Thursday, July 31, 2008

PZ Myers Could Get His Own National Day of Prayer

In a continuation of the communion wafer desecration saga, the Catholic news organization is reporting that the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, an association of Catholic Priests and Deacons based in Chicago IL, is proposing a national day of prayer and fasting for Friday, August 1 in "reparation for the sacrilegious desecration of the Holy Eucharist," committed by Dr. Myers. The Confraternity claims Myers' treatment of the communion wafer goes way beyond the bounds of free speech and enters the territory of unconstitutionality. From the article:

"The statement of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy said it found the actions of Myers 'reprehensible, inexcusable, and unconstitutional. His flagrant display of irreverence by profaning a consecrated Host from a Catholic Church goes beyond the limit of academic freedom and free speech. Attacking the most sacred elements of a religion is not free speech anymore than would be perjury in a court or libel in a newspaper,' added the text."

As Dr. Myers writes, the Confraternity really has no write to declare something unconstitutional. Of course they can say it all they want, but that does not change the nature of the action. Which, Myers writes, was an act of irreverence aimed at a religious tradition. Something the Constitution clearly protects.

Quoted from the Confraternity's official statement:

"The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance."

Yeah, not really. No one in the United States has the write to not be offended. That's what the freedom of speech means: it protects any speech that even the majority of people might find grossly offensive. By the Confraternity's logic, only Catholics can "attack, malign or grossly offend" there own doctrine. Dr. Myers is in no way stopping Catholics from practicing their faith. What the Confraternity doesn't seem to realize is that freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution, implies freedom from religion.

The statement claims that Dr. Myers, as a biology professor, has no right to do what he did:

"The Chancellor of the University refused to reprimand or censure the teacher, who ironically is a Biology Professor. One fails to see the relevance of the desecration of a Catholic sacrament to the science of Biology. Were Myers a Professor of Theology, there would have been at least a presumption of competency to express religious opinions in a classroom. Yet, for a scientist to ridicule and show utter contempt for the most sacred and precious article of a major world religion, is inappropriate, unprofessional, unconstitutional and disingenuous."

Dr. Myer's responds:

"Ummm, I don't discuss religion in the classroom. I teach biology. My 'desecration' was performed at home, on my own time. There's nothing ironic about the fact that I'm a biologist, nor did I claim my profession gave me special qualifications to see through the foolishness of faith. Go ahead, any of you can do it — you don't need to be a theologian to see that it is just a cracker."

The statement also confuses what Dr. Myers does with his personal time with his behavior in the classroom:

"A biologist has no business 'dissing' any religion, rather, they should be busy teaching the scientific discipline they were hired to teach. Tolerating such behavior by university officials is equally repugnant as it lends credibility to the act of religious hatred. We also pray that Professor Myers contritely repent and apologize."

I feel I must quote Dr. Myers directly here, so I don't misrepresent anything he says:

"As for the idea that I'm supposed to be teaching biology 24-7…what, I can't have a hobby? I can tell you that when I try to tell my wife late evening on Wednesday night that I can't take out the trash because I'm too busy teaching biology, well, that excuse won't fly very far."

The funniest bit about this whole business, to me at least, is that the Confraternity seems to be playing directly into Dr. Myers' hands; not that I think he was planning to make such ruckus with his "desecration." However, by blowing this whole thing way out of proportion, the Confraternity is just demonstrating to the world (to Dr. Myers' readers at least) the absurdity of the communion wafer's sacred status against which Dr. Myers railed in the first place. By calling for a national day of prayer because a biology professor threw a cracker in the garbage, the Confraternity is locking in the value of the communion wafer to anyone else who wishes to profane it. Establishing the holiness of an object only makes that object more attractive to those who wish to cause a stir by desecrating it. It's a bit like making some words taboo. The more the words are censored, the more people who want to cause a sensation will use them. The Confraternity is doing the Catholic Church no favors by treating Dr. Myers' actions in this way. The smart thing to do would have been to declare the action something Catholics should not do, and leave it at that.

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