Andrew Sullivan a bigot?

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I've been a faithful reader of Andrew Sullivan since I started looking at blogs. I've very much enjoyed his analysis, and I even agree with much he's said lately about gay marriage (though certainly not all of it). When others have abandoned him, I've stuck with him. I'm not sure if I will continue to do so.

I'm not going to link to his post that offended me, but you can find it if you look. He linked to a site making fun of evangelical Christians who take seriously the authority of scripture on homosexuality with the slogan "God hates shrimp."

Amidst some decent (but ultimately minor) criticisms of The Passion of the Christ, he's been saying some things bordering on the offensive by belittling orthodox Christian views on the atonement, as if Christ's suffering and dying for our sins is a backward, dangerous, and hateful view and that Christians should switch to other ways of talking about Jesus. He's compared the orthodox view of the purpose of Christ's suffering to sado-masochism. (He makes all sorts of unsubstantiated claims that Mel Gibson invented the depths of violence in this film, where anyone who paid attention to the Diane Sawyer interview could tell how carefully he had researched this film in order to fill in the gaps that a modern reader wouldn't know about what would have been done to him, which a first-century reader would consider obvious background information. He didn't get all the details right, but he wasn't just making this all up.) He's taken a few Mel Gibson quotes out of context and has referred to older quotes that Gibson has later clarified or indicated he's changed his mind on, all to make the man look like he hates lots of people. He's joined the bandwagon of those who ignore Gibson's claim that the Holocaust was an atrocity by saying Gibson won't say there was ever such a thing as the Holocaust. In other words, Andrew Sullivan has left all reason behind when it comes to these issues.

Now it's possible that I'm misinterpreting him on some of this, and ultimately he's free to say what he wants about people's views. I don't think that's the intent of the post that really got to me. I can handle disagreement and argumentation. This seems deliberately designed to offend people simply for applying one biblical command but not another, as if no one had ever thought previously to this discussion about hermeneutical issues with the Torah from a Christian perspective. It's an insult to the evangelical biblical scholars throughout church history who have addressed that very issue, and I couldn't let it stand without saying something.

This shrimp thing may turn out to be the final straw. I haven't removed my link to him in my blogroll (though I did demote him), and I'll continue to read his blog to see how he deals with this, for now at least, but I sent him the following letter last night. [He hasn't responded as of this posting, either by email or on the blog. We'll see if he's willing to acknowledge the fact that he's insulted the very people he's trying to win over. I'm going to have a very hard time continuing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this for very long, though. I'd like to see him at least comment on this issue.]

Andrew,

I've very much appreciated your commentary on many issues. I'm an evangelical Christian, and I agree with you on many of your points about what a secular government should do. I've engaged with some of your posts on my own blog and learned a lot in the process. As people have abandoned your blog, I've stuck with it, though I do think the quality has gone way down as you've been posting anything you can think of mostly on just one topic. Unfortunately, this shrimp thing may be what loses you my support. The flippancy with which you've been treating the deeply-held views of many Christians has astonished me, and this one takes the cake. Many evangelical Christians think very carefully about their views and have a well worked-out method of interpreting and applying the scriptures that still turns out to say that eating shellfish is ok but homosexual sex and relationships are morally wrong. That doesn't require going around saying "God hates fags", and it doesn't require making issues about homosexuality a priority (which from your perspective would be a good thing if the view is that homosexual sex and relationships are morally wrong).

I would appreciate an apology to those people who have faithfully read your thoughts but are offended by this post, as I am. It insults the reasoning of someone who holds that commands in the Torah that are continued in the New Testament still apply (but that those that are discontinued, such as dietary laws, do not), so the argument is just stupid. Only on a completely wooden view of scripture that in fact ignores what it says will that sort of point have any force (except to an orthodox Jew).

But my concern isn't really about the argument. It's about the tone you take in perpetuating a bad argument designed to make evangelical Christians look stupid. You're acting as if this reflects a truth that Christians who take the Bible seriously are total idiots, and anyone who takes the Bible as authoritative will get that sense, as I did. It takes a lot to offend me. I'm working on a Ph.D. in philosophy, and I'm used to back-and-forth banter arguing this and that. I can handle criticism. This is more than criticism, though. I don't think the site you linked to or your way of describing it will help promote your cause or your intellecual honesty among those whose intelligence you have insulted, and I don't see why you would have thought it funny to classify, at least in effect, a very large group of people as entire idiots. I've never written a letter like this before, but I've come to enjoy your posts so much that I was really taken aback by this.

