Skipping Towards Gomