Webster Cook's Cracker - PZ's Cracker

If you are a reader of the blog Pharyngula, you already know this story. If not, I'll summarize. (links to this story: link1, link2, link3, link4, link5, link6, link7)

A University of Central Florida student, Webster Cook, attended Catholic mass on campus, and while there received the Eucharist, (a small cracker blessed by a priest). Mr. Cook, who is also a student senator at UCF, went with a friend who was apparently not a Catholic, and didn't receive the Eucharist. So, Cook wanted to show his friend the Eucharist, and instead of eating it as the priest thought he would do, he took it back to his seat.

Well, he tried. After blessing a cracker the Catholic church believes that it takes on mystical properties and actually becomes the substance of Jesus Christ. And walking away with an undevoured chunk of Jesus flesh gets Catholics very upset. Members of the university church tried to physically stop Cook from walking back to his seat with his Eucharist.

Cook, who had planned to eat the cracker immediately after showing it to his friend, was understandably upset with being roughed up a little, and instead held on to his Eucharist to prove a point. The church demanded he return it, but Cook wanted the church to apologize for becoming physical with him and to promise not to use physical force against church members anymore. The church responded by pointing out that Cook was holding the cracker "hostage".

Cook filed a complaint of physical abuse with the college against the church. The church retaliated by filing a complaint of disruptive conduct against Mr. Cook, and beefed up the campus church with additional clergy to prevent anyone else from duplicating his effort. The President of the university sided with the church on this, and directed armed university police officers to stand guard during mass.

I haven't seen a photo, but from this reaction I have to guess that Webster Cook must be a 7 foot tall 350 pound monster who can bend steel bars with his bare hands.

So instead of getting an apology for being roughed up by others in the church, Mr. Cook got death threats that scared him so badly that he gave the Eucharist back, and is now trying to hide and wait for this all to pass over. There is still a chance that the school may expel him for being a nuisance. Some monster!

Now we get to Dr. P.Z. Myers, an associate professor of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and writer of the very popular blog Pharyngula. Dr. Myers uses his blog to discuss evolutionary biology, and Atheism. He admits he's on the Atheist fringe, but is willing to take his lumps for that.

Dr. Myers was understandably outraged at Mr. Cook's treatment by the church and the university in Florida, and wrote a scathing post about it originally titled "It's a Goddamned cracker!". (He's since changed it to 'frackin'" but the hyperlink remains the same.) Most of that post was just pointing out the ridiculous aspects of what has happened to Cook, but one paragraph inflamed a lot of people. Dr. Myers said:

So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure — but 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. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead 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. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I'll send you my home address.
Since this post, Dr. Myers has gotten a host of hate mail, several death threats, and now even the Catholic League is trying to get Dr. Myers fired from his position. The Catholic League is basically just one guy with a computer - Bill Donohue - but he's noisy and might do some damage. Dr. Myers started a bit of damage control and asked his thousands of daily readers for help with letters of support.

My take on all of this? I don't have a problem with Mr. Cook taking the Eucharist, or Dr. Myers asking someone to send him one. Dr. Myers hasn't asked anyone to actually steal a Eucharist, although his wording is iffy, and could result in the theft of one. I would hope he asks that no Eucharist be stolen, merely re-gifted.

When you are given the Eucharist - well, it's yours. That's true with any gift, and I don't see an exception even if you believe that gift is actually bits of Jesus. The recipient of the gift is free to do what they want with it, unless there is a previous agreement. Cook, for example, was under no such agreement, and should have been free to do what he wanted with his gift.

So if some guy receives the Eucharist and then instead of eating it, re-gifts it to Dr. Myers - I have no problem with that. And I have no problem with what the recipient does with that gift.

What about the claim that the person is holding Jesus hostage? I have to ask, do you really believe that an all powerful God can be held helpless inside of a ziplock bag? Wouldn't it be easier to believe that the Transubstantiation could be miraculously reversed as needed?

In regards to the claim that Dr. Myers is being disrespectful to the Eucharist, and to the Catholic church, and to Christianity, I say yeah, so what? In what way is this different from a cartoonist drawing silly pictures of Mohammad? Or of people leaking the "sacred" documents of Scientology? We have seen a distinct lack of empathy from Christians over the outrage felt by the adherents of these religions over these acts, and I see no difference in this case. I think that drawing a picture of Mohammad in a tutu is exactly the same as desecration of the Eucharist, and I think that death threats over either act are silly.

I don't think a religion or religious belief automatically deserves respect.

But I do think that PEOPLE deserve respect, even as I do not think that a person's BELIEFS or IDEAS automatically deserve respect. And I think that was what Webster Cook's example clearly proves. Mr. Cook deserved respect - and he was denied respect, in church, by church members. People didn't like what he was doing with the gift he had been given, and gave him grief over it. In my opinion, Mr. Cook rightly tried to get these religious people to see reason, and became understandably scared at the batshit insane reaction of the Church and its members.

Mr. Cook is owed an apology.

And by being disrespectful to a belief, I think that Dr. Myers is valuable in continuing what Cook could not do, namely trying to get the Church to admit that a person deserves respect. I don't think that is what Dr. Myers planned when he wrote his entry, and I think he was crude and crass and absolutely disrespectful to the beliefs that a large religious community holds dear. But I think that this is where his post holds the most value.

However, if Dr. Myers advocates the theft of a Eucharist, then he is being disrespectful to a person, and should be condemned for that - and that alone. Theft is always disrespectful and immoral.

Dr. Myers, the only thing I would ask you to do is to clean up your wording a little, and ask to be "re-gifted" a Eucharist. Other than that - knock yourself out.


Anonymous said...

In a moment of dumb silliness, I used my new analysis technique to study Bill Donohue over at the Lay Scientist - not sure he'll be happy with the results mind...

Calladus said...

Hi Martin. Cool app - but to bastardize something that Anonymous always says - "Application - or it didn't happen!"

Where's the app that does this?

sapphoq said...

All this fuss over a cracker.
And Bill Donahue can't think of much that is more heinous than keeper a wafer in a baggie.

How about:
Roman Catholic priests who RAPE children and teens?

Roman Catholic dioceses who cover that up by transferring said priests?

There's two.
Excellent post, thanks.


Unknown said...

Good summary of the brouhaha, Mark, and well said about the value of what PZ is doing, as well as respect to people vs. ideas.

A minor point to nitpick - I couldn't help but notice that towards the end of the article, you slipped into addressing PZ as Dr. Meyers, rather than Dr. Myers. A typo, no doubt, but one that is more common on the part of creationists and such folk when they write to him!

Calladus said...

ARRRGH! I HATE doing that! I try so hard to make sure my spelling is correct.

You are so right Madhu, I'm running off to fix that immediately.

I'm actually an atrocious speller - and use multiple spell checkers. I can often see when something is spelled incorrectly, but not be able to tell how to fix it. It's very frustrating!

Thanks for pointing that out.