Much has been blogged since last week's Cracker-Gate, involving PZ Myers and, and then Bill Donohue of the Catholic League (I believe he has a specially evolved organ that detects even the slightest insult to Catholicism; this organ will also explode and kill him if he doesn't spend every last bit of strength he has making the insulter pay through the most extreme means possible). There has been support, and there has been anger. Some of the anger isn't even coming from the Catholics; it's coming from fellow atheists. And the argument seems reasonable enough--this was nothing more than a ridiculous college-esque prank and it does nothing but shed poor light on the atheist community. This is, indeed, one way to look at it.

We can blame the student who started it. Or not:

Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.

"When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him," Cook said. "I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they'd leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth."

A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that's why he brought it home with him.

"She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand," Cook said, adding she wouldn't immediately take her hands off him despite several requests

Yeah, we can blame him for not knowing what psychotic freaks are housed in the church during mass. We can also blame him for attempting to satiate a friend's curiosity about the church. And frankly, can we blame his for this:

Cook is upset more than $40,000 in student fees have been allocated to support religious organizations on campus for the 2008-2009 school year, according to student government records. He denied he is holding the Eucharist hostage to protest that support.

I can't. The fact is those people reacted like insane people. Insane. And the fact is that that's a whole lot of cashola for student groups on a public campus.

Point Number One: That was a very serious overreaction from folks who get a favorably disproportionate amount of free money. And then to go on about the body of Christ being taken hostage? Please. And frankly, it's all fine and good (and incredibly stupid) until threats are made regarding this kid's college standing. Then, suddenly it's not okay. It's not just a harmless, if not creepy and self-righteous, overreaction. Now they mean to do some real damage. And so Myers goes on to make point Number Two.

Might I remind folks, though, that this isn't about Myers's approach. Myself--I don't care so much about the approach. Complaining that Myers desecrating a cracker--or even admitting that he would if given half the chance--sheds a poor light on us is, frankly, dishonest. How many atheists see a consecrated communion wafer as the body of Christ? Raise your hands. I quick count of the room sees none. How many--if these crackers tasted anything unlike cardboard--would have these with their lunch? Oh look, a full house. In this light, is Myers expressing anything but the truth, especially if he's representing the atheist community? This is Point Number Two.

The fact that very, very few of us give two shites for this cracker and truly resent being forced to respect it and a variety of other religious expressions, but then act as if the very act Myers recommends is indeed bad (or is the characteristic of) a 'bad atheist' is, well, illogical. At least, to us it should be. Myers is saying that we don't have to bend to anyone's freakshow, religious customs/rituals. We have no obligation to respect any of it, not in the least. Nor should we be forced to.

So, let's look at a chronological time line of concepts and events, as I see them.

-We insist we don't have an obligation to respect any aspect of others' religious beliefs/rituals/idols, etc.

-There is an instance--one of so, so many throughout this country--of religious preference in a public system (University of Minnesota is indeed a public school): "Cook is upset more than $40,000 in student fees have been allocated to support religious organizations on campus for the 2008-2009 school year, according to student government records."

-Though he denies the cracker incident is a protest to that fact, I believe it is a legitimate one.

-Cracker is manhandled by heathen.

-Catholics freak because they feel their idols are being disrespected. Action is taken on both sides: "Cook filed an official abuse complaint with UCF's student conduct court regarding the alleged physical force. Following that complaint, Brinati said church members filed their own official complaints of disruptive conduct. Punishment for either offense could result in suspension or expulsion."

-Myers one-ups this college kid by offering to desecrate any communion wafers that happen to come his way.

-Catholics freak. Atheists freak.

Now, as far as I can see, those atheists have indeed joined the Catholic League not only in saying that we have no right to respect or disrespect any religious representations as we see fit, but that what Cook did and what PZ did (two acts of protest against things I was sure we all agreed were wrong, wrong, wrong) are indeed universally, somehow inherently "wrong." They are saying that desecration of a cracker is not a positive act of protest against a thoroughly oppressive state demonstrating that we should be able to do what we want with the cracker based on our beliefs, or more appropriately, our lack thereof. We are joining them in assigning the acts as morally bad and thus they reflect badly on us. We are saying that the act we claim is morally neutral (and in some cases positive) based on our philosophy of reality is actually as they say it is--morally wrong.

I see both acts, by Cook and Myers, as protest positive. I don't see them as done for fun or profit. I see both making a legitimate point. Cook pointed out that public funds should be distributed evenly and not balanced towards religious organizations. Myers pointed out that we have a right to protest this prejudice against us and the preference for them, to be treated fairly, and we can express that in any way we see fit--including wiping our asses with their 'Body of Christ,' if we so choose. The fact is that loud and seemingly obnoxious acts are more likely to get peoples' attention, and for that, so long as the purpose is legitimate (and I believe this is) I express my support. It's a shame some atheists have decided, once that attention had been gained, to lose a bit of spine and throw up their hands to the Catholic League, tucking tails beneath them and slapping their own wrists muttering "Bad, bad atheist."

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Comment by Just Trying on July 20, 2008 at 10:32am

I look at the whole Eucharist thing from a different perspective.

The cracker is, literally, about to be ingested by the "body of Christ", that is the people gathered in Christ's name and honor.

Therefore, that cracker will, literally BECOME part of the physical bodies of the people.

Thus, it is both symbolic and literal.

I think they look at it bassackwards when they say the cracker IS the body of Christ even before it gets ingested.

But, some people do not have nuanced thinking.

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