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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Economist Weighs In on Bullshitgate

Posted by on Wed, May 2, 2012 at 12:39 PM

This line stung: "A couple of weeks ago Dan Savage... gave the right a gift." I certainly did, Economist, and I certainly regret it. But The Economist calls bullshh... comes to my defense:

However poorly Mr Savage may have been treated in high school, it was not by the students in the audience, and they deserved more from a famous and accomplished journalist than derision. Mr Savage acknowledged as much when he apologised, both for the regrettable and infantile slur "pansy-assed" and for using what the great J. Anthony Lukas called "a barnyard epithet" to refer to the Bible. (He could, of course, have opted to make a broader point: that nobody should be so quick to take offence; that journalists will hear a lot of things over the course of a career that they find offensive and even hurtful, and walking out anytime that happens will result in a short career and a narrow mind; that, however ugly his language Mr Savage was at least advancing arguments, and that surely at least one of those offended souls hoping to make a life out of words could have found a few to hurl back at him rather than just flouncing out in a huff.)

Mr Savage's apology did not stop the outrage machine. Some seem to have taken particular delight in hurling Mr Savage's epithets—bully and basher (of Christians and Christianity, rather than gays)—back at him. The American Thinker harrumphs, "Evidently, bullying is one of those things that is defined by the 'victim'." Well, yes: in fact it is. Bullying is the strong picking on the weak, not the other way around (the other way around is satire). One could make the argument that in the case of Mr Savage's speech, he was the strong one, and the high-school students were "victims", but that would be weak tea indeed. Mr Savage is one person, not a movement, and of course those students whom he gave the vapours were free to leave. Not everyone has such freedom. Gay teens, not Christian teens, kill themselves at higher rates than the general populace. Nobody calls Christianity an abomination. One blogger accused Mr Savage of "Christian-bashing" for pointing out the Bible's position on slavery. A writer for a Focus on the Family site said that "using profanity to deride the obviously a form of bullying and name-calling." In fact it is neither: Mr Savage, however intemperate his language, was arguing, not name-calling. That is a crucial distinction, and one that too often eludes the showily devout. If the Bible is in fact the word of God it can survive a few arguments about context and application.

One quibble: I didn't refer to the Bible as bullshit. I said there was bullshit in the Bible. And it's not that it's not that hard to spot the BS in the bible: just look for the verses that are ignored or glossed by the same folks who toss quotes from Leviticus and Romans around like so much hatefetti. I actually defended my use of the barnyard epithet. Anyway, there's more. Go read the whole thing.


Comments (44) RSS

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TVDinner 1
I'm pretty comfortable calling Christianity an abomination. But hey, that's me.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on May 2, 2012 at 12:47 PM · Report this
The Economist and Savage home something in common. Go figure.
Posted by Texans on May 2, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Report this
seatackled 3
Shit, does this mean more Seattleblues here?

Has he commented on COCK's follow-up from last night at least?
Posted by seatackled on May 2, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Report this
TVDinner 4
So good it's here twice!
Posted by TVDinner http:// on May 2, 2012 at 12:49 PM · Report this
What a good photo they used!
Posted by gloomy gus on May 2, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 6
This sort of education about the use of the English language by the Economist is going to cause Christianist heads to explode. That difference between satire and bullying will have them up at night praying for understanding.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on May 2, 2012 at 12:54 PM · Report this
balderdash 7
The Bible IS bullshit. One hundred percent of it. I know you have to play a certain amount of politics these days, Dan, but you were most certainly in the right, even if some delicate ears couldn't bear to hear it.

Oh, and running away when your opponent is making valid points, rather than sticking around to listen and possibly formulate a rebuttal, is most definitely pansy-assed.
Posted by balderdash on May 2, 2012 at 12:56 PM · Report this
Any comment on doublepostgate?
Posted by seattlebikeguy on May 2, 2012 at 1:04 PM · Report this
Vince 9
Kind of a backhanded compliment. And you just said what most people are thinking, anyway.
Posted by Vince on May 2, 2012 at 1:08 PM · Report this
sirkowski 10
@1 I second that.
Posted by sirkowski on May 2, 2012 at 1:21 PM · Report this
I write a blog and I constantly tell my readers that WORDS HAVE MEANING. (sorry for the caps but to make a point).

