Catholic law. (And they could stand to do a bit more turning of the proverbial other cheek instead of being assholes.)This last fact needs to be made crystal clear to everyone — or else we could go the same way as Europe, which (according to many reports) is slowly coming under the heel of Islam due to avoidance of “offending” the rapidly accumulating hordes of immigrant Muslims by breaking their religious laws.I’m sure you remember the Muhammad Cartoon riots — the Muslim “outrage” over “desecration” of their prophet — The “hurt” and “suffering” of the Muslims — versus the actual pain and suffering (and deaths) caused by the rioting in the streets and burning down of embassies in the name of Islam.Do I need to point out that the Catholic Indignancy Squad is using exactly the same arguments?And… we all speak for civilization. We are civilization.If more people remembered that, the world would be a lot less screwed-up.

  15. says

    JP said “Please! Anti-cancer drugs aren’t valuable? Stupid doctors keep giving them to people to put in their bodies instead of keeping them in safes.” Those are bought and paid for by the people who are given them.So now you are an ultra-capitalist and nothing has any value if there is no market for it? How much can you get for, say, your 5 year old daughter’s drawing?I don’t respect their right to act, solely on the basis of those feelings, in ways that harm others.Then the question becomes, is the deliberate infliction of gratuitous emotional pain on others, simply because someone is outraged, worth respect? How would you analyze PZ’s proposed plan under that standard? (I hope it won’t include a “they” started it first! meme.)A religious ritual is like a play. … That justifies upsetness. It does not justify the howling outrage and threats from the Catholic community.Right! You get to define the activity as an emotionally unimportant one and then chide them for being emotional. That’s not “standards of behavior we might *all* agree on,” that’s an imposition of your standard on everyone else.That justifies upsetness. It does not justify the howling outrage and threats from the Catholic community.Now let’s be clear. We already have standards about death threats. They are criminal acts and have no place in a civilized society. But because some members of a group act in criminal ways does not condemn the entire group — which is a good thing since no group of human beings is without criminals, including atheists.As to “howling outrage,” what exactly is wrong about that in a free society? Have you read Pharyngula? Heck! Have you actually read Dana’s blog? Are you claiming to have the right to decide what is “acceptable” howling outrage and what isn’t?Re Dana’s pictures: She didn’t give them to you to eat. No, she gave them to me with the clear intent and expectation that I’d just look at them. But, instead, I decided to make paper dolls out of them because she didn’t specifically state I couldn’t.Where and how was the condition specified and agreed to? Also, my understanding is that the penalties for violating such a contract — unless specifically stated within the contract — are tied to the damage to the other party. What damage is consequent from failure to consume a cracker?Oh, please! Adults in a civilized society are not infants that must be told specifically and repeatedly the ordinary rules of common intercourse (no matter how much we lawyers may make it seem that way at times). Dana doesn’t have to tell me not to make paper dolls out of her pictures, grocery stores don’t have to have signs saying “If you eat food in the store you have to pay for it just as you do if you want to take food out of the store” and thousands and thousands of other unspoken rules of conduct. This is the source of the saw that “ignorance of the law is no defense.”And the legal problem is not based on contract, it is based on common-law penal protections of the persons and property of others (though quasi-contract gets involved but that’s more arcane legalese than I’m willing to discuss in blog comment sections).The “damage” is that the church’s property rights have been violated and, as I said before, the law will protect the property of citizens even if it has no monetary value.As for further stunts: again, unless people are actually signing contracts agreeing to specific use of the wafers they are given, it is my understanding that they can, as I said earlier, legally do whatever the hell they want with them instead of eating them.You’re simply wrong about that, as the example of Dana’s pictures illustrates. I don’t know how to be clearer about that but, if you want to deny the empiric fact of the law, there’s nothing I can do except point out the irrationality.I’m sure you remember the Muhammad Cartoon riots — the Muslim “outrage” over “desecration” of their prophet — The “hurt” and “suffering” of the Muslims — versus the actual pain and suffering (and deaths) caused by the rioting in the streets and burning down of embassies in the name of Islam.Do I need to point out that the Catholic Indignancy Squad is using exactly the same arguments?And… we all speak for civilization. We are civilization.Yes, including Muslims and Catholics. In a free society, each one of their voices have equal weight with yours … which is why your sensibilities do not take precedence over theirs. Civilization is a great balancing act that can be upset just as easily by atheists claiming to have absolute truth as any by any religionists. If more people remembered that, the world would be a lot less screwed-up.Exactly!

  16. says

    JP said: “So now you are an ultra-capitalist and nothing has any value if there is no market for it? How much can you get for, say, your 5 year old daughter’s drawing?” *Sigh* No. I didn’t mean that they had no value. I mean that the person freely receiving them had paid for them, and that’s why they aren’t kept locked away. (I believe there is generally very *good* security around unsold stocks of pharmaceuticals, however, in large part because of their value.)Your analogy breaks down on another level, too: if I refused to take some medicine given to me by a doctor, there would be no Medics Defense League (or anyone else) coming after me with pitchforks or claiming I had committed a hate crime.The opposite, in fact: certain religious groups shout “hate crime” if anyone tries to force them to take medicine they’ve been given.JP said: “Then the question becomes, is the deliberate infliction of gratuitous emotional pain on others, simply because someone is outraged, worth respect?”The original biscuit-removal was hardly tantamount to that.But okay, I shouldn’t make a blanket statement; please explain to me how it was emotionally hurtful.JP asks: “How would you analyze PZ’s proposed plan under that standard?”I’ve already explained this, but I’ll rephrase it a little: The Catholic community and especially the Catholic League are behaving like spoiled children who think that their rules should apply to everybody. They need to be spanked, and PZ’s plan seems like a reasonably appropriate way to do it, unless you can think of something better.It’s the moral equivalent of “if you can’t stop whacking other people with those toy swords, I’m going to take them away.”JP says (with regard to my proposed analogy): “Right! You get to define the activity as an emotionally unimportant one and then chide them for being emotional. That’s not “standards of behavior we might *all* agree on,” that’s an imposition of your standard on everyone else.”Jon, it was a proposal — which I made because I haven’t yet seen any situational or legal model by which Mr. Cook didn’t have every right (as viewed from outside the Cc) to remove the cracker once it was given to him. It was a move towards understanding what the bleep the fuss is about (within the Cc), and towards finding a model for dealing rationally with the situation.If this proposed analogy/model is unacceptable to you, then the choices are (as far as I can see):(1) you can propose another analogy/model — though I doubt very much that I would be willing to accept any model which sees the cracker abduction as anything more serious than “breaking character” and removing a set piece from a volunteer performance — or(2) I revert to my (and PZ’s, and Dana’s) original claim that there’s absolutely no cause for upsetness about the original incident, because “it’s just a goddamn cracker”.This is an offer, part of a process of negotiation. I offer, you counter-offer, and we generally narrow down the area of disagreement to the point where it is either small enough not to be worth discussing further or can’t be resolved any further despite our best efforts.I’m not attempting to force my views into you or anyone else (unlike certain religions), but I do have very strongly-held views and I’m not going to tone them down to save anyone’s feelings — nor do I think anyone should. There is no constitutional right of freedom from being offended; are you suggesting that there should be?If the Cc were using rational arguments to defend their POV, I’d argue with them but wouldn’t have any beef about their conduct.They’ve made it plain, however, that they consider physical threats an acceptable response, and that they consider Mr. Cook’s act to be worse than killing people. That is unacceptable, and should be unacceptable to anyone in a civilized society.JP said (wrt the hypothetical scenario of Dana’s personal photos): “No, she gave them to me with the clear intent and expectation that I’d just look at them. But, instead, I decided to make paper dolls out of them because she didn’t specifically state I couldn’t.” In that case, you risk losing her friendship — analogous to risking being booted out of a community for violating its internal rules and not accepting their punishment. Dana would not have the right, however, to threaten you physically or claim that your cutting up her photos was a “hate crime”. If you arranged them in the shape of an “A” on her lawn and burned them, we might conceivably talk about hate crimes (and now that you mention it, I’ve always been skeptical of the idea of “hate crimes” as a special category; rather than get into a long discussion here, I’ll post elsewhere) because of the implied physical threat — “you atheists should all burn in hell, and maybe I’ll help the process a little”. (It would also make an awesome avatar.)How is failure to eat a cracker threatening to anyone, even implicitly?JP said “Adults in a civilized society are not infants that must be told specifically and repeatedly the ordinary rules of common intercourse (no matter how much we lawyers may make it seem that way at times).” Apparently the Catholic community does… Oh, but you’re saying that everyone should just automatically know and follow the proper rules of conduct within the Catholic Church, and not abducting the Host is one of those rules.In case I haven’t been clear, we’re talking about two separate sets of rules here. There are the rules within the CC, and there are the rules of society at large.What Mr. Cook did was a clear violation of the Church’s rules, but not of society’s rules (although I thought you were offering a legal model by which it was a violation of secular law — and I was responding to that).What the Catholic community did in response was a clear violation of the rules of society (and I’m not so much talking about specific laws as general enlightenment-based ethics, upon which laws are ideally based).Your subsequent arguments in that paragraph are based on the presumption that Mr. Cook violated secular law; I’m arguing that he didn’t. You offered a “contractural obligation” counter-argument in your previous comment-post; I was arguing against that in mine.I will not accept conflation of Catholic/religious law with secular law; that way lies barbarism.The Church gave the cracker away; it wasn’t theirs anymore. If you want to offer some other model by which it can be somehow seen as still their property, fire away — but you’ve rejected the “pageant” model, so I’m not sure what’s left.JP said, with regard to civilization being us: “Yes, including Muslims and Catholics. In a free society, each one of their voices have equal weight with yours … which is why your sensibilities do not take precedence over theirs. Civilization is a great balancing act that can be upset just as easily by atheists claiming to have absolute truth as any by any religionists.”How and where have I claimed absolute truth? I suspect you are misreading my position statements as such, but you’re always free to argue against them (as you have been doing). I never said, and will not say — as religion often does — “these facts are true because we say they are, and you may not argue against them”.The key difference is whether the claimer is willing to discuss their claims. I’m always willing to discuss any of my beliefs, even the strongly-held ones; if I wasn’t willing to defend them (with evidence and reason), I’d have no right to use them in an argument.

