A reader writes:
I do think that you come dangerously close to a double standard in defending the Danish cartoonists on the one had while referring to PZ Myers as a catholic bigot on the other. However, (in your defense) your position is complicated further by the fact that you have strongly condemned exploiting a prisoner’s religious beliefs when questioning them, while consistently criticizing abuse of the Koran in particular. This- then would actually seem consistent with your calling PZ Myers a catholic bigot.
Anyway I do think you have a bit of work to do here. It’s not going to be easy. You could always invoke Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I don’t even think this would be an entirely unfair response. The fact is that Catholicism and Islam are at different crossroads in their socio-cultural development, and so it is perhaps reasonable to treat them differently (and not necessarily a sign of personal bias).
In adding the necessary nuance to your position, it is well worth remembering that much of Islam’s response to the Danish cartoons was quite simply directed at the fact that these cartoonists had reproduced Mohammed’s image, which is blasphemous to a Muslim. Catholicism (to its credit) isn’t so easily offended (crosses in jars of Urine to the contrary). Moreover, it would seem obvious that abusing the Eucharist is much more similar to abusing the Koran than it is to caricaturing Islam. Of course it is also worth remembering that PZ Myers hadn’t yet abused the Eucharist, but, rather, had merely advocated doing so (when and if he does, then the situation changes). So how does his right to advocate abuse the Eurachist compare to Danish cartoonists rights to caricaturing Islam?
Moreover the situation is further complicated by the fact that PZ Myers was in part defending another, Webster Cook, who more innocently it would seem had “borrowed” the Eucharist, mentioned this in his blog and had himself been viciously attacked. What about this third party? Is he also Catholic bigot? Or, rather, doesn’t the viciousness with which Cook was attacked (death threats, calls for his expulsion from university) mitigate PZ Myers response at least a bit?
We do not have the right to go through life without ever being offended; we do not have the right to expect those who offend us to suffer punishment from the government, or to threaten them with violence. But surely, civilized people should not go about stealing objects sacred to groups to which they do not belong and desecrating them. The Koran, as a physical object, does not belong to Christians or atheists; it belongs to Muslims, and Christians and atheists should handle it respectfully or leave it alone. The same goes for what is sacred to Christians or to any other faiths. (There's a big difference, by the way, between what Myers is doing and your reader's suggestion of a Catholic desecrating the Body of Christ as a protest against the Church's crimesagain, ownership matters.) Myers can make fun of our beliefs, point out how ridiculous they sound, joke about us digesting Jesus and pooping him out, whatever. But to take what is not his, but ours (or perhaps God's, but let's not get into that), and desecrate it is way over the line. If he can get his hands on a communion wafer (supposing we forget, for a moment, that this requires somebody to steal it first), desecrating it would of course be his legal right. But he's still being a complete asshole and he fully deserves his Moore Award nomination.
Thanks for the defenses. My objection to PZ Myers - even as I defended his right to say whatever he wants and wouldn't want him punished in any way - is not, in my view, a double standard. Printing a cartoon for legitimate purposes is a different thing than deliberately backing the physical desecration of sacred objects. I'd happily publish a Mohammed cartoon if it advanced a genuine argument, but I would never knowingly desecrate a Koran purely to mock religion.
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