Concerning sacrilege

What does stealing a consecrated Host have in common with pissing on a gravesite?

Which of the following actions would you (a) find offensive; (b) think ought to be forbidden; (c) classify as “hate crimes”; (d) be willing to use force to prevent?

1. Deliberately siting the latrines for a national park in a valley considered sacred by a Native American group.

2. Spray-painting a swastika on a tombstone, taking and publishing a picture of it, and immediately wiping off the paint, restoring the tombstone to its former condition.

3. Urinating on someone’s gravesite and telling the relatives of the deceased about it.

4. Publishing a picture of a recognizable person’s face photo-shopped onto a horribly mutilated body.

5. Cutting the hands, feet, and genitals from a corpse and gouging out the eyes.

6. Sexually penetrating a corpse.

7. Making a lifelike plastic doll from a photograph of baby who died in infancy, using paint to make it the doll look as if the baby had been slashed with knives, and sending a picture of the doll to the actual baby’s parents.

8. Buying a Torah scroll and tearing it up to use as toilet paper.

9. Stealing a consecrated communion wafer from a Catholic Church by pretending to participate in the Mass in order to score a political point about the funding of on-campus religious groups out of student activity fees.

All of these have in common the lack of any “actual” damage &#8212 no one is physically hurt or loses money as a result &#8212 and great offense to people who share particular beliefs or a particular emotional bond. It’s hard for non-believers in the doctrine of Transubstantiation to grasp the emotional impact on believers of mistreating the consecrated wine and wafer, just because the doctrine itself seems so impenetrable: unlike the corpse-and-gravesite examples, you can’t just imagine that it was your own mother’s corpse or gravesite. But “hard” shouldn’t mean “impossible.”

Naturally, PZ Myers is being a jerk about it, begging someone to steal him a consecrated wafer so he can desecrate it on camera. For someone who loves calling the dearly-held beliefs of other people “childish,” Myers has an astonishing capacity for infantile behavior.

Equally predictably, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League is being an equal and opposite jerk, trying to get the University of Minnesota, where Myers teaches, involved in the controversy.

Myers and Donohue deserve each other; but what did the rest of us do to deserve either of them?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: