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I recently offered my thoughts on the difference between pointless and pointful challenges to sacredness:

Why does the David Mills video I’ve denounced strike me instantly as a profoundly stupid gesture, while [Webster Cook’s removal of a communion wafer from a mass] strikes me just as instantly as an interesting and thought-provoking transgression?

The reason, I think, is that the act of crossing the church threshold with that wafer (whether he intended this or not) is a kind of Gandhian gesture. Doing something so seemingly innocuous and eliciting an explosive, violent, even homicidal response is precisely the way Gandhi drew attention to cruel policies and actions of the British Raj, the way black patrons in the deep South asserted their right to sit on a bar stool, while whites (enforcing a kind of sacred tradition) went ballistic….

Mills’ feces-and-obscenity-strewn video, on the other hand, had offense not as a byproduct but as its intentional essence. Of Cook, one can say, “he just walked out the door with a wafer,” and the contrast with the fireworks that followed is clear. But saying, with sing-song innocence, that Mills was “just smearing dogshit on a book while swearing, gah,” doesn’t achieve quite the same clarity. Even though it shares the act of questioning the sacred, it’s much less interesting and much less defensible.

When PZ Myers of the science blog Pharyngula made known his intention to desecrate a communion wafer, I held my breath a tad, wondering which way it would go. Would he do something stupid or something thought-provoking? Pointless or pointful?

Now Myers has made his gesture — and I couldn’t be more thrilled:


This fascinates me even more than Wafergate because it is so achingly close to the Mills’ video on the surface, yet light years away in substance.

Had Myers theatrically smashed a pile of communion wafers with a hammer while laughing hysterically, he’d have undercut his own point that it is just a “frackin’ cracker.” Instead, he made use of that old and brilliant insight that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference.

So he quite simply threw it out, along with the coffee grounds.

Granted, he put a nail through it, a subtle and ironic comic touch that I’m doomed to love. But the real brilliance is in the background. Myers has also thrown out pages of the Koran and The God Delusion. He isn’t allowing anything to be held sacred. ALL ideas must be exposed to disrespect, disconfirmation, and disinterest. The good ones can take the abuse, and the bad ones, to quote Twain, will be “[blown] to rags and atoms at a blast.” If instead we shield a set of beliefs or ideas from scrutiny or attack, the bad bits survive along with the good.

Myers is also making the important point that these are NOT ideas in the garbage — they are paper and wheat, which must not be confused with the things they represent any more than a flag should be revered in lieu of the principles for which it stands.

Toss in a wink at Ray Comfort’s banana argument against atheism and the whole tableau simply rocks with meaning, power, humor and intelligence. And pointfulness.

Myers’ post is long, but please take a few minutes to read it. I can’t recommend it highly enough for its provision of context and just plain smarts. The final paragraph drives it all home:

Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanities’ knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.

When it comes to challenging sacredness, if I can get my kids to grasp the difference between Mills and Myers, I’ll count myself proud.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.