By Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
I feel that there is one point about the Myers affair which is not being made clearly and often enough: that is, Myers was not merely attempting to provoke the ire of Catholics. Out of context, what Myers did with the cracker - I am among those who believes that's all it is - may seem strange, unnecessary, even hateful. Were he simply desecrating a religious symbol for the sake of desecrating a religious symbol, perhaps a case could be reasonably made that he was crossing a line. (Though, and I think you would agree, it would still not be reasonable to attempt to have him fired, to make threats against him, and make threats against his family - all of which Catholics have done in response.)
However, in context, Myers' actions are entirely justified, and quite appropriate to the situation.
Remember, Myers did not simply wake up one day and decide that he wanted to provoke Catholics. Rather, he was reacting in an entirely reasonable way to an absurd situation. Poor Webster Cook, whose crime was nothing greater than failing to ingest his wafer, was put through hell for what he did. He received threats of violence and threats against his life, and he now faces censure, even expulsion from his university. And it is against the backdrop of this mindless bigotry and fanaticism that Myers decided he had to act. He was not acting out of bigotry, but in response to it. His point is one that needed to be made - simply put, that Catholics (and Muslims, and Jews, and Hindus, and any other faction, sect or group) do not have the right to impose their views on the rest of us, particularly those of us who find such views utterly irreconcilable with the facts of the world in which we live, and choose to say so. Had those Catholic fanatics simply left that poor kid alone, I guarantee you that it would never have even occurred to Myers to do what he did. But they didn't leave him alone; they insisted on demonstrating just how little progress Catholicism has actually made - and Myers was happy to point this out. The simple fact that they tried to tell him he's not allowed to do what he did is reason enough for him to do it. There's a say, "Any book worth burning is a book worth reading." The same principle applies here: any speech that is banned is speech that must be said, and any expression (provided it's non-violent) not permitted is an expression which must be made - simply to make the point that this is a free society, and such restrictions cannot be allowed to stand.
That bears repeating: this is not the middle east; this is not the middle ages. This is a free society. And in a free society, there exists no right to not be offended. If the Catholic church can get away with desecrating what others consider sacred (or, for those of us who have no concept of sacredness, at least special) - if they can call a loving union between two gay men or women an "abomination", if they can call the union into which I hope to enter someday a "perversion", then damn it, I reserve the right to desecrate what they consider sacred also. Respect is a two-way street - if they want my respect, they must give me theirs. If they want Myers to respect them, they must also respect him (and Mr. Cook for that matter). But this is something of which religion in general seems incapable - they always want respect, but reserve the right to give none in return.
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