Saturday, August 2, 2008

The P.Z. Myers Mess and A Call For Intellectual Honesty

I've been aware of the outrageous attacks lately on the Eucharist. I first became aware of this when I heard of the young college student who thought it would be fun to spit out the communion wafer to show a friend and then leave the church without consuming it. If that wasn't bad enough, a Minnesota college professor decided to up the ante by bragging that he would show some real desecration of the Eucharist on his blog. He did.

When I heard of these developments, I was both saddened and angry. Saddened that someone who doesn't ascribe to Christianity would have to jump through so many hoops in order to show their revilement - and angry they can't abide by their own logic and just ignore something they don't agree with.

What is it they tell Christians? "If you don't like it, change the channel." If we don't like something, we're expected to look the other way, avoid frequenting whichever film may offend, or generally divert our attention from anything culturally rude or insensitive.

So why is it they can't leave Catholicism alone? So what if a bunch of people believe the Eucharist is the Body of Jesus Christ? Why can't they just shrug and go about their business? Oh, how I would love for an intellectually honest atheist to answer that last one.

But that's the point. People like Professor Myers cannot be intellectually honest nor fair when it comes to their own hatred. Christians are not surprised when the world shows its contempt for their faith. However, what is surprising is how passionately loyal such opponents are to their own ideal of freedom but yet will exhibit such hypocrisy when faced with something they don't agree with; which usually is anything having to do with moral absolutism.

I deliberated whether I wanted to get involved with this fiasco or just let it pass. I decided to throw my hat in the ring. Below is a copy of the email I sent to University of Minnesota Morris' Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson. I also copied UM President Robert Bruininks. I don't expect a response. They've obviously washed their hands of any responsibility. But I have reached my limit with the double-standard promoted by universities.

My email:


August 2, 2008

Dear Chancellor Johnson,

I have no idea if you will read this but knew I needed to write regarding the latest action by Professor Myers. My frustration stems not only from the standpoint of someone who holds certain tenets of faith dear, but as someone who considers herself intellectually honest – and it is this honesty that hangs in the balance for both the University of Minnesota Morris, and every self-respecting higher institution of education.

Professor Myers’ decision to “desecrate” a communion wafer was only the end result of his virulent hatred of anyone who believes in a Higher Power other than self. He is on a mission. The argument that since this occurred on his blog and thus, exempt from any university reprimand - is weak.

It is intellectually dishonest and I will tell you why. The internet has become both the medium and the message. Anyone who is taking a paycheck from a company realizes the strings may be long or short – but still they are attached to those who boldly proclaim their opinion. Yes, people have been fired from their jobs before for inappropriate content on a blog.

Is it censorship, which higher education rightly abhors? It depends. But more importantly, when do you think the line has been crossed between verbal abuse and physical abuse?

Abusive language is something most thinking individuals try to curtail. Most Americans are more aware than ever of “offensive language.” Those who call themselves progressive will go to the mat for the weaker individuals in society and are angry when they see someone belittled or bullied.

How is it this situation is any different?

You have what to many, is simply a piece of bread. But to many Catholics, they hold this sacred. Why is it acceptable to abuse them? Why is it acceptable to shift the conversation from a cerebral argument to a physical assault? Would this be acceptable if it were done to a woman, or any other religion or group?

I can tell you this. Muslims made a racket over cartoons of Muhammad, even to the point of issuing fatwas. Catholics don’t have fatwas. But they do have money. However, as tempting as it is to focus on the possibility of Catholics withholding funds from your university over this appalling incident, I’ll refrain. Instead, think of the type of environment this is now creating in the classrooms.

Professor Myers is very vocal about becoming more hateful and argumentative. You’ve already seen the extent to which he will go in order to make his point. How comfortable is a student now to attend his class, knowing his extreme prejudice? Can he in all honesty disengage himself from his own brand of hate and evaluate fairly a student of faith? Especially when he is more than willing to show such hostility and abuse publicly?

From his blog regarding the ongoing debate of Intelligent Design, which ironically, calls for his own brand of censorship:

The only appropriate response should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing of some teachers, many school board members, and vast numbers of sleazy, far-right politicians … I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots.

P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula, Get meaner, angrier, louder, fiercer, March 1, 2007

Your call, Chancellor. I’m all for spirited discourse but Professor Myers wants to relegate it to a blood-sport. Although he wears antagonism as a badge of honor, he wields an unfair advantage. It’s not just a case of an atheist guy swigging a few beers with his pals, ranting about the idiocy of faith. He is a teacher who holds the power to either pass or fail a student. (Not to mention his influence with the department.)

With all of the programs and advocacy groups working to end hatred and abuse in our society, do you truly want your university to continue to be a part of the problem? Or the solution? If firing seems too drastic, at least make a more public denunciation of such behavior. Otherwise, UMM is just one more institution eroding civil discourse in our society - until no civility will be left.


Unknown said...

Well done, Mary Rose. If the man had been spewing vitriol or even minor disapproval/disagreement with homosexuality or Islam, he'd have been censored before his breath had cooled.

I'm working on my own protest letter.

Mary Rose said...

Laura - thank you. I'm also really glad you're doing the same. I can't help but think of what type of response this professor would have received if he had abused some feminist ideal.

Look what happened to Larry Summers, former president of Harvard. All he did was admit that women weren't in the science and math fields in great number and there was documentation to support why it was so. Boom! He was landed on so hard that his teeth rattled.

I am really hoping more Catholics write to the UMM and protest their total apathy toward a hate crime.