15 July 2008

I suppose its time to weigh in on the Wafergate incident

I suppose its time to weigh in on the Wafergate incident playing out on Pharyngula (better late than never, eh?).

First off, I’d like to comment on communion wafers themselves:

Communion wafers are crap. They are utterly tasteless, insubstantial, and have a texture like really weak cardboard. They border on being unfit for human consumption. To all you Catholics out there, you’d probably be better off horribly desecrating your wafers like PZ wants to rather than actually eating them. In fact, I have a theory that the original kid who stole the communion wafer did so because, when he put it in his mouth, it was so bland and unappetizing that he just couldn’t stand to swallow it.*

PZ probably shouldn’t be referring to them as crackers. My wife is Protestant – they don’t believe in transubstantiation - but they do use actual little broken pieces of crackers for their communion, and sometimes even real bread. My wife really wants to try a communion wafer because they are “so small and cute.” She has a thing for tiny food items, like sushi or those little stubby ~200 mL cans of pop. Strange, I know. Regardless, if she ever tries the communion wafers she will be disappointed.

Speaking of using little broken cracker pieces for communion, I’m thinking that cracker companies are really losing out on product placement deals and opportunities for expanding into new markets. Imagine Ritz brand communion crackers and (insert TV sports announcer voice) St. Mary’s Cathedral Communion Break – Brought to you by Nabisco, and you’ll see the possibilities are limitless.

Second, I’d like to comment on whether PZ’s remarks were inappropriate:

Yes, they were inappropriate, but so what? It’s still funny. I think the debate is: do PZ’s inflammatory cracker threats hurt or help the godless cause?

Hemant at Friendly Atheist thinks it does no good whatsoever:
At the same time, trying to obtain a consecrated communion wafer for the sole purpose of destroying it serves absolutely no positive purpose. Now, you’re just trying to piss off Catholics.

Why bother? What good does it do to rub this in their face?

Does anyone really think that this act will cause any Catholic to say, "Oh! You are right! That is a crazy belief! Thanks, PZ!"
Now, I’m sure most Catholics will either just shake their heads in mild disgust at PZ’s antics or send in hate mail/death threats. Certainly no positive purpose there, and quite possibly some negative results.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hemant’s last line actually does play out a few times. You’d be surprised at the number of Catholics who are just going with the flow and don’t actually know what they’re supposed to believe. I can certainly picture the likely response of many of my (only mildly) believing friends at Catholic school: "That’s what transubstantiation means? That's messed-up. It's only a freakin' wafer!"

They certainly won't say, "Oh! You are right! Thanks!" but hoping for a big slap of rational thought right in the face isn’t out of the question here.

I’ve always said that we need both loud, obnoxious unfriendlies (PZ etc) and friendlies (Hemant etc) to make the most change. Would 140+ people comment on Hemant’s friendly post on communion wafers if not for PZ's Wafergate scheme? I don’t think so.

So keep on being rude and inflammatory. As long as nicer atheists are there to clean up the mess, that is.

* When I attended a Catholic highschool, I spent the first couple of years taking communion during school mass. Those wafers are most unappetizing. I didn't want to draw attention to myself as a heathen outsider during those early years - bad for the rep, especially if any overzealous teachers are watching. It was only after I established myself as a top student in the eyes of the teachers that I stopped. I still took it on some days when I was desperately hungry and needed something, anything, to sustain me until lunch.

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At July 15, 2008 12:38 p.m., Blogger Eamon Knight said...

Why post? Just blather inconsistent things in various different blog comments, the way I've been doing ;-). I've got mixed feelings about the whole silly affair.

At July 15, 2008 12:48 p.m., Blogger C. L. Hanson said...

Crazy as it sounds, I think you're right that it may cause some people to start questioning. A lot of times if you're in a community where all of your friends and family believe X, it doesn't even occur to you to doubt X -- sometimes it takes a catalyst. And it's not unreasonable to imagine a situation where Catholics are discussing amongst themselves how horrible it is that P.Z. said it's just a cracker, and one of them starts thinking "Wait a minute... Maybe it is a little questionable to think this is more than just a bread product..."

Plus I also agree it has sparked some interesting debate.

At July 16, 2008 10:43 a.m., Blogger Carlo said...

I was going to write a post about this whole thing, but then I figured, 'what's the frickin' point?'

I'm going to have to fall squarely on the 'I disagree with PZ side'. I think it was right of him to draw attention to the ludicrousness of persecuting the student, however, I just don't think that asking people to intentionally aggravate millions of adherents is constructive. As Carl Sagan said, the remedy to a bad argument isn't burying the issue, it's making a better argument. All this has done is galvanized the Catholic community into making a big fuss about an issue that, in my experience as a former Catholic, most people don't give a rat's ass about.

Instead of inciting anger, it would be better to keep pointing out the ridiculousness of the transubstantiation myth, which, if you read up about its origins, is pretty self-deprecating to begin with (it also played a big part in the Spanish Inquisition).

Oh, and it's a good thing that PZ doesn't live it Canada. Because saying what he did here would be a crime.

At July 16, 2008 12:23 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Carlo, I agree with your thought process here but not your conclusions:

1) PZ's not burying the issue
2) the quality of his argument is debatable - "it's a frackin cracker" isn't the best of arguments but it's a whole lot better than "by all measures it is a frackin cracker, but it's really Jesus' flesh"
3) this is making the catholics make a fuss about something they don't normally give a rat's ass about, and I think that's the point - it's a ridiculous thing that, if they thought about it, could get them to realize how crazy their beliefs are.

I'll agree that the whole anger and death threats thing is a problem, as getting people to want to kill you isn't usually the best way to pursuade them.

Actually, I think it would be an awesome test of our rather strange hate crime laws to see wafergate play out in the courts. Imagine the fun for journalists, political pundits, and legal experts.

At July 16, 2008 1:03 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...


1) With reference to Sagan's point, I didn't mean PZ was 'burying the issue' per se, but asking people to bring him a wafer to desecrate isn't a 'good argument', it just fans flames that should be doused by logical argument rather than resorting to petty insults/acts.

2) It's just a cracker isn't what I disagree with. It IS just a cracker - I may not have been clear in that I agree with PZ's drawing attention to this point. It's the 'let's piss off all the religious kooks by calling for host desecration' thing.

3) Agreed. Pointing out that it's just a stupid cracker and that the student didn't do anything wrong accomplishes that. I know it's difficult to put yourself into the position of a religious person when it comes to some of these ridiculous issues, but calling for 'host desecration' may be taken along the same vein as burning down a manger at Christmas in order to make the point that religion is 'teh' dumb. Nothing makes people become more sure of their convictions than the perception of unwarranted external threats (it's called the 'wag the dog theory' in Poli Sci).

It's frustrating to argue against people who don't play fair, who lie through their teeth, and don't seem to get it. You may convince a few fence sitters that reason is the way to go by committing shenanigans, but how are skeptics supposed to claim that they're the reasonable ones when we're making arguably childish attacks on their unsubstantiated beliefs. We win by pointing out why they're wrong, not by publicity stunts - that's the Discovery Institute's job.

Of course, you're free to disagree, but I'm worried that while PZ may be respected in much of the blog-o-sphere, he's suddenly generated a lot of negative press in the 'real world'.

At September 26, 2008 12:30 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, I am a Christian, though not Catholic, and am pretty firmly set in my beliefs. I do think the whole desecration of the holy cracker thing is a bit ridiculous, but I do admit it is a bit funny. Sorry PZ, but I for one am not insulted. However, I might be if you pulled off the stunt suggested by Carlo of burning a manger in a nativity scene.


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