Imagine you have a friend who is a staunch believer that 1+1=3. He goes around telling children and other people willing to listen that if you have one apple, and add another to it, you now have 3 apples. You decide to disabuse him of this preposterous notion, pointing out that 1+1=3 is illogical bullshit, and anyone who’s paying attention can clearly see that you have 2 apples in this case. Your friend is rather mad about this, and storms out of the room. Another mutual friend, trying to assuage the hostility of the situation, takes you aside and says,
“In America today you just can’t refer, even tangentially, to someone’s belief that 1+1=3 as ‘bullshit.’ You should apologize for using that word.”
You consider this friend to be a “smart mathematician.” Now, replace “1+1=3” with any type of disagreement regarding science, art, politics, sports, medicine, music or anything at all. Does it seem reasonable that there should be any field where no point of view can ever be described as bullshit?
I’m sure it’s obvious where I’m going with this. Someone “smart” did actually say this, but not about mathematics:
As for what I said about the Bible…
A smart Christian friend involved politics writes: “In America today you just can’t refer, even tangentially, to someone’s religion as ‘bullshit.’ You should apologize for using that word.”
The context of this admonition is a speech recently given by columnist and activist Dan Savage in which he said that “we can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people.” If he had said this about supply-side economics, outcome based education, the PATRIOT act or Obama’s energy policy, people might have vociferously disagreed, but no one would be offended. But since it’s about religion, that makes him a bully:
“If Dan Savage was a teacher, they’d suspend him without pay for this behavior,” he added. “He didn’t take account of who his audience was. If he was doing this with a bunch of college journalism kids, that would be a different story — that’s more rough and tumble. How many of the kids who didn’t walk out felt backed into a corner? To me, that’s bullying behavior. It has all the symptoms, as far as I’m concerned.”
Except that this wasn’t in a classroom. It wasn’t even at a public school. Here’s the thing–if Dan Savage had said this in a public school classroom, he would be totally wrong. No religion (or lack thereof) should be promoted in a public school. And I’m just as opposed to attacking Christianity in public schools as I am to promoting it. But this event wasn’t at a public school. It was a high school journalism convention held by a non-profit organization at a privately owned hotel. He has every fucking right to say what he god damn pleases there, and the students aren’t being forced to listen. If the convention organizers don’t like it, then they don’t have to invite him back next year. That’s their right. And if the students don’t want to hear it, they can walk out (which many did). That’s their right, too. No one’s rights were violated here. No one was in a position they couldn’t easily escape. No one had to pay any attention to him.
But if you’re religious, you have to take the position that any criticism of your religion is unacceptable. That’s the “smart” Christian thing to do, because there’s just simply no other way to defend religious beliefs. If someone asks “Wait, you mean you actually believe this guy was born of a virgin just because you read it in a dusty old bullshit book?”, the only way to respond is to become indignant and convert the argument into a debate about whether it’s right to “insult” your beliefs. But this belies the fact that there’s really only one class of beliefs that can only defend themselves by becoming offended: Beliefs which are complete bullshit. If there’s any rational basis for your beliefs at all, you don’t need to start pearl-clutching whenever someone attacks them. The irony of the “smart” Christian response is that it too at least tangentially implies that Christianity is bullshit. Which makes the “smart” Christian position a self-condemning contradiction.
Sadly, debates involving religion in this country regularly go the “smart” Christian route. And, even more sadly, those who should be standing up to the bullshit just bend over and take it, assuring the world that they would never attack religion. And Dan Savage–who in any other arena would never accept this “You can’t trash my beliefs because it hurts my feelings” approach–instead chooses to bend over and let the “smart” Christians smear Santorum all over the place.
I didn’t call anyone’s religion bullshit. I did say that there is bullshit—”untrue words or ideas“—in the Bible. That is being spun as an attack on Christianity. Which is bullshhh… which is untrue. I was not attacking the faith in which I was raised. I was attacking the argument that gay people must be discriminated against—and anti-bullying programs that address anti-gay bullying should be blocked (or exceptions should be made for bullying “motivated by faith”)—because it says right there in the Bible that being gay is wrong. Yet the same people who make that claim choose to ignore what the Bible has to say about a great deal else. I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. My remarks can only be read as an attack on all Christians if you believe that all Christians are hypocrites. Which I don’t believe.
Sigh. This, my friend, is a “pansy-ass” response, to use the very term you used to describe the Christians who didn’t want him to point out the obvious fact that there’s a lot of bullshit in the Bible.
There is absolutely no reason to cede ground here. So what if he was attacking Christianity? What he said was true, and if it constitutes an attack on Christianity, so be it. Now, it is true that not all Christians are homophobic bigots, so forms of Christianity do exist which have no relevance to this attack, meaning that, in fact, it is not an attack on Christianity as a whole. But that’s not the point. My point is that if it were, that shouldn’t be a problem. What makes Christianity so special that it deserves to live in some special bubble protected from all attacks, unlike any other belief system? Let’s look at what Christians believe:
An omnipotent, all-loving being deliberately created us to be imperfect. Our imperfections inevitably lead to us burning forever in hell (a place he created of his own free will). He decided that this will be the rule. But, he “saved” us by turning himself into one of us, getting himself killed, and coming back to life (somehow that saves us. Somehow). However, this only saves us if we believe this story–otherwise, we still burn for eternity. And all of this is to be understood as the actions of a loving, just and merciful being.
Bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit. And, yes, I am attacking Christianity. It’s bullshit. There is no reality in which creating a bad situation, deliberately putting someone in that situation, then telling them you’ll only get them out if they believe everything you say counts as “loving” and “just”. It’s sick. And, more importantly, if we’re to assume an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. What a fucking stupid way to make a universe.
Now, this is the point where the Christian calls me a “bigot” for pointing out the absurdity of Christian theology, to which my response is, “Here’s a bag of dicks and a ticket to Fucksville. Go fuck yourself.” You don’t get to halt the conversation just because it hurts your feelings when someone says your beliefs are absurd. Here’s what Savage should have said:
What I said was true regardless of whether it’s an attack on Christianity or not. If people have a problem with attacks on Christianity, that’s their problem, not mine. You don’t like me pointing out the absurdity and hypocrisy of your religious beliefs? Tough santorum.
I’d really like, just once, to see some major figure (who’s not already pigeon-holed as a “new atheist”), when accused of attacking religion, just point out that religion doesn’t get a free pass when it comes to public discourse. Saying it gets a free pass makes it impossible for an atheist or agnostic even to say out loud what she’s really thinking. And, ultimately, that’s the point. It’s okay to say the Arizona immigration bill is bullshit. It’s okay to say that Obama’s hypocritical statements on torture and the security state are bullshit. It’s okay to say that George Lucas’ idea of what Star Wars fans want is bullshit. But if you think “A magical book contains all the answers to life” is bullshit, then shut the fuck up. Just once I’d like to see somebody say, “No, I’m not a bully. I said an belief was bullshit. That’s not bullying. And if you think it is, that’s just because your beliefs are bullshit.”