Saturday, July 12, 2008

In support of PZ's right to be impolite and insulting

With regards to this news story, and this response on Pharyngula:

It may be a fine distinction, but I do not see PZ's impoliteness and insults as directed at the Catholic faithful who believe that God is present in the communion wafers, however much PZ would disagree and consider them to be naive and/or deluded and/or misguided. Rather he is (verbally, of course) attacking those who think it is appropriate, or even understandable, to respond to blasphemy and sacrilege with physical force and death threats.

Here is a letter I sent to the President of UMM:

Dear Dr. Bruininks,

I firmly believe that, in addition to transmitting knowledge on various topics, one of the important roles of a university is to encourage students to think critically and question their own and their world's basic assumptions. I think that Professor P.Z.Myers does an excellent job in all of these areas, and is a credit to UMM.

Recently, I have seen blog posts by Dr Myers in which he has encouraged desecration of Catholic religious symbols. Bill Donohue has stated that "It is hard to think of anything more vile...". While the comments and proposed actions by P.Z. Myers may be insulting and impolite, surely there are many things in this world far viler than denigrating symbols and beliefs.

I hope you will disregard the demands from the Catholic League for the removal or other discipline of Professor Myers, and support his right to voice his opinions, however controversial they might be.


Jayne said...

Speaking as one of the Catholic faithful, I understood PZ's impolite and insulting behaviour to be directed at me and my fellow believers. There was nothing in the symbolism or language he used to specify that he was only targetting those Catholics so lost to good sense (and Church teaching) as to use death threats. He chose an action that was deeply hurtful to all devout Catholics, not just to our lunatic fringe.

I have met PZ. You were there at the time. I found him pleasant and enjoyed talking to him. We all went out for Chinese food and to see the winged dinosaur exhibit at the ROM. He showed us some interesting fossils he had in the trunk of his car. The subject of religion never came up.

I wonder now what he would have said to me if he realized that I am a devout Catholic. Would he have made a point of being insulting and hurtful to me in person? Or is this just something he does from behind his computer?

I also wonder if he thinks that his behaviour is likely to persuade me and my fellow Catholics to reject our beliefs and adopt his. It was certainly not successful in my case. I believe that God took on the form of a helpless infant to become present to humanity. I believe that God took on weakness and allowed himself to be broken and destroyed. When PZ broke and destroyed the "cracker" it drew attention to the resemblance between God in the Eucharist and God made flesh. It strengthened my faith.

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

I wonder now what he would have said to me if he realized that I am a devout Catholic. Would he have made a point of being insulting and hurtful to me in person? Or is this just something he does from behind his computer?

No and no. If anything he would challenge you on your beliefs, in the same manner he has challenged me about other things, to get you to question the basis for your opinion or beliefs. His desecration of the host demonstrated that there is no reason to accept that blasphemy applies to non-believers.

There seems to be this image that PZ does what he does out of spite, hatred or anger. It's not. This thing was directed at the wackaloons on the right who will pout about political correctness on one hand and then scream "bigotry" as soon as they are challenged. Whether you are offended is your choice.

Do you eat beef? Then you are offending Jains and Hindus' deeply held belief? Are you a woman who doesn't cover yourself in a Burka? Then you deeply offend a Wasabi Muslism. Are you a smoker? Then you deeply offend an asthmatic.

Are you gay, lesbian or transgender? Then you deeply offend homophobics. Are you interracial? Well, you get the drift.

I had a co-worker who told me he is deeply offended when he sees a black man with a white woman. People in Jim Crow south were deeply offended if a colored drank from the wrong fountain, or sat at the wrong lunch counter or went to the white church.

If, when you met him you had told him that you believed in the transformation of the substance of the host, he would have challenged you on it.

Eamon Knight said...

Two trivial points:
1) It was Jeff Shallit who had the fossils in his car.
2) I'm reasonably sure PZ knew you were Catholic (or at least religious). He doesn't unprovokedly eat believers alive in person (at least, not much). But he doesn't shrink from bluntly voicing his opinion in the appropriate circumstances -- and in blogland, the circumstances are always appropriate.

I have a more substantial reply, but it would be better as a blog post.

Jayne said...

Mike gives some examples of things that I might do as part of my everyday life that are potentially offensive to others. These are not a good analogy for PZ's actions. Desecrating the Eucharist is not part of everyday life. It was an action chosen to make a point, knowing that it would be offensive. And it is offensive to any devout Catholic, not just the "wackaloons" it was supposedly directed at.

If I were to take a picture of PZ's family and post a video of me defacing it, spitting on it, etc., I would expect PZ to be upset. I wouldn't say that if he were offended it was because he chose to be offended. In such a case, I would obviously be taking a symbolic action for the express purpose of offending him. I think this is a much closer analogy than the one that Mike has used.

Jayne said...

I do not understand why people should treat each other differently in blogland than is appropriate in real life. I think that being kind and considerate is just as important online as anywhere else. It is still real people who are being affected.