Leah Libresco replies…

Leah Libresco replies… April 30, 2012

…to my Dan Savage post with a typically thoughtful response that is refreshingly narcissism-free.

Readers will note that the tag on this post, though it deals with homosexuality, has nothing to do with Brownshirts. That’s because Leah does not behave like a bullying thug. This should make clear my first point: which is that I do not and never have said that anybody who self-identifies as gay is a gay brownshirt. Rather, it is people who behave like bullying thugs, who smash windows, intimidate, shout down, and attempt to crush the free speech of others–in short, people who act like brownshirts–whom I grace with the title “brownshirt”.

I realize this offends some people. It offends Leah for instance. But I think that brownshirt behavior should be called by the correct name. And a grown man bullying kids less than half his age and shouting “pansy-ass” at them when they refuse to be subjected to his bullying is, like it or not, acting like a brownshirt.

Note this as well: it is that behavior, not his taking the ocassion to attempt an exegesis of Scripture that is the issue. This is the part of the argument between Leah and me that I find the most interesting. Because what Leah is primarily seeing and reacting to in Savage’s speech is the particulars of his arguments about Scripture, while what I am seeing and reacting to is the fact that he bullied and intimidated a bunch of kids who did him no harm and were simply trying to escape the onslaught of his rage.

There are civilized ways of carrying on a discussion about “What does the Bible say about homosexuality and how much of it applies to us today?” Savage did not employ them. One can note that, yes, Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality are number among prohibitions against shellfish. They are also numbered amongst prohbitions against bestiality. What this means is that the Old Testament doesn’t have a carefully worked out system for distinguishing ritual uncleanness from the uncleanness of sin. I have discussed this in the past here and here.

So pointing to shellfish prohibitions does not really settle the matter, and raises some problematic questions. First, is it advisable to laugh to scorn observant Jews? Gentile Christians will freely acknowledge that we are not bound by the ceremonial laws of Moses. So, for that matter, will observant Jews.

Second, the problem remains, if the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality and bestiality are of the same weight as eating shellfish, why did nobody in the early Church–or the late Roman, High Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, or Modern Church–get the memo? Paul’s discussion of homosexual behavior is, after all, the normative take on it, with a few tweaks over time to distinguish between the temptation (not a sin) and the act (sin). At the end of the day, it’s the act that concerns the Church. The disordered appetite (like disordered appetites for heterosexual sins) is a concern, of course, as all concupiscence is. (If you are unfamiliar with that bit of theo-jargon, go here.) But concupiscence is *not sin*. It is merely the tinder for sin. To struggle with concupiscence is merely to be human and normal. We all struggle with it. The principle problem with the gay community is that they wish orthodox Christians to pretend that their favorite form of temptation is not temptation, but something to celebrate. That’s not going to happen because the Church is constrained by apostolic teaching on the matter, which reaffirms the prohibition against sex outside the sacrament of marriage, but not the prohibition against shellfish. People like Savage can either face this fact, or they can continue to spend their bullying rage on teenagers, accusing them of getting ready to stone people to death and claiming the right to “defend themselves” against quiet people who got up and walked out rather than be verbally pounded by a coward with a microphone who was twice their age.

I agree that a good faith discussion is necessary and I applaud Leah’s attempt at it. My own attitude toward homosexuality is, it may surprise her to know, pretty relaxed. That is, while I regard homosex as a sin, I don’t regard it as a uniquely terrible sin, nor do I pretend to have any answers about the genesis of the disordered attraction, nor do I think it’s my job to go around telling people with temptations I do not feel what they should be doing, nor do I think that homosex should be punished by civil law, nor do I think that gays who love their partners should be told to stop, nor do I think they should be prevented from having the right to support one another financially or be denied the normal civil protections anybody should have. What I do think, however, is that the gay community is unusually prone to an ugly combination of bullying and narcissism and that Savage is a poster boy for that. More people like Leah and a lot fewer like Savage would do a world of good for them.

