By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Dan Savage
Narrated by: Dan Savage
With tongue in cheek, Dan Savage shows himself to be a committed hedonist. He rails against the conservative rants of the 3Bs, William Bennett, Robert Bork, and Pat Buchanan by celebrating the seven sins of humankind—Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, and Sloth.
All seven sins are lampooned and coveted with delight. Savage views pride in the light of a Gay Pride parade, envy in a man’s lust for another’s lover, gluttony in a fellow gourmand, lust among consenting sexual partners, anger in the terror of 9/11, greed in the desire for more of everything, and sloth in the use of drugs.
A surprise in the beginning of Savage’s book is his contention that the seven deadly sins are not noted in the bible. A little research suggests he is wrong. In the Book of Proverbs 6:16-19 (the second book of the third section of the Hebrew Bible), “…six things the Lord hateth and seven that are an abomination unto Him…” are noted. Also, another list is given in the ninth book of the New Testament in Galatians 5:19-21, the Epistle to the Galatians.
Of course, whether the sins are mentioned in the Bible or not is not relevant to Savage’s theme. Savage argues that humans should have the freedom to pursue happiness wherever it lies, as long as it does no harm to others. Savages argument is that freedom to choose happiness, whether God-given or not, is written into the American’ Declaration of Independence. When that pursuit is infringed upon, Savage suggests it violates America’s founding document and denies human beings’ natural rights.
Though many of Savage’s examples of hedonistic behavior are distasteful, an undeniable truth is human nature is, at times, prideful, envious, gluttonous, lustful, angry, greedy, and slothful. What irks Savage and any rational being are the portentous and duplicitous comments of ultra conservative pundits like Bork, Bennett, and Buchanan that say they know what sin is and government should legislate against it. Savage’s argument is that when a person’s pursuit of happiness is not harmful to others, it is legitimized by the American’ Declaration of Independence and the nature of humankind.
One may grant that Bork, Bennett, and Buchanan are pompous conservatives that lie to others, and probably themselves. However, Savage is not defining “harmful to others” or “happiness”, well enough to convince one that hedonism is a worthy pursuit. Few would disagree that all human beings are subject to the seven deadly sins. Sin is a part of the human condition. However, sin cannot be fairly judged because the fox is in the chicken house; i.e. those who legislate are as sinful as those who are legislated against. Those who try to legislate against sin have undoubtedly experienced sin in mind or body. Where Savage is right in principle is that as long as one’s sin is not harmful to others, it should not be legislated against. The difficulty is in knowing where to draw the line on what is harmful to others.
Pursuit of hedonism, contrary to Savage’s argument, may be harmful to others, but more significantly, happiness is always qualified and ephemeral. Sin is a part of the human condition but pursuit of it is a fool’s predilection. Americans are not Skipping Towards Gomorrah; i.e. Americans, like all human beings, are what they are, and do what they do–humans live, experience, and die, rarely knowing or understanding happiness.