  17. says

    Your analogy breaks down on another level, too: if I refused to take some medicine given to me by a doctor, there would be no Medics Defense League (or anyone else) coming after me with pitchforks or claiming I had committed a hate crime.But try going out and getting prescriptions for certain pharmaceuticals and, once you purchase them, instead of taking them yourself, selling them on the street. It won’t be any Medics Defense League that comes after you, it will be the police. And that’s because you were given the right to get the drugs only with strings attached.The opposite, in fact: certain religious groups shout “hate crime” if anyone tries to force them to take medicine they’ve been given.That’s a non sequitur and simply an attempt to change the subject, which was the morality/legality of what the kid did and what PZ proposes.The original biscuit-removal was hardly tantamount to that.I’ve already said (somewhere in one of the many blogs I’m discussing this on) that I don’t think the kid had criminal or even venal intent, based on what little I know.… please explain to me how it was emotionally hurtful.[Boggle] Listen to the reaction! Just because you don’t find it emotionally hurtful doesn’t mean others don’t. You agreed that destroying Darwin’s notebooks to make a point would be emotionally hurtful to you. Maybe the kid didn’t realize it at the time, but certainly PZ was aware of it when he said what he did (it was his intent to provoke a reaction, unless you think he’s stupid) and if he goes ahead with his threat now he knows it in spades.The Catholic community and especially the Catholic League are behaving like spoiled children who think that their rules should apply to everybody. They need to be spanked, and PZ’s plan seems like a reasonably appropriate way to do it, unless you can think of something better.So, because some people (out of 77 million Catholics in the US) act stupidly, PZ is going to “spank” them all by breaking something of theirs, instead of talking to them and using reason? If that’s the defense, then the Catholic league aren’t the only people acting childish around here. It’s the moral equivalent of “if you can’t stop whacking other people with those toy swords, I’m going to take them away.”No, it is the intellectual equivalent of picking up a toy sword yourself and joining in the stupidity.It was a move towards understanding what the bleep the fuss is about (within the Cc), and towards finding a model for dealing rationally with the situation.The “fuss” is over perceived or real threats to Catholics’ sacred objects. The rational response is, to the extent the perception was wrong (in the kid’s case), to use reason to help correct the perception, not to increase the misperception as PZ has done, and then to leave their sacred objects alone! It is the right thing to do legally, it is the right thing to do in a free society and it is the smart thing to do practically.There is no constitutional right of freedom from being offended; are you suggesting that there should be?Here in the US, you and PZ have every right to say whatever you want to about Catholics (but don’t try it, say, in Canada or most of the rest of the Western world — we’re extremists when it comes to freedom of speech). You don’t have the right to untrammeled action, including acts such as entering churches to surreptitiously/illegally obtain the sacred objects of others and then to “defile” them. It’s very simple: talk all you want but leave their sacred objects alone.If the Cc were using rational arguments to defend their POV, I’d argue with them but wouldn’t have any beef about their conduct.They’ve made it plain, however, that they consider physical threats an acceptable response …You are confusing a vocal minority for 77 million people who you have not heard even a tiny fraction of and drawn a hasty generalization (a logical fallacy) about the majority. If you want to hurt the vocal minority, any half-way rational person would try to find a way to be more discriminating about who they whack with their toy sword.In that case, you risk losing her friendship — analogous to risking being booted out of a community for violating its internal rules and not accepting their punishment. Dana would not have the right, however, to threaten you physically or claim that your cutting up her photos was a “hate crime”.Changing subjects again? Or are you, speaking of childishness, crying “but they started it!”? Okay, while there is a limited right to defend property (Dana would be allowed to try to wrestle the pictures away from me to prevent me destroying more of them though she risks consequences if she goes too far), the people who tried to take the host away from the kid were probably wrong (though there is some “backstory” to all this that hasn’t come out in the papers). The proper thing would have been to either let him go and report him to church and school authorities or called the police and ask them to make him give it back. Calling it a “hate crime” (as opposed to asking for a prosecution on those grounds) is nothing more than evidence of the emotional hurt Catholics were feeling.… you’re saying that everyone should just automatically know and follow the proper rules of conduct within the Catholic Church, and not abducting the Host is one of those rules.The kid was raised Catholic, he can’t claim ignorance. Certainly now PZ can’t claim ignorance. Anyone who heeds his call to “do what it takes” to get consecrated hosts can’t claim ignorance. Otherwise, if you enter a Catholic church and join in a ceremony … not just watch … you are put on notice implicitly that there are rules — that’s what a ceremony IS — and, in any civilized country, you are expected to make an effort to either abide by them or refrain from joining the ceremony.As for the rest, I didn’t offer any “contractural obligation” basis for the kid violating secular law. The basic way it works is that the right to the property was never transferred to him and/or reverted automatically to the Church but I give up trying to explain how the law works to you. The key difference is whether the claimer is willing to discuss their claims.Last time I looked, surreptitiously obtaining other peoples’ property to destroy it as a way of “spanking” them doesn’t count as “discussion”.

