Not the only person upset

PZ myersPaul Z. Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, has made his best effort at enraging as many people as possible by defiling that which is considered sacred by millions around the globe. Some are even considering how his actions could possibly impact the “future of life in our pluralistic democracy.”

Paul Walsh of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has one of the few news stories on the subject:

The chancellor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, is standing up for a faculty member’s freedom of expression after the instructor posted on the Internet a photo of a defiled communion wafer with pages ripped from the Qur’an.

Paul Z. Myers, who teaches biology at the west-central Minnesota school, on his blog this week posted a picture of the wafer with a rusty nail through it and torn pages from the Qur’an. Also in the photo are tattered pages from a book by biologist Richard Dawkins that scoffs at the notion of a superior being.

This is the second time this month that actions such as these by Myers prompted a harsh retort from a national Catholic civil rights group.

Walsh’s story is solid except for the fact that it seems to portray this “national Catholic civil rights group” [the Catholic League] as the only group upset in this matter. In fact, many people are upset about this, and they aren’t all best friends with Bill Donohue:

Atheists have done better out of America’s commitment to pluralism than any other religious group, so it’s hard to see why any of them would now condone an attempt to break down the social compact that demands that we mostly leave other peoples’ religious beliefs alone.

The larger story here is that there is a strain of atheism that has become much more aggressive in their, um, belief, that God does not in fact exist. They want you to know about it and want more agnostics to come over to their side. The likes of Sam Harris comes to mind.

Let us get back to Donohue. If this were all I could comment regarding Walsh’s article, I would have a strong opinion of the piece. However, check out the last paragraph of the story, which describes Donohue’s Catholic League:

The Catholic League at that time also called on the university to act against Myers.

Many rank-and-file Roman Catholics do not endorse the league, which has no formal affiliation with the Catholic Church, because they consider it a reactionary orthodox group run by publicity-seekers. It’s president, Bill Donohue, has gone on record with inflammatory remarks about Jews, Muslims and gays.

Is that really the best way to portray the Catholic League? First, “many” is an interesting and unnecessary choice of words since the group is not affiliated with the Catholic Church. Second, reporters should be careful, to say the least, with the term “orthodox” and “reactionary.” Third, what groups does not seek publicity? Lastly, instead of using the term “inflammatory remarks” about Donohue, can we just get a couple of quotes from the guy instead of generalities?

For the purposes of this post, I am not going to share my own personal feelings on Donohue, nor do I care what anyone else thinks of Donohue, his personal style, beliefs or overall life goals. I am hoping that most people can agree that this was not the best way to describe him in a news article.

Photo of Professor PZ Myers used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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  • http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester Jeff Miller

    What surprises me is how little the media has covered what he did to the Quran. Where are the complaints for CAIR, etc. But I guess if you desecrate the Holy Eucharist also then you get a pass.

  • benjdm

    Atheists have done better out of America’s commitment to pluralism than any other religious group

    We have? How in the world is that, precisely? This upcoming Congressional election might be the first time ever that an open atheist gets elected to Congress (if Pete Stark gets re-elected.) Mormons have already been elected, Jews have already been elected, both male and female homosexuals have been elected, and at least one Muslim. The National Motto declares that only theists are to be considered ‘We.’ Public acceptance of atheists rates well below other minority groups.

    so it’s hard to see why any of them would now condone an attempt to break down the social compact that demands that we mostly leave other peoples’ religious beliefs alone.

    The author is deluded in thinking atheists have done well by the social compact (which is more of a fragile truce among the faithful that declares the faithless fair game.)

  • Michael

    Where are the complaints for CAIR,

    There don’t appear to be any, at least not on their website. They likely have bigger fish to fry than a science professor’s blog.

    Is that really the best way to portray the Catholic League?

    It’s very sloppy, but it’s an interesting start. I think there needs to be more coverage of the Catholic League and the American Family Association, specifically asking questions about who they speak for, how are they funded, and what process goes into them issuing press releases and announcing boycotts.

    Readers have a right to know about gadfly organizations and advocacy groups, whether it is the Catholic League or CAIR, AFA or GLAAD. How are they organized? Are they just a guy in a rented office or are they more sophisticated organizations with layers of accountability.

    I used to use the Traditional Values Coalition as a source because they lobbied on issues I was covering. Because they appeared to be the only game in town lobbying against the issue, they got a lot of play.

    But after talking to people who were supportive of TVC’s position, I realized that TVC just didn’t have much pull or accountability. They were very press friendly and churned out press releases, but didn’t appear to have much of a constituency on Capitol Hill.

    Ultimately, my editor decided we needed to stop quoting them because we were giving the impression they were players.

  • Shy One

    The Curt Jester has it right above. The lack of coverage of this story is absolutely astonishing and scandalous. IIRC a national newsweekly not so long ago went with a lightly sourced story about alleged desecration of the Koran at Gitmo, with terrible consequences. But when a college professor proudly announces that he has done so, and posts the evidence on his Web site? Crickets.

    For that matter, can anyone truly imagine that even five years ago, someone could have desecrated the Eucharist and attempted to make a public spectacle about it and have it not be a national story?

    And before someone argues that the media learned its lesson after the Gitmo story, please remember that that story was widely criticized not because it made people angry but because it seemed it might not have been true. Here the person responsible cannot draw enough attention to himself and his actions.

  • Maureen

    So… what makes the Jewish Anti-Defamation League official, and the Catholic League not? Is the ADL endorsed by some kind of official Jewish pope or bishop? Are they an arm of the US government?

