The perils and potential of N.A.L.T. (Not All Like That)

The perils and potential of N.A.L.T. (Not All Like That) December 13, 2012

Columnist Dan Savage has a message for “liberal Christians”:

In this video, Savage says:

Sometimes I forget to qualify “Christian” with “fundamentalist evangelical right-wing bats–t Christian.” And I’ll write something taking “Christians” to task for their abuse of queer people. And I’ll get emails and I’ll get calls from liberal Christians, whispering in my ear, “We’re not all like that. Psst, we’re not all like that.” I call them NALTs now, for Not All Like That Christians. NALT Christians.

When possible, I try to avoid that kind of phrase — “We’re not all like that,” or “Yes, I’m a Christian, but not that kind of Christian.” I don’t like the idea of defining or identifying myself based on what I’m not — or based on what I’m against.

Plus that just seems like setting the bar way too low. There’s more to following Jesus than simply not being a right-wing batsh–t loudmouth or not abusing others. That’s a minimal threshold of human decency, not the pinnacle of discipleship.

Dan Savage wants Christians who aren’t anti-gay to stop telling him we’re Not All Like That — and to start saying it to our fellow Christians who are like that.

Also, “I’m a Christian, but not that kind of Christian” seems like the sort of thing that has to be shown rather than just said. If I put myself in a situation in which it is unclear whether or not I am an abusive loudmouth, then it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to clarify things at that point just by asserting that I’m not.

Having said all of that, “Christian” remains a vast and immensely diverse category. There are some 2.3 billion Christians in this world and there’s a great deal that we do not all agree on. Belonging to a group that large and that diverse makes it inevitable that every Christian will, at some point, need to say “We’re not all like that” about something. We may need to say it in response to inaccurate stereotypes or to broad generalizations based on someone’s limited experience with only one particular kind of Christian.

If I meet someone whose only idea of Christianity comes from seeing televangelists, it may be necessary to relieve their fears by reassuring them, “Don’t worry, we’re not all like that.” And if I meet someone whose only idea of Christianity comes from reading the Gospels or a biography of Martin Luther King Jr., it may be necessary to disappoint them by saying, “Alas, we’re not all like that.”

But there’s yet another context in which saying, “We’re not all like that” can be more than just a useful clarification. There’s a context in which Not All Like That can be a powerful tool for transformation.

When those words are said to others — to those standing outside of Christianity and looking in — then they seem at best merely practical and at worst disingenuous. But when those words are spoken within Christianity — by Christians addressing other Christians — they can be a source of hope, relief and liberation.

When spoken to other Christians, those words can be a revelation — the delightful news that there are choices, options and possibilities they may not have realized (or been allowed to realize) existed.

Dan Savage seems to understand this. He addresses his NALT Christian friends:

But the reason so many of us have the impression that you are all indeed like that, and why Christian has become synonymous with anti-gay, is because of these loud voices on the Christian right. And they’ve hijacked Christianity, with your complicit silence enabling their hijacking of it.

And you know what? Liberal Christians, you need to do something about it. You need to tell them you’re not all like that. We know — liberals, lefties, progressives, queers — we know that not all Christians are like that. The religious right: They don’t know. Tell them.

… If you’re a NALT, stand up for your beliefs, stand up for liberal Jesus. Start a dialogue with your chapels and churches. … Figure out ways you can make your place of worship, your church, a more welcoming and tolerant place.

So stop writing me and telling me that you’re Not All Like That, and start doing something about it. Start telling them you’re Not All Like That.


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  • xytl

    True in the West, I think, but Judaea was Byzantine territory, still part of the Empire long after Rome had fallen to the barbarians. Then after that, the Caliphate. It’s not a history I’m familiar with, but I don’t think Judaea experienced anything like the sort of collapse seen in remote Western provinces like Britannia. Not until the Mongols and the Crusaders came visiting, anyway.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I really don’t care about the motivation behind making sure the hungry are fed, the homeless housed, and the sick cared for, provided that that is in fact the primary goal and not a way in which to make oneself think well of oneself or look good to others. And Jesus had a few things to say about people who do things in order to look good to others.

