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Should P. Z. Myers be fired?

Update: Apparently, Myers' blog is one of over 70 "scienceblogs" that are owed by a company called seedmediagroup.com. These links will lead you to its leadership including its CEO, Adam Bly. In fact, here's a Seed Media promo video in which Myers appears with Bly.

Jimmy Akin thinks so. He writes:

I am not going to provide an extensive response to P. Z. Myers' recent desecration of the Eucharist, along with pages from the Qur'an.

I will simply say that he must be fired.

Although he carried out his action. in his words, to support the idea that "Nothing must be held sacred" (also trashing a few pages of The God Delusion, a book with which he is in sympathy), he did not merely tell people that nothing must be held sacred. Nor did he argue for it. Claiming that nothing must be held sacred or proposing arguments for this proposition are a subject that can be discussed in a civil, respectful manner.

Instead, P. Z. Myers surreptitiously obtained and then desecrated something that is held most sacred by numerous individuals. He went out of his way to offend, to provoke the most deeply held sentiments of others, and he did so in full knowledge of what he was doing, as witnessed by the fact that he complains repeatedly on his blog about all of the outraged complaints he has been receiving from Catholics via e-mail.

In desecrating what Catholics hold most sacred--and what Muslims hold sacred as well--P. Z. Myers has fundamentally compromised himself as an educator.

He has made himself unsuitable for employment as an educator.

In particular, he has made himself unsuitable for employment as an educator at a state-run school, such as the University of Minnesota Morris.

It would be one thing if an employee of a private school--say, Bob Jones University--had desecrated the Eucharist. But state schools have a special responsibility to the citizens of the state to employ educators who will be respectful in their conduct towards the students, parents, alumni, and citizens of the state--including the Catholic and Muslim ones.

P. Z. Myers has demonstrated that he will go out of his way to offend the sensibilities of anybody who holds anything sacred, to treat whatever they hold sacred with public contempt. The problem thus is not limited to Catholics and Muslims. Since, in Myers own words, "Nothing must be held sacred," and since he is willing to desecrate anything that others do hold sacred, the university must conclude that Myers is willing not only to outrage Catholic and Muslim students, parents, alumni, and citizens but members of any other group as well.

Myers is thus incapable of effectively carrying out his mission as an educator and his position must be terminated.

He also is in violation of the University of Minnesota Code of Conduct, which holds that faculty members "must be committed to the highest ethical standards of conduct" (II:2) and that "Ethical conduct is a fundamental expectation for every community member. In practicing and modeling ethical conduct, community members are expected to: act according to the highest ethical and professional standards of conduct [and] be personally accountable for individual actions" (III:1).

It also stresses that faculty members must "Be Fair and Respectful to Others. The University is committed to tolerance, diversity, and respect for differences. When dealing with others, community members are expected to: be respectful, fair, and civil . . . avoid all forms of harassment . . . [and] threats . . . [and] promote conflict resolution."

P. Z. Myers has done none of these things. He is in fundamental breach of the University of Minnesota's Code of Conduct and must be discharged.

To voice your opinion on this subject, contact the offices of the president and the chancellor:

President Robert H. Bruininks
202 Morrill Hall
100 Church Street S.E.
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Via phone: 612-626-1616
Via fax: 612-625-3875
Via e-mail: upres@umn.edu

Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson
309 Behmler Hall
600 East 4th Street
Morris, MN 56267

320-589-6020
E-mail: grussing@morris.umn.edu

Comments (37)

The problem, as I have written elsewhere, is that this is quicksand, no matter what the university does. It is, as you know, really tough to get rid of a tenured professor and, indeed, one of the higher ups has already defended him in the Minn. Star-Trib. (I read it yesterday but I think the story was from the day before.)

However, if the university resists the pressure to fire him, they are going to have to watch him like a hawk, since his public actions and statements have, at the outset, created at least a potentially hostile environment for students of any religious belief. It isn't hard to imagine students avoiding his classes or asking for another advisor, since they are uncomfortable with him. A complaint that is made about him in the future is going to be that much harder to defend, since the university knew they had a problem in Myers but allowed him to teach anyway. He is toxic and keeping him has the potential to cause many more problems than firing him. However, firing him will give him many more minutes of fame and make a martyr out of him. Really, I am seriously conflicted trying to figure out where I come down on this question.

Lily is spot-on about the University's problem now. But if we ask, not whether it would be in the University of Minnesota's interest to fire him, but whether their firing him would in itself be a good thing, I think the answer is certainly "no." To be sure, Myers is a bigot who either does not understand or does not care what constitutes an argument and whose prose is almost unreadably bad. (English professor speaking here.) Whether that means he should be dismissed is another question; and whether Christians should hope that it does is still another.

For quite apart from the abstract rights and wrongs of the case, there is an important practical consideration. If students, the press, the public become able successfully to demand dismissal of faculty for views and actions that do not make their way into the work place because such views and actions create a hostile environment for study, who do we think will most often face such demands? Those demands would be a device waiting to be deployed against Christian faculty (among others, of course) whose advocacy outside the workplace can be construed as hostile to some category. Don't mistake me: I'm not saying that the case of a professor photographed in a Walk for Life or found to have signed a petition for defense-of-marriage legislation is in fact analogous to Myers's case; I'm saying that many would claim it is, and use such demands as a means of harrassment. It is imprudent in the extreme for Christians to wield against Myers (who is disgusting, but hardly important) a weapon that is not easily amenable to any rational control, and that could be easily turned back against them.

Personally, I think that Meyers' pic looks distinctly photo-shopped.

Anyway, be that as it may, the one thing that really tires me out about this whole sorry episode is Prof. Meyers' repeated insistence that "it's just a cracker" - something that he himself quite obviously doesn't believe for a split second.

I mean, is Prof. Meyers in the habit of nailing wheat-thins to pages torn from the holy books of other cultures?

No. The consecrated host is, at the very least, even for an unbeliever like me, a symbol. And Prof. Meyers' act of desecration is a symbolic act. And what does it symbolize? It symbolizes naked hatred and contempt for believing Catholics, and for Catholicism itself.

So, under the going rules of multicultural sensitivity, how can P. Z. Meyers possibly be considered fit to teach at any public institution of "higher learning?"

In the academic culture as it presently exists, with all it's sensitivity and pleadings for tolerance, it is ironic that Myers won't be fired. It's not going to happen. SteveJ and Lily have a better pulse on the situation than Akin does, I think. Of course the U is utterly compromised and the code of conduct they publish can never be taken seriously again, after this incident. But don't you see that this is a good thing? The mask is removed. The U can't pretend anymore. There are no ethical standards at a public university. As long as the law isn't violated, anything goes. Their code of ethics is a sham. But perhaps until now it was possible to pretend.

Personally, if I were a student of Myers I'd be bummed if he was fired. How often do you get a chance to confront, on a personal level, a guy like that? Not often, I'd say. I mean, yes I'm outraged. But on a deeper level I also find the whole thing really, really funny. I admit I have a rather twisted sense of humor--I really do. But I'm sure you all can see the profound thickness of the irony here. The irony is so thick it's palpable. How many of you are familiar with Graham Greene's short story A Hint Of An Explanation? If you don't know the story, get a hold of it. After you've read it, you'll know why I'm laughing so hard. Myers is doing the evangelistic work that the Catholic campus ministry at the U could never do.

By the way - Meyers' pic is here.

As I say - it looks to me like a fake.

There are no ethical standards at a public university. As long as the law isn't violated, anything goes.

Well, not if he'd gone around in a white sheet burning crosses and yelling the n-word. There are limits, you know. You just have to know the liberal mind to figure out what they are. But of course they have nothing to do with "showing respect."

Steve, right on. That's exactly what I was saying in a previous thread on this subject. Like my post says on "Are there any mere symbols?" The minute somebody starts making a big deal about saying, "It's just a symbol," that means it must be a kind of _important_ symbol, or he wouldn't even bother saying anything about it.

Well, not if he'd gone around in a white sheet burning crosses and yelling the n-word.

Sure, of course. But it's a rule ethics, not a principle ethics. So really it's no ethics at all, but just a set of proscriptions. Myers has been playing the game long enough to know what he can get away with.

Thebyronicman's recommended reading can be found here - and it really is short, and apt.

Thanks for digging up that link, Catherine. I didn't think to google it.

In response to Lydia's counter-example, Thebyronicman clarifies his initial statement ("There are no ethical standards at a public university") by stating: "Sure, of course. But it's a rule ethics, not a principle ethics." In practice, I think this is right. But it's not as though there aren't principles articulated and supposedly embraced. The problem is that they're selectively applied. Bash Christians, there is grace for thee. Bash homosexuals, for example, and prepare to get burnt at the stake. (From my perspective no one should be bashed. I'm merely illustrating the arbitrary application of said principles.)

Myers provides the video documentation for his dismissal;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHPZFsGrt-Y

Courtesy of; http://thenewliturgicalmovement.blogspot.com/

It is, as you know, really tough to get rid of a tenured professor and, indeed,

My understanding was that he was an associate prof and not tenured. Am I wrong?

Myers, in one of the posts on his blog relating to Donohue's call for his firing, says that he is tenured. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be pulling this stunt. As it is, I've little doubt that he did it on full assurance from the admin that his job was perfectly safe.

The video changes everything as it clearly violates the moral turpitude clause in his contract, as well as the unwritten proscription against offending Moslems and other non-Western faiths.

Whatever the state institution does, it's important the local diocese makes reparations for this travesty;
Bishop Kinney
http://www.stclouddiocese.org/Communications/webmail.shtml
Chancery Office
P.O. Box 1248
Saint Cloud, MN 56302-1248
320-251-2340


State;
President Robert H. Bruininks
202 Morrill Hall
100 Church Street S.E.
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Via phone: 612-626-1616
Via fax: 612-625-3875
Via e-mail: upres@umn.edu

Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson
309 Behmler Hall
600 East 4th Street
Morris, MN 56267

320-589-6020
E-mail: grussing@morris.umn.edu

"Donohue's call for his firing"

Has Donohue actually called for Myers' firing? The hyperbolic Myers sure claims to think so, but Donohue is talking about "sanctions" and "appropriate penalties."

Rather than a full-bore firing, some kind of disciplinary action would be far more likely, and probably more effective in getting Myers and his friends to think harder about what he did.

Such action is also more justifiable. As a point of secular law, Myers didn't commit anything rising to the level of a felony.

Associate profs. often (usually?) do have tenure. At the university I'm most familiar with, you go from assistant to associate at or about the same time that you get tenure.

I thought these lines from "The Hint of an Explanation" were particularly apropos:

"Can you hate something you don't believe in? And yet he called himself a free-thinker. What an impossible paradox, to be free and to be so obsessed."

Wonderful selection, Steve.

The minute somebody starts making a big deal about saying, "It's just a symbol," that means it must be a kind of _important_ symbol, or he wouldn't even bother saying anything about it.

'Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.' That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable. -Flannery O'Connor

Can you hate something you don't believe in?

The better question is can you hate something you think is false?

Well, Flannery O'Connor was never one for half measures.

Be Fair and Respectful to Others. The University is committed to tolerance, diversity, and respect for differences. When dealing with others, community members are expected to: be respectful, fair, and civil . . . avoid all forms of harassment . . . [and] threats . . . [and] promote conflict resolution."


Is the holy cracker a person now? Is is wrong to ridicule the stupid beliefs of Christians? What "person" was harmed here?

Is is wrong to ridicule the stupid beliefs of Christians?

Is it wrong to ridicule black people for being black?

Or Jews for being Jews?

Have you ever heard that it is illegal to discriminate people based on race, religion or gender or do you simply pride yourself in your ignorance and stupidity?

Chris, I wasn't at the meeting when we voted on the principle that the only wrongs that can occur are those in which a person is directly "harmed"? Why should anyone accept that principle? Is it empirically verifiable, like all the real important stuff you believe? If not, then perhaps it too is a stupid belief, your "holy cracker" if you will.

Mockery can be, and sometimes has been, an effective heuristic device. Of course, how well it works in each case, or how well it is received, often depends upon who's sacred cow is being eaten at the moment. I wouldn't stuff myself publicly at McDonalds just to prove that the Hindus are wrong to think that grandma is now an Angus. And I wouldn't do to the consecrated host the sorts of things Myers intends or does. I'm not arguing that Myers is correct, only that he ought not be fired for offensiveness, or for ill-chosen methods of public demonstration.

I wouldn't stuff myself publicly at McDonalds just to prove that the Hindus are wrong to think that grandma is now an Angus.

There is a distinct difference betweent this and what Myers did.

Suffice it to say that if Myers truly believed the Eucharist as nothing other than a 'cracker', he could've had at it with all manner of crackers at the local grocery store just as the person eating all manner of meat products at the local McDonald's to spite the Hindus.

I don't believe that Myers should be stripped of his academic sinecure for reason of this transgression, if only because pressing such a case will serve to reinforce in the minds of the deluded that Christians are the incipient theocratic fascists that they claim we are. To be certain, there are ample secularist grounds for his dismissal, specifically all of the tiresome PC cant about tolerance and diversity. However, in this instance, forbearance, for the sake of their souls, seems to me to be counseled. Moreover, such forbearance will only demonstrate that PC is what we have long claimed it to be, namely, a labour of the negative aimed, not at tolerance per se, but at the extirpation of the Western, Christian civilizational legacy; had the centerpiece of his theater been the desecration of the symbol of some non-Western faith, or of some icon of a liberationist movement of some sort or other, his tenure would be in greater jeopardy, even absent the outcry. Myers sought to demonstrate the incoherence of Catholic faith; in reality, he only demonstrated the truth of what Chesterton said long ago of atheist calumniators of religion - that they protest religion in the name of freedom, and end by suppressing freedom.

Forbearance, however, is the only substantive reason to let the matter drop. What Myers did is not discourse; it is not rational, or persuasive in any cognitive way. It was, as I have argued previously, a stunt, a vulgar modern ordeal; it was no more substantial as discourse than Reformation-era pictures of the Pope on his chamber pot, or with the devil beneath his robes. The argument from mockery or sacrilege is still a fallacy; one does not engage in refutation by scoffing; one only proves oneself a boor and lout.

Aristocles:
Myers (and everyone else, so far as I can tell) already believes that the crackers one gets in the store are just crackers. He wants us to believe that the consecrated host is just a cracker. To make that point he needs the consecrated host.

I really agree with the other guys on this thread, Michael, that it isn't "making a point" to perform desecrative physical acts upon the consecrated host. That just seems to me to give what Myers did too much credit. As Maximos says, it's a stunt, not discourse. And to me there is something distinctly unhealthy in Myers's whole approach here: He said (quoted in one of Frank's other posts on this), "I have to do something." What sort of person thinks that way? Everybody knows what I think about Islam, but I don't get up in the morning and say, "I have to do something to the Koran to make a point against Islam." Y'know, I have a life, and I prefer to talk to people rationally than to perform sub-adolescent stunts while thinking I'm being profound. It rather sounds as though Myers doesn't have a life, and as though he's got an obsession with the very thing he claims to disbelieve in.

Lydia,
You and Max are absolutely right: It's a stunt. It's a stunt meant to draw attention to Myers himself and to help him make his point more graphically, memorably and broadly -- though crudely enough, to be sure. Of course, not all points need to be made via rational discourse, and Myers' point falls into that category: Here's what I think of your cracker. If one does not wish to call "Here's what I think of your cracker" a point, that's fine with me. But Myers is simply not engaged in rational discourse, and, so far as I can tell, does not intend to be.

As I said earlier, I think Myers is quite wrong, not in his belief that it's simply a cracker, but in his way of presenting that belief for public consumption. But I don't think he should be, or could be, fired for being crude, disgusting, or offensive. Whether or not his belief that the consecrated host is simply a cracker is correct is a debate of long standing, one that rational discourse seems not to have settled. Nor have stupid stunts.

Whether or not Myers has an obsession and not a life, I simply can't say.

Of course, not all points need to be made via rational discourse...

No, it is not the case that all points must be made via rational discourse. But Myers has not made a point at all. Catholic doctrine holds that the consecrated Host is the Body of Christ appearing under the accidents (Catholics are free to correct my rough, 8AM formulation) of the bread; hence, when Myers desecrated the Host, all he saw were those accidents of bread. By the nature of the case, the matter of whether the Host is the Body of Christ or a mere cracker cannot be established by empirical demonstration of any kind (barring miracles, of which, more anon), but must be investigated by those discursive means familiar to theologians and philosophers. Moreover, Catholic doctrine also maintains that man possesses freedom of will, and that sacraments are not magical, meaning that, while they convey grace, they do not do so irrespective of our spiritual states, and that God is not bound to attest, by signs and wonders, that sacraments are what they are held in faith to be. God is not a cosmic step-n-fetchit performing magic tricks so as to coerce belief, such as smiting Myers with a bolt of lightning should he commit sacrilege. Given, therefore, both the nature of sacraments, our freedom of will, and the relations of God with mankind, Myers' stunt cannot demonstrate anything at all with regard to the truth of Catholic claims. It's rather like attempting to disprove that the sky is blue by stating that grass is green; one is not even operating within the same frame of reference.