6 Comments

Yes, it's been distressing to read Andrew Sullivan recently. I'm astounded at the utterly diverse and utterly impassioned responses to The Passion of the Christ. Unlike anything I've ever seen before. I even preached on this last Sunday, using it as an illustration of how people responded to Jesus himself. (Available on my website). Thanks for the thoughtful blog! Peace to you.

I think I missed the post about Gibson, by Sullivan, if there is one, but I finally came across the post about 'God hates shrimp'. I don't think he was making fun of evangelicals or thinking believers, and saying they are stupid, he was merely making fun of stupid believers, who quote scripture when it suits them, and ignore scripture when it doesn't (the whole problem of cherry-picking retroactive religous justification, which is a genuine problem). But, I might have missed what you were talking about, or, maybe he took it out. Or, perhaps I might not be as sensitive. He didn't say almost anything, he just listed a link....

Oh, by the way, glad to see that now you're a adorable little rodent rather than a slithering reptile. I think now I'm a cruncy crustacean, or something like that...

You're actually up to a Lowly Insect, as of today. It finally noticed my link to you, and for some reason it's counting your own link to yourself. Before, it only had John Hartung's and Jonathan Ichikawa's. I'm actually surprised Brian Weatherson hasn't noticed you yet. He noticed me simply from posting a comment on his blog, but you've already done that.

Andrew's comments on Mel Gibson have been pretty frequent. He at one point mentioned that he thinks the dying for sin stuff is an evil doctrine born out of sado-masochism and that it should be replaced with loving your neighbor. Then he goes on to say that Mel Gibson's orthodox view on sin is heterodox. Then I saw the shrimp thing, and in that context it really does seem as if he has something against anyone who sees the Bible as authoritative.

The reason I don't think he's just making fun of the "God hates fags" crowd, who really don't have consistent principles of interpretation, is because he really seemed to think that this is a good argument against those who believe the Bible says homosexuality is bad. This was all in the context of his complaints about the religious right as those who take the Bible seriously on this point. He quite carefully says that he doesn't want to undermine faith in general (he seems to be a practicing Catholic himself, as far as I can tell). Yet he does undermine that faith if it's one that involves traditional Christian beliefs.

If he had anything to say in his defense, I would expect at least a sentence telling me I misunderstood his motivations for posting the link. There's nothing on his blog or in my inbox telling me this. I know he receives a lot of email, but a sentence saying I misunderstood him with an apology for saying something that could be interpreted as I did is not hard to write. That makes me think I did understand him as he intended it, and he doesn't care. If so, he's going to lose a lot of people he's trying to argue against.

Some of this is archived now. I don't have the time to search the archives for the individual posts I'm remembering.

I should say that I put a question mark in the title of this post for a reason. I'm wondering if Andrew Sullivan just has a thing against those who take the scriptures to be anything along the lines of infallible, inerrant, authoritative, etc. I'm waiting for him to disprove this worry of mine. If he doesn't I can't conclude that he is bigoted against people simply for having this view. It may be that he doesn't understand my complaint. It may be that he thinks the argument that I say is awful is a good argument but that he doesn't have a nasty attitude toward those who believe otherwise. I'm not sure why he can think the following two things, though:

1. The shrimp thing is funny.
2. It has any relevance to public debate.

If it's funny, it's because of the "God hates fags" crowd and their Pharisaic methods of interpretation, using scripture to justify their own actions and ignoring parts that don't, while using it against anyone doing things that it says are wrong that they themselves don't do.

If that's why it's funny, I'm not sure why it has any relevance to this debate in public policy. Most of the people who are arguing for this amendment are guilty of some degree of that Pharisaical attitude, since I think everyone is, but they're not guilty of it along the lines of Fred Phelps and his crew who make the joke funny. That's why it annoys me so much, because people who have really thought carefully about their interpretation of scripture have supported this amendment. I'm not one of them, but the insinuation implied by endorsing both 1 and 2 makes me very uncomfortable, because it starts to show a disgust for the people whose views on scripture are more like my own but without the moral justification for taking it to that level, as there is with Fred Phelps.

That's why it makes me wonder about his intentions (or if he even sees the distinctions I'm making). I'm trying to be charitable, but his lack of response isn't encouraging me. It wouldn't take very much to say that he intended something other than what I'm worried about.

-gotcha...

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