Dan said there was bullshit IN the Bible, not that the Bible was bullshit. Big difference.

But people don't always listen and particularly when reading, most people today skim text. It's a real problem because words have meaning and if you don't have it right in the first place, then you are castigating Savage wrongly.

Reading for content and word usage when you do write are important.
Posted by westello on May 2, 2012 at 1:24 PM · Report this
@1, @10: I'm with you guys.

I don't get all the hairsplitting. The Bible is full of bullshit. What percentage of bullshit is too much for the "in but not of" distinction? If I order beef stroganoff and I'm served a plate full of manure, how much manure does there have to be before I can say "this dish is manure" instead of "this dish has manure in it"? What difference does it make?

The Bible is a work of fiction, some of it entertaining, some of it dangerous nonsense. If people would admit that, there wouldn't be much need to label it bullshit, just like no one calls the farm supply store to complain that there's manure in their fertilizer. The problem isn't whether it's 90% made up or 95% made up, the problem is people getting angry when you point out that it's almost entirely made up. But it is.
Posted by Chase on May 2, 2012 at 1:36 PM · Report this
" Nobody calls Christianity an abomination. "....

obviously the Eco hasn't actually read Savage.
Posted by oh7ew on May 2, 2012 at 1:38 PM · Report this
christianflkr 14
Dan, your commentary was all spot on. Don't let these fake "christians" talk you down. Keep speaking up about why it's ok to eat shrimp but not dick. Keep speaking up about why it's ok for women to wear makeup in church, but it's not ok for a man to wear a flawless outfit with flawless makeup in a night club. It is all indeed "bullshit" hypocrisy.
We're behind you 100%!
Posted by christianflkr on May 2, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 15
Came here to say what @1 said

That, and fucking enough already with the fucking -gate suffix. Just stop.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on May 2, 2012 at 1:58 PM · Report this
MythicFox 16
@7 -- I'm not religious but keep in mind that while events as the Bible reports them are clearly bullshit, there is still a lot of decent stuff in the New Testament about treating people decently and being a better person. Rejecting the entire thing out of hand for the sake of internet-comment-posturing comes across as ignorant.

Read the Jefferson Bible some time. It's a version of the Bible where Thomas Jefferson went through and filtered out a lot of the bullshit (in other words, focusing entirely on Jesus' moral suggestions and leaving out miracles involving loaves and fishes).
Posted by MythicFox on May 2, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
I'll bet that Dan believes that there not only is bullshit IN the Bible, but that the Bible itself is, itself, (mostly) bullshit.

But the distinction is important because the argument he was making was premised on "there's bullshit in the Bible." Dan argued that virtually everyone ignores certain Biblical passages (like stoning women who are not virgins on their wedding nights): even conservative Evangelicals who believe that the Bible is a holy, divinely inspired text don't apply certain passages to modern society.

Arguing that the whole damned Bible is bullshit is a different debate--a worthwhile debate to have, but not the one Dan was trying to engage in.
Posted by Functional Atheist on May 2, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
the idiot formerly known as kk 18
I can't figure out why all these "Christians" aren't thanking you. After all, Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." (Mt. 5:11)

Maybe they just have never read the Bible.
Posted by the idiot formerly known as kk on May 2, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
Your quibble brings up a very interesting point about journalism, fact-checking, and sourcing. The difference you spotted is certainly something that, albeit subtly, changes the discourse of the topic:

A): Dan Savage calls some stuff in the Bible bullshit.

B): Dan Savage calls stuff in the Bible bullshit.

C): Dan Savage calls the Bible bullshit.

