The National Catholic Review

I was hesitant to post this interview because the grenade throwers who tend to comment on this blog will have plenty of  ammunition, but Dan Savage’s sincerity in his essay about the death of his mother and his relationship with the Catholic Church is worth sharing. For those who don’t know, Savage is a gay rights activist and sex columnist who was the inspiration behind the It Gets Better project, a YouTube campaign aimed at preventing young adult suicide and curbing bullying. Savage was in the news this week for his talk to college journalists about bullying during which he said that the bible’s condemnation of homosexuality must go the way of its condemnation of shellfish.

On This American Life, Savage talks about growing up Catholic and how coming out led him to question the basic teachings of the church before ultimately walking away. He describes himself as an “agnoatheist,” not quite committed to atheism but not quite open to the idea of a living God either. He says that his life is still punctuated occasionally by some small markers of his former faith, and when his mother, a devout Catholic until the end of her life, passed away, he found himself sneaking off to Catholic churches for quick prayers or moments of silence. Ultimately, Savage says he remains unable to believe, but his connection to the Catholic faith seems to have quite the grasp on him.

Listen to the interview. What do you make of Savage’s connection to his faith even after he describes the pain the church has caused him and his family? Does his experience remind you of people in your life, people who may have left the church but who still turn to the comforting ritual in moments of pain or uncertainty? What is it about Catholicism that seems to grasp people long after they have left?

N.B. Google anything about Dan Savage and you will find enough links to post hundreds of negative comments attacking him, his ideas, and his language. But please, consider what he is saying in this interview, especially given the dramatic rise in the number of self-identified ex-Catholics.

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Livia Fiordelisi | 5/5/2012 - 1:03pm
A beautiful reflection on love that survives death by Dan Savage. I like to believe that when Gods looks at us, he sees our deepest encounters with love, our true selves hidden beneath the inconsistencies, weaknesses, hatreds, fears and lies. On the other hand, our church in-fighting must seem to God like watching children squabbling in a sandbox.
Kay Satterfield | 5/4/2012 - 9:21am
I agree with those who wrote that Dan S.'s sincere expression of his loss and struggle with his Catholic faith is very moving.  He is searching for that connection with he knows not what. His experience of his mother's unconditional love for him exemplifies what a great lady she was.  It seems to me that her actions were guided by her faith and he is trying to connect to her somehow in his loss.  I would liked to have know her. From my experience, she and those like her really make up the heart of the Church though they don't get any publicity.  I pray that some older lady at St. James comes over and hugs the poor guy while he is hiding in the back, sitting in a pew, full of loss, searching for God.
Carlos Orozco | 5/2/2012 - 10:10pm
Absolutely misguiding. Sad.
Carlos Orozco | 5/2/2012 - 10:08pm
Sentimental manipulation cannot hide Mr. Savage's hate-speech (and his perverted comments directed towards youth, as Comment #1 makes clear). He just couldn't restrain himself. So much for tolerance.
Jim McCrea | 5/2/2012 - 7:11pm
Far be it from any lesbian or gay man who has good reason to believe that (s)he has been screwed over by church and/or state to fight back with other than Marquis of Queensbury (pun intended) rules!

Bad form, et wot?
ron chandonia | 5/1/2012 - 9:48pm
In his defense of Savage, Mark in #4 dismisses the concern about Savage's recent bullying attack on young Christians with the comment, ''They're college students who should be able to handle a mildly provocative joke.''  The students who were compelled to listen to Savage's attack on their faith were actually teenagers at a high school journalism conference.  Dan Savage is a propaganist for hedonism whose increasing media presence badly influences young people; to defend his views on Catholicism because he admits experiencing occasional lapses in his agnosticism is absurd.
Thomas Rooney OFS | 5/1/2012 - 11:39am
Abe and I seem to have had a communication gap...I think we're on the same page now!
Kang Dole | 5/1/2012 - 11:34am
I wasn't justifying Savage's pansy-ass remark, I was talking about what he said concerning the Bible.

I also have to say, concerning Bill Freeman's quote, that it is a nice sentiment, but one that really lacks basis in reality.
Thomas Rooney OFS | 5/1/2012 - 11:22am
@ Abe - I don't know that Christians were a group miniority.  By minority, I meant the folks who were leaving as compared to those who stayed.

As for Savage's reason for the insults...who cares?  Think about the message it sends - you don't like what someone has to say, or that they choose not to listen to you, it's perfectly fine to lash out at them verbally.  At BEST, it takes away form the message of "It gets better".

Speaking from painful experience, I can assure you the bullied could not care less about the motivation of their attackers.
Bill Freeman | 5/1/2012 - 10:57am
“Our familiarity with the Bible can never become an instrument of personal power over others to proselytize, coerce, judge or punish them.  The Bible has communion as its goal: our being bonded with God and our fellow humans.  We can be sure that we have understood the Bible if it produces love in us and the fruits of the Spirit.  It is equally certain that alienation from others, disunity, and a tendency to condemn come from ourselves; they do not derive from God’s word.” 
From: “Sacred Reading: The Act of Lectio Divina,” by Michael Casey, p. 44.
Michael Casey is a Cistercian monk and prior of Tarrawarra Abbey in Victoria, Australia.
Kang Dole | 5/1/2012 - 10:49am
I agree with you that he should not have said that (so does Savage; he has apologized). He did not say it, however, to provoke a reaction; he said it in response to students walking out on him. I am not sure how you know that Christians were a group minority there.
Thomas Rooney OFS | 5/1/2012 - 10:22am
Part of my comment got lost.  The rest should have read.."that is mean-spirited insults meant to provoke a reaction from a group minority.  Sounds an awful lot like bullying to me."
Thomas Rooney OFS | 5/1/2012 - 10:20am
I've not accessed the intereview...but I find it quite contradictory for an anti-bullying activist to call people he makes uncomfortable "pansy ass".  