    Sneer quotes as to differentiate the social-democratic left from the revolutionary left. Revolutionary Left – The Only Proper Left ™.
    Come again?

  • Petrarch, not Plutarch.

    Indeed, they’re medieval. So, the Medieval Ages were not the horrible period of misery and uncultured filth as some people inply.

  • EllieMurasaki

    …I need sleep.

    Still 1300s, though, so I reiterate: isn’t that medieval?

  •  If anything, Britannia is the exception. Most of Gaul and Hispania, while damaged by the civil wars and the wars between new “Barbarian” states, didn’t exactly reach collapse levels, either.

  •  Indeed, they’re medieval. So, the Medieval Ages were not the horrible
    period of misery and uncultured filth as some people imply.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which, one, doesn’t have anything to do with what Neutrino was talking about at all, and two, those authors predate Gutenberg and mass literacy.

  • rupaul

    There is the Carolingian Renaissance, too (not sure of the dates, but early

  • Mira

    That interpretation of Judas is brought to music in Jesus Christ Superstar!

  • Mira

    I’ve heard it mainly in terms of “man, misogynists are assholes/awkward guys should want to dissociate from misogynists even if they might accidentally act inappropriately once in a while.” But I’ve mainly heard about it from atheists.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Ooh, really? I’ll have to bump that up the watch list.

  • What does the printing press have to do with anything? The classical Roman Empire didn’t have neither the printing press, nor mass literacy, but that doesn’t stop the “1000-year dark ages post the fall of WRE ’till the Renaissance” conceptions.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So Chaucer and them wrote for public performance? News to me.

  • xytl

    That so? There’s a production on at the O2, I think – Tim Minchin as Judas. Might see if I can get tickets. That sounds interesting.

  • Well, they certainly wrote them for the reading public of their times. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    We teach Shakespeare as English literature, but it’s really not. It’s English drama. Consuming Shakespeare the way Shakespeare meant it to be consumed is an audiovisual experience. Whether you can partake of that experience depends entirely on whether you can afford a ticket. The cheap seats in Shakespeare’s day were a penny, which was about a day’s pay for the average worker; it was difficult for the average worker to come by that much money when there were no financial needs more pressing than a few hours’ entertainment, but it wasn’t flat-out impossible. And whether you can read only matters to your consumption of Shakespeare if you’re watching a movie version with subtitles on.

    Chaucer actually is English lit. Consuming Chaucer the way Chaucer meant it to be consumed means sitting down with a stack of papers with words on. If you can’t read and you don’t know anyone who’s willing and able to read to you, then Chaucer is inaccessible to you.

    Your point about medieval culture seems to have considerable commonality with a point I keep seeing about the current US economy. It’s good for the rich, therefore it’s good for everyone. The first half of that statement is factual, but it’s not the only fact in play, and treating it as though it is the only fact in play results in the second half of the statement being woefully wrong.

  • B

     Although there’s quite a bit of debate about what exactly Jesus actually believed or taught.  It’s not clear that he actually thought he was God (especially since the whole Jesus-is-God thing is really only big in John, which is the latest of the four Gospels), whether he thought he was the Messiah, or whether, if he did think he was the Messiah, if he taught that publicly or only to his disciples.  Nor is clear whether he really knew that he was going to die soon or not (although it’s pointed out that Jesus was rabble-rousing in Jerusalem at the time of year when the Romans most cracked down on rabble-rousing in Jerusalem — you wouldn’t have to be the son of God to realize that your days might be numbered).

    Clearly the early Church believed these things, but about Jesus we don’t know (and realistically probably never will).

    Not that I know what to make of the whole anointing thing — if indeed that was actually something that happened and not a legend that began after his death.   (I don’t recall how well attested that incident is.)

  • Tricksterson

    Depends on if you think there is such a thing as a solid cut off point between eras.  Myself I consider them all to be transitional figures.

