I should have known that writing about Dan Savage was going to get me into a bit of trouble with readers. I should have, but didn’t because, as I wrote in my piece last week, I don’t know all that much about Savage. Many of you have sought to rectify that situation.
Since last week I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, and readers, all taking issue with my categorization of Savage as “a perfect example of the new morality.” As evidence, they’ve made me aware of a number of offensive things that Savage has said over the years, all of which I stand firmly against. I would hope that it would be obvious, for example, that I don’t condone wishing death on Republican politicians, publicly taunting Christian students, or ridiculing Catholic priests in the way Savage has done. In fact, I find these things deplorable.
I accept responsibility for holding Savage up as a model of the new morality without knowing more about the man. That said, in my piece I indicated that what I do know about him is that he frames his arguments — gay marriage, for example — in terms of morality. This, I was hoping to indicate, is what I respect about Savage. I don’t think we can take this for granted. It was not too long ago that the easier argument, that old fashion things like morality no longer apply, might have sufficed for someone advocating for gay marriage.
And this is why I aligned Savage with the new morality. The arguments he makes, whether you agree with them or not, come from a place of moral reckoning. And, as I alluded to in last week’s post, a lot of that morality aligns with traditional morality, even where it expands to cover a broader range of concerns.
I know a lot more about Savage now. I was never under any illusion that he’s a perfect man, and now I know for sure that he’s far from it. I noted that I don’t read his column and that if I did I probably would be uncomfortable with it. Now, I feel further that I wouldn’t want to support a person who has said some of things he has. But I still think he makes for a good example of the ways in which morality is shifting and simultaneously resuming its essential place in the public square.
A reader responded in the comments section of the post last week that it is not revolutionary that people are guided by a moral compass. This is true; I have no doubt about it. But what is revolutionary is that a public figure like Dan Savage bothers to appeal to that moral compass to make an argument in the public square. There were those, not long ago, who felt certain that postmodernism (and the specter of relativism that they imagine haunts it) was going to destroy anyone’s ability to make an argument based on right and wrong. Dan Savage, for all his faults, proves these predictions false.
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