A minor explosion occurred this week in the “culture wars,” started by a surprisingly small fuse. It seems a certain Florida college student attended Catholic Mass at a local parish and, instead of consuming the consecrated bread (which Catholics believe is literally the body of Christ), he took it home with him. When he initially refused to return the wafer, he unleashed a storm of protest that might shock anyone unfamiliar with how seriously Catholics take the Mass. Among the hysterical reactions to the incident, a spokeswoman for the parish was quoted saying “if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.” Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, even called this an attempt to take “the Body of Christ hostage,” which was “beyond hate speech.”
In response, outspoken atheist scienceblogger PZ Myers wrote a blistering rant against “Dark Age superstition and malice,” mocking Catholics for even comparing the theft of “a cracker” with true hate crime:
Wait, what? Holding a cracker hostage is now a hate crime? The murder of Matthew Shephard was a hate crime. The murder of James Byrd Jr. was a hate crime. This is a g-------d cracker. Can you possibly diminish the abuse of real human beings any further?
Now if he had stopped there, I’d probably be agreeing with Myers, crude and disrespectful though he was. In fact, the student in question eventually returned the wafer because, he claimed, he felt his life was in danger. Ironic. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to think death threats ought to be considered a more serious crime than disrespect of a religious ceremony. Jesus, I am sure, can handle the disrespect towards his Body shown by an ignorant college student “stealing” a consecrated wafer. But death threats against a student? How do you think Jesus views that? The Church, after all, is also believed to be Jesus’ Body, and I have a hard time accepting that a stolen piece of the consecrated bread can possibly be considered to do greater harm to that Body than the kind of vitriol some have leveled against this student.
Besides all that, I think the concept of “hate crimes” is seriously out of hand anyway, coming dangerously close to criminalizing thought. As I see it, if a crime is committed, the criminal should be punished for the crime itself, not for some presumed motive that the court attributes to him. Why should a crime be punished more severely just because it was motivated by hate rather than, oh I don’t know, spite, or greed, or lust, or even boredom? (For that matter, I'd think a person who can kill merely out of boredom ought to be considered a greater threat to society than one who kills out of hatred, but that's just me.) Intention should be relevant to crime, not the particular motive, or else we open the door to punishing beliefs and motives themselves, even where no actual crime is committed. In fact, that is precisely what has happened. Now that the concept of crime has been stretched in that way, simply saying certain politically incorrect things (like homosexuality is a sin) is now viewed as a “hate crime” by certain groups, which is not only absurd, but a serious threat to our freedom of speech. In short, “hate crimes” are ridiculous enough as it is, without adding disrespect for a religious ceremony to the list of illegal activities.
So like I said, if PZ Myers had stopped with defending the student and mocking Donohue’s absurd claim that the incident was “beyond hate speech,” I’d probably agree with him, though not with his abusive and vulgar tone. But Myers did not stop there. His post went on to encourage the willful desecration of the Eucharist:
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 g-------d 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.As you might expect, his horde of sycophants have added a few thousand comments offering more of the same. Apparently they are all so blinded by disbelieving indignation that Catholics would consider “a cracker” so important, that they fail to notice how Myer's own response is quite as absurd and over-the-top as Bill Donohue’s, indeed, much more so. But it seems there are Fundamentalists everywhere, and in the sequel, both Donohue and Myers have found their inboxes flooded with vile and hypocritical hate mail.
All I can say is, if hate were a legitimate crime, there seem to be a lot of people guilty of it right now.