Jul 28, 2008

counting coup and the desecration debacle

PZ Myers acquired a consecrated host and desecrated it, along with a page from the Qur'an and The God Delusion. His point: "Nothing must be held sacred." Not a blessed wafer, not a holy book, not an atheistic screed. His action prompted my brother to ponder,
My question is whether Myers’ iconoclasm is rooted in the same sort of religious impulse as the iconoclasts you mentioned. As best I can tell, it is. Myers, after all, is doing a bit more than making a truth-claim. It’s one thing to say the idol has no power–it’s quite another to tear it down as a demonstration of its impotence.
Matt's armchair anthropologizing made me think of a story I heard a couple summers ago.

An indigenous Canadian tour guide was explaining his people's custom of "counting coup." Wikipedia explains it just like he did:
Counting coup was a battle practice of Native Americans of the Great Plains. A nonviolent demonstration of bravery, it consisted of touching an enemy warrior, with the hand or with a coup stick, then running away unharmed. Risk of injury or death was involved, should the other warrior respond violently. The phrase "counting coup" can also refer to the recounting of stories about battle exploits.

It can also involve stealing items from the enemy.
To illustrate the latter version, the guide told the story of a relative, who, in the recent past, went to visit the Pope in the Vatican. While there, he surreptitiously stole a hat, and got away with it. By taking something from a powerful man, he achieved a contemporary coup.

Bravado, testosterone, adrenaline, showmanship, roguery, and spirit: the coup-taking impulse can't be reduced to a single impulse, but requires them all.

I'm not claiming Myers destroyed a consecrated host in that same vein, even though his story of the deed bears many of the hallmarks, including the desire to tell the tale around the blog-fire. My only point is that human motivation is complex.

One might even say irreducible.

Update: I almost forgot the incident that prompted the entire ordeal, which, to employ my extended armchair anthropologizing, situates Myers' action in a sociopolitical context.


pouw said...

and from complex, to irreducible, the next logical step is "silly."

hey mr. a, i read your blog all the time from LA to remind me of home. good to know you're well. can i get a blog link like josh has? we're both two different kinds of whiny, so variety for your buck!

Jim Anderson said...

Whoa--I seriously thought I had already added one. That grievous oversight has been corrected.