The “Let’s Talk About How to Have Reasonable Discussions about Religion” post has over a hundred comments and the tone in some sections is pretty well summed up by one reader:
I love this comment thread.
Leah: My commenters are great and tend to argue in good faith and assume that others do the same.
Commenters: NAZIS! People who disagree with me are NAZIS! NAZIS EVERYWHERE! NAZIS!!
And speaking of which, today, I was frustrated by a post by Mark Shea in which he mockingly awarded a Son of Ernst Rohm Award for Most Repellent Representative of Gay Community to Dan Savage (sex columnist and founder of the It Gets Better Project). The picture that accompanied the post was not that of a baby hedgehog.
The act that prompted the post was a speech Dan Savage gave at a high school in which he went after Christians who use Old Testament purity laws as a justification for persecuting LGBT folks. Some students walked out, there was a blogosphere fracas about whether Savage was bullying people in the service of condemning bullying, etc. Savage posted a reflection that everyone should read before they pick fights with him explaining that h thinks he was wrong about the tone he chose and apologizes for that, but stands by the content. And what was the content? Here’s a pull quote of the most relevant bit (BlagHag has a transcript and video):
People often point out that they can’t help it. They can’t help with the anti-gay bullyings because it says right there in Leviticus, it says right there in Timothy, it says right there in Romans that being gay is wrong. 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 menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things…
What are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? 100%. The Bible says that if your daughter’s not a virgin on her wedding night – that a woman isn’t a virgin on her wedding night, that she shall be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death. Callista Gingrich lives. And there is no effort to amend state constitutions to make it legal to stone women to death on their wedding night if they’re not virgins. At least not yet. We don’t know where the GOP is going these days. People are dying because people can’t clear this one last hurdle. They can’t get past this one last thing in the Bible about homosexuality.
One thing I want to talk about is – ha, so you can tell the Bible guys in the hall that they can come back in because I’m done beating up the Bible. It’s funny that someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react to being pushed back. I apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings but I have the right to defend myself, and to point out the hypocrisy of people who justify anti-gay bigotry by pointing to the Bible and insisting that we must live by the code of Leviticus on this one issue and no other.
Here’s the thing. Take ten seconds to look past Savage’s tone and notice that his critique of pick-and-choose proof-texting is something Catholics and many other Christians actually agree with. I disagree with the Natural Law arguments against homosexuality, but I can have a conversation about it. I can’t discuss it when it’s slotted into the same kind of divinely-inspired but ineffable category as whether quinoa is chametz.
The trouble is, it may be impossible for the audience Dan Savage is targeting to hear this critique from him. The tone of the speech was a problem, but even if he were a lot more careful, most biblical literalist Christians aren’t going to be ready to hear bible study tips from a queer, lapsed Catholic. Other Christians (possibly including Mark Shea) need to be the ones to make this argument from the inside, to make it easier on people.
Dan Savage admits that his tone made it hard to hear his message. Mark ends his post with a request for responses from queers like me, but it’s similarly hard for us to have a discussion of appropriate political rhetoric when Mark’s post ends by comparing church vandalism carried out by a group of queer activists to Kristallnacht.
Taking a deep breath to try to give a helpful response eats into my cognitive energy, so if you want a helpful response, you need to make it easier for me to write a comment without having to bite back something. (You can judge how well I succeeded). I want to know whether Mark and others think it’s always inappropriate for a non-Christian to critique an in-group thing like approach to scripture, or if there’s a way for Savage or others to do it that they would find helpful.
Online, it’s hard to remember that you’re talking to people, not arguments-as-soldiers, so maybe folks will find it helpful to listen to Dan Savage’s segment on This American Life (transcript here) about reconsidering the lapsed part of his lapsed Catholicism after his mother’s death, so your conversation is rooted in the acts of a person.
UPDATE: Mark Shea has a response post up, and I’ll turn up in the comments over there at some point.