There is a difference in specificity between all three ranging from "some stuff" to "the entire thing". While some people may be offended at the entire bible being called bullshit, those people may indeed agree that things like slavery, stoning, and shellfish are bullshit.
Posted by Drew2u on May 2, 2012 at 2:23 PM · Report this
In this two-paragraph excerpt alone, The Economist described the students who walked out as "just flouncing out in a huff," and calls them "those students whom he gave the vapours."

Don't these choices of words evoke the same disparaging overtones as the "pansy-assed" put-down that Dan used?

In our culture, the tendency to call people weak/effeminate in order to put-down/bully them is insidious.
Posted by Jmos on May 2, 2012 at 3:07 PM · Report this
balderdash 21
@16, I suppose I take your point but I promise I feel this way in real life, too, and not just because I like to yell. There's valuable advice on how to live your life in The Lord of the Rings, too, and that's a work of fantasy fiction; the only significant distinction is that someone needs to claim that a fantasy is true before you can really call it "bullshit."

You'll notice that the Jefferson Bible has to remove most of the Bible before it becomes anything useful; I can make good life advice out of the sentence, "Be sure to kill all the Jews, and to be unmerciful in it, for they are another and worser kind of man" by cutting it down to "Be sure to be merciful and kind."

The Bible is an enormous pastiche of bits and pieces selected from the writings of a host of ancient, ignorant people. If you searched for the word "morality" on cached Geocities pages and then compiled the top fifty results into a "Holy Book" you'd probably come up with something of similar consistency, and you'd probably be able to mine a few nuggets of sense out of that, too. That doesn't mean the whole would be worth a damn.
Posted by balderdash on May 2, 2012 at 3:13 PM · Report this
I think this is a case of there being no such thing as bad publicity.
Thinkers, people who are more likely to change their opinions, will see through the pearl clutching gaspers and see Dan's argument for what it was.

To those with already closed minds - saying that there is BS in the bible is the same as saying it all is. These people were never going to be won over.
Posted by truck on May 2, 2012 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Manufactured outrage is a favorite tactic of the Conservative Noise Machine. This is very similar to the sort of high-dudgeon displayed by Tea Partiers when you use the term Tea Bagger. It's their own rhetoric -- two seconds with Google image search yields pictures of them brandishing signs saying "Tea Bag Obama" "Tea Bag the Democrats" "Tea Bag Liberals," not to mention all the pictures of them wearing actual tea bags, dressed as huge tea bags, et cetera -- but if anyone other than them uses the term, they fly into a rage and accuse you of engaging in offensive, disrespectful, name-calling, hate speech.

In other words, between it being the worst sort of disingenuous dishonesty, and their faux case of the vapors over coarse language, it's pansy-assed bullshit.
Posted by avast2006 on May 2, 2012 at 3:14 PM · Report this
eta on quitting the stranger?
Posted by Swearengen on May 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM · Report this
Corylea 25
A lot of the noisy Christians would faint if they ever read and understood the entire Bible. They base their life on something they don't even understand.
Posted by Corylea on May 2, 2012 at 4:30 PM · Report this
You're pretty much missing the more important point. The point isn't whether the entire Bible is or isn't bullshit. That may be a valid discussion topic, but it's a different one entirely.

The point is that the people who start with the.. ahem… fundamental… principle that the Bible isn't bullshit - that it is not only important, but is the word of God speaking to them on high and telling them how to live their lives and police the lies of others, completely dismiss huge issues that are at least as clearly stated - in many cases MORE clearly stated than what they use against gay people.

They're cheating by what they claim are their own rules.
Posted by Lymis on May 2, 2012 at 5:36 PM · Report this
My question, when this subject comes up, is "why is the Bible even in the conversation, when discussing matter of public policy?"