Michael, I think by "making a point" you just mean "saying something" rather than "giving evidence for." I can in one sense agree that Myers is saying something by doing what he does. I would also add that Myers is inter alia saying, "I have contempt for Christianity." It's not just a Catholic thing, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Does anyone really think (as I said in another thread) he'd be any kinder to a cross?

Dr. Bauman:

It's unfortunate that due to my poor attempt at "cracker" humour, you weren't able to distinguish the salient difference between going into a local McDonalds and eating a meat product to spite Hindus as opposed to going into Church Property and surreptitiously taking off with the Holy Eucharist and committing a grave act of desecration.

Equally unfortunate is the fact that such act of desecration isn't being regarded by fellow Christians as ever so heinous an act; an act that the early fathers themselves such as Augustine, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch and even Paul Himself would find utterly abhorrent and detestable to Our Lord.

1 Cor 11:26-29
26 For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come.
27 Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice.
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.

"Equally unfortunate is the fact that such act of desecration isn't being regarded by fellow Christians as ever so heinous an act..."

Amen, Aristocles. Amen.

The situation reminds me of "Sermon of an Agnostic on the Feast of St. Thérese" by Bernanos. Caustically imploring the assembled, the agnostic asks if they really beleive and if so, why have they become mere spectators, instead of active witnesses to the drama of their faith;

"My dear brothers. I keep on saying the same thing, because it always is the same thing. Had you followed that saint instead of applauding, Europe would never have known the Reformation, nor the religious wars, nor this horrible Spanish Crusade...God is impenetrable, as you say. Yet I cannot help thinking that this is your last chance. Your last chance - and ours. Are you capable of rejuvenating the world or not?"

Aristocles:
I never said that what Myers did was right. I said he shouldn't and couldn't be fired for his stunt. He ought to be, and is, free to make his views known in ways you and I find deeply offensive and flatly wrong. But this is a thread about him getting fired. While desecration might ruin your soul, it won't ruin your career, and it won't get you fired from an institution of (alleged) higher learning; nor should it.

Just like Hindus and I disagree that eating a good cheeseburger is something like cannibalism, it seems you and I disagree on whether or not this really is a case of desecration, the answer to which, to some large degree, I suspect, hinges upon what we each think about the bread and wine, and how we understand (and wisely apply) in a political or academic context the words of Paul you quoted above.

I dissent both from Myer's stunt and from your theology; but I agree with him about the nature of the cracker and with you about the importance of authentic desecration.

Lydia,
Yes, indeed, Myers certainly seems to have deep, perhaps even pathological, contempt for Christianity in general, and not just for this one teaching of one segment of Christianity's adherents.

Dr. Bauman,

Again you seemed to have missed the point.

There is a profound difference between going into a local McDonalds vs. going into Church property to steal a Host to commit a deliberate act of desecration.

If you can't distinguish that difference, then I'll just leave it here.

Aristocles:

To my knowledge, the Church is not actively pressing for his arrest as a thief. If that is so, I wonder why. Any ideas?

Again, you've missed the point.

Differences between the local McDonalds situation that was presented vs. that concerncing Church property include interalia:

- With the former, one need not be a member of McDonalds in order to take advantage of such privilege (i.e., the purchase of a burger -- for rather obvious reasons given its place as a going concern) as such privilege are not exclusive to membership (again, for the aforementioned reason)

- One need not resort to such devious machination in order to obtain the subject burger in the former whereas in the latter, the perpetrator which you seem to sympathize with in principle did


...and not just for this one teaching of one segment of Christianity's adherents.

As far as the above is concerned, to my knowledge (limited not only to a book-learnt understanding of various ecclessiologies but corroborated as well by certain Orthodox theologians and Anglican priests of TAC I know), the early Christian belief in The Real Presence is not exclusive to Catholics but also extend to the Orthodox and certain Anglicans as well (granted, I cannot speak for their coreligionists here).

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