  18. says

    JP says: “But try going out and getting prescriptions for certain pharmaceuticals and, once you purchase them, instead of taking them yourself, selling them on the street.”There are laws about that. I believe I addressed this topic last time: there is a difference between secular law and religious law; the latter is only enforceable within the church community.Also, I don’t believe Mr. Cook attempted to sell his biscuit on the (no doubt lucrative) Body of Christ black market.JP then argues that my point about religious groups crying “hate crime” if forced to take medicine is a non sequitur.It’s perhaps an incidental point, but I don’t see how it’s completely irrelevant; you were arguing that being given a drug by a doctor implies an obligation to take that drug, demonstrating by analogy that Mr. Cook had an obligation to eat the wafer given to him for that purpose. I’ve shown that this is not the case.JP said: “[Boggle] Listen to the reaction! Just because you don’t find it emotionally hurtful doesn’t mean others don’t.”You’re not answering the question. I’m admitting that others seem to be hurt by it, and asking you to explain it so that I can understand it. The Catholic reaction so far has not made any sense to me at all except as spoiled children who want their made-up rules to apply to everyone.JP continued: “You agreed that destroying Darwin’s notebooks to make a point would be emotionally hurtful to you.”Yes, and I explained why. (Neither you nor the Cc has explained why Willful Biscuit Consumption Failure is similarly hurtful to them.) Also, in case this isn’t clear, I would not consider death-threats or claims of “hate crime” to be a proper response in your hypothetical scenario — even if the destruction were committed by a group consisting of Ken Hovind, Michael Behe, Rush Limbaugh, and the entire congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church, and they cut out all the words and rearranged them into the Ten Commandments (and burned the rest, along with a few Beatles records and copies of Fahrenheit 451 and Catcher in the Rye).What it would be is stupid and ignorant.I’ll admit to being ignorant, in this case — ignorant of how failure to eat a biscuit is similarly hurtful. Unlike the perpetrators of your hypothetical destruction, though, I am willing — nay, begging — to be enlightened, so that I can understand the depth of your (and the Cc’s) outrage.JP said “certainly PZ was aware of it when he said what he did (it was his intent to provoke a reaction, unless you think he’s stupid) and if he goes ahead with his threat now he knows it in spades.”Yes, and it’s my intent too. They don’t seem to respect sweet reason, so it’s time to draw a line in the sand:Your sacred crackers are not sacred to us, and we demand the right to view them as just goddamned crackers. If you (the Cc) persist in howling for our blood when we express this view, we will continue to protest via what is apparently the most powerful means to us: non-consumption of your stupid goddamned crackers. You (the Cc) have the following options: (1) explain why we should stop, (2) stop your own harassment, threats, and howls of outrage (i.e. get over it), preferably combined with #1, or (3) prepare to face the deadly wrath of having more of those crackers (the ones you give out for free for people to eat, remember?) brutally not eaten, and possibly sodomized (not sure how that works*, but they seem to be afraid of it) or used for gambling as well. You have been warned.This is, indeed, war of a kind. (Oh, except we’re not threatening to hurt anyone or damage their property.) We are tired of your shit.(*I know — we’ll use them for reception food at gay weddings. Muahahaha!!)I can see where this is going to go, though: Catholic Churches all over the US will put up TSA-like security checkpoints, and blame atheists and other oppressors for the necessity of doing so. Never mind that the security won’t help in the slightest; it will be just for show — just like the TSA’s security — to reinforce the idea that Catholics are oppressed and threatened by society at large and the atheist ruling minority in particular. Or some garbage like that.I’d rather see added (self-imposed and completely unnecessary) security in churches, though, than have tenured biology professors being harassed for threatening to “desecrate” a frickin’ cracker. (“Let them stew in their own juice; it brings out the flavor.” – Asterix)Whatever the hell “desecrate” means when applied to a cracker, anyway. (Yeah, PZ — what did you have in mind? Inquiring minds want to know!)JP said: “PZ is going to “spank” them all by breaking something of theirs…”You’re still going on the presumption that the cracker is theirs. I offered one argument by which it might be viewed that way; you rejected it, so I revert to my original view: Mr. Cook was given the cracker, so it was his.JP continues: “…instead of talking to them and using reason?” You’ve got to be kidding. That’s already been tried by myself and others. For my part I posted my objections on Creative Minority Report’s post taking the Catholic side, and my comment not only went unanswered (along with several others), but deleted, presumably under the umbrella of “not following the rules”. Here’s my comment, so you can decide for yourself if it was rude or unruly. For the record, I didn’t see any rudeness among the several comments which were deleted. “Nice morality you got there” was about as flippant as it got.If you can suggest any other venue by which I (or PZ, or any of his many sympathizers) might rationally pursue open dialogue with the Catholic side of this issue, I would certainly be willing to consider doing so.JP said: “You are confusing a vocal minority for 77 million people who you have not heard even a tiny fraction of and drawn a hasty generalization (a logical fallacy) about the majority.”I’m arguing with (1) you — or are you saying you agree that the threats and claims of “hate crime” are inappropriate?, with (2) the Catholic Church, which to the best of my knowledge has not said anything against the “vocal minority” (some of whom were priests or higher, people with paid positions — not random congregation members), implying support for their insane behavior, and (3) with the members of that vocal minority, whose opinions have been spread far and wide with essentially no countering, including those who seem to be agreeing with them.JP said: “No, it is the intellectual equivalent of picking up a toy sword yourself and joining in the stupidity.” Making threats against Catholic people and their jobs, or possibly their property (which the cracker was not), might be the moral equivalent of joining in. Seems to me that taking away a received cracker uneaten — and threatening to do it again, repeatedly, especially if they continue whining about how unfair it is — is rather less forceful than taking away someone’s toy sword, and entirely appropriate. Rather Solomon-esque, when you get right down to it, only better (he threatened to chop a baby in half, which is kind of harsh even if he wasn’t actually going to do it).It is a purely symbolic act, and it only has a negative impact on you if you buy into the symbolism. We don’t, and we’re tired of people who not only buy into it but parade their mental enslavement around as justification for retributional acts in the real world.JP said: “The “fuss” is over perceived or real threats to Catholics’ sacred objects.”Um, look… a “sacre
    d object” is, like, a stone of historical significance, or a book blessed by some historical saint, or some object that played a significant part in some significant event in the history of the religion.Calling a mass-produced cracker “sacred” trivializes that which could arguably be called sacred. It profanes and usurps feelings that the faithful might have about events or stories of real significance in their church’s history. It is mass-produced artificial emotion, sacred hand-waving or not.I don’t understand why anyone — faith or none — would support it, unless they are using it for manipulative purposes.If we let a religious group take some mass-produced object and declare it sacred, what’s to stop them from declaring other things sacred — like, say, images of their prophet? I know this is a “slippery slope” argument, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I’ve shown you mine, and explained my reasons; if you disagree, then you need to propose a different place to draw it.JP continues: “The rational response is, to the extent the perception was wrong, to use reason to help correct the perception, not to increase the misperception as PZ has done, and then to leave their sacred objects alone! It is the right thing to do legally, it is the right thing to do in a free society and it is the smart thing to do practically.”This highlights an issue I’ve raised before, so perhaps it needs more attention: How can we engage the Catholic Church/community in a meaningful way over this and other issues where we disagree with them? Where is the forum where we can disagree with the Pope — and if we prevail on any particulars, he has to change the Church’s policy correspondingly? This is a big question.Until there is a forum for dialogue like that, where the CC isn’t the 500-pound gorilla, then we don’t have much choice but to be 5-gram (graham?) guerrillas.JP said: “You don’t have the right to untrammeled action, including acts such as entering churches to surreptitiously/illegally obtain the sacred objects of others and then to “defile” them. It’s very simple: talk all you want but leave their sacred objects alone.” Leaving aside the “sacred object” claim — I certainly wouldn’t steal an actual valuable relic, nor would I damage one that was given to me for safekeeping — why not? The Church is open for all to attend; they don’t make you show your Catholic ID at the door. There’s an implied promise that you must be a Catholic to take communion, and yes, it’s kind of rude to break that social contract.But it goes both ways. With their outrageous behavior, the Cc has violated their end of the contract (or my understanding of it, anyway; we really need to start writing these things down) — by massively exceeding the limits of what would be a reasonable reaction to the initial breakage-of-rules.Hmm, so that actually makes 3 sets of rules: church rules, secular laws, and the rules of common courtesy. Looking at how each set has been treated:* Cook’s action: violated, not violated, mildly violated.* Church response: violated (lies/misrepresentations), violated (threats), violated (massive overreaction).And this from an organization which claims to be all about morality. (Funny, we keep coming back to that.)PZ’s threatened “desecration” (and again, I really don’t know what he had in mind… feeding the crackers to godless squid, perhaps? making sure that the squid has been properly certified as godless by a card-carrying rationalist, of course) is punishment in kind — you break your side, we break our side (only less severely, for obvious reasons). Seems pretty damn appropriate to me — at least until we have a forum for rational discussion where the playing field is somewhere in the neighborhood of level.JP said: “The proper thing would have been to either let him go and report him to church and school authorities or called the police and ask them to make him give it back.”Yes. I’m glad we agree on this. …although I’d like to know how that dialogue would go:Priest: We’ve been robbed, and we’d like you to arrest the robber.Police: What was stolen?Priest: A sacred relic! A holy blessed object! We are desolate, please help us!Police: That’s terrible, certainly I’ll help… but I’ll need a more precise description, sir.Priest: Well, it’s a sort of wafer, about an inch across…Police: A wafer? Like, a gold disc or medallion or something?Priest: Well, it’s more crumbly than that…Police: What, exactly, is this wafer made of?Priest (reluctantly): baking soda, flour, and salt. We wanted to get the ones with buttermilk, but the archdiocese cut the budget this year…Police: So… he stole a crate of these?Priest: Um, not exactly.Police: How many?Priest: Um, well, something in the general area of just a few.Police: HOW MANY?Priest: one.Police: [a beat] And what would be the approximate replacement value of this sacred relic?Priest: Oh, it’s irreplaceable! It’s the body of Christ!Police: So you only had one of them?Priest: No, we have adequate supplies — but they’re uniquely blessed! Each one is precious!Police: [getting impatient] How much do they cost?Priest: Well, the crackers as we buy them are a trivial expense, but the sacred and holy labor by which they are blessed is incalculable! You simply cannot put a price on it!Police: Well, let’s see. How many minutes does it take to bless each cracker? And what does the priest get paid?Priest: That information is confidential!Police: And you are wasting my time. I have real crimes to solve here. Good day to you. [hangs up](Headlines next day: Police Persecution of Catholics Reaches New Levels! Police Ignore Theft of Sacred Object! Police Commissioner Apologizes for Misconduct, Resigns… Fade out on choir singing “Every Wafer’s Sacred, Every Wafer’s Great…”)Are you arguing that the fictional police are acting inappropriately in this example? Or are we agreeing?JP said: “Calling it a “hate crime” (as opposed to asking for a prosecution on those grounds) is nothing more than evidence of the emotional hurt Catholics were feeling.”It’s a temper-tantrum — and, I suggest, largely manufactured.JP said: “The kid was raised Catholic, he can’t claim ignorance.” Nor did he. I should clarify — I wasn’t talking about his actions, but about what the Cc seems to expect everyone else to do. The Cc is free to expell (excommunicate) him if he won’t agree to whatever penalties they want to impose — and that should be the end of it. (And I think we’ve been over this ground before.)Nor am I arguing that PZ is claiming ignorance; I’ve given you (earlier in this comment) what I see as a sound ethical framework for PZ’s “threats” against the supposedly-holy objects in question.JP said: “As for the rest, I didn’t offer any “contractural obligation” basis for the kid violating secular law. The basic way it works is that the right to the property was never transferred to him and/or reverted automatically to the Church but I give up trying to explain how the law works to you.”I think that means you lose the argument on that point. If you give someone something to eat, I don’t know of any legal basis, in the absence of a contract, under which it might be considered to be still the property of the giver.Also, to clarify a point we were getting unclear on — it was a protest, not a prank: “The church feels that I’m the pro
    blem here,” Cook said. “The problem is actually that this is a publicly-funded religious institution. Through student government here, we fund them through an activity and service, so they’re receiving student money.”
    Damn good point, that.Also: “Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.” He WAS GOING TO EAT IT, AND THEY STOPPED HIM!He deserves an apology from the frickin’ Pope. I’m waiting.