PS. I also think (though the current policy of the Church disagrees with me) that celibate, orthodox and committed men with same sex attraction should be ordained if they have proven their commitment to continence and chastity, so as to better and more effectively model chastity and the possibility of a happy life as a Catholic with same-sex attraction. But that’s grist for another conversation.

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  • An Atheist

    My response to the Dan Savage story?

    Christians can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

    • Nate

      Indeed. You said that in the other comment thread too. Of course, we are leaving ambiguous what ‘dishing’ is, and what ‘taking’ is. I worry that this argument will prove less than persuasive once these placeholders are changed out with with more robust descriptions.

      • An Atheist

        Well, with centuries of attacking and oppressing gays, lesbians, and trasnpeople that your Mother Church has under its belt, you might consider not being surprised when the victims of your bigotry finally return fire.

        • “THEY did it first, waaah!” So that makes it OK to take it out on any and all Christians.

          Whenever I told grownups “But THEY started it!” I was told “So you finish it!”

          • An Atheist

            He was just telling, you know, the truth.

            • Jared

              What he said was irrelevant. If you had any integrity, you would not stand for his behavior.

              • An Atheist

                Would you like a fainting couch and some pearls to clutch?

                Let me know when there’s an epidemic of Catholic teens committing suicide due to bullying, harassment, and bigotry.

                • Jared

                  Would it be a comfy couch?

                  • It would be the second-best you ever sat in. And it would deliberately be only second-best.


                    • Jared

                      Not too bad for a free couch

                • Dale Price

                  Unexamined is why bullying against gays leads to suicide, whereas other identity-directed bullying does not (e.g., “Islamophobia”, obesity, racism, anti-Jewish sentiment).

                  The proponents of legislation seem to presume it, whereas there may be other stressors or factors at work in the individual (a family history, recent loss, personal setback unrelated to identity, etc.). None of which means anti-bullying advocacy is unwarranted, but it may very well be the case that advocates, however well-intentioned, are turning anecdotes into an “epidemic,” which is a medical term which does not such facts.

                  • Perhaps, same-sex attractions, in and of themselves, uniquely predispose adolescents to suicidal ideation. Why this is need not reach to the etiology of the inclination, only that the adolescent in question experiences the attractions as innate and also perceives that, in this, he is unique and alone. Since he will perceive stigma based on the inclination itself, he will be unlikely to talk about his issues with others, even if he’s out. Unlike a black or an Islamic teenager, he won’t have the likely advantage of sharing the problem for which he is mocked with a parent. At the very time when other adolescents are discovering their own identities through connections with their peers, he is left to develop his identity on his own, without the benefit of any healthy human communion. if the Church is correct that society is a requirement of human nature, then it’s not hard to see how easily warped and self-loathing a teenager might become when he feels himself so alien to it. Perhaps this renders him uniquely vulnerable to the cruelty of his peers.

                    • Ted Seeber

                      Irksome, that’s my view of the situation, and it is why Courage and Dignity are important ministries of the Church in America. I’m skeptical of the hetrodox Dignity, but the orthodox Catholic ministry Courage saves lives.

                    • It is my experience that those who most heavily promote groups like Dignity and Courage tend not to have first-hand experience of either. Dignity is thoroughly heterodox and in no way comparable to Courage. Courage, however, comes with its own issues, the most glaring of which is that even in the meetings I’ve attended in major metropolitan areas, the meetings are sparsely attended and sometimes have great difficulty finding a chaplain. Not infrequently, support is farmed out to Protestant groups with questionable theology on the issue at hand.

                      An additional issue is that even if the meetings are adequately attended, whether putting a hormonal teenager into contact with other men who are tempted towards same-sex sexual activity is at all prudent. We are not told to avoid the near occasion of sin for no reason and if we mean to make an exception here (perhaps under double effect) it would need to be a delicately tailored and nuanced one, such that it might not be immediately apprehendable to an adolescent mind.

                      That these groups are saving lives at all is a possibility, but I would ask to see documentation.

                    • Dale Price

                      Ah–excellent explanation! Very helpful, thank you.

