In his book The End of Faith, Sam Harris has a section on the misery meted out by various church officials over the years for the crime of host desecration, that is, mistreating the communion wafer. Harris made the usual remarks about the insanity of this, especially in light of the fact that muttering a few Latin words over a wafer simply does not alter it in any significant way. I have seen more than one critic excoriate him for this, using it as a prime example of his unsophisticated understanding of theology. Of course, he was lectured, no one really takes the ritual literally.
Well, a lot of people do. A lot of people take their religious doctrines very literally indeed, and that is something the rest of us need to worry about. What we have in this sorry incident is one more example that it is Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens who understand what religion is really all about, while their overeducated academic critics are the ones promoting caricatures.
He has also pointed to some ridiculous comments from Andrew Sullivan. Apparently he finds Myers comments utterly unacceptable. Apparently, things have changed in his mind.
...And this does bother me. As plenty of Catholics have contacted Myers, and other atheist out in the public, demanding acts of denigration of Muslim sacred cows. Some may see it as turn about is fair play, but they fail to see the irony of being enraged at sacrilege leading to the demand for further sacrilege.
But wait a minute! Wasn't Sullivan leading the charge in defense of the Danish newspapers that published caricatures of the prophet Muhammed? Yes, I believe he was. ...
Pathetic, no? Publishing a caricature of Muhammed is every bit as offensive and blasphemous to Muslims as host desecration is to Catholics. But in Sullivan's eyes the former is merely an instance of free debate and serves a legitimate purpose, while exhorting people to the latter makes you an anti-Catholic bigot.
In fact, it is worse than that. In his initial post Sullivan singled out the part where Myers referred to the host as a “goddamned cracker” as the place where Myers crossed the line into bigotry. This he considered such a violation of baseline civility that Myers is to be deemed a bigot just for saying it. Not, mind you, the part where Myers encouraged people to abscond with consecrated hosts. Being disrespectful towards a doctrine of Catholicism makes you a bigot, but caricaturing a figue of veneration among Muslims is perfectly fine. Charming.
He ends with:
The reality is this: In both cases religious attitudes in desperate need of goring were criticized in provocative ways. Also in both cases the bounds of good taste were crossed, and both the Danish newspaper editors and P. Z. Myers would probably have done better to find a more tactful way of making their points. But, again in both cases, the insane reaction from many religious people and institutions was so out of proportion to the offense that it made the point far more powerfully than any blogger or newspaper editor could hope to do on his own.Exactly. They could have risen above the remark, particularly as a science blog is as out of the way as could be imagined for the Catholic League of Justice, and wrote a witty and cutting letter to Myers about what they thought of his idea. It would have been the classy and adult thing to do. But they choose, in all the cases, from all these faiths, to be children.