  19. says

    Ok, I’ve had an insight into your side of the argument, perhaps. Tell me if this is anything like what you’ve been trying to say.To someone as ignorant and blinkered as Ken Hovind, there is no more justification in believing Darwin’s manuscripts to be worth preserving than there is to us in properly handling the Eucharist wafer.Indeed, to him there is less justification; Darwin’s ideas lead to sin, Naziism, evil. They deserve to be stamped out.We may regard religion much the same way that Hovind regards science, and believe that he is utterly wrong to regard science that way — but who is to determine which of us is right? If we ignore their feelings and beliefs and try to stamp them out, then it’s only fair for them to do the same for ours; we will have brought it on ourselves.We think there’s a difference, but by what objective criterion that both sides can at least recognize — even if they don’t agree that it’s a valid criterion (and obviously they don’t, else we wouldn’t be having this disagreement with them) — can we distinguish between the two points of view? They seem like exact mirror images of each other, neither one demonstrably more valid. What rule can we propose that actually justifies our side and not theirs?Is that basically what you’re saying? Because if it is, I have an answer.

  20. says

    A little more clarification: by threatening to disrespect their beliefs, we risk breaking the rules — tearing down the only walls which have been keeping the peace and preventing open war between religion and science. (With the obvious fear that their superior numbers will prevail, should this happen.)(I hate not being able to edit posts… just pretend that’s stuck somewhere in my previous comment; right before the final short paragraph seems like a good place.)

  21. says

    There are laws about that. I believe I addressed this topic last time: there is a difference between secular law and religious law; the latter is only enforceable within the church community.[Sigh] Laws don’t spring out of nowhere, they are derived from existing social relationships and concepts. The pharmaceutical example was merely an illustration of the relationship — an analogy.I’m admitting that others seem to be hurt by it, and asking you to explain it so that I can understand it.If you can’t get the analogy to the notebooks, Dana’s pictures, your child’s drawing, and the like, I do not see how you’ll ever understand. But the point is, in a civilized society, it doesn’t matter if you understand. Neither you nor the Cc has explained why Willful Biscuit Consumption Failure is similarly hurtful to them.It’s their God — in the bread — and their holiest sacrament. I would not consider death-threats or claims of “hate crime” to be a proper response …I’ve already said — long before you — that death threats are inappropriate and criminal. Throwing that at me as if I haven’t is insulting.As for their calling it a “hate crime,” don’t they have freedom of speech? Even if they’re wrong, they have the freedom to say it. Has the person who it a hate crime originally — a spokesperson for the dioceses — or the dioceses itself done any more than exercising free speech?Your sacred crackers are not sacred to us, and we demand the right to view them as just goddamned crackers.Which you are perfectly free to do and to say it as loud as you want. What you are not free to do is to act however you want, anymore than Hovind is, even though he doesn’t understand why you think science is important and can’t imagine why Darwin’s notebooks are important. He should leave the notebooks alone and you should leave the crackers alone.You (the Cc) have the following options: (1) explain why we should stop, (2) stop your own harassment, threats, and howls of outrageI knew it was going to descend into a “they started it” whine. Howls of outrage are allowed — look at the atheists — glass houses and all that — it’s actions that are constrained in a civilized society.Oh, except we’re not threatening to hurt anyone or damage their property.Except their crackers.I’d rather see added (self-imposed and completely unnecessary) security in churches, though, than have tenured biology professors being harassed for threatening to “desecrate” a frickin’ cracker.So, only you and people whose views you agree with get freedom of speech? Writing to PZ’s university is completely within their freedom of expression.You’re still going on the presumption that the cracker is theirs.No, I’ve given you the law on the subject. If you can’t understand it, it’s not my fault for lack of trying. Here’s a place where I explained it again:http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/07/desecration_blasphemy_in_publi.php#comment-982964Even if (as I’ve said) there is a question of the criminal intent of the kid, it’s clear that any attempt by PZ’s minions to obtain eucharists by subterfuge for the purpose of desecrating them is theft.JP continues: “…instead of talking to them and using reason?” You’ve got to be kidding. That’s already been tried by myself and others.So, simply because they won’t accept your position, you have the right to steal their property and destroy it to “spank” them for being so unenlightened as to not see things your way? What exact line would you then draw between that and stealing their other property, say taking their churches and destroying them by burning them down? Don’t say the “law.” since you’re already willing to countenance the breaking of that in furtherance of a “spanking.” Are we supposed to rely on your sense of proportion? Heaven forfend!That’s all I have time for now.

  22. says

    I should have skipped to the end (but like I said, I don’t have much time and that continues) but let’s jump to here:We think there’s a difference, but by what objective criterion that both sides can at least recognize — even if they don’t agree that it’s a valid criterion (and obviously they don’t, else we wouldn’t be having this disagreement with them) — can we distinguish between the two points of view? They seem like exact mirror images of each other, neither one demonstrably more valid. What rule can we propose that actually justifies our side and not theirs?You’re closer. The point in a free democratic society is that the decision is not made by any objective criterion. It is made by individuals on whatever damn basis they want. You don’t have the right to impose a criterion, such as “reason,” “science” or any other criterion you favor. Our system is, therefore, one where people can vote for whatever they want on any basis they want and the minority is protected by constitutionally imposed forebearance. The intent is to have government by the majority while “respecting” others’ persons and beliefs by the simple expedient of leaving them alone except where they come into conflict with what is deemed society’s vital interests, as embodied in laws validly agreed on by the majority. Naturally, that’s much easier said than done. Extending that more generally to a civilized society (the model on which the Founders drew and that they sought to improve on) the civilized impulse is to respect other persons’ beliefs by interferring with them as little as possible. That necessarily entails forebearance even in the face of what you consider provocation. The civilized person cannot react to people who don’t share the civilized impulse — who want to impose their beliefs on him or her — by retaliating in kind or else the entire enterprise collapses. It may feel good but it is self-defeating.That’s all I have time for now. So what’s your proposal?

