Dan Savage: Just Another Symptom of an Ongoing Problem

First, watch the Dan Savage speech

Dan Savage, outspoken gay rights advocate who has been best-known the past two years for “It Gets Better”, has been sending what amounts to a mixed message lately. I say mixed because “It Gets Better” is supposed to be an anti-bullying movement, but Savage recently gave a speech to high schoolers which could fit a reasonable person’s definition of bullying.

Not surprisingly, those who happen to agree with Savage say it’s not bullying; it’s righteous anger.  Bullying or not, he definitely was in attack mode. As the video clip shows, he came out swinging. His tone wasn’t “let’s find a way to respect each other even as we see things differently.”

Intentional provocation, followed by feigned “who? little old me? a trouble-maker?”, is always interesting to watch, in that it doesn’t fool anyone. Bu what saddens me is that much of what I have read the last week from those who have called for civilized discourse have been excusing Savage’s remarks. I fail to see how they can reasonably reconcile their calls for respectful disagreement with their defense of Savage.

I’ve been saying for years that civility will happen when people clean their own house (in this case, when those who agree with Savage’s perspective will tell him to tone it down, and when those who have diametrically opposite viewpoints on this topic tell the loudmouths who agree with them to clam up if they can’t talk nice), and not before. Exactly the opposite has been happening, and it’s not getting better.

Civility is a trendy conversation topic these days. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who’s calling for civility, and IMO, it’s not just a nice blog topic; it’s a great thing to strive for. What passes for meaningful discussion these days is truly saddening, especially when compared to, say, how MLK or Rosa Parks went about expressing their views. History tells us that they managed to accomplish great things, and facilitate needed change in our nation, and not once did they ever resort to the tactics employed by Mr Savage.

Not that Dan Savage is alone, of course. He’s simply falling into line behind those cartoon characters who showed the way to greater ratings and increased book royalties. Ultimately, Savage comes across as just another flavor of Rush Limbaugh: a loud guy with no original thoughts, who makes a living saying outrageous things, then relishing the attention that comes with it.

Make no mistake: Savage’s remarks toward the high school kids is not on the same level of righteous anger, and he’s insulting most people of faith in our nation. He’s not just going after a few wrongheaded fundies with Westboro leanings. When he states that the bible is “bullshit”, he’s taking a swipe at a very large number of good people who have sincere beliefs and who have used their belief in the truth of Scripture to do a lot of good in the world. His remarks do not rise above the level of, say, making a broad statement about blacks, foreigners, women, or pretty much any group you can think of which is often stereotyped.

I’ve read Savage off and on for a couple of years, and his writing is just as mean-spirited and hateful as the people he purports to be against. He really is, in my mind, in the same group that includes Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Ann Coulter, Maureen Dowd, Bill Maher, and Glenn Beck, among others. They’re cartoon characters, unable to use solid reasoning to back up their viewpoints, and unwilling to avoid name-calling to get attention. Yes, it sells a lot of books, but it isn’t helping anything get better. And all this time, I was under the impression that “It Gets Better” was the goal.

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3 responses to “Dan Savage: Just Another Symptom of an Ongoing Problem

  1. Hello Mr. Williams.

    I know this post is over a year old, but I found it in my searches today, so I’m responding now. I’m a human rights activist who works by starting conversations with people on the internet who are, probably unintentionally, promoting human rights abuse. I work to change minds, one conversation at a time, because I think that type of activism is the only way to real change.

    Anyway, what drew my attention to your post here is because it is about Dan Savage, who is a relentless human rights advocate. He is extremely vocal and passionate about his cause, and he receives a large amount of backlash because of it, including this post by you.

    I do understand that Mr. Savage calling the Bible “bullshit” is offensive to those who cherish the Bible, and this triggered a lot of outrage and misunderstanding of what he was really saying. What he was actually calling “bullshit” is the way people ignore the parts of the Bible they don’t like and then pick and choose which parts they will use to justify being abusive to others.

    It is important to keep in mind that Dan Savage has been severely abused and even physically beaten because of his homosexuality, by people claiming to be Christians and claiming their abusive behavior is justified by the Bible.

    While other Christians may distance themselves from the abusive behavior, they fully support the idea that homosexuality is wrong and those who practice it is immoral. It is this basic belief that is behind so much violence and other abusive behavior towards homosexuals. Those who promote these negative beliefs about homosexuals may not commit the acts of abuse and violence themselves, but they support the motives of those who do, participating in an abusive culture.

    To understand why Dan and others criticize the Bible to fiercely, it’s important to remember that the ONLY justification for opposing homosexuality is because of a few passages in the Bible. For people, like Dan Savage, who don’t believe the Bible is anything more than a book written by an ancient and long dead culture, it seems absolutely bizarre that we would be adopting that culture’s stance on homosexuality.

    It’s especially bizarre since even Christians who love the Bible have almost completely adopted a modern outlook and lifestyle in every aspect of their lives, so why are they so adamant about this one thing when they’ve dropped over 99% of everything else about the Bible culture?