It's not my Bible, why should anything it says have any impact on my life? Those who believe in it can live by all of its rules, or by some of its rules, or by none of its rules. Should have nothing to do with me. I don't ask them to live by my faith, where do they get off asking me to live by theirs?
Posted by agony on May 2, 2012 at 5:49 PM · Report this
Roma 28
The American Thinker harrumphs, "Evidently, bullying is one of those things that is defined by the 'victim'." Well, yes: in fact it is. Bullying is the strong picking on the weak, not the other way around

Absolutely right. There's no gay holy book with a passage saying, "If a Christian also lie with another Christian, as he lieth with a non-Christian, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

One quibble: I didn't refer to the Bible as bullshit.

That's a very reasonable quibble, Dan, since (as you know) there's a significant difference between calling the Bible (or Christianity) bullshit, and calling aspects of it bullshit. I'm surprised the editor of that piece didn't catch the error. There are a lot of good things in the Bible. Thomas Jefferson, for one, pointed them out in his "Jefferson Bible." Jesus had a lot of great lessons. You'd think if being gay was such an abomination, he would have least uttered one negative thing about it. But, of course, he didn't.

Posted by Roma on May 2, 2012 at 6:36 PM · Report this
This Jefferson Bible thing seems pointless to me. If you are going to pick and choose pieces of the Bible to agree with there is no point in being religious at all. You are using your own judgement, not the judgement of God or Jesus. This wouldn't be such a problem if the entire point of the Bible was not to demand obedience. Jesus himself said it is a sin to love your family more than him.

I suppose the cutting up the Bible method actually fits into Jefferson's worldview, since he believed in god but was extremely suspicious of organized religion, but today's American Christians are not suspicious of organized religion at all. They go to church on a regular basis. I also think it is funny that the Jefferson Bible did not edit out satan, or Noah's ark, as if he thinks those are real things, or as if he thinks mass extinction is a valuable moral lesson.
Posted by TheLastComment on May 2, 2012 at 7:08 PM · Report this
@29: I'm sorry, but the fact that American Christians "go to church on a regular basis" says nothing at all about whether or not they are "suspicious of organized religion at all." I go to church on a semi-regular basis not because I am totally unsuspicious of organized religion, but because I find the ritual comforting and I like listening to a good priest's ideas on how the good parts of the Bible apply to my everyday life. While I believe in the tenets of the Catholic faith, I definitely recognize that my belief in God could easily be delusional and that the leadership of the church is quite often wrong. I think a lot of religious people have this experience of religion.
Posted by alguna_rubia on May 2, 2012 at 8:21 PM · Report this
@30 I don't think it is typical for religious people to be at all skeptical about the existence of God. I'm sure there are people who go to church and are still suspicious of religion, but the point I was attempting to make is there is no such thing as Deism any more. Jefferson was Deist, as were many of the founding fathers. I understand why someone would reject Christ's divinity and consider themselves part of a non-Christian religion that still holds some regard for Jesus. That is what Jefferson did. What I DO NOT understand is how somebody today could read the Jefferson Bible, find it more valuable than the unedited Bible, and still call themselves Christians. Christianity does not seem compatible to rejecting the divinity of Christ.

I get the ritualistic value of going to church. I go to a Unitarian Universalist church for that reason.
Posted by TheLastComment on May 2, 2012 at 9:16 PM · Report this
eustaceia 32
@20 A good and interesting point, although a sad one. And something I hadn't noticed until you pointed it out.
Posted by eustaceia on May 2, 2012 at 10:46 PM · Report this
Dan, you are doing yourself a disservice by not addressing the fact that religion is idiotic superstition and a great source of irrationality and homophobia.

