For those who may have missed it, PZ Myers, a washed-up academic at a third tier school who takes out his bitterness on Christians and calls it “science blogging”, claimed that some human toothache named Webster Cook had received death threats for stealing a Eucharist and threatening to desecrate it. Reader John Farrell repeatedly tried to get Myers to verify the “death threat” bit, but was shouted down by the throngs of Myers’ cultists who took Myers’ claim on faith. Myers’ then decided to blow away the last shreds of pretense that his Pharyngula blog was about science and give full vent to his demented hatred of Jesus Christ by urging his throng of equally demented followers to steal some Hosts so he could desecrate them and put the whole thing on his blog. The Catholic League got involved (rightly in my view) and Catholics, as is our custom, have been arguing about it ever since, pursuing a range of responses from complete pacifism to some rather over-the-top reactions including (you guessed it) death threats against Myers.
Myers, who seems to have been surprised by the response, has waffled between “I was just kidding”—(Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” – Proverbs 26:18-19)—and promising that he shall indeed carry through on his threat. One gets the impression that both he and his followers, having nothing but contempt for Catholics, have no real grasp of the interior contours of Catholic faith and belief and therefore no grasp whatever of the hierarchy of values at work in Catholic life. A Host is a statue is a banner is a rosary is a Bible is a scapular as far as they can tell. You get the feeling that they are genuinely surprised to find that Catholics are attaching far more importance to the desecration of the Eucharist than, say, the desecration of a Rosary. They seem to have reeled a bit at the volcanic response. Now they are getting their footing and realizing this really ticks off Catholics and so, like eight-year-olds, they are enjoying being in (they think) the position of saying, “Take one step closer and I’ll torture your cat!”
I won’t mince words. Myers is an evil man. And as evil men—particularly evil intellectuals—tend to be, he is also a mad man as are most of his acolytes and followers. One need only read Pharyngula to know this. Not all atheists are driven mad by their atheism. Many are quite respectable human beings. But those who make it their raison d’etre tend to be made crazy by it. That’s the tragedy of sins of the intellect. They don’t just make you stupid. If you persist in them, and particularly if you persist in them to this degree, they make you crazy.
Now some forms of insanity are morally innocent due to organic troubles with the brain or body, or because of some sort of trauma. St. Benedict Joseph Labre was a man we would have had trouble distinguishing from a schizophrenic homeless person on the street. Fr. Benedict Groeschel took his name in religious life from that saint, partly as a way of saying that merely mental illness is no bar to sanctity.
But some forms of insanity are chosen and willed. The choice to go out of one’s way to blaspheme Jesus Christ, purely for hate’s sake, is one of them. And, as with all sins, the sin itself is the punishment, because you then have to organize your life around defending the indefensible and you become bricked round in the furnace of your own irrational hatred. The hatred breeds lies like, “I’m just exercising freedom of expression”.
No. You are committing theft, vandalism, and incitement.
Or else you lie and say, “Unless Catholics can prove the Eucharist is actually the Body and Blood of Christ and not a worthless cracker, I’m just guilty of being rude.”
No. Catholics are under no obligation to prove that in order to show that you are guilty of theft, vandalism and incitement. On my wall near my computer is a piece of paper with a crayon drawing on it. It’s a self-portrait of my son Sean with a little heart and a poem in which he informs us he hearts us and we are good parents. Any art dealer in the world would appraise the value of the art at approximately nothing. Any literature scholar would tell you that the poem is very poor poetry. Likewise the value of the paper is zero.
To me, it’s priceless. And if you send one of your blog readers into my house to take it, I would be quite justified in calling you a thief who has stolen something precious. I would also be quite justified in defending it and my house from your naked act of aggression.
Yet another demented lie to cover up your naked act of aggression is to play the victim:
I have to do something. I’m not going to just let this disappear. 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. This cracker is nothing.
The answer to this lie is that nobody is demanding Myers offer respect to the Eucharist. He’s blasphemed the Eucharist on his blog off and on since forever. Catholics are free to disagree with him, just has he is free to disagree with them. That’s the first amendment in action and I, for one, am glad to live in the land that is not Canada where even demented professors whose careers are stuck in Wilbur Weed Boxtop Diploma Mill can have a voice in the public square, if only to serve as a warning to normal people of what hatred of God can do to the human mind.
No, what Catholics are demanding is not that Myers and his cultish followers respect the Eucharist. We are demanding that they not invade our religious services, steal what does not belong to them, and incite others to vandalize what is ours and not theirs. We are pointing out that thugs who do this are of precisely the same caliber and guilty of exactly the same crime as somebody who paints swastikas on a synagogue. (Notably, people who do that sort of stuff also claim to be victims when caught.)
