PZ Myers, disrespecting beliefs and shooting yourself in the foot
Let's say that a friend of mine is trying to fix his computer. It runs Windows XP, but for some reason he's convinced it's running Windows Vista. This mistake is making his task even harder.
It seems fairly obvious that, as a friend, I should make him aware of this mistake as soon as I can.
Most people want their beliefs to be as true as possible. If a girlfriend is cheating on me then, as much as finding out will hurt, I'd want to know – as tackling the problem will ultimately lead to a better life than living with someone who cheats on me. The fact that I strongly believe that she is “the one” is no excuse for my friends not making me aware of my mistake – although it does mean that they should approach the issue delicately.
Respect for the individual entails disrespect for beliefs we believe to be wrong.
The same applies to religious matters – If someone believes that my atheism is a mistake then, if they care about me in any way, they should try to make me aware of this mistake as soon as possible.
Although, just as they have an obligation to make me aware of my mistake, they have an obligation (to themselves as much as to me) to do so in a productive way. Standing outside my house declaring through a megaphone that I'm going to burn in hell for my heathen ways is not only unlikely to change my mind, it will also sour my view of religious people and so make it even harder to change my mind on the subject.
Which brings me to 'Wafergate'.
My objection to PZ Myer's recent actions concerning “host desecration” is that not only will it fail to change anyone's mind on the subject, it also, by annoying and upsetting many Catholics, makes that task even harder.
If Myers is truly concerned with the threatening actions of some Catholics in response to Webster Cook taking a wafer from a Mass service then the best course of is as follows: Research the Eucharist, find arguments against its validity and then try to present these in a way that will have the most influence in Catholic circles.
As with any group, there will inevitably be some that will refuse to listen. But there are many more who will. Myers is focusing on a minority at the expense of a majority.
Most religious people want to hold true beliefs. As an atheist, I think that their current beliefs are more likely to be false. I also think that they (and ultimately everyone else) would be better off if they were aware of their mistakes. The crude mockery by Myers – and many in the comment threads of his blog – is not only going to fail in making his case, it's actually massively counter-productive.