    To those of us observing this behavior are quite bewildered. Why has a generally loving and peaceful group of people decided to so fiercely hang onto a belief that turns them against 10% of the population and motivates them to ostracize and victimize people who are peacefully and ethically living their lives, making them feel unwanted for who they are, making them feel like outcasts in society and tacitly approving abuse and violence towards these people?

    As Dan so fiercely pointed out in his speech, the fact that Christians ignore over 90% of the Bible but so adamantly hang onto this one thing that has done so much harm to so many is “bullshit”. At some level, it just seems like it is being done to be mean.

    Although, I do think there is a fair amount of ignorance going on too. These are just beliefs that people are taught at a young age and adopt without question. When you aren’t constantly harassed for being gay, you don’t realize how gay people are constantly bombarded with all kinds of abuse each day. All you see are your own few comments, and that may not seem like much. But to a gay person, it feels like constant, daily harassment,

    And all because of a few old Bible verses that could be just as easily ignored as all the other ones surrounding them are.

    I apologize for the lengthy reply, but I hope it was thought-provoking. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.

    Thank you for your time,

    Human Rights Guy

    (I’m anonymous because I tend to get death threats)

    • I’m sorry you have received death threats, and I’m sorry that anyone representing Christianity has been anything but gracious to you. That said, I will dispute you on two points:

      1. Excusing Savage’s behavior as the result of passion does not make it any less wrong. Mean people suck, and trying to combat mean people by being mean doesn’t do anyone any good.

      2. You said that “Christians ignore over 90% of the Bible”. I don’t know much about golf. Can you imagine if I went into a golf tournament and started telling golfers how to swing, which club to use, etc.? I’d certainly not be taken seriously. Likewise, people who do not profess to be bible-believers, yet make claims based on what they think the bible says should not be taken seriously. Your assertion is Exhibit A. Those who support gay rights typically bring up the idea that Christians ignore much of what the bible says, and then they turn to verses in Leviticus about God’s command not to eat shellfish, or various other laws which are contained in that same portion of Scripture.

      This is an invalid criticism because the bible never says that Christians need to follow those laws. In fact, portions of the book of Acts, the Gospels, and the entire book of Galatians, tell us that Christians aren’t under those laws given through Moses to the Israelites. They (people of Israel) had just come out of 400 years of slavery, and nobody alive had any clue about how to set up a government, or how to make or enforce laws. God gave them 600+ laws to get them up and running as a nation. Those laws were given to a specific group of Christians at a particular time in history. Modern Christians are not under those laws any more than Americans are under Romanian law.

      The truth about this particular criticism of evangelical Christians is inconvenient for the modern gay-rights activist, as it undermines their main criticism of those who would dare say that same-sex sex is sinful. So in order to keep from undermining themselves, they conveniently ignore the reality of what the bible says. In the process, the discussion, which could have been a meaningful dialog between people with opposing viewpoints, gets sidetracked into name-calling and accusations. All based on untruth.

      Fact is, I love a good discussion with those who see things differently than me. I can learn so much hearing from the perspective of others. But when those others are so interested in painting me as hateful that they resort to twisting facts, that is evidence that they cannot rely on truth to uphold anything they have to say, and once they have engaged in fact-twisting, they have lost all credibility with me.

  2. Thank you for your response. I agree with you that Mr. Savage could get his point across without being mean. It’s best for people to try to understand each other, and negative emotions get in the way of that.

    That said, the issues Dan Savage talks about are important. Gay people are targets of ostracism, violence and general meanness. This seems to be driven, in our culture, by Christians, who quote the Bible to justify their horrible behavior.

    Of course people are free to have their own beliefs about what kind of conduct is appropriate or moral and to judge others from that understanding, so I have no problem with Christians believing that homosexuality is wrong even though I don’t feel the same way. The problems seem to come up when people go beyond following their own moral codes as a personal guide to their lives and try to force their morality on other people.

    None of us would like it if someone from another religion tried to force us to follow the tenants of their faith. And, with thousands of different religions and sects and philosophies out there, if everyone tried to force their own on everyone else, it would be a nightmare for all of us. So, we generally only force a core set of moral laws on people, like prohibitions against murder, harm, theft, etc.

    I probably don’t know the Bible as well as you, although I know that people interpret it thousands of different ways. This is part of the problem with trying to use the Bible to justify animosity towards homosexuals. So much depends on how you interpret it.

    I have read the Bible, including the parts prohibiting homosexuality, and I can understand thinking that behavior is wrong, if you believe the Bible is accurately conveying the instructions of a Deity. But, that is still just a religious person’s own belief, and it shouldn’t be forced on other people in society any more than you would want someone else’s values forced on you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, etc.

    Dan Savage’s larger point (once you get past the hostile tone) is that Christians need to back off of their constant harassment and violence towards gay people. It literally is none of their business.

    I know Dan Savage can be a bit of a loudmouth, and that can detract from his important message. I just hope you are able to get past that and see the importance of this issue. Gay people just need to be left alone and not harassed or victimized. It doesn’t matter how anyone else personally feels about their choices in life.

    Thank you for your time in reading this and thinking about it.

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