  • Tricksterson

    FWIW let me add my reccomendation to Miras.  YMMV but I prefer it both thematically and musically to the other great Jesus musical of the time,  Godspell

  • xytl

    I’m not sure where you’re getting a penny a day from here. Figures vary greatly, but according to this chart a fairly skilled labourer around the year 1600 would make a bit under six shillings a week, which translates to something less than a shilling a day.

    So a bit less then a shilling means Shakespeare’s penny would have been, what… a tenth of a day’s pay? That sounds reasonable, given modern prices for similar services. This wasn’t exclusively for the rich elite, Shakespeare was cheap, popular entertainment for the London crowd. As a standard of comparison we have the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank, which charges £5 for a standing ticket, in an economy where minimum wage is about £40 a day. Cinemas are significantly more expensive, and the other theatres in town are more expensive still.

    Oh, and while we’re discussing prices in Shakespeare’s London, we should also note that sack, two gallons, would cost you five and eightpence. Not that anybody would ever drink that much.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Same place I got that a penny was the price of a nosebleed seat at the Globe:

  • EllieMurasaki

    Racism, racism, racism, heterosexism, anti-Islam–I don’t have my card on me. Is that bingo?

  • esmerelda_ogg

     Starve the troll. Okay?

  • xytl

    I spent some time this morning looking into the question of ordinary workers’ wages in Shakespeare’s day, and it turns out that the City of London, by way of the livery companies, enforced wage controls at the time. This version comes from 1588.

    Pay for a hired servant, rather than for a skilled tradesman, runs as low as fourpence a day (assuming that the rate for a servant of the Company of Watermen is a mistake – that can’t be a yearly rate!) So if fourpence is the low end of the London pay scale at the time, then comparing to today’s £40 minimum wage we make a groundling’s ticket at the Globe cost £10.

    The same at today’s Globe costs £5; a ticket to see _Les Miserables_ (on film) at a suburban Odeon costs £5.50 on ‘Bargain Tuesday’ or £9.80 at other times; a ticket to see _Les Miserables_ (on stage) at the Queen’s Theatre may cost anything from £10.50 for a restricted view way up in the Upper Circle, to £95 for the best seats in the stalls. So Shakespeare was charging much the same as the cinemas do.

    I tried to find the original source for that wage list, and it appears to be from the records of the Court of Common Council, as reproduced in a book called _Tudor Royal Proclamations_, vol. III, no. 702 – according to this reference, anyway:

  • I remember it being pointed out in my English class that the kinds of references in Shakespeare aren’t all high-flown: many are designed to be understood by the masses. A classic example is the headmaiden/maiden head punning in Romeo and Juliet.

  • Teaching Shakespeare has slowly become more progressive at secondary schools.  It wasn’t always this way: I don’t know what the most popular play to teach is today, but it used to be Julius Caesar, since it falls near the bottom of the list as far as sex and humour go.

    FWIW, when I was in high school (mid 90s), we did King Lear and The Tempest, which remain two of my favorites to this day.  And I seem to remember we did a watered-down version of Macbeth in middle school.  Kids love Macbeth, and it’s not hard to see why.

  • guest

    Ha–I’ve always wondered why schools taught Julius Caesar; it’s not that interesting a play (and only becomes interesting if you know the history).  I guess violence is A-OK, even if sex is not.

    When I taught English in central Africa I tried Macbeth out on my students, and they were able to cope–I thought they’d be interested in the witches, since where I was living witchcraft was very much on people’s mind, and the school had in fact just had a serious witchcraft incident.

  • By the way, IN, I listened to Brink of Chaos recently.

    And wow. 

    Dude, you gotta check it out.

  • Amaryllis

    Anecdata from conversations with English teachers: the current favorites for high-school Shakespeare reading seem to be MacBeth, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Merchant of Venice.

    For whatever that combination tells us.

  • Yeah. In my high school, we did Macbeth and Hamlet.