I'm sorry, t?hat's not challenging yoursel?f??,? ?t?h?a?t?'?s? ?n?o?t? ??"?g?e?t?t?i?n?g? ?b?e?t?t?e?r??".?.?.??t?h?a?t?'?s? ?r?e?v?e?r?t?i?n?g? ?t?o?? ?m?e?a?n?-??????s?p?i?r?i?t?e?d?????????? ?i?n?s?u?l?t?s? ?t?o? ?p?r?o?v?o?k?e? ?a? ?r?e?a?c?t?i?o?n? ?f?r?o?m? ?a? ?m????????????????????i?n?o?r?i?t?y? ?i?n? ?a? ?g?r?o?u?p? ?t?o? ?p?r?o?v?o?k?e? ?a? ?r?e?a?c?t?i?o?n?.? ? ??S?o?u?n?d?s? ?a?n? ?a?w?f?u?l? ?l?o?t? ?l?i?k?e? ?b?u?l?l?y?i?n?g? ?t?o? ?m?e??. ? ??????????
Kang Dole | 5/1/2012 - 9:46am
He is referring to a recent speech Savage gave that Brett Joyce imported into the discussion.
David Harvie | 5/1/2012 - 8:51am
While I do not always agree with Dan Savage, I am still still a fan. 

That said, I think he really mishandled his recent presentation.  If he had toned down his rhetoric, his points could have been received in a more thoughtful manner.  That we all pick and choose what we want to read in the bible is without dispute.  Slavery, eating shrimp, cutting our hair, all of these are addressed in the bible but we choose to ignore those verses.  Dan's use of profanity and name calling were just wrong, although not surprising.

What we need more than anything is continued respectful dialog between various parts of this big tent called the Catholic Church.  Dan is still a baptized Catholic.  Perhaps, if there is a takeaway from Dan on this and actually something that he often calls for in his columns, it would be that there needs to be better communication and real listening, a lesson that he himself might have learned through the outcry against him.
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/1/2012 - 8:10am
I listened to the interview.

Wow.  I related to many of his own problems with "The Church" as well as his deep attraction (and need for) sacrament.  But I was probably most moved by the love he had for his mother and she for him, and how that love is what makes life real and gives Savage to courage to be as honest as he is.  Her Catholicity was authentic.  Sure, Dan is smart and articulate and can make things sound funny and clever, but what came through in this talk was his vulnerability. And that is what matters in communicating (which is what Church is all about: communion).

I believe that Church is much more than the "club" that it is portrayed as, in the pulpit as well as the media.  I believe that Church means Body of Christ, and you can no more not belong to it than you can not belong to the human race or creation itself.  

The task of the structural Church is to feed that deep place in our soul where we know that we belong.
mark h | 5/1/2012 - 6:30am
I love how people like Brett Joyce use the "bullsh*t" and "pan$y ass" logic to discredit savage, while taking his speak completely out of context. You are putting words in his mouth and misattributing his intentions, and you know it. If you were a journalist, you'd be horrible at your job.

Savage did not call the bible bullshit. He called attention to the fact that christians have come to realize that it is dated, and that various societal imperatives put forward in it are no longer valid. This includes things like shellfish, slavery, and mixed fiber clothing. He was not calling the bible bullshit. So as much as you may like to think that, and as much as it may upset you - it's not the case. It *is* possible to READ, COMPREHEND, and UNDERSTAND someone's potentially controversial opinion before jumping to conclusions.

As for the "pansy ass" comment.  I think it goes hand in hand with dan savage's message. Challenge yourself. Don't be sheep. It's the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "NANANANANANANA" because you don't like what you're hearing.

If Dan's boyfriend looks great in a speedo. Good for him. It's funny, and I don't see the problem. They're college students who should be able to handle a mildly provocative joke.

Stephen SCHEWE | 5/1/2012 - 2:37am
When my father died five years ago, I experienced in the privacy of my family some episodes of what I’d describe as involuntary keening.  I was surprised, because my relationship with my father could charitably be described as tempestuous.  There were periods in our lives (thankfully short) when we did not speak, and we disagreed on many things.  On his deathbed, my father had lost most of his cognitive ability; the only thing I knew for sure was that he still recognized me, because he knew my name.
Dan Savage’s remembrance ties Catholic ritual, aesthetics, and sacraments to that visceral something inside of us, something non-verbal that only reveals itself in extremis.  And while reason, and some of the same headlines that Savage cites, prompted me to Anglicanism, the unreasoning, visceral part of me, the part that experiences the Communion of Saints, remains Catholic.  Savage love indeed.
Winifred Holloway | 5/1/2012 - 11:59am
Thank you for the  post, Michael.  I found Savage's personal essay moving and sincere.  With Beth, I believe the church is the body of Christ, and not a club.  I know many, many non-practicing Catholics who remain drawn to the sacramental aura of the Church, especially if they spent any time in a Catholic school where it's in the air - daily prayer, religious art and frequent reminders of the sacred.  Reason is good and certainly useful, but it does not pack the same human punch that beauty does. And a life demonstrating the love of God is even better. Savage's mother with her deep-rooted faith imaged God for  him.  We know God through love  - love given, love received and love shared.  I think it's the unconditional, life-giving love that Savage's mother practiced is what keeps him not quite sure of his agnosticism.
Patricia Bergeron | 5/2/2012 - 7:32pm
Listened to Dan Savage's interview on This American Life after reading everyone's posts. I found the interview sincere and very moving. May we have more compassion and less judgment please? I recall reading a comment by Gerry Hughes, S.J. that God meets us all where we are now. I hope Dan Savage and all of us are able to see that.