Sullivan weighs in on the kerfuffle kicked up by Dan Savage over the weekend thusly:
The case must be made about the inconsistent way that Christianists read the Bible to tilt it focus entirely on gays. But the case against the hypocritical, selective reading of the Bible is so strong that it undermines it to use the term "bullshit".
In other words, Sully (who is naturally pretty sympathetic to Savage's larger points) makes essentially the same argument that Mr. D makes in the thread at his place: that you gain no ground using language that alienates the people whose mind you are trying to change.
Though I have great respect for both Sullivan and Mr. D, I think that this argument, is...well, I think it's bullshit.
People are not blank slates. It would be a lovely world indeed in which everyone could encounter facts presented objectively, entertain arguments made logically from universal first principles, and through calm, deliberate reasoning reach conclusions about what the world is, how it works, and how people can best construct a society as to interact with each other peacefully and productively.
This is not the world in which we live.
People come to the table with all sorts of preconceptions, prejudices, and dogmas. Some--perhaps many--are well-justified, rooted in deep experience, and work well as heuristics for at least their particular time and place in human history. We have a habit of referring to such heuristics as "truth". This is probably adaptive--reconstructing the moral universe every generation from zero is rather taxing--up until the point that it no longer is.
I can think of no more salient example than the fact that for all of human history up until about half a century ago, the physical and economic consequences of sexual activity outside the confines of a stable family structure recognized and supported by the larger social group were huge, and disproportionately so for women. In that context, it is perfectly understandable why sex outside of marriage would be seen as taboo--it was literally dangerous! It is further understandable that while it was critical to keep the womenfolk in line for their own good, the indiscretions of males could be more tolerated because they maintained a certain level of plausible deniability.
Giving women control over their reproductive function changed everything. The culture war we are still fighting to this day is 90% people still getting used to that one, utterly revolutionary change.
I've already digressed pretty far from the point I want to make, which is this: reason and gentle persuasion are admirable, but experience suggests that they are no match for dogma. Having a "cherished belief" directly challenged necessarily involves discomfort for the challenged. Without discomfort, there is no reason to discard dated, incorrect, harmful, bullshit beliefs.
Sometimes, you just have to aim an argument for the gut.
I want people who use their faith to justify bigotry to feel uncomfortable about it. They should be made to feel awful about the consequences of their professed beliefs. And beyond that, those that stand up for belief qua belief, while trying to maintain their personal distance from the bigots, should be forced to examine who and what it is that they are effectively defending.
I don't believe for a solitary second that this is about using the word "bullshit" instead of, say, "hooey" or "nonsense". Sure, there is a little more gut-level impact with "bullshit"--and therein lies its power--but the meanings are essentially the same. Let's not split linguistic hairs, when what we're really upset about is the content of the argument itself. Or more likely, the fact that it is even being made.