  • Launcifer

    Similar in England, too, or at least it was… ten to thirteen years ago. Then again, I’ve done Hamlet, MacBeth, Twelfth Night, Much Ado about Nothing, Taming of the Shrew, Othello and – well, it should have been Romeo and Juliet, but I point-blank refused and did Titus Andronicus instead.

    No, I have no idea why my educational establishments were so obsessed with Shakespeare either.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which only reinforces my point that Shakespeare has always been culture that is accessible even to someone poor as fuck, while Chaucer, if you can’t read and you don’t know someone who’ll read to you, is not accessible to you at all.

  • xytl

    Oh, certainly. Shakespeare is widely thought of as incomprehensible highbrow culture for an elite group to appreciate, which is of course how his work has been treated for generations – but it’s nothing of the sort. Certainly he wanted to appeal to patronage from the London elite if he could, but he knew what mattered in that line of business. The common crowd, in their inexhaustible thousands! They’re the audience the plays were really for.

    But I’m not entirely convinced that Chaucer was quite such an inaccessible artist. Consider his framing device: stories told by travellers who meet in the pub. I’d guess that’s probably the setting in which most people heard his work. Some village bard with a fifth-hand copy of the Miller’s Tale, entertaining the party with a filthy story to earn a few pence and his drinks for the night.

  • Tricksterson

    Ah but when a witty reply to a stupid screed pops into your head sometimes you just have to use it or it goes stir crazy and takes you with it.

  • Tricksterson

    magic, murder and political intrigue all have universal appeal, why wouldn’t they like it?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Fascinating – on my browser, the trollish posts had disappeared hours ago and so had my comment that you’re replying to. Not that the vanished comments are any loss.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yesterday’s 9:14 pm screed is still here, but the youtube spam is gone.

  • esmerelda_ogg

     All I see is a one-line insult from around 10 last night (Eastern time; I’m not sure where you are, so maybe we’re talking about the same post).

  • EllieMurasaki –Winston Blake’s 9:14 goes up a couple screen heights, and there’s a 9:13 above it, but those seem to be his only remaining comments on the thread.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Wait, no, one 9:26 this morning.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Duh, I fail timekeeping. I think that’s the one I’m seeing. Well, as long as he’s gone.

  • Tricksterson

    Its still all visible to me.  And yeesh he couldnt even spell “faggot” right.

  • guest

    Because it’s so much work to understand word by word, particularly if English is your painfully-acquired second language?  I’ve heard people say Macbeth is probably the best ‘teaching Shakespeare’ because it’s short on complicated subplots.

  •  I don’t know anything about what PZ Myers has said about Atheism+,
    but…one of the raisons d’etre of A+ is social justice, with particular
    attention to various axes of privilege. Either you agree with me that
    gender qua gender shouldn’t matter (that is, shouldn’t grant one
    privilege or subject one to discrimination), gender vis-a-vis
    sex-assigned-at-birth shouldn’t matter, sexual orientation shouldn’t
    matter, race and ethnicity shouldn’t matter, etc etc etc, and we should
    all work together for a world in which none of those things matter,
    either all that or no I do not want to associate with you.

    Yeah.  There’s a subtle nuance about the whole thing and there’s a reason I keep using PZ Myers for stuff like this.  It’s precisely because I tend to agree with his stances on things, but am well past sick and tired of his zero-sum approach to atheism within atheism and in relation to religion.

    He is basically a fundamentalist preacher of atheism.  Whenever that gets mentioned the response tends to be, “But they can’t be fundamentalists because they don’t have a holy book!”  That’s a stupid argument that totally misses the forest for the trees.  I say that he’s a fundamentalist atheist preacher because he behaves in a manner that indicates that you can agree with him or be treated as a lesser being and a lesser intellect.

    That’s one thing when he’s picking on a misogynistic asshole or a homophobe or whatever.  Someone like Vox Day isn’t going to change because people are nice to him.  He’s gonna be a misogynistic asshole because that’s what gets him off and his only response to people is to treat them as inferiors or piss them off and make them yell at him because he’s a tiny man who has to feel like a bigshot.  What’re ya gonna do?