You are not accomplishing anything by accommodating certain less malignant strains of superstition. Those strains are just as primitive and pointless as others.
If you are not informed yet in detail:

1.God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, V.Stenger(physicist)

2.Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith, A. Thompson(psychiatrist)

3.Religion Explained, P.Boyer(cognitive anthropologist)

4.The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, Loftus, Barker
Posted by Mattyx on May 3, 2012 at 12:25 AM · Report this
@ 20, 32:
If you aren't a regular reader of the Economist you might read it as ragging on them for being 'effeminate', but that isn't so.
They are UK-based publication, with a writing style that is soundly rooted in the early 1900s. (I think) their choice of words more likely reflects their opinion of the students' immaturity and lack of critical thinking ability.
Posted by somanynights on May 3, 2012 at 7:37 AM · Report this
hamish108 35
I think it's time we start calling all the bad stuff in the bible 'abominations' ("a thing that causes disgust or loathing"), co-opting their term for justifying their intolerance. Slavery, stoning, polygamy, homophobia, genocide, etc. are all loathsome practices and should be called out as such. "Bullshit" isn't a strong enough term for these disgusting tenets.
Posted by hamish108 on May 3, 2012 at 8:39 AM · Report this
@35: The reason we call them bullshit is not to condemn the activity itself (that much should be self-evident), but to point out that the Bible's stance on that activity is all but universally recognized as nonsense, even by supposedly devout Bible-believers.

Calling slavery an "abomination?" Well, duh. The point is that Christians routinely ignore vast swaths of their holy book because those sections are nonsense. They don't get to claim that the book is infallible while dismissing parts of it as, well, "bullshit."
Posted by avast2006 on May 3, 2012 at 10:44 AM · Report this
hamish108 37
@36: Well, duh, my whole point was to replace the profane (to Christians) 'bullshit' with their own term 'abomination', using their own terminology against them, illustrating that what was socially acceptable in 3,000 BC is now an abomination to present day civilization. It might, might, make the odd one think and re-assess their neolithic belief system. Maybe.
Posted by hamish108 on May 3, 2012 at 12:54 PM · Report this
John Horstman 38
But Dan, the Christian Bible is bullshit (it's really terrible writing, self-contradictory, and lacks narrative, moral, and epistemic cohesion), as both a work of fiction and as perfect, divinely-inspired law. So is Christianity - it's predicated entirely on a number of flatly untrue assertions i.e. bullshit. You should never have apologized, as you had nothing for which to apologize.
Posted by John Horstman on May 3, 2012 at 1:03 PM · Report this
What kind of a people are we when we DON'T call slavery bullshit?
Posted by 77times on May 3, 2012 at 1:51 PM · Report this
@34: I agree that The Economist was commenting on the students' immaturity and lack of critical thinking ability. They did so, though, in gendered terms. If you're an experienced user of the English language, whether or not you're British or old fashioned, I think my point stands - flouncing and having the vapours evoke the same gendered overtones (although less strongly) as the term pansy-assed.
Posted by Jmos on May 3, 2012 at 3:21 PM · Report this
@34: A follow-up:

To clarify my secondary point (in comment #20): The use of gendered phrases as put-downs is so pervasive in our culture that supportive people will unwittingly use them (which is likely the case in this excerpt from The Economist). Even victims of gendered abuse themselves have unwittingly let slip a ("pansy-assed") gendered put-down. This, of course, helps perpetuate the problem, but admitting one was wrong and apologizing goes a long way to help raise awareness.
Posted by Jmos on May 3, 2012 at 4:50 PM · Report this
MythicFox 42
@29/31 -- With all due respect, pretty much all of the major denominations arbitrarily pick and choose which books of the Bible 'count.' Jefferson just had tighter filters than some.
Posted by MythicFox on May 4, 2012 at 1:47 AM · Report this
luke1249 43
Ha! John Horstman doesn't know that it's a collection of books, not a single book.
Posted by luke1249 on May 4, 2012 at 6:01 AM · Report this
@33, well, Mattyx, the point is, religion per se is no more capable of being a source of stupid behavior as any other idealized ideology is -- including, alas, atheism (which was one of the tenants of communism in the old Soviet Union).

It's not religion per s that leads to that, it's self-righteous intolerance. Non-religious people are perfectly capable of self-righteous intolerance, too. If you want, I can give you a long bibliography on the topic.
Posted by ankylosaur on May 31, 2012 at 1:43 AM · Report this

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