Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The danger of militancy

PZ Myers, author of the lovely science blog pharyngula, has gotten himself into heaps of trouble lately. His blog regularly takes on theocracy, particularly in the promotion of "intelligent design", the latest disguise under which theocrats seek to sneak creationism into their schools. For a college professor, he ends up involved in a fair bit of capers, not least of this wonderful anecdote whereby he is ejected from a creationist screening while celebrated atheist author Richard Dawkins saunters right past the bouncer. I typically enjoy reading his stuff, and think you should, too.

What has landed Myers into hot water is this post that ruminates on the high esteem upon which the Eucharist is placed in the Catholic Church, particularly in the backdrop of the persecution aimed at a Webster Cook for attempting to smuggle the Eucharist out of Church. It has resulted in near violence, and an open invitation from his college to harass him.

Myers opines:

I find this all utterly unbelievable. It's like Dark Age superstition and malice, all thriving with the endorsement of secular institutions here in 21st century America. It is a culture of deluded lunatics calling the shots and making human beings dance to their mythical bunkum.
Not the language I'd use, but the sentiment is one with which I can agree. My agreement with Myers stops when he continues

Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?...if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare...treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart.
I just can't understand what Myers, or any non-Catholic, gains by abusing a Catholic holy symbol. It would annoy and/or enrage Catholics, but it does not advance religious understanding nor it does not clarify the contradictions inherent in Christianity. It doesn't help the world, and it doesn't promote atheism. All it does is prove that an atheist can be as spiteful, mean, and vitriolic as any theocrat.

For me, atheism is the best explanation for the universe as I know and live it. I really don't care if I'm the only one, or one in 5 billion. Atheism works great for me, just as Hinduism worked great for Gandhi and Christianity worked great for Mother Teresa. While I bristle at the thought of anyone (including certain presidential candidates) shoving their religion down my throat, I've no truck with anyone worshiping invisible sky wizards with two, six, or no arms, that doesn't concern me. I disagree with them, sure, and that's why I don't go to worship ceremonies. But hey, I also disagree with many folks on Coke v. Pepsi. Doesn't mean it's something about which I'm going to get excited, because the two have about equal importance in my mind. Long as I can live an atheist life and drink Pepsi, I'm fine. If others don't want to, that's cool. Just live and let live -- that's what I like to think atheism is about at its finest.

But Myers isn't letting anyone live right now. He's going overboard here, and slipping from enthusiastic defense to miltancy -- aggressively and instinctively promoting a certain idea with no concern for the reasons or benefits thereof. Many folks are chomping at the bit to herald this a new age of militant atheism now that folks such as Myers, Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others are starting to speak confidently and clearly of that understanding of the universe. Most of the time, those calls of militancy and extremism are mere propoganda and misunderstanding, confusing a demand to be heard with a demand to be obeyed. But with this move, Myers has given some substance to these depictions.

Thankfully, idiots such as Bill Donohue of the Catholic League have promptly gone overboard, with he and his kin attempting to leverage all possible gain from this episode. There are organized campaigns trying to get Myers fired, or outright killed.

I still think Myers is wrong, but boy are those who disagree with him so much more wrong! Such is the danger of militancy, particularly in large groups.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this allegory will help to clarify how Catholics see this: