04 August 2008

Lying for Jesus Pisses Me Off

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy is angry at PZ Myers for desecrating a communion wafer. I don't blame them. Not only would you expect them to be angry, they have a right to be angry. And on a personal level I'm not all that impressed with PZ's action.

But having grown up so deeply enmeshed in Christianity that the ideas and beliefs are a permanent part of my identity despite my lack of belief now, I get righteously indignant at people who lie for Jesus. And the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy have done that, saying:
The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.
That is a lie. I don't say it's an error, because I find it impossible to believe that they didn't at least have enough doubt about the claim that they should have checked it out.

Here's what freedom of religion means in the U.S.
  • Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]. Amendment 1.
  • You can engage in animal sacrifice. Church of the Lukumi Babalue Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah.
  • You can refuse to salute the flag in school if it violates your religious beliefs. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.
  • You can refuse to work on your holy day, and receive unemployment benefits if such refusal results in getting fired. Sherbert v. Verner.
  • You can refuse to educate your child past age 14. Wisconsin v. Yoder.

There are a few more, but surprisingly few free exercise cases in U.S. Constitutional history (they pale in comparison to the output of establishement cases--apparently state and local governments in the U.S. are far more interested in supporting their favored religion than restricting their less favored ones). But there's nothing in there about restricting the free speech rights of citizens who want to malign or grossly offend you. In short, freedom of religion means the freedom to practice your religion: it doesn't mean, and never has meant, freedom from mockery.

So remember, one of the 10 commandments is:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
However despicable the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy think PZ Myers is, they are clearly violating the commandments they have presumably committed to upholding. They can't take responsiblity for PZ's soul, but they can for their own.


Scott Hanley said...

In defense of PZ Myers, the Great Cracker Desecration of 2008 was no gratuitous act. A lot of Catholics seem to think it's okay to make hysterical threats against someone who's offended them. Saying "no" while giving them what they want is no way to stop inappropriate behavior.

James K said...

I agree with Scott. Taken alone PZ's piece of performance art would be entirely uncalled for, but the initial reaction to the first case of "host desecration" makes PZ's reply much more reasonable.

I just commented on Dispatches that this whole episode suggests there is a group of catholics (a small subset of the whole) that don't understand that the church is not the political power it once was, and they need to be made to understand this fact. They can be offended, but the days of burning heretics at the stake is long past.