The most absurd thing about Myers’ attempt to transmogrify his naked act of aggression, theft, vandalism and incitement into victim status are the words “I have to do this” and his ridiculous contention that if he and his minions don’t invade our sanctuaries and steal the Eucharist they are “offering respect” to the Eucharist. He is basically saying that if we all are not going around the world desecrating whatever it is we don’t believe in, we are ipso facto honoring same. So my failure to desecrate a Quran or the Satanic Bible means I am somehow respecting and honoring them.
Crazy people talk that way.
Myers and Co. are enmeshed in these lies because they have chosen evil. It is evil—archetypally evil—to desecrate the Eucharist. It’s the sort of stuff archetypal bad guys in the movies do. And despite Myers’ lies, it’s completely unnecessary and gratuitous evil. Myers can do all the blasphemy he pleases on his blog (though not on the taxpayer’s dime as he often has, judging from the posting time and date of many of his entries). But the curious thing is that he cannot rest with mere verbal blasphemies. He has to get a Host in his hands and destroy it with a savage glee that, curiously, places him, not among scientists, but among the most magical-thinking Bronze Age thinking.
He explains his action this way: “The point of desecrating the host isn’t to make people angry–it’s to demystify and desanctify nonsense. It’s how we wake people up–by showing that their beliefs are powerless.”
Jeff Martin takes apart this notion of settling truth claims with trial by fire very bluntly:
In this enlightened age, we do not settle religious and philosophical questions of inestimable importance by reasoning, examining the historical evidences, or any such recondite activity, but by subjecting the participants, or symbols dear to them, to the ordeal, to the end that Fate, the womb of possibility, the numinous power of whatever, might speak and deliver its verdict. We may as well bind the participants and cast them into a river, declaring the one, if any, who survives, the victor. Or, perhaps, we could emulate the Muslims, and associate the claimed veracity of the message with the world-conquering potency of its armies: it is true if it conquers. In fact, why don’t we have a grand civilizational throwdown between the remnants of Christian reaction and the avatars of enlightened, secularist atheism – it’s not as though we’ve not already had one of those, you’ll recall, with the Evil Empire, the Poles, the Pope….
Yes, but such an appeal to history, even recent history, by way of demonstrating the incompatibility of militant atheism with human dignity, would lie beyond Myers comprehension, presumably, as he would prefer to have the ‘truth’ established by means of his contrivance: let a singular communion wafer represent the entirety of the Christian claim, and let his sacrilege represent the claims of enlightenment, and if no bolt of lightning or pillar of fire descends from the heavens to smite him, Christianity stands exploded as rank superstition. Let us be forthright about what such presumption is: it is not merely indicative of a mental imbalance, an obsession or mania, but expressive of mental primitivism. Truth is established, not by reasoned discourse upon evidences and arguments, but by what amount to tests of strength, defiance, and pride. Might makes right, by the infernal glow of impudence. And mankind undergoes a spiritual and intellectual regression of some score of millennia.
In short, Myers and Co. are not merely pre-scientific. They are pre-theological and pre-philosophic.
And, of course, they are liars. Because it is manifestly obvious that they not only wish to make Christians angry, but, as far as lies within their power to get their hands on God and tear him to pieces, not just verbally but physically if possible. They are kith and kin to to those who stood at the foot of the cross and sneered, “If you are the Son of God, come down.”
C.S. Lewis describes the curious itch that rankles in the shriveled soul of the God-hater in his Great Divorce. In that novella, the damned are offered a chance at Heaven if they will only just get on a bus, go there, and stay. Instead, almost none of the damned do. They prefer to be what they are. And they love talking about Hell and themselves (which really comes down to the same thing). Lewis continues:
This curious wish to describe Hell turned out, however, to be only the mildest form of a desire very common among the Ghosts – the desire to extend Hell, to bring it bodily, if they could, into Heaven. There were tub-thumping Ghosts who in thin, bat-like voices urged the blessed spirits [already in Heaven] to shake off their fetters, to escape from their imprisonment in happiness, to tear down the mountains with their hands, to seize Heaven ‘for their own good’: Hell offered her co-operation. There were planning Ghosts who implored them to dam the river, cut down the trees, kill the animals, build a mountain railway, smooth out the horrible grass and moss and heather with asphalt. There were materialistic Ghosts who informed the immortals that they were deluded: there was no life after death, and this whole country was a hallucination. There were Ghosts, plain and simple: mere bogies, fully conscious of their own decay, who had accepted the traditional role of the spectre, and seemed to hope they could frighten someone. I had had no idea that this desire was possible. But my Teacher reminded me that the pleasure of frightening is by no means unknown on earth, and also of Tacitus’ saying: “They terrify lest they should fear.” When the debris of a decayed human soul finds itself crumbled into ghosthood and realises “I myself am now that which all humanity has feared, I am just that cold churchyard shadow, that horrible thing which cannot be, yet somehow is,” then to terrify others appears to it an escape from the doom of being a Ghost yet still fearing Ghosts-fearing even the Ghost it is. For to be afraid of oneself is the last horror.
