The Fox Network and the rightwing Christian commentariat are up in arms over a speech he gave in front of a Seattle high-school audience in which he said it’s time people recognized there is bullshit in the Bible. Fox framed the event as a bullying event – Savage was bullying these high school students by attacking their religion.
I wish he had. I think their religion needs a kick in the butt. But that’s not, in fact, what he was up to.
Suppose he had. Whether the Bible is bullshit or not, somebody who thinks it is ought to be able to say so. How much would you bet that the same people now supporting the walk-out supported the Jyllands-Posten when it published those cartoons of Mohammed on September 30, 2005 and the Islamicist rightists went ballistic. What we have here is a pretty good Christian parallel. The taboo of speaking truth to religious power, whatever the local gods may be. Listen to the discourse on Fox and by Christian bloggers and other spokespeople for the religious right. It’s an attack on Christianity! It’s an insult to all Christian people! It’s bullying!
But then listen to what he actually said. There’s an entire world out there of Christian apologists who know how fragile the claim is that the Bible can or should be taken literally. Only people who haven’t actually read it make that claim, just as those bashing around the world in the name of the Qu’ran regularly demonstrate how out of touch they actually are with what’s in the Qu’ran.
The Bible, as Dan Savage points out, does advocate things we have come to believe is bullshit. Slavery, for example. The stoning of your non-virgin daughter. He might have added dashing the children of your enemy against a wall and any number of other examples. If one is going to read the Bible for inspiration and spiritual comfort, one is going to have to contend with a lot of stuff that suggests God is a mean piece of work. Or at least was when he was young.
The irony is that Savage was doing a pretty good job of avoiding insulting Christians. If you listen to his remarks, it was the hypocrites he was after, those who go after gays and justify their bigotry by whining, “it’s in the Bible!” He’s going after the cherry-pickers who avoid all the other things that are in the Bible, not after those who read between the lines for inspiration. He’s going after the literalists. People too uninformed to know how to read a text except as a political justification for doing what you are inclined to do anyway.
And calling Savage a bully for pointing out how fundamentalist literalists cherry-pick the Bible before using it as a hammer would be hilariously ironic, if it weren’t so utterly wrong. A bully seeks out the weak and vulnerable. He or she hurts them out of a desire to lord it over them. Pointing out that many members of the majority religion in this country are hypocritical and that the ground they stand on when citing scripture is weak sand is not bullying. It is opening the doors and windows of this dank dark room of religious oppression and letting in some sun and air.
And even if you don’t think that’s what he’s doing, you guys, do you really not understand the difference between bullying and engaging in passionate debate?
The news covered those walking out indignant. But if you listen carefully, you realize that many in the audience were giving Savage cheering support for his views.
Some days I feel the tiniest bit of hope for this country.
Dan Savage, sing it loud!