  23. says

    JP: I was mostly done with my reply to your first reply when you replied to the second bit I posted — and I agree that we’re now on a track that is more likely to be fruitful, i.e. discussing the larger question of where the boundaries should be, and (even larger) how we arrive at that sort of decision as a society.I’ve saved what I had written here, in case anyone feels like reading it (no obligation).JP said: “The point in a free democratic society is that the decision is not made by any objective criterion. It is made by individuals on whatever damn basis they want. You don’t have the right to impose a criterion, such as “reason,” “science” or any other criterion you favor.”Well, first of all, I lack the power or authority to “impose” any criterion on anybody (even if I thought I had “the right” to do so), nor do I think anyone should have that power. All I can do is argue as articulately as possible that reason — and its derivatives (science, rationality, common sense, compassion) — ideally should be the basis upon which important decisions are made.Please be aware that I’m speaking of rationality in a larger sense (maybe I really mean “reason”, but I’ll keep using “rationality” for now, mainly because “reason” has multiple meanings which often result in confusing sentences) — rationality that takes feeling into consideration and recognizes that the experience of living is important unto itself, rather than being solely a tool toward some greater goal which justifies all suffering. Quality of life matters, people’s feelings matter. (If you want to object that I was ignoring the feelings of the faithful in my arguments earlier, go ahead and I’ll get into it — but I’m trying to stay on-topic for the moment.)Rationality recognizes that we not only don’t but can’t know everything and therefore sometimes have to rely on “gut feeling”, but also that it’s best to minimize the usage of this technique for making important decisions. Even if you frequently get the answer right with your “gut”, it’s almost impossible to document the process so someone else can do it.Can we agree on the following?:1. Nobody should be forced to follow any particular methodology in how they decide what is right or wrong. (I think this is essentially what you’re saying in your first long paragraph.) See also: The Wisdom of Crowds: there are rational reasons not to let any one person be “the decider”, even if they have the best of intentions.2. A society that can discuss and analyze things rationally is going to make better decisions than one that can’t.(3. There is at present no algorithm — no non-human agency — by which a rational argument can be distinguished from a non-rational one. This point isn’t critical to the conclusion, but kind of puts the last nail in the coffin of somehow enforcing rationality.)If you accept both of these, then I think the conclusion follows: We want to do everything we can to encourage rational debate and discussion, especially regarding major issues, but we certainly cannot require it by enshrining it in law — especially since the presence of rationality cannot currently be determined by any objective criteria.It seems to me that this — a system of government designed to empower rational debate over other forms of conflict — was very much the intent of the designers of democracy. The result has been a spectacular success, but lately has fallen victim to information-age maneuvers the founders could not really have foreseen.This is one point on which you certainly might disagree; if you do, just say so and I’ll defend the claim that democracy has been pwned.I also contend, to polish things off, that reason is the basis of all civilization. Have a go at that too if you’d like.Regarding the more specific point of “where we draw the lines”: My basic contention is that anytime people disagree about something, it’s time to bring in rationality to resolve the debate. Ideally, this doesn’t boil down to just “us vs. them” but often reveals a wealth of details which may well be adjustable in such a way that both parties will walk away satisfied; debate should not be a zero-sum game, but our instincts want to make it that way. Rational discussion is the best way to get past those instincts when they’re in the way, without stepping on them when they matter.Again, I’m not trying to impose this as a law everyone has to follow (nor could I if I wanted to), but I am proposing that it should be the criterion we as individuals use to determine what’s best.If Catholics feel hurt because of something PZ Myers said, they need to explain how they’re hurt — just as someone in couples therapy, for example, might explain why she felt hurt by something her partner did. You can’t solve the problem until you understand what it is. That’s rational analysis of a situation, and it works. Refusal to discuss the “why”, on the other hand, is the partner who walks away from the therapy — and I’ve never seen that end well.The only real enemy is the one who won’t negotiate.I probably have more to say about this, but I should probably stop here and see where we’re in agreement and where my claims need further examination.

  24. says

    We want to do everything we can to encourage rational debate and discussion, especially regarding major issues, but we certainly cannot require it by enshrining it in law — especially since the presence of rationality cannot currently be determined by any objective criteria.It seems to me that this — a system of government designed to empower rational debate over other forms of conflict — was very much the intent of the designers of democracy. The result has been a spectacular success, but lately has fallen victim to information-age maneuvers the founders could not really have foreseen.I agree that the aim of democracy is rational debate but I doubt that there is anything particularly “new” about our times. The penny broadsheets were the internet of the Founders’ day and were wielded in much the same way. To learn about truly poisoned politics, fueled by dirty tricks that would make even Karl Rove blush, study up on American political practice for the first 30 years after the signing of the Constitution, particularly between the Federalists and Republicans. Democracy has always been a messy business that stoops as low as human ingenuity can go, which experience teaches is quite far. We have not outdone our ancestors, merely adapted to new environments.The issue, I suppose, is how we go about encouraging rational debate. I’ve seen no evidence that “spanking” one’s opponents through guerrilla theater that attacks their deeply held beliefs which, ultimately, have nothing to do with the real purpose of society — to join together in mutual support on issues we share an interest in pursuing, while keeping from killing each other the rest of the time — has succeeded in the past, or is likely to succeed in the future. Religion is not a matter of mutual concern. As Jefferson said: “[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Therefore, it should be “respected” by leaving it alone and by not setting out to give intentional offense.It seems to me the way to encourage rational debate is to engage in it ourselves, sans “spankings,” even if some people on the other side don’t seem ready to reciprocate. The only way to signal one’s intent to cooperate is to cooperate. One person or one side has to be willing to work with the other without collateral attacks on other fronts unrelated to mutual concerns. The natural candidates for the role of initiating rational debate are the people who value reason. If they won’t, who will?If Catholics feel hurt because of something PZ Myers said, they need to explain how they’re hurt …First of all, one rule Americans have made to encourage rational debate is that we must all tolerate other people’s speech (except in certain limited cases, such as death threats). I have no problem whatsoever with PZ saying any damn fool thing he wants and Catholics saying their damn fool things back (though it all can be counterproductive). Actions, or speech encouraging actions by others, such as seeking out other peoples’ sacred objects and desecrating them, is another matter. As to those, I would turn your formula around. It is enough that they are hurt, particularly when it involves matters not within mutual social concerns. It is then up to PZ to explain why it should be considered within those social concerns that allow for mutual debate and why the method he chose to pursue it is appropriate.

  25. says

    JP said: “Therefore, [religion] should be “respected” by leaving it alone and by not setting out to give intentional offense.“Are you seriously claiming that religion was leaving everyone alone until those darned atheists started making a fuss?JP said: “Actions, or speech encouraging actions by others, such as seeking out other peoples’ sacred objects and desecrating them, is another matter.”“Desecration” is a strictly religious concept, and no secular government has any business enforcing it. I thought we had agreed on that implicitly by the fact that we were talking about appropriate actions in terms of (1) written secular law, (2) unwritten social rules, and (3) trying to avoid hurting (“offending”) people.You argued that by some combination of #1 and #2, the original cracker removal could be seen as theft, as could any actions taken in response to PZ’s request. I agree that this is possible, though I will still want to see legal precedent (a) so we can see what the law views as an appropriate punishment, and (b) so I can be sure you’re not talking through your hat. Further, getting back to the bigger question of “where we draw the lines”, you seemed to be saying that it was the attribute of “theft” which made Cook’s and PZ’s actions unacceptable.If “theft” is the distinction between the two sides, why does that outweigh any other distinction? Why shouldn’t it be something more like “which side’s argument makes sense and stands up to scrutiny?” Even if we decide that it is a reasonable line to draw, how do we decide when something is really theft rather than one side making up a bunch of bizarro rules to make a perfectly reasonable act (e.g. saving a cracker for later) seem like theft? What’s to stop them from making up further imagined offenses and calling them theft, e.g. describing criticism of the Bible as “stealing Our Lord’s words”, or evolution as “stealing morality from our children”? I think I’ve even heard sex education referred to as “stealing our children’s innocence”. (Ah yes, here we are.)And regarding “hurting people’s feelings”: by what criterion do you distinguish between (A) the Cc’s being “hurt” and “offended” by the claimed abuse of a “sacred” object, as in PZ’s threats, and (B) creationists being “hurt” and “offended” by the fact that their beliefs are “belittled” and “marginalized” by the American educational system?I don’t think we can let either “theft” or “emotional pain” per se be the criterion.It might possibly be justification for something if Catholics had truly been damaged by Mr. Cook’s actions (or PZ’s threatened actions), but nobody has shown how they are — other than hand-waving and vague claims about beliefs — any more than the rioting Muslims were the injured party in 2006.Do we at least have an agreement that evidence and rational discussion are the best way to resolve these issues?

