Posts Tagged ‘PZ Myers’


angel_unicornPZ Myers gives a well-deserved shoutout to TMBG for their new album, “Here Comes Science,” and especially for the song “Science Is Real,” but misrepresents the position of more moderate atheists in a discussion of the teapot-tempest over the line about “stories of angels, unicorns and elves”:

“This is why the accommodationist strategy is doomed to failure. There is no gentle demurral from religion that will not offend someone — even fun songs about science are expected to pretend that angels are real.”

Well, no. The religious folks don’t demand that fun songs about science pretend that angels are real. They’re merely demanding (or at least asking) that fun songs about science not mention the inconvenient fact that there’s no evidence whatsoever that angels are real. That’s not quite the same thing. Indeed, it’s not even close.

An “accommodationist” can quite easily emphasize that science is “real” (including evolution, the Big  Bang and other things that give fundies conniptions) without going out of the way to deny things like angels and other things religious folks believe in.

Of course, people who support science have every right to declare that angels are just storybook characters, just as people who support religion have every right to declare that angels are real. And it’s not the science folks’ fault that singing “science is real” just has a much stronger ring of truth (not to mention obviousness) than singing “angels are real.”

(unicorn/angel pic via Zazzle)

Sunday Sermon: Wafer controversy revisited

religion_vs_scienceA few weeks ago, I touched on the controversy sparked by PZ Myers when he desecrated a communion wafer, and noted the double standard at work — apparently people who believe a cracker turns into the flesh of Jesus when you say a magic spell should be respected when they act on that belief, but people who believe it’s just a cracker don’t deserve the same respect.

But in reviewing that post, I can see that I went way too easy on the nutjobs. It’s not merely that there was a double standard in how they claimed the two camps should be treated, there were different standards in what the two camps had already done.

What PZ Myers did was, he obtained a communion wafer and desecrated it. He publicly ridiculed the beliefs of a group of people. What the other folks did was, they mounted a massive hate-mail campaign against him and tried to get him fired from his job. So let me amend my earlier post with an addendum.

Here’s the thing: No matter how people may criticize or even ridicule you for your views on Holy Communion, nobody is trying to interfere with your belief that a Communion wafer is the body of Christ, or your actions based on that belief.

Nobody is mounting a hate mail campaign against you because you consume the Holy Eucharist.

Nobody is taking to the airwaves to denounce you because you like to eat the body of Christ in church.

Nobody’s trying to get you fired from your job because you like to eat a piece of Jesus for Sunday brunch.

So lighten the (bleep) up.

(cartoon via Ruining the Internet)

Sunday Sermon: Holy Eucharist, Batman!

communionI’ve been talking a lot about “New Atheists” and “accommodationists” recently, so this might be a good time to take a look at a controversy from last year, when militant atheist PZ Myers deliberately desecrated a Catholic communion wafer and provoked a storm of controversy.

From the “atheist etiquette” POV, of course, it’s anything but polite to deliberately offend someone, and very few things are more offensive to Catholics than a deliberate desecration of what they believe to be the actual body of Jesus Christ.

But there’s an interesting double standard at work here. The assumption seems to be that if somebody views a wafer made of flour and water to be the body of Jesus, and treats it accordingly, we should respect that view, no matter how silly or misguided we believe it to be.

If that’s true, then what about the belief that a wafer made of flour and water is, well, just a cracker? What if someone believes that, and treats that wafer accordingly — that is to say, with no more respect than we’d give to any other inanimate object? Shouldn’t we respect that viewpoint, and that action, just as much as we respect the other view?

Last time I checked, the Golden Rule was one of the “biggies” in Christian doctrine. Why aren’t any of the outraged Catholics applying it? If they would have others respect their view that a communion wafer is more than “just a cracker,” shouldn’t they respect the view that it isn’t?

(Communion cartoon via St. James Westminster Anglican Church, London)

Are you a “New Atheist”?

dawkinscartoonAtheists have been in the news quite a bit over the last year or two, especially in discussions of what people are calling “the New Atheism,” which apparently means being nearly as outspoken about one’s atheism as Christians and other religious types have been for centuries.

The conventional wisdom on the New Atheists is that they might be good for helping atheists feel less alone, but their strident tone is alienating potential followers or converts. People like PZ Myers and Matt Nisbet have lots of discussions about “framing,” and whether atheists should follow the old advice about catching more flies with honey than vinegar and all that.

Now, none of this has much to do with etiquette, since it’s a debate being carried out on blogs and opinion pages, rather than in person. But any discussion that’s out there in public can end up being brought up in a social type situation, especially if atheism is already on the table. If you tell someone you’re an atheist, there’s a better-than-average chance they’re going to ask you about the latest crop of unapologetic, in-your-face atheists and the things they’ve been saying.

Here’s one idea for handling the situation: If someone tries to pin you down by asking you to either disavow or support Richard Dawkins, and/or Sam Harris and/or Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, etc., you can point out that lots of groups, lots of worldviews, have some prominent spokespeople who rub some folks the wrong way.

And that’s a great time to bring up some prominent Christian spokespeople — not wingnuts like Fred Phelps or Ray Comfort, but people like Billy Graham and the Pope. You can say something like, “Well, it’s important to note that not all atheists agree with Richard Dawkins, just as not all Christians agree with Billy Graham or someone like that.”

Why name relatively moderate religious leaders? Because it sends the message that one person’s wingnut is another person’s reasonable spokesman. And it sort of sends a shot across the bow, signaling that if they start talking about what they see as wrong about Dawkins or Hitchens, you’re prepared to do the same for religious people whom they may not feel comfortable disavowing.

And, of course, you might have to do so. The person you’re talking to might throw caution to the winds and ask you what it is about their views that you find wacky. You can point out that the Pope thinks it’s a sin for a married couple with 8 kids to start using birth control, and that Billy Graham said he thought AIDS was God’s judgment (though he later retracted the statement), and had a conversation with Nixon where Graham said some pretty hinky things about Jews (also later apologized for).

Or, if you’re just looking for a humorous way to deflect the whole issue, you could say, “I’m not a ‘New Atheist,’ I’m ‘Atheist Classic’!”

(wacky Dawkins cartoon via Oklahoma Daily)