                  • Concerned Citizen

                    Possibly it is because in a society where the attitudes of people who think that being gay is “disordered” or even “sinful” are the norm, a gay child who is bullied is less likely to get the support he or she needs to deal with the situation. A Jewish child who turns to their teacher for help in the case of anti Semitic bullying is not likely (one would hope) to be told something along the lines of “Well, yes the bullying is bad, BUT being Jewish is a sin and is disordered” which sadly, is the message that gay kids get from large parts of society. A kid who suffers anti Semitic bullying is unlikely to live in a state where large numbers of lawmakers are trying to prevent teachers even acknowledging his existence as a Jewish person. He is not living in a society in which influential people have defended the right of the state to put people like him in jail for being Jewish. All of which a gay child will experience alongside their bullying.

              • MarylandBill

                Actually, I would say he was more demonstrating a fair bit of ignorance about how Christians have traditionally read the Bible (i.e., the difference between ritual and moral law). I don’t blame this on him per say, the secular elite frequently make these mistakes and even many poorly educated Catholics and other Christians make the same mistake as well.

            • Ted Seeber

              No, in fact, he wasn’t. But that isn’t surprising from either a homosexual or an atheist; lying is their stock in trade.

              • Think before you post, dude.

              • S. Murphy

                This isn’t true or fair to either group.

                • Ted Seeber

                  Both groups are *based* on lies:
                  1. Atheists- God does not exist.
                  2. Homosexuals- that it is right and good for people to waste their sexuality on people of the same gender.

                  Yes, my original comment was harsh- but it is the truth. Both groups have philosophies based in lying.

                  • Andres Riofrio

                    Were you ever wrong about something? If so, at that time, were you lying?

                    No, you were just wrong. In the same sense, we can say the atheists and many gay activists are wrong, but we can’t accuse them of lying.

    • Dale Price

      I find your views intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • Funny, that’s what I say about Christian-baiters.

      • Sorry, I thought I was replying the the atheist troll.

    • Ted Seeber

      Yep, but we dish out the truth, where Atheists and Homosexuals attempt to change the world to fit their prejudices.

    • The bottom line: If you’re intent is to end bullying, picking a fight is not the way to do it. Finding common ground would be more helpful. Dan Merchant understood this when he made a documentary called, “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers”… where he went to a Gay Pride event and set up a confessional booth… Not so gays could confess their sins to him. But rather so he could confess his sins to gays. He walked away from that event with some new friends who, while they may disagree with his Christian views, were able to see that we’re all fellow travelers on this big rock. We need to have each other’s back. “Guard each other’s dignity and save each other pride.” Was Savage doing that? No. He was furthering the division that leads to the very bullying he and I and any true Christian hates. The, “Christians can dish it out but can’t take it” view is common on the Internet among those defending Savage. But their anger and the anger they’re causing is proof that this method for “ending bullying” is counterproductive. I prefer Dan Merchant’s way.

  • AnonCatholic

    there’s no need to worry about Paul or Leviticus; Jesus’s words in Mark chapter 10 obviously are what lay behind church teaching on marriage.

  • My impression from an excessive dose of Savage’s column is that (besides having trouble whether he is supposed to be writing a sex advice column or a political correctness advice column) is that he has no idea what it is like to be straight. Or, for that matter, transexual. (“If someone has qualms about dating a pre-op transexual, why not just cut it off?” Well, for one thing ,Danny, it is painful. For another, it is expensive.)

  • Ron

    I appreciate your thoughtful essay about where homosexuality “rates” as far as sin goes. When I’ve been asked about the subject I pretty much agree with you. I gently point out the passage in Proverbs 6:16-19 where God considers haughty eyes, lying tongues, hands that shed innocent blood, people who devise wicked plans, those who make haste to do evil, those who bear false witness, liars, and those who sow discord to be “greater” sins than homosexuality.

    • An Atheist

      And guess what? Owning other human beings as chattel property (slavery) *isn’t even listed as a sin* anywhere. Which was one of Savage’s points. What kind of twisted morality says that gays are worse than salve owners?

      • Dale Price

        Jew-baiting about shellfish is hilarious.

      • Jared

        You are on a Catholic blog. When say things the Church agrees with in order to argue against her, you look very silly.
        “Slavery is bad and shellfish is yummy!”
        Agreed. Step your game up 😉

      • Ted Seeber

        Correct. Adoption isn’t a sin. That’s the form that slavery takes in Paul’s letters.

      • Maiki

        Good thing Christians in general and Catholics in particular don’t take the Bible as the sole source of Truth in regards to sin. We condemn polygamy, Catholics condemn contraception, and Christianity is likely the first dominant world culture to have eliminated slavery in law.

        I would say although Paul did not advocate abolishing slavery, he was definitely against chattel slavery (treating slaves as merely property or less than human). He spoke about slaves as being equal in dignity before God to those who owned them, and advocated treating each other like equals or even like family.

      • Noah D

        Owning other human beings as chattel property (slavery)
        And you’ve just proven that as far as slavery in the ancient world goes, you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.

        Roman/Ancient slavery != American/Caribbean ‘Enlightenment’ slavery.

      • Actually, the Epistle to Philemon was more radically anti-slavery than anything or anyone for centuries.

  • Michael

    It was funnier when you called them brownshorts.

  • Crude

    “One can note that, yes, Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality are number among prohibitions against shellfish.”

    I’m going to get accused of splitting hairs here, but it’s important to be accurate: Leviticus prohibits certain sexual acts. It does not prohibit ‘homosexuality’, as in, ‘punish someone just because they have same-sex attraction’. Just as the ‘prohibition against shellfish’ orders not eating shellfish – not running around making sure to purge the world of lobsters.

    Savage should be ashamed of himself, and anyone who defends him or promotes his style of conversation has little ground to stand on when they themselves are bullied. Period. Because it’s no longer “bullying is bad”, it’s “bullying people I like or agree with is bad”.

  • I’m curious, Dan Savage. Are people who walk away from Westboro Baptist Church protesters pansy-assed too?

    An Atheist – Christian teaching on homosexuality has never rested on proof-texting Leviticus 18:22.

  • John C

    Great post by Shea. Someone once wrote that Keynes economic theories were influenced in part by his “childless vision”. Those of us in the breeder community are concerned above all about the welfare of our children, which is why I (and I suspect Shea) get pissed off when these tender young minds are brutally assaulted by the likes of Savage. I don’t think male homosexuals share the same concern for the young; in fact, some of them are pretty reckless about the example they set. I recall reading about a meeting between Allen Ginsberg and Norman Podhoretz sometime in the late ’60s, after Podhoretz had turned away from political liberalism. Ginsberg told him something to the effect that they would get their revenge by influencing their children. We as a society have become almost paralyzed when it comes to protecting our children.

    • Ted Seeber

      Heck, I don’t believe *AMERICA* taken as a whole cares for it’s young. And sure enough, birth rates by the sixth generation of Americanized Families are so low as to be practically non-existent.

  • Jay

    Mark, I’d really appreciate hearing your understanding of the concept of “bullying” — especially how it can be stretched to cover critical comments, not directed at any particular individual, made in a public speech made at an event that the audience was (presumably) free to attend or not attend. Fine, you don’t like the tone he was using, and you think he ignores elaborate Catholic doctrines on the subject (although again, it’s worth noting that “well, Leviticus says so” seems to be a sufficient justification for anti-homosexuality for many). But isn’t it a little much to equate Savage’s comments in a public speech with physical and emotional abuse directed at particular individuals?

    • It wasn’t just his “comments in a public speech” – when people left in protest, he was yelling to them and calling them “pansy-assed.” That is, he was directing emotional abuse toward particular individuals.

      • Jay

        Emotional abuse? For a one-off insult directed at a group of students who had just walked out in the middle of his speech? Doesn’t that basically mean any public criticism of someone that has the potential to embarrass them counts as “emotional abuse”? I’m not going to argue definitions, but as I said in the comments on Mark’s original post, this isn’t the same sort of “bullying” that Savage himself has made an effort to oppose, so it’s disingenuous to use that term when trying to argue that he’s a hypocrite committing the same offenses he himself condemns.

        I understand the point that Savage is often brash and impolite. I also understand (though generally disagree with) the argument that his style is counter-productive and mostly just serves to alienate people. But the attempt to transmute his “pansy-assed” comment into “bullying” and “emotional abuse” is really just more than reasonable argument can bear. He said some things you don’t like, and he was maybe a little too rude about it. That hardly seems worth this much attention.

        • Ted Seeber

          “Doesn’t that basically mean any public criticism of someone that has the potential to embarrass them counts as “emotional abuse”? ”

          That’s the definition the gay agenda seems to use, why not use it back against them?

          • Jay

            Well, because two wrongs don’t make a right? And because the response to a confusion of language shouldn’t be to confuse things even further, just to score a point against “the other side”? We should happily criticize any members of the so-called “gay agenda” who float terms like “emotional abuse” and “bullying” so lightly. And if Savage himself has ever condemned as “bullying” the same sort of conduct that occurred here, then he should be criticized as well. In the original comment thread, I asked Mark for an example of a time where Savage did exactly this, and he has yet to provide anything, so I’m skeptical there’s much there. But if there is, it just means that both Savage and Mark have too eagerly jumped on this language for its emotional effect. After all, “Sometimes Obnoxious Guy Is Sort of Rude” hardly makes for a great headline.

            • Mark Shea

              Perhaps you’ve never been a teenager who has been publicly humiliated and shamed before your peers by a bullying adult. But the fact that a reader with an autism spectrum disorder (as Ted has repeatedly pointed out about himself) is more perceptive about the emotional harm this jerk inflicted on those kids than you are suggests that you should shut up. You’ve already hit bottom. Stop digging.

              • Peggy Hagen

                Being bullied is unfortunately often part of the territory, there.

            • Ted Seeber

              “Well, because two wrongs don’t make a right?”

              Funny how Neurotypicals have used that against me my entire life, whenever I fought back against the bullies.

              • There’s a time for the sword. There’s a time for turning the other cheek. Obsess at either at your peril.

                • Ted Seeber

                  And of course, this is where the autism comes in- obsession.

                  • Yes. I was trying not to mention it. But since you did, please consider the effect you may have stirred at Mdm. Libresco’s blog. Please pray about the best course of action to make amends over there.

    • Mark Shea

      You seem incapable of grasping the fact that calling out a bunch of teens as pansy-assed in front of their peers for the specific purpose of humiliating them is emotional bullying directed at particularl individuals. Since you appear to be unable to grasp the fundamentals of human decency in ordinary interactions, I cannot put in what God has apparently left out of your emotional and psychological makeup.

      • kenneth

        This is more of an explanation than an excuse, but the sad fact is that bullies are sort of a self-sustaining ecology. The only way a guy like Savage can still carry around that sort of anger for 30 and more years past his high school years is because he no doubt was on the receiving end of a lot of it himself. Much of that homophobia that made him what he is today was rooted in Christianity, or at least justified by it, although a lot of nasty homophobes aren’t particularly religious and come at it from plain old insecurity and a lot of perceived threats to machismo/manhood rooted in misogyny.

        • Mark Shea

          Yeah. He’s the victim. That’s the real lesson here. Poor him. Those kids could dish it out (though there’s no evidence they were dishing anything out) but they couldn’t take it. He was “defending himself” from kids half his age by publicly humiliating them. No narcissism here.

        • Noah D

          The only way a guy like Savage can still carry around that sort of anger for 30 and more years past his high school years…

          …is because he hasn’t put down those burdens at the foot of the Cross.

          • kenneth

            Unfortunately neither did a huge percentage of Christians who encountered Savage and millions of others like him in their formative years.

            • Mark Shea

              You seem to know all about these people Savage went to school with. Can you name a single one?

              • S. Murphy

                No, Mark, I think Kenneth’s point was that a lot of adult Christians are walking wounded with respect to bullying, too – and haven’t yet succeeded at truly laying that pain at the foot of the Cross.

                • Mark Shea

                  True. However (and this was my point to Kenneth), he’s generally only prepared to extend that charity to people like Savage, not to Christians.

                • Ted Seeber

                  I resemble that remark.

        • S. Murphy

          I think he’s said elsewhere (NPR?) that he was bullied because he was ‘odd,’ not because he was gay (he wasn’t out, maybe hadn’t identified to himself as such at the time) – the kids who gave him shite didn’t know or accuse of being gay. He wondered whether the greater number of ‘out’ kids nowadays led to more specific bullying related to their sexuality.

  • Ed the Roman

    The arguments from gay teen suicide would be stronger if the gay teen suicide rate were not higher in gay friendly locales such as NYC and SFO than in, say, Grand Forks and Gulfport.

    • kenneth

      A lot of the screwed up gay teens who commit suicide in “gay friendly” locales like NYC are runaways from places like Grand Forks and Gulfport.

      • I’m interested in the statistics. Without clarification, the impression I get from your comment is that it’s as best a wash.

  • A Philosopher


    The “only calling out the bad apples” line would be more persuasive if you didn’t also say things like “narcissism and homosexuality: like peas and carrots”, as you did in the comments of the previous post. Those sorts of remarks make it hard to avoid the conclusion that you’re using (freely admittedly) bad apples as a device for smearing whole groups.

  • kenneth

    No, he’s not the victim in this encounter, but I’d bet good money he was when he was these kids ages. I don’t know the true depths of his own experience and I doubt any of us do. A lot of these guys endure a childhood and young adulthood that amounts to mental and sometimes physical torture because of who they are. Sometimes people are able to forgive and move on and transcend all that and keep everything in good perspective. Many are not. The tragedy of course is that his own speech and actions will only harden the attitudes of true homophobes and may convert a few to that path, and they will go on to create a new generation of gay men with a grudge against anyone who subscribes to the same beliefs as their tormentors.

    • Crude

      Or, more likely, they’ll expose the insanity of some people on the LGBSA side of these issues, ultimately making some people not take them as seriously as they wish to be – particularly in situations when they shouldn’t be taken seriously.

      Likewise, Savage will encourage people to bully, belittle, and torment even people who oppose bullying, even of people whose choices and lifestyles they disagree with. And some of those bullied people – Christians and otherwise – may well kill themselves. At which point Savage – and apparently, some of his admirers – will smirk and say, “Good riddance.”

    • Here’s the beauty of Christianity: Christians turn to Christ and thus can bear it. This way breaks the cycle.

      • JaneC

        I was bullied as a child, because I was nerdy and artistic and took my faith seriously. In elementary school, it was physical intimidation and being deliberately ignored. In high school other girls yelled explicit sexual suggestions at me in crowded hallways because they thought it was funny that I was striving for modesty and chastity. By the time I was fourteen, I’d had suicidal thoughts several times, but I didn’t give in because I knew I would be separating myself from Christ forever if I did. I clung to the Cross, and survived, and healed. The emotional scars are still there, but as the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation approaches, they’ve become pretty faint. It makes me sad that some, like Dan Savage, still display their scars, red and raw after thirty years, and seek to inflict the same pain on others.

        • Ted Seeber

          Good for you Jane- I gave in but was too cowardly to use any sure method. But it’s a very interesting feeling overdosing on over-the-counter pain medication then waking up the next morning on what I call “the other side of depression” and realizing what you had done.

  • Thomas R

    I do think she might have a point that “Brownshirts” is too loaded a word and harms conversation more than it helps it. It also maybe makes a false equivalency.

    Ernst Rohm killed people, I believe, he didn’t just be a clueless jerk insulting others. Or even just smash windows. Nor is all forms of authoritarian or even totalitarian thinking the same as Hitler or Mussolini.

    • Agreed. More heat than light, in the words of the other bearded big man of Catholic Answers.

  • Matt

    Just a note, current church policy does not disagree with you. The policy of the Church is that men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies are unfit for ordination. That is VERY VERY different than saying “men who suffer with ssa are unfit for ordination.”