Lots of blogs have been posted recently about the recent death threats and ouster campaign directed at PZ Myers -- a biology professor, noted blogger, and intelligent design antagonist.
I've always had a healthy respect for Myers. Though I class some of his anti-creationism grandstanding alongside the theatrical antics of later Dick Dawkins and Chris Hitchens, I've always appreciated his flawless and unapologetic defense of evolutionary theory. Besides -- I think he's substantively right on the issues, even if I don't agree with how he grinds his ax.
So I'm less than sympathetic with the extreme umbrage taken at this recent post of Myers in defense of another blogger who threatened to desecrate a communion wafer:
So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I'll send you my home address.Pharyngula
Here's the essential problem with the kind of rationalist politics that Myers preaches. Given that a wafer is "just a cracker" (and I agree) it doesn't make much objective difference what Myers does with the crackers. But it's not a question of personal belief and private practice -- it's not about what Myers can do as a private and rational actor. When Myers writes about desecrating a wafer in a public forum he's committing a political act. The entire premise of his blog is that there is a social polity in which Myers participates and in which there are varying beliefs. Hence the utility of debating issues of disagreement (like evolution versus creationism). You might sway someone toward your side. Or reaffirm and strengthen their take. He might defend himself in rational or common-sense terms, but the whole point of his blog is that the people reading his blog have a huge variety of opinion. Else, what's the point? And Myers works to cultivate this variety when he offers to do something as inflammatory as desecrate a holy symbol. As a pretty well-known blogger, on a bad day, I'm sure Myers gets more than a thousand hits a day. Hence, Myers follows the above by suggesting:
Just wait. Now there'll be a team of Jesuits assigned to rifle through my mail every day.
The humor is that this rifling is precisely what his post was calculated to produce. I might be well within my rights if I publicly offered to wipe my dirty ass with an American flag in front of a thousand people, and I might plausibly argue that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with this, insofar as the flag is really just a piece of cloth. But no one, least of all me, would be particularly surprised if I got my ass kicked for it.