The Great Cracker Controversy

Posted: July 28, 2008 in Religion, Tacky

I learned about The Great Cracker Controversy, or Crackerclysm, after it already faded, but since this stuff is ongoing in religious and public life, I don’t mind coming a little late to the party. A bit of background first:

It seems some hapless fellow (Webster Cook) at the University of Central Florida was witnessed absconding with a communion wafer instead of ingesting it per the Catholic sacrament and now faces impeachment as a member of the student senate. He claims he wanted to show the communion wafer to a friend but failed to consider that it had become a sacred object and had to be consumed immediately (according to Catholic doctrine). As things spun out of control, the Catholic League denounced him and he received numerous death threats. PZ Myers, a biology professor who writes a snarky science blog called Pharyngula, picked up the thread and added his own log to the fire by announcing his intention to desecrate the host, which is after all only a cracker (according to atheist doctrine). Myers drew his own death threats but made good on his promise to offend the sacred cracker.

In this shitstorm, there is no lack of bad behavior on all sides. Cook’s initial action may have been innocent, but he refused to return the Eucharist when asked. Students, student government, and Catholics of all sorts piled on with varying levels of intensity. What is it, BTW, with issuing death threats? Do Catholics seriously believe the offense deserves death and their cowardly threats magically transform into some sort of fatwa? Then PZ Myers fans the flames, making sport of it all. I suspect he is entirely correct not to take death threats seriously. And how stupid do you have to be to issue the threat via e-mail or in a comment on a website? Similarly, many the comments on Pharyngula say things such as “I pray for your soul” and “may god grant what you so richly deserve.” Is it normal to wield prayer and invoke one’s deity as a rhetorical weapon?

Considering that Myers is a college professor, one might expect him to exercise some restraint. But as with so many pundits and bloggers and media whores, he finds it more entertaining to deride his targets rather than treat them with compassion. This paragraph was particularly nasty:

I think if I were truly evil, I would have to demand that all of my acolytes be celibate, but would turn a blind eye to any sexual depravities they might commit. If I wanted to be an evil hypocrite, I’d drape myself in expensive jeweled robes and live in an ornate palace while telling all my followers that poverty is a virtue. If I wanted to commit world-class evil, I’d undermine efforts at family planning by the poor, especially if I could simultaneously enable the spread of deadly diseases. And if I wanted to be so evil that I would commit a devastating crime against the whole of the human race, twisting the minds of children into ignorance and hatred, I would be promoting the indoctrination of religion in children’s upbringing, and fomenting hatred against anyone who dared speak out in defiance.

I actually agree with this paragraph, but within the context of the cracker controversy, this isn’t educating or even tweaking — it’s a full-on attack against the head of the Catholic Church.

Religious leaders have enjoyed centuries of deference. In the last decade, a growing number of atheists have written books, made speeches, and otherwise challenged the automatic pass religion receives. It goes too far, though, when those challenges are childish taunts.

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