  26. says

    Are you seriously claiming that religion was leaving everyone alone until those darned atheists started making a fuss?No, I said that if you are going to play tit-for-tat then you are as big a problem for civilization as the people who you oppose. If religionists (not “religion” per se) are attempting to inject their religious beliefs into social policy, then that is an issue for social debate but it should be strictly limited to the what changes in social policy they are trying to engender, not broadened to a general attack on their religion or on religion in general through actions such as defiling sacred objects. You’re free to speak your opinions about religion generally but society as a whole should protect the practice of religion from the actions of other members of society (the little thing called “freedom of religion” in the Constitution).“Desecration” is a strictly religious concept, and no secular government has any business enforcing it.Nonsense. Preventing desecration is nothing more than making people leave other people’s property alone. Are you seriously arguing that police cannot stop someone from smearing pigs’ blood on a mosque or burning a swastika into the lawn of a synagogue?I agree that this is possible, though I will still want to see legal precedent (a) so we can see what the law views as an appropriate punishment, and (b) so I can be sure you’re not talking through your hat.Oh, here:http://www.answers.com/topic/misapplication-misappropriation-of-property?cat=biz-finThis isn’t brain surgery. You could have looked it up at any time. As to a penalty, that would depend on each state. There might also be federal penalties for sending stolen/misappropriated property through the mail. That isn’t the point though. Nobody expects PZ to be tossed in jail over this (though it could well be grounds for firing him). If the nature of the act is stealing, isn’t that enough ground to criticize him?… you seemed to be saying that it was the attribute of “theft” which made Cook’s and PZ’s actions unacceptable. … why does that outweigh any other distinction? Why shouldn’t it be something more like “which side’s argument makes sense and stands up to scrutiny?” … how do we decide when something is really theft?Theft, and the disrespect to others’ rights it represents, is, in and of itself, harmful to society — that’s why society discourages it with punishment. As to Cook, I’ve said all along that I didn’t think he had the required intent. How do we determine intent? The same way that we do in the law and in all our daily activity … we look at all the circumstances and make an evaluation. Since intent is not something that can be weighed and measured, there is no exact line that can be drawn. If we don’t do it however, then all law collapses.As to making society’s standard “which side’s argument makes sense and stands up to scrutiny” you are just back into the same problem: who decides? Something only “makes sense” within a framework of standards. Within medieval scholasticism, transubstantiation makes perfect sense. Who are you to impose some other standards on Catholics?… by what criterion do you distinguish between (A) the Cc’s being “hurt” and “offended” by the claimed abuse of a “sacred” object, as in PZ’s threats, and (B) creationists being “hurt” and “offended” by the fact that their beliefs are “belittled” and “marginalized” by the American educational system?Simple. Education is a social concern — society benefits from an educated citizenry. Society can also determine the content of education for the same reason. The issue has been debated and creationists have lost (something that has also to be respected in a civilized society). Nonetheless, they are allowed reasonable accommodation — their own schools that emphasize religion over science, continuing to teach creationism in homes and schools (no “evolution police”), etc. In short, we won’t break into their churches to stamp out creationism any more than we would break into Catholic churches to stamp out transubstantiation. What we won’t let government do (with some caveats), government shouldn’t let private citizens do and civilized people should condemn.It might possibly be justification for something if Catholics had truly been damagedIf their right to be left alone is invaded, that is damage enough, both to them and to society. How do you stop someone from stealing your daughter’s picture — even though you can’t really show that it has any value, except to you — if the measure of “damage” isn’t “it’s mine, leave it alone”?that evidence and rational discussion are the best way to resolve these issuesIt is the standard we may aspire to, but in a democracy it is not the standard that is actually applied.

  27. says

    JP said: “No, I said that if you are going to play tit-for-tat then you are as big a problem for civilization as the people who you oppose.”I don’t think “tit-for-tat” is accurate; it’s apparently intended more as a scientific demonstration: “It’s just so darned weird that they’re demanding that I offer this respect to a symbol that means nothing to me. Something will be done. It won’t be gross. It won’t be totally tasteless, but yeah, I’ll do something that shows this cracker has no power.” Catholics are claiming that the cracker has the special property of being the literal body of Christ; PZ intends to demonstrate that this cannot possibly be true. As Atheist Chaplain put it, if the communion wafer and wine are Jesus’s body and blood, then “Why doesn’t it bleed when you snap it in half, and why does communion wine usually taste like the dregs of a $2 cask of cheap sherry? Shouldn’t it taste like a well aged Jew with a firm body and a hint of wood shavings, with a dusty aftertaste?”For that matter, my resident ex-Catholic says that she always got the firm impression — as a very non-skeptical child who attended church weekly with her family — that the transubstantiation was symbolic, not literal. Where are people getting the idea that it’s literal?And where are they getting the idea that doing something that some people claiming to speak for all Catholics don’t want you to do is a punishable crime?JP said: “If religionists (not “religion” per se) are attempting to inject their religious beliefs into social policy, then that is an issue for social debate but it should be strictly limited to the what changes in social policy they are trying to engender…”They are trying to make their religious law and beliefs legally binding.JP said: “…not broadened to a general attack on their religion or on religion in general through actions such as defiling sacred objects.”This objection seems very contrived to me. (1) Why not broaden it to all religion, if religion seems to be the real problem (as PZ and others have argued extensively)? (2) How is it broadening the argument to “defile” the particular type of object which was the specific focus of this specific incident? (3) The ongoing atheist attack on religion predates this incident by many years.JP said: “You’re free to speak your opinions about religion generally but society as a whole should protect the practice of religion from the actions of other members of society (the little thing called “freedom of religion” in the Constitution).”The Constitution protects practitioners of religion from suffering real-world harm — yes, including damage to objects they own which may be valuable only to them — due to the practice of their faith.It does not protect their actual beliefs from verbal ridicule, nor does it give them the right to declare an object sacred and then attack others for “desecrating” it after they’ve given it away.You offer this link by way of evidence towards your claim that Mr. Cook’s and PZ’s actions are illegal. I’m sorry, but that only demonstrates the existence of the concept of “Misappropriation of Property”; it says nothing about whether the cracker would be viewed as misappropriated. In order to establish intent, I’d think you’d need to show that there was a binding understanding between the two parties — in which case, did Mr. Cook violate it by taking the cracker back to his seat first? What were the terms of the “intent” and where are they written down?Also, Wikipedia defines misappropriation as “the intentional, illegal use of the property or funds of another person for one’s own use or other unauthorized purpose”. Note that this depends on the use being illegal — which is what we are trying to establish in the first place. (About.com phrases it as an either-or; I don’t know which one is correct. Either way, there are additional considerations, e.g. “implies a conscious misappropriation” — debatable in PZ’s case, as he doesn’t believe he’s “misappropriating” anything, but certainly not true for Mr. Cook.)The idea that Mr. Cook or PZ don’t legally own a communion cracker once it is freely given to them — especially since the “intended purpose” involved personal consumption and complete destruction of the item in question — is a claim you have asserted repeatedly but not given any real evidence for. I have said that I am willing to accept your interpretation, but only if you can be specific about the legal precedents involved so that we can see by what metaphor the law views it and what the law says about an appropriate penalty.You have also completely rejected the social models I have proposed for understanding it, rather than offering corrections or reinterpretations — leading me to suspect that you do not really have any basis for defending it other than your personal belief that it is so.I say again: give evidence for your claim or abandon it.Your response to my question about using the attribute of “theft” as a dividing line misses my point entirely. (A) Nothing was stolen, as I see it; (B) If it is theft, how is teaching sex education not just as arguably “theft of innocence”? What is to stop religionists — or anyone similarly unprincipled — from automatically winning arguments by claiming theft?If you want to use “theft” as any kind of rule-of-thumb or ethical disambiguator, it had better be defined — either as legally recognized theft (which brings us back to that question) or by some other rational/objective definition (which I may or may not be willing to accept without further discussion).JP said: “Something only “makes sense” within a framework of standards. Within medieval scholasticism, transubstantiation makes perfect sense. Who are you to impose some other standards on Catholics?”Then the penalty can only apply within that framework of standards too. PZ is not a Catholic. Given everything that’s happened to Mr. Cook, I suspect he’d eagerly trade it all for simply being excommunicated — which is the ultimate penalty open to the church for any religious transgression. Anything further exceeds their prerogatives.I’m not trying to impose standards on them within the boundaries of their community; if Mr. Cook wants so badly to remain Catholic that he’s willing to accept penalties I would consider far worse than excommunication, that’s up to him. I’ve only ever been talking about how those claiming to speak for all Catholics are behaving within the larger secular community. If they insist on dragging Catholic mythology in as evidence, then it must be analyzed as any other evidence would — and surely they must know the ultimate outcome of that. It was a stupid move to begin with, and the more they plea for sympathy without explaining how anyone has actually been wronged in actual observable reality, the stupider it gets.Who am I to assert my ideas about what’s right when I see people behaving badly? A member of frickin’ civilization, that’s who. Who else do I need to be?If I catch someone breaking into my house and he says “it’s okay, I deeply believe in my heart that I need this stuff more than you do”, should I not “impose” my views on him, just a little? If an organization says “We believe deeply that homosexuality is a sin and homosexuals should not have the same rights as heterosexuals”, do I not have some obligation to try to make sure that evidence, reason, and cogent argument prevail over their religion-based views?
    Religious law can’t have any standing in secular society, because it’s “my beliefs vs. your beliefs”; there’s nothing to discuss — it comes down to who has the most clout, which ultimately boils down to feudalism. Objective reality, on the other hand, has this wonderful way of settling arguments: you go and look at the evidence.Your question invites the counter-question: Who the hell is the Catholic Church to impose their standards on everyone else?I also don’t think you understood my point about creationism. Going by your arguments thus far, schools have no more right to prevent the (supposedly) equal teaching of creationism with evolution than PZ has to mangle a leftover communion wafer. How, then, can you argue strenuously for the former while being dead set against the latter?JP said: “If their right to be left alone is invaded, that is damage enough, both to them and to society.” EXCUSE ME??? WHO is failing to leave WHO alone here????Oh, right, PZ wants to harass those poor Catholics by breaking some of their leftover crackers in his home. What an invasion. If they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t give the damn crackers out — or at least they should be a lot more polite about asking people to return them — or perhaps the priest should intone “by accepting this cracker, you agree to the terms and conditions thereunto pertaining” when handing them out, and have a EULA printed on the back. Or on the church’s web site. Or somewhere. (Or maybe just “CAUTION – SACRED BODY OF CHRIST. Must be eaten before returning to your seat.” stamped on it at the time of transubstantiation. If it really matters that much.)By screeching like spoiled children, however, they have earned the entirely symbolic retribution PZ has threatened.JP said: “How do you stop someone from stealing your daughter’s picture?”I have this wacky, reality-based technique called NOT GIVING IT TO ANYONE AS A SNACK.Summary: Your entire argument seems to hinge on your contention that secular law recognizes cracker misuse as a crime. So far on that point, you’ve given me only evasions and half-arguments.And finally: If democracy and civilization aren’t rational, isn’t that something we should be trying to fix?