    My whole thing with PZed, though, is that I’m the exact definition of the sort of person he needs to win over to his side.  I hang out at the fringes of the atheist movement because I’m vaguely interested in the whole thing.  I still have absolutely no idea what’s wrong with the people who tried to call out Rebecca Watson after the Elevatorgate thing because to me it’s self-evident that you don’t go and creep on women in elevators in the middle of the night and it’s also self-evident that women should be allowed to stand up in public and say, “Hey, so, this thing happened and it’s creepy, just so you know.”

    However, the way Atheism+ started out looked to me, as an interested observer who, and I cannot stress this enough, agreed completely with its position on everything I was aware of was pretty much enough to turn me from a fringe observer of the atheist movement into someone who said, “Y’know what?  Fuck this.  I don’t want to be associated with any of ’em.”  I don’t want to have anything to do with the misogynistic MRA pricks.  I also don’t want to have anything to do with the holier-than-thou Atheism+ folks, precisely because they sold it in exactly the same way that the people who once left the church I grew up in and went to start another church.  I had enough of that attitude within religion, I don’t need it with non-atheism.

    Quite frankly, I’ve never really seen the point of a semi-organized atheist movement.  I’m an atheist because I stopped believing in god and that’s enough for me.  So now that atheism is beginning to behave like religion, I really don’t care.  I think the problem goes back to that old Nietzsche quote: be careful when fighting monsters lest you become one.  Organized atheism grew specifically to counter right-wing Christianity.  As far as I can tell it’s gradually morphing into the monster it intends to fight.  I’m simply not a fan.

  • Kevin Charles

    I use the term Christian to refer to those who are not all like that and the term “Xtian” to represent the others because they take the Christ out of Christian. Just like they take the Christ out of Christmas every year.

  • Mike Jones

    John Shore, co-founder of the newly launched NALT project, (modeled off of Dan’s ideas of NALT individuals) chose to block the last 4 comments that I submitted to his blog site regarding the NALT project and John and Catherine Shore’s video on the project, posted on Sept. 9th, 2013. They had first welcomed me there as someone who would be represented by their project. I posted the comments that were withheld from being posted there, at my blog site post:

    I took the time to work through each point that John and Catherine Shore were trying to make in their 12+ minute video on the project. John is a co-founder of the project. John’s blog site where his and Catherine’s video is posted blocked the remaining 4 comments that I posted there. At least various perspectives can be expressed here. You can read my full evaluation of their video here:

  • The_L1985


  • I’d like to note that this issue is very similar to the case of the woman who actually managed to get through to a guy who propositioned her from the street in his car. She explained to him that what he’d done could be seen as threatening and he actually stopped and thought about it.

    But it was the first time he’d ever realized it!

    That’s the same knd of situation as the man in the elevator. Some men (perhaps many) haven’t been taught, because Western culture doesn’t teach it routinely, that things they do which seem entirely natural and ordinary to them actually can be interpreted as threatening behavior by women.

    So it may have been absolutely unintentional on the man’s part, but it doesn’t change the fact that you don’t wait until someone is essentially unable to physically withdraw from a conversation before you ask them out on a date.

    So what the man did is a textbook example of what not to do, and it’s clear that if he WAS at the seminar, he took none of it to heart.

    Dawkins’s main problem is that he doesn’t seem to try to put himself in her shoes: that were he in an elevator and some fundie started getting in his face, he would be extremely displeased with being unable to exit the situation.

  • I suspect that Dawkins already does liken the situation to if he were stuck in an elevator with an angry fundie. He wouldn’t feel threatened, just annoyed, and would have something interesting to complain about later.

    The actual issue is that Dawkins being stuck in an elevator with an argumentative fundamentalist isn’t actually very much like a woman stuck in an elevator with an agressive suitor, unless Dawkins lived in a world where one in three atheists had been shivved by a fundamentalist and then told by the police that he had it coming for being out unescorted dressed “like that”.

  • I didn’t say the analogy was perfect.