Since I had some nice things to say about P.Z. Myers earlier this week, I didn’t want to post them without giving a quick overview of why I disapprove of his brand of sacrilegious confrontations. Myers takes pride in courting controversy. In his biggest stunt, he desecrated a consecrated wafer a student had smuggled out of a Catholic mass. To make it clear why I regard this kind of behavior as completely unacceptable, whether or not Catholic claims about the Host are true, consider this thought example.
I have no problem with cremation, but, personally, I find the idea of keeping the ashes of your dead relatives on display in your house to be kinda weird. Some of that is my famed lack of sentimentality, some of that is my semi-gnostic contempt for physical bodies, and the upshot is that I always have to watch my facial expressions when someone gestures reverently to a tasteful urn when talking about their grandfather.
And some people definitely seem to take the whole thing to excess, bringing out the ashes for special occasions or finding them a place at the family table during holidays. It all seems silly to me.
And if I were P.Z. Myers, I might handle my discomfort by taking the ashes of other people’s relatives, dumping them on my carpet, and then vacuuming them up and uploading the pictures to my blog.
The cremation example makes it easy to see that most of us would be ashamed to destroy something another person regarded as sacred, even if we didn’t believe in it. It’s needlessly cruel. I may disagree with urn-keepers (and plenty of other people) about whether the body deserves any respect after death, but a confrontational stunt isn’t persuasive, only offensive.
Myers can’t expect that he is persuading Catholics to deconvert, since, in Catholic teaching, desecration is tragic and tragically possible. He’s not a counterexample to any Catholic belief. After his action, it’s extremely unlikely that his more reasonable arguments will be listened to by any Christian, since he has behaved so inappropriately.
So is the stunt intended for atheists? I hope not. Because then Myers would be the champion of atheists that delight in cruelty, who respond to ignorance with mocking laughter rather than compassion.
I want no part of it.