    Of course not. They are bigger and older and probably much better funded and staffed; but they are just as unofficial as back when the Catholic League was just Bill Donohue writing letters. In fact, most lobby organizations in existence today were started by one person, weren’t they? Somebody had to get the idea first, right?

    So it’s fair to say that the Catholic League is a small and relatively young organization, or that it’s not connected with the USCCB (I assume). But criticizing it as “unofficial” and thus of no account is just silly. The NAACP and the Red Cross aren’t official, either.

  • Shy One

    We can eagerly await Mr. Walsh including such a disclaimer the next time he refers to “Catholics for a Free Choice.”

  • Chris Bolinger

    It’s president, Bill Donohue, has gone on record with inflammatory remarks about Jews, Muslims and gays.

    *sigh* Did the Star Tribune fire all of its copy editors? The word should be “its”, not “it’s”. Sloppy typo in a sloppy paragraph.

  • http://www.jrbenedict.com J.R. Benedict

    “reactionary orthodox group”

    Probably the only one endorsed by Cardinal Mahony… (and Egan, and O’Malley…)

    And I expect they did in fact get official approval to set up…

    “Can. 300 No association is to assume the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority according to the norm of ⇒ can. 312.”

    “Can. 312 §1. The authority competent to erect public associations is:

    “1/ the Holy See for universal and international associations;

    “2/ the conference of bishops in its own territory for national associations, that is, those which from their founding are directed toward activity throughout the whole nation;

    “3/ the diocesan bishop in his own territory, but not a diocesan administrator, for diocesan associations, except, however, for those associations whose right of erection has been reserved to others by apostolic privilege.”

  • http://www.jewishjournal.com/thegodblog/item/communion_wars_people_dont_get_the_holy_cracker_20080709/ Brad A. Greenberg

    I agree with that characterization of the Catholic League. Bill Donahue is to Catholics what Pat Robertson is to evangelicals.

  • http://arlinghaus.typepad.com bearing

    It seems to me that the least they could have done is talk to the office of the diocese. Maybe they could have gotten a statement from the bishop.

  • Dave

    Shy One wrote:

    IIRC a national newsweekly not so long ago went with a lightly sourced story about alleged desecration of the Koran at Gitmo, with terrible consequences. But when a college professor proudly announces that he has done so, and posts the evidence on his Web site? Crickets.

    Shy One, the incident at Gitmo occurred in a government-controlled facility and therefore under government auspices even if the individuals involved were loose cannons. That makes it a hotter story at a time when that government is trying to fight Islamist-motivated terrorism whilst trying not to inflame global Moslem opinion. (How eptly that gov’t is performing is not what we are commenting about here.) Myers, while a prominent atheist, represent no-one but himself.

  • Shy One

    Shy One, the incident at Gitmo occurred in a government-controlled facility and therefore under government auspices even if the individuals involved were loose cannons. That makes it a hotter story at a time when that government is trying to fight Islamist-motivated terrorism whilst trying not to inflame global Moslem opinion. (How eptly that gov’t is performing is not what we are commenting about here.) Myers, while a prominent atheist, represent no-one but himself.

    I do not deny the significance of that distinction. Gitmo, had the story been nailed down, would have been a bigger story in a global sense. The point is that they didn’t even wait to nail the story down, where here the facts are openly trumpeted by the lead source.

    I would note, too, that Myers is a public figure, in a position of responsibility, on a government salary, and while the debate over respect and tolerance for different religious beliefs in public universities is currently a smaller story that Gitmo, it is not a by virtue of that fact a small story.

  • Pierre JC

    “It’s hard to see why any of them [atheists] would now condone an attempt to break down the social compact that demands that we mostly leave other peoples’ religious beliefs alone.”
    No, it’s not.
    This so-called “social compact” has no legitimacy. It is guaranteed to promote unreason over reason, and that is an untenable position for any morally enlightened atheist.

  • Brian Walden

    So Myers steals and desecrates the Eucharist and Donohue is the bad guy? I don’t love Donohue but I think overall the Catholic League does more good than harm. And I don’t recall him saying anything inflammatory – I’d be curious to know what the inflammatory remarks about Jews, Gays and Muslims are. Sure Donohue is loud and sometimes quick to sound the alarm, but the Catholic League provides a needed voice in defense of Catholics. Without someone jumping on every issue that skirts the edge of appropriateness that line would slowly get pushed back.

    FWIW, I’d much rather see Donohue be interviewed to get the Catholic take on an issue than Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J.

  • Dave

    Shy One, Myers may be a public figure on a government salary but what he does is not done in my name, nor done pursuant to a government action to protect me. It’s therefore a smaller story.

    Deacon John, trying to tie small-bore atheistic annoyance to the massacres of Stalin is mere rhetoric, and not very good rhetoric at that. The church in this country would have to be much more powerful, and people’s suffering much more attributable to that church, to bring about an atheist revolution that would propel an eccentric like Myers to power.

  • Darel

    I have read that the University of Central Florida student senate impeached Webster Cook for violating its ethics rules (Webster is, for now, a UCF student senator). I have read that Catholic students at UCF have filed harassment charges against Cook for his behavior at the Mass during which he took the host. I have read that Cook has filed counter-charges of hazing and underage drinking against Catholics at UCF, and have read that UCF dismissed these charges.

    I have not read, however, that the University of Central Florida campus security or the local police department have investigated the claimed death threats. The Orlando Sentinal reported on July 19 that “Cook could not be reached to confirm the threats” and no action seems to be taking place in response to them.

    So much information on routine legal actions but nothing on something as serious as a death threat. Strange.