Echo-Chamber Activism

by Stephen H. Miller on April 30, 2012

The rightwing blogosphere has discovered sex columnist/anti-bullying activist Dan Savage’s rant again the Bible while addressing an audience of high school journalists. And they’re making hay with it:

In the video, Savage is clearly heard saying, “We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people — the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstration about virginity about masturbation…We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things.” …

[An offended Christian student] said the speech was laced with vulgarities and “sexual innuendo not appropriate for this age group.” At one point, he said Savage told the teenagers about how good his partner looked in a speedo. … As the [offended] teenagers were walking out, [the student] said that Savage heckled them and called them pansy-assed.

Savage’s substance, about the misuses of Biblical literalism, may be sound. But his hurling of obscenities, particularly given the audience, is the kind of stupid, counter-productive action that elicits cheers from the secular leftwing faithful and appalls those on the other side who we ought to be striving to win over by understanding their worldview and speaking in language that is persuasive to them. Savage, however, certainly is not unique in falling into the trap of insular, echo-chamber activism, alas.

More. Comments reader “jpr”:

Christian abolitionists motivated by their faith were a driving forcing in abolishing slavery in the U.S./U.K., despite some biblical passages condoning slavery. If back then, secular anti-slavery activists had told them the Bible was bs, how would that have helped? [We should] speak to these people in a way that respects their faith and respects the Bible, and make the argument that the spirit of the Bible — and many passages, particularly in the New Testament, condemning bigotry and judgmentalism — can continue to bring more people of faith onboard.

Either we keep speaking to ourselves, or we reach out to people of faith, Republicans, and others that are not now with us. Too many LGBT activists just don’t get this — or don’t care.

Furthermore. Savage issues an apology for his poor choice of words. That’s good, but like Hillary Rosen, would it have dawned on him that his comments were offensive and inappropriate (not to mention counter-productive) if not confronted by an uproar from outside the insular world of the left-liberal echo chamber?

More still. Now he’s standing by his “bs” charge.

{ 15 comments }

flanoggin April 30, 2012 at 10:31 am

I thinks Savage’s behavior diminishes his very important message. I do, however, realize that he is so fed up with the BS from the religious right, that he has kind of snapped and is not having any of it.

jpr April 30, 2012 at 11:47 am

Christian abolitionists motivated by their faith were a driving forcing in abolishing slavery in the U.S./U.K., despite some biblical passages condoning slavery. If back then, secular anti-slavery activists had told them the Bible was bs, how would that have helped? Miller is correct — speak to these people in a way that respects their faith and respects the Bible, and make the argument that the spirit of the Bible — and many passages, particularly in the New Testament, condemning bigotry and judgmentalism — can continue to bring more people of faith onboard.

Either we keep speaking to ourselves, or we reach out to people of faith, Republicans, and others that are not now with us. Too many LGBT activists just don’t get this — or don’t care.

Houndentenor April 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Isn’t it odd that both pro and anti slavery camps used the Bible to back up their side? In reality, the Bible is pro slavery. There are rules governing slavery, of course, but does anyone today think that owning another human being is moral?

Houndentenor April 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Dan’s point is a good one and I’m afraid that by carelessly presenting it, the right wing noise machine has successfully distracted everyone from the point.

I’d like to add one more point to the list. The Bible expressly forbids the practice of charging interest on loans. Okay, to be fair some passages only forbid excessive interest, but fail to define “excessive”. This is forbidden both in the Old and New Testaments. We have conveniently ignored those passages for centuries because our economic system is dependent upon this practice. If we can ignore that, there is no reason we can’t ignore any other passages that are currently inconvenient to how we choose to live today.

Doug April 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Right wingers have no problem bombing abortion clinics and killing doctors who perform abortions, have no problem protesting at funerals in the most vile language but let a liberal call them out on ‘bull shit’ and pardon the pun all hell breaks lose.

I for one stand squarely with Dan Savage on this one. I only respect those who respect me.

Had the colonist played by Marcus of Queensbury rules we would still be a British colony and had the race riots of the 1960′s not happened African Americans might still be riding in the back of the bus.

Clayton April 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Dan Savage is not infallible, but he generally plays the media game well. He has issued an apology for some of the vulgarities in his talk, though he still defends the substance.

Whether he offended by accident or design, I think the end result is that thousands more people will watch the video with the allegedly hateful, obscene language than would have watched it if he had played nice. Once the firestorm broke, I watched the video, and I’m sure that I’m not alone. If you submit the word ‘absurd’ for ‘bullshit,’ his point is that mainstream Christianity has abandoned many passages of both the Old and New Testaments (Anyone bought a slave lately? Stoned a non-virgin to death? Eaten shellfish? Punished a woman for speaking in church–without her head covered?). Yet they hold to biblical literalism on the one issue of homosexuality. He is not attacking Christianity, but is, instead, attacking blind, selective readings and hypocrisy in the name of God.

Clayton April 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Here is a link to the video of the speech itself:
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/04/28/savages-great-new-shitstorm
Here is Savage’s apology for some poorly chosen words:
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/04/29/on-bullshit-and-pansy-assed

Throbert McGee April 30, 2012 at 7:42 pm

“…the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish…”

“We” who?

Orthodox Jews consider the prohibition on shellfish to be as current and binding on them as the prohibition on homosexuality — so “we” excludes them.

