And then there’s Crackergate. A university student in Florida took a souvenir from a Catholic church, except it wasn’t just any souvenir, it was the small bread wafer used by Catholics during mass. Now he’s being accused of kidnapping Christ (never mind that Jesus died a couple millenia ago, if he ever lived, and now supposedly sits next to god, or does that come later? In any case, he’s dead and his body was never found). But that was only the beginning of Crackergate. PZ Myers dared to pick up this story and in his usual non-mincing style explained what he thought of the whole upset: It’s a cracker!. Now he’s being burned at the (for now figurative) stake: The Catholic League, which claims to defend Catholics’ civil rights, apparently doesn’t care about anybody else’s civil rights, like freedom of speech. They want PZ Myers fired from his assistant professorship at the University of Minnesota. And all that because PZ called a cracker a cracker. As I told the President of the U of M in an email supporting PZ: “I think Catholics have the right to pretend that the cracker used at mass is something other than a cracker (as a former Protestant, I never quite understood this). But I do not think they have the right to impose their fantasy on anyone else, which they are doing by acting offended about PZ’s post and, actually, about the original incident as well.”
Crackergate ties in interestingly with a recent discussion I’ve had over at the Feminist Philosophers’ Blog on hate speech and freedom of speech. The Catholic League is claiming that PZ Myers uttered hate speech. Actually, some are even claim it’s a hate crime. Sigh. (I wish commentators on PZ’s blog would stop the name calling, though. That is always uncalled for, imo.) And what’s the crime, if there is any? There is absolutely no hate crime here (maybe some poorly chosen words but that’s not a crime – we’d all be in prison if it were; and, yes, PZ threatened to “treat [consecrated communion wafers] with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse.” Okay, what kind of “heinous cracker abuse” can there possibly be?!? Maybe he’ll – gasp – eat it!). I think that PZ had the right to call a cracker a cracker. I wouldn’t have said some of the things he said but he’s not one to mince words. Even Fox said that the “small bread wafer [is] to Catholics symbolic of the Body of Christ.” It’s a symbol for crying out loud (or do they believe in magic? Sorry, I don’t get this mental acrobatic…)! It means something more than what it is to those people to whom it symbolizes something. It is what it is to people who don’t buy into that symbology. Demanding that everybody else sees the symbol the same way is just ridiculous – and it shows quite a bit of insecurity. Just like gay marriage doesn’t do anything to straight marriages, calling a cracker a cracker doesn’t do anything to someone who sees it as a symbol of something under certain circumstances unless that person isn’t quite sure about that symbolism. Plus, if you can make up the story that a cracker changes into something else, why not make up the story that once that wafer leaves the church it magically turns back into a cracker? That would resolve the whole thing. And it would be a very good way to protect against wafer kidnapping. To get up in arms about this symbol and calling it a kidnapping is simply silly (how can you kidnap a person who died millenia ago – assuming he ever lived – who is just symbolically present)? We need to learn to distinguish symbols from what they are symbolizing. By prosecuting people for, say, burning the U.S. flag, we are undermining the very freedoms this flag symbolizes. By screaming bloody murder over the cracker, any claim by the Catholic church makes that they are supporting love and hope become tainted (okay, a look at the church history does that even more).