Friday, July 11, 2008

Should he do it?

PZ Myers wants to desecrate a communion wafer. Joe Foley asks, "Should he do it??" [h/t to Hemant Mehta]

Wrong question.

Myers has no obligations to anyone else in this matter. Regardless of the effects of his actions, Myers need not please anyone but himself. Both "Yes, he should," and, "No he shouldn't," are inappropriate answers. It's nobody's business but his own — none of Joe Foley's business, or Hemant Mehta's business, or your business or my business — what Myers does with a cracker.

It is, indeed, just a frackin' cracker. It is not the body of Christ. You can say all the magic words you please but the cracker will remain a cracker, nothing more. To even call a cracker "the body of Christ" is to make obeisance to an irrational superstition, an amazingly retarded superstition at that.

Unless we want to completely overhaul all our moral intuitions, crackers — as well as biscuits, cookies, brownies; indeed baked goods of any variety — do not have any moral status, no matter how anyone feels about the cracker, or what magic words were said in its vicinity. It is just as stupid to even bring up the subject of what Myers should or should not do with his cracker as it is to bring up the subject of whether I should or should not put butter on my beans.

Joe Foley is, of course, free to voice his personal opinion about Myers actions. And I am, of course, free to voice my personal opinion of Foley's opinion. And — in my opinion, of course — Foley's opinion is both sanctimonious and stupid.

Foley states,
[Myers proposed desecration] would bring a lot of attention to one religion's rather extreme reverence for a small foodlike object, but only at the direct expense of the adherents' emotional distress.
First, Foley frames the issue... uncharitably. Myers intention is not to bring attention to Catholics' ridiculous reverence for crackers; his obvious motivation is to bring attention to Catholics' hysterical overreaction to what is at the very worst Webster Cook's somewhat juvenile prank.

Second, emotional distress is not by itself harm or expense. Gay sex causes just as much (or more) emotional distress to Catholics. That an action causes someone else emotional distress is not a sufficient reason to condemn the action.

Others' distress is not just outweighed by the positive value of gay sex, but completely, totally, utterly irrelevant. My proper response to, "I feel bad when he does that," is, "So what?" Your emotional health is fundamentally your problem, not mine.

(Causing emotional distress is a harm only when there's a preexisting, mutually acknowledged obligation to maintain others' emotional health, such as when people are forced together with no reasonable opportunity to ignore each other.)

Foley belabors the point for a few more sentences:
But to at least one of the parties involved, dishonoring the stolen Eucharist would be more than just an act of free speech: they believe, as they're free to do, that the cracker is a transubstantiation of their Savior's actual Body, and Myers would be corporally abusing It/Him. [Who cares?] Eating it is one of the most important parts of their religion, perhaps the most important – "excommunication" literally refers to being denied the Holy Communion. Most importantly, the only reason this proposal is interesting is because it would make a lot of people very upset. But it's beyond just "offense;" the members of the Florida church prayed for their own pardon because they were responsible for losing the anointed wafer. [So what?] As far as they're concerned, he'd be causing them tangible spiritual harm ["spiritual harm" is an oxymoron], and as far as he's concerned, that's precisely why it's exciting.
No, Joe, another reason Myers proposal is interesting and exciting is that it highlights the complete stupidity of getting all worked up over a cracker.

Under meta-ethical subjective relativism, emotional distress is a necessary condition for finding some action or state of affairs unethical. In this sense, no one will consider an action unethical when it causes no one any emotional distress.

But emotional distress is not a sufficient condition, especially regarding socially constructed ethics. To socially construct an ethical position, it's necessary the action cause empathic distress, i.e. relate the distress the sufferer feels with how you would feel under similar circumstances. And there's simply no way an intelligent, rational human being can empathically relate to the distress about the "desecration" of a cracker. It's completely ridiculous.

Foley asks, "What do you think?"

I think you're a sanctimonious doofus, Joe.

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