The thirsty cruelty and cowardice of Myers is manifest in this: Regardless of your views of the deity of Christ, to make oneself into a creature who deliberately desecrates the memory of an innocent man who died in torments, solely for the purpose of spite, is an utterly pathetic and deeply evil thing. As all acts of blasphemy do, they serve only to destroy the image of God in the blasphemer. They do nothing whatever to harm Jesus (except in the sense that this sin too becomes one of the billions he bears in his body and soul on the Cross). But they do immeasurable harm to the soul of the blasphemer.
What remains is for us Catholics to decide what to do. I think the first thing that needs to happen is, of course, prayer. Various folk in the blogosphere and elsewhere have mentioned acts of reparation. That’s the right idea. Our first task is to forgive. And I mean forgive, not excuse. There is, literally, no excuse for this. None. If some clown sent Webster Cook or Myers a death threat, that does not justify their persecuting and insulting people who have done nothing wrong. Myers’ logic is that of Kristallnacht, punish all Catholics everywhere with theft, vandalism and incitement because of the (alleged) actions of one or two.
The next thing to do is to fight. Forgiving and fighting not only may, but must be done at the same time. If you doubt that, just look at Jesus: he forgave his impenitent killers at exactly the moment he was fighting (and winning) the most important battle ever fought against all the powers of Hell. Paul likewise forgave his persecutors but was absolutely ingenious in making use of everything (including civil law) to fight them and advance the gospel.
I have absolutely no problem with appeals to Caesar where it is appropriate, but we have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I think invocations of “hate crime” laws, for instance, are stupid, because I think the dumbest thing a Catholic can do is encourage the notion of ThoughtCrime or labor to make Caesar the arbiter of Allowable Speech. Canada is currently engaged in that social experiment to catastrophic effect. So I think attempts to arraign Pharyngula as a “hate site” are deeply wrong-headed. Catholics need to cowboy up and face hatred like saints, not whine for Uncle Caesar to tell the Bad Man to stop saying mean things.
On the other hand, I have no problem with Catholics pointing out that many a Pharyngula post has been made on the taxpayer’s dime and that misuse of state monies should be punished. I likewise have no problem with Catholics lobbying the university to have this bigot canned as radically opposed to the University mission statement. I doubt it will happen but they are welcome to try—because Catholics have free speech too.
Similarly, just as St. Paul had no problem at all asking the civil power to protect him from persecution when some mob threatened him or one of his churches, I see nothing at all wrong, if Myers and Co. carry out their threat, with going to the civil authority and arraigning Myers et al with theft, vandalism, destruction of property and incitement, if the court system allows it. It is perfectly just to seek this, just as it is perfectly just for Jews to seek justice when some thug paints a swastika on a synagogue.
Catholics rightly have hope of Myers’ redemption. That’s as it should be. But I also am mindful of Jesus’ very solid counsel: “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). Myers et al are precisely the sort of people Jesus has in mind here. If they are insulted by that, our first duty is to pray that they will somehow receive the grace to grasp how dire it is to be insulted by the Son of God, whose insults are, like everything else about him, without any sin whatever. In short, they are people who deserve to be called swine because they have made themselves swine by their actions. Our orders as Catholics are clear: don’t imagine that argument will do you any good when you are dealing with people who have lost the good of the intellect. Pray for them certainly. But pray that they repent, not that they get clearer explanations of things they already know but refuse to admit: such as “You don’t go around vandalizing what is not yours.”
It is right and just to be angered by Myers et al’s assault on the Eucharist. Not all anger is sinful. But the purpose of anger is action, not desire for vengeance. Myers and Co. threaten violence against Him we hold most sacred. Catholics who threaten violence against Myers in return disgrace our Lord who forgave his murderers and, just as surely, extends forgiveness to Myers even as he fights him with the same goads with which he fought Saul of Tarsus. Our task is to realize that our principal audience is not Myers and his vicious crew, but all the onlookers in our culture, who want to know if there is any real difference between Catholics and Myers.
Show them, by your actions, that there is. The world is watching.