Muslims regard the entirety of the Bible as a grotesque corruption of the Qur’an — and avoid reading the Bible for that very reason — so “we” excludes them.

And although “we” literally means “other people and I”, it would sound rather odd for Dan Savage to say “I have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish” — because he’s a forthright and outspoken secularist who does not accept a single word in the Bible as authoritative or binding, any more than a Muslim does.

It would be like me saying “I, and others, reject Immanuel Velikovsky’s bullshit idea that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was caused by a near-collision between Jupiter and Earth.” For me to say this would imply that I accept some of Velikovsky’s other notions as valid, but consider the Jupiter/Sodom hypothesis to be an exceptional example of BS in his writings. In fact, if Velikovsky ever had a single non-crackpot idea, I’m not sure what it is!

So if “we” excludes both Orthodox Jews and Savage himself, whom does it include?

Presumably Savage spoke in the 1st-person plural but was thinking in the 3rd person: “Some Christians — the ones I hold in marginally less contempt — have rejected the Biblical passages against homosexual activity, along with passages against shellfish [but by the way, they credulously swallow lots of other Bible bullshit, may the FSM forgive them...]

Throbert McGee April 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm

If you substitute the word ‘absurd’ for ‘bullshit,’ his point is that mainstream Christianity has abandoned many passages of both the Old and New Testaments

Why say “absurd” or “bullshit” at all? Why not make the vastly less subjective and easily supportable point that the interpretation of certain Biblical passages has changed over time? Some passages are regarded as having been voided for Christians by the “New Covenant” (the no-shellfish rule, for example); others are now seen as being restricted to Biblical times (Paul’s recommendation that non-married Christians remain non-married); still others are regarded as binding, but their force or scope has been narrowed in some way (the general ban on interest has been reinterpreted as a ban only on “outrageously excessive” interest rates).

JohnInCA May 1, 2012 at 1:03 am

Tell you what. When I stop hearing all about Leviticus from Christians, then I’ll stop saying it’s bullshit that they think *I* have to follow anything in Leviticus when *they* don’t.

Until then I’d say calling them out on their hypocrisy, in language just as respectful as they sling at us, is called for.

Throbert McGee May 2, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Until then I’d say calling them out on their hypocrisy, in language just as respectful as they sling at us, is called for.

Calling them out on their hypocrisy, yes.

Using disrespectful language because “they started it” might be well be justifiable, but that doesn’t make it effective communication. The question is whether you want to communicate effectively, or just enjoy an exercise in personal catharsis.

P.S. If Christians stopped quoting Leviticus, and only relied on the anti-gay passages from Paul, would you be happy? If not, then making it all about Leviticus, and relying on “Oh, but you guys eat shrimp and clams!” arguments, isn’t very effective either.

JohnInCA May 4, 2012 at 1:11 am

Sure, if they stop quoting Leviticus at me I’ll stop quoting Leviticus at them. The obvious hypocrisy won’t be quite as obvious when I pull out some other bit they don’t follow but it’s not like it’d be a challenge.

As for the rest… I’d like to point out that telling someone that they’re a bad Christian is going to be disrespectful and insulting no matter whether I call something “absurd”, “bullshit”, “hypocritical” or juts plain “odd”. Just by being an agnostic “lecturing” them on their own religion, I’m perceived as being on the attack.

And on that note… going on the attack seems to work much better then strongly worded letters. Kinda why the history of the US is full of violence. Because polite words weren’t enough, aren’t enough, and won’t be enough.

Tom Scharbach May 1, 2012 at 5:50 am

It seems to me that you are all in danger falling into the “echo chamber”.

Law in our country, historically, has been based on the common good rather than sectarian differences.

Instead of entering into argument with Christians about Biblical exegesis or hypocrisy, point out that marriage law in our country has been grounded in the common good, the value to society of protecting couples and children.

Suggest that the model to look at is remarriage after divorce.

Despite the fact that remarriage after divorce was explicitly forbidden by Christ and is considered gravely sinful by all Christians who take Christ seriously, the Christian majority in our country has nonetheless set aside deep sectarian conviction and permitted remarriage after divorce in order to promote the common good. In doing so, Christians have not set aside their fundamental beliefs, but instead sought what is best for our country and our citizens.

Instead of arguing with Christians, show them a path to marriage equality that does not require them to abandon their religious conviction. The situations are parallel, if not exact.

Throbert McGee May 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm

+1 for Tom.

The only thing I would add is that in making the argument about remarriage divorce, it’s probably best to resist any temptation to make it into a “hypocrisy” charge by pointing out that many Christians do remarry after divorce. Instead, point out that nearly all Christians — even those who personally adhere to the rule about not remarrying after divorce, and who might scold other Christians for doing it — tend to be more tolerant of remarriage among those who identify as non-Christian. (That is, they interpret Jesus’s words on the matter as primarily binding on his own followers, not on all mankind.)

So you could also make an analogy with Orthodox Jews who regard dietary rules as not applicable to Gentiles at all, and who (sometimes, in some contexts) may accept homosexuality as a less-severe sin for Gentiles than it is for Jews.

Throbert McGee May 2, 2012 at 8:03 pm

it’s probably best to resist any temptation to make it into a “hypocrisy” charge

Er, I do NOT mean to suggest that Tom was doing this. I just mean that in general, charges of hypocrisy may be gratuitous and counterproductive even when true.

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