Academic Sacrilege

Remember the “Frackin’ Cracker” debate? A biologist from U of MN mocked the Catholic community’s response to a student having removed a consecrated host from a service. Well Myers made good on his promise to destroy, mock, and desecrate a host if sent to him. Inside Higher Ed has a good round up of the results.

Myers is a biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris who has a national following for Pharyngula, the blog on which he regularly exposes and lambastes efforts by creationists to undermine the teaching of evolution. A few weeks ago, he wrote a blog entry in which he defended a University of Central Florida student who protested the presence of religious groups on his campus by taking a Eucharist — the small wafer blessed in Roman Catholic services and then seen as the body of Christ — and removing it from the service rather than consuming it. Myers, in an entry entitled “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker” — questioned why this was such a big deal.

Ever since, Myers and his university have been bombarded by e-mail and other messages attacking him and calling for the university to punish him for insulting Catholic teachings.

On Thursday, Myers responded by staging what he called a “great desecration.” For the desecration, he took a communion wafer (sent to him by a supporter in the United Kingdom, who removed it from a church there), and pierced it with a rusty nail. (“I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date,” Myers quipped on the blog.) He then threw it in the garbage with a banana peel and coffee grounds, symbols of refuse. But to show that he wasn’t picking on Catholics, Myers added to his mixture some ripped out pages of the Koran. As a proud atheist, Myers isn’t a member of a faith that he could desecrate at the same time so he took a text he does cherish — The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins — and tore some pages out and added them to the trash.

In a blog posting that describes the attacks he has received and then features a photo of the desecration, Myers finishes with a call to question everything….

The university has since removed a link to his blog from his department’s website, but will do not other action claiming academic freedom. I am not sure that this really falls into that category, at all. While I do not condone the extreme behavior Myers reports receiving in emails from certain Catholics I do think his actions are unduly aggressive and boarder on “hate speech.” I agree with the analogy in the statement from Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

It is a sure bet that UMN would not tolerate a white professor who worked a comedy club on weekends trashing blacks.

I don’t know that such a situation would result in dismissal and removal of a tenured professor, but I do think it would bring about severe action, rightly so. This sort of clearly stated hatred of religion apparently does not warrant the same response.

Now I want to be clear about my position as well. I am reformed enough in my theology and secure enough in my faith that his actions don’t disturb me or even strick me as “sacriligious” (especially since one has to have a sense of the sacred in order to do something sacriligious and Myers clearly does not view the world in such a way). I do find it rude and disrespectful of other people. This gets back to Drew’s post which first brough Myers to my attention, “Should Atheists ‘Respsect’ Religion?” Of course Myers and others of his sort say “no,” since religion is lunacy in their view.

A major part of the academic enterprise is not just the freedom to say what we like, but the patience and willingness to listen to ideas other than those we agree with. Myers seems unwilling to be a part of a broader community, one that is diverse not just in gender or ethnicity but in world views.

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