PZ Myers is biologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and he doesn't care much for religion. I enjoyed meeting PZ at a blogger conference a couple of years ago. Although I don't agree with his view that religion is entirely without merit, I understand how he came by that view.
Today PZ is in a heap o' trouble because of some comments he made on his blog, Pharyngula. A young man had admitted to smuggling a blessed communion wafer out of a Catholic church, for which he was receiving death threats. PZ, incensed, promised to treat a communion wafer with "profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse" if readers could send him one. Now, PZ is getting death threats and hate mail, and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has organized a campaign to get PZ fired.
This situation has a whole lot of wrongs that don't add up to a right. Although it's not my religion, I respect the belief that the communion wafer is the Body of Christ, and not just a symbol, and the young man who smuggled the wafer out of church was disrespectful. But death threats?
Awhile back I wrote that religious license plates were an example of religion as tribal identity instead of, you know, religion as religion. This can happen in any religion, including Buddhism. And, frankly, I think most of the really absurd things done in the name of religion, things that help PZ make a case against religion, go into the "tribal identity" column.
And while I understand people taking offense at communion wafer theft and PZ's "cracker abuse," death threats and a campaign to have PZ fired smack of tribalism, not devotion.
Certainly, in ancient times religions were, primarily, artifacts of tribal culture. But since the Axial Age, I believe all of the world's great religions have emphasized the surrender of ego to religious discipline. I argue that religion as a projection of ego and personal/group identity is either a regression to the most primitive level of religion, or it is not religion at all but some form of social pathology dressed up as religion.
There are various perspectives on PZ and the Cracker Episode on the Web today. Some chide PZ for taunting believers, others take PZ's side. Although essentially this is a case of Everyone Behaving Badly, religious people especially need to think about what religion is and at what point religion turns into fanaticism.