  28. says

    … it’s apparently intended more as a scientific demonstration: “It’s just so darned weird that they’re demanding that I offer this respect to a symbol that means nothing to me. Something will be done. It won’t be gross. It won’t be totally tasteless, but yeah, I’ll do something that shows this cracker has no power.”What absolute bullcrap! This has about as much in common with science as the Bush drones putting on political theater for benefit of the energy companies.Why doesn’t it bleed when you snap it in half, and why does communion wine usually taste like the dregs of a $2 cask of cheap sherry? Shouldn’t it taste like a well aged Jew with a firm body and a hint of wood shavings, with a dusty aftertaste?”I’m sorry you and the people you apparently admire are historically ignorant of the concept of the transubstantiation (not to mention the history of western philosophy) or, worse, choose to misrepresent others’ ideas the way creationists do. Is the fact that you are intellectual barbarians supposed to be a point in your favor?Where are people getting the idea that it’s literal?It’s your thinking here that is as crudely literal as any creationist.They are trying to make their religious law and beliefs legally binding.Not anywhere I’ve seen. There have been no criminal complaints as far as I know. No call for special laws to protect eucharists. Nothing more than some people exercizing their right to free speech, including the right to say stupid things — a right exercised by atheists in profusion in connection with this incident.Why not broaden it to all religion, if religion seems to be the real problem (as PZ and others have argued extensively)?I’ve explained at length why that is harmful to civilization. If you don’t care, you don’t care. All I can do is judge you accordingly.… did Mr. Cook violate it by taking the cracker back to his seat first? What were the terms of the “intent” and where are they written down?I’m going to finish this out but it will be my last response. I’ve said repeatedly that I didn’t think Cook had the necessary intent. I can have my arguments ignored by creationists just as easily and, frankly, they’re more fun.“the intentional, illegal use of the property or funds of another person for one’s own use or other unauthorized purpose”.Now, if PZ uses the eucharists for his not-gross, only semi-tasteless purposes, it is clear that his use is intentional. If, as I maintain, after only 34 years as a lawyer, the property was not transferred to PZ’s minions because of their knowing and premeditated purpose to use it in ways violative of the clear intent of the transfer, then he is intentionally using the property of others for an unauthorized purpose. That is the illegal use, just as when a valet parking attendent takes your car and drives all around the city, in a thoroughly not-gross, semi-tasteless way or otherwise. The parking attendant has commited a crime, even though you gave him the keys and permission to drive it, because your implicit permission was only to drive it to and from a parking spot, not to appropriate it to his personal purposes.… you have asserted repeatedly but not given any real evidence for.In creationists we call that willful ignorance.but only if you can be specific about the legal precedents,I have repeatedly given you examples of relevant situations that illustrate the workings of the law. I’m not going to bother to take a lot of time to look up actual cases for you to ignore along with everything else I’ve said. What is to stop religionists — or anyone similarly unprincipled — from automatically winning arguments by claiming theft?Gee! People who understand enough logic to follow along?legally recognized theft (which brings us back to that question) or by some other rational/objective definitionLet’s see. “Don’t obtain property under false pretenses and then use it in ways the owners don’t approve of.” Oh, hey! It’s both legally recognized AND a rational/objective definition. Funny how that works out.Then the penalty can only apply within that framework of standards too.Absolutely. It’s called “the law.” And the framework of the law doesn’t care if property has little or no commercial value … if it belongs to others, stealing/misappropriating it is wrong. It’s true that PZ and his minions would be petty thieves — if you think that is somehow better — but thieves nonetheless.Who am I to assert my ideas about what’s right when I see people behaving badly? A member of frickin’ civilization, that’s who. Who else do I need to be?Oh, hey! Just like Catholics can! And other members of civilization too, right? And I’m telling you that my judgment, backed by rational arguments, is that it is clear that neither PZ nor you are reacting rationally and that PZ’s act, if carried out, is a blow against civilization, not in its favor. What an invasion. If they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t give the damn crackers out — or at least they should be a lot more polite about asking people to return them In other words, despite what you said before, tit-for-tat. It’s a measure of irrationality that people cannot maintain a consistent position. Beyond that, you don’t care if what PZ does is wrong because you deem it to be unimportant, i.e., you are willing to apply your personal “standards” and civilization and its laws be damned. The only amazing thing is that you think you are any different than the worst of the people you decry. I have this wacky, reality-based technique called NOT GIVING IT TO ANYONE AS A SNACK.So people have no property rights in food after giving it to others? So when the waiter brings the check at the end of the meal, instead of making you pay up front, you can legally walk out without paying? You are starting to squirm around in ways almost as entertaining as a creationist. But, frankly, you make me sad. You are smart enough to know better but you are letting your emotional responses rule over your intellect.If democracy and civilization aren’t rational, isn’t that something we should be trying to fix?Yes, by leading by example and acting like rational adults, instead of playing petty playground games of power and revenge.Au revoir.

