Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Manufactured Controversy

Apparently, some college student in Florida went to Catholic mass (apparently on campus), and instead of eating the eucharist wafer, he carried it back to his seat -- and took the wafer from the church. (He has since returned it, btw). This, apparently, is something that he churchgoers are equating to killing and torturing someone. He was physically accosted and threatened when he didn't immediately eat the wafer. The student has been vocal about his opposition to public school funding for religious activitives on the campus, so it is quite likely that he was acting to prove a point.

Now the Catholic league is screeching about "vile acts" and comparing this to kidnapping and terrorism and hate crimes. Deranged, that's what it is. The hyperbole is soaring high.
“We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was,” said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. “However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.”

We just expect the University to take this seriously,” she added “To send a message to not just Mr. Cook but the whole community that this kind of really complete sacrilege will not be tolerated.”
PZ Myers, at Pharyngula blog, has more info on this -- and since he posted his angry response to this ridiculous message, he has received threats , sly accusations of pedophilia, personal attacks, and the Catholic league has -- get this - contacted the legislature in MN, apparently in an effort to force people to respect their superstitions (and to threaten to get people fired for not properly respecting their beliefs.)

The comments on the blog are rather interesting. The hatred and death threats really only seem to be coming from the good "christians" among the commenters. Does the irony not register on them that they are demanding tolerance and respect while specifically denying it to anyone who disagrees with them? This makes me very angry, so I'm sorry if I start to sound strident.

I don't suggest specifically and pointedly offending someone by goring their sacred cow, but the reaction by the church is over the top. Yes, the student was disrespectful; yes, the student was out of line -- but the assertion that this is the worst thing ever is a bit dramatic, especially to the point of demanding respect. Sorry, we might have to accept that you have a specific belief, but other than the social rules that we all abide by to live comfortably together -- there is no onus on a non-catholic to endorse those beliefs. We just have to tolerate them. I can think of hundreds of things more vile than not accepting the idea that a wafer is anything more than a wafer, and treating it as such. Making this a huge issue is an odd misplacement of priorities. The point of PZ's blog entry is that this student has been assaulted and threatened because he doesn't believe in transubstantiation. The assertion by the Catholic league is that because some hold it sacred they are entitled to insist that everyone should. They aren't. And that's the point.

I do think the student should apologize for taking it, because there are a lot of people who take this stuff seriously. The student wanted to make a point, and in doing so purposely jabbed a stick at someone's belief. Rude, yes. Insensitive, yes. But criminal? Horrible? Vile? Please., ratchet the rhetoric down a bit, eh?

This is a breach of etiquette, not an oppression of religion. No actual harm to anyone was perpetrated. Get a grip.

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