  29. says

    Hmm, this is turning sour, isn’t it. We’re starting to go in circles anyway, especially since we’re obviously both getting tired of this and neither of us really have the time to be devoting to it… but never let it be said that I was the first to walk away from the table.JP said: “What absolute bullcrap! This has about as much in common with science as the Bush drones putting on political theater for benefit of the energy companies.”I dunno, how else do you propose to demonstrate that the cracker is Jesus-free?JP said: “I’m sorry you and the people you apparently admire are historically ignorant of the concept of the transubstantiation (not to mention the history of western philosophy) or, worse, choose to misrepresent others’ ideas the way creationists do. Is the fact that you are intellectual barbarians supposed to be a point in your favor?How terrible that we are ignorant of the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, that we are intellectual barbarians who fail to give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We even laugh at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but indisputably must wear undergarments of the finest silk.Nice try at ad hominem and argument from innate superiority. Just because something has a rich history doesn’t make it right. Slavery had a rich history and very carefully worked-out Biblical justification — would you care to defend it on the same grounds?If I’ve misrepresented your ideas or the ideas of others, the proper response is to put the two side by side — what you think I’m saying, and how the real ideas differ from that. But “intellectual barbarism?” You should just cut straight to the chase and call me a poopy-head.JP said: “It’s your thinking here that is as crudely literal as any creationist.”WTF? How am I being literal, and how is that a bad thing, if we’re talking about interpreting reality (as opposed to cherry-picked pieces of scripture)?JP said, regarding my suggestion that they’re trying to make religious law binding in the secular world: “Not anywhere I’ve seen. There have been no criminal complaints as far as I know. No call for special laws to protect Eucharists. Nothing more than some people exercising their right to free speech, including the right to say stupid things — a right exercised by atheists in profusion in connection with this incident.”How else do you interpret the repeated claims that Eucharist desecration should be protected as a hate crime? Why was Mr. Cook suspended for what he did? Death threats are not included under free speech, either, as the firing of mkroll shows.JP said: “I’ve explained at length why that is harmful to civilization. If you don’t care, you don’t care. All I can do is judge you accordingly.” You argued this claim, I counter-argued, you haven’t replied to my counter-argument. Do I win? Or do you have something?JP said: “I’m going to finish this out but it will be my last response. I’ve said repeatedly that I didn’t think Cook had the necessary intent. I can have my arguments ignored by creationists just as easily and, frankly, they’re more fun.”If he didn’t have intent, then where was the “Misappropriation of Property” you claimed?I’ll admit, in this blog-comment format it’s really, really easy to unintentionally take the other side’s arguments out of context and respond to them that way. I think that’s what’s happened here, and I can’t blame you; it is a shortcoming of the venue. I probably did the same thing myself once or twice, which can’t have helped any.When I get a chance, I’ll start mapping this out as a structured debate so we can get an idea of what we actually worked out.(Oooo, I’m less fun than a creationist. Hey, that hurts my feelings, and I’m deeply offended! Sucks when your adversary keeps coming back with actual arguments instead of offering to pray for you by way of saving face as they retreat to the safety of their faith, doesn’t it.)JP said: “Now, if PZ uses the eucharists for his not-gross, only semi-tasteless purposes, it is clear that his use is intentional. If, as I maintain, after only 34 years as a lawyer, the property was not transferred to PZ’s minions because of their knowing and premeditated purpose to use it in ways violative of the clear intent of the transfer, then he is intentionally using the property of others for an unauthorized purpose.”His use is intentional, but I don’t think he believes he is violating the law — so you can’t have “misappropriation of property”, which involves an intentional violation, preferably by someone who has been entrusted with property for a particular purpose.And yes, Mr. Cook surely understood that he was supposed to eat the cracker (as he had intended to do before being so rudely interrupted), and that anyone else who obtained a cracker as part of Communion would be under a similar understanding — but what is the purpose of such consumption? If Mr. Cook returns to his seat before eating the cracker and then eats it, is he not fulfilling that purpose? If one of PZ’s wafer-weasels obtains a blessed wafer, and mails it to PZ — who then cuts it in half whilst standing in a pentagram and wearing a witch’s hat and then eats it, how is he also not fulfilling that purpose?You might argue that this is a trivial, niggling distinction — but I argue that it is the only objective distinction we have to work with. Take that away, and all we’re left is religious law to distinguish between the harmless removal of a leftover snack and “misappropriation” or “desecration” or some other similarly ill-defined transgression.In other words, the church’s purpose in giving out the cracker must be made clear, if misappropriation is to be the crime. It shouldn’t matter how the recipient accomplishes that purpose.To apply the same rule to your “valet” metaphor: my purpose in handing you my keys was to get my car parked, without any more use of gasoline or wear-and-tear than necessary to get it from point A to point B. By taking it all over town, you would be causing unnecessary wear-and-tear, unnecessary use of gas, and possibly damaging my car. All of these things can be assigned monetary value, and the penalty to you (should I press charges) would be in rough proportion to that value.I argued that the value of the wafer is minimal; you argued that I was dismissing Catholic feelings in the matter, but didn’t bother to make any assertions about what you believe (or the Catholic Church believes) the wafer to be worth.In other words, you dodged the question with an emotional argument that I should feel ashamed for ignoring their feelings — which is perhaps literally true; in settling arguments like this, it’s often vital to keep feelings in the background. Would you prefer, say, that I allow emotional responses to rule over intellect?You can’t argue that mailing a cracker might damage it and therefore, by your metaphor, would be a similar abuse of trust. Unlike the car, the crackers are given out with the understanding that they will be consumed and (thereby) completely destroyed; a little wear-and-tear is hardly going to damage that end purpose, if that is in fact what the purpose is.If consumption is not the purpose of handing them out (which apparently it isn’t, otherwise nobody would be upset at Mr. Cook and they’d be asking PZ
    to please just make sure that the crackers got eaten when he was done), they need to explain what it is.JP said: “I have repeatedly given you examples of relevant situations that illustrate the workings of the law. I’m not going to bother to take a lot of time to look up actual cases for you to ignore along with everything else I’ve said.” No, you haven’t. An actual case is what I’m looking for, yes — but I suspect, from the experience of your previous “examples”, that you’ll pull up a case which I don’t think is relevant. So I’ll need to define very clearly what my criteria are.I’ll take a pass on that for now, but I accept that this one’s on me.I said “What is to stop religionists — or anyone similarly unprincipled — from automatically winning arguments by claiming theft?” JP said: “Gee! People who understand enough logic to follow along?”Yeah, that would be great. Doesn’t seem to be working here, does it — people still got outraged at Cook’s and PZ’s actions, when anyone who can understand a little logic could see that this is absurd.JP suggests, as a good rule-of-thumb, “Don’t obtain property under false pretenses and then use it in ways the owners don’t approve of.”Mr. Cook didn’t obtain the cracker under false pretenses. PZ has made his intentions clear. If anyone is obtaining the crackers under false pretenses, it will be volunteers responding to PZ’s request; shouldn’t you be saving your ire for them? Assuming they don’t find a sympathetic priest, explain their plan, and take some blessed crackers with his full knowledge.I said: “Then the penalty can only apply within that framework of standards too.” JP said: “Absolutely. It’s called ‘the law.’”No, that’s not the framework we were talking about. Should I give you another pass, for accidentally taking this one out of context too?JP said: “Oh, hey! Just like Catholics can!” They can assert all they want. I’m not arguing against that, and never have. I’m just saying they’re wrong (and, of course, that the death threats are immoral, and calling it a hate crime is outrageous — which I think you agreed with — and that by so doing, they had lost any shred of moral authority regarding the “sanctity of human life”, which I think you disagreed with but I don’t think we got into that issue much).—Gaah. I hope you won’t think I’m waffling and backing down if I don’t respond to the rest of your points, but I’m beginning to see the futility of doing it in this format. You bring in metaphors I’ve already presented, for example, and explained exactly how they apply and how they don’t apply — and you apply them by a different set of rules. You’re free to disagree with my rules about how they should be applied, but that needs to be a subject of discussion rather than being done by fiat. (I’m not accusing you of negligence here; I may have done the same thing in the other direction.)I’ll just have to map this whole thing out and see if it can be made clearer. I wish you hadn’t felt it necessary to resort to authoritarian put-downs at the last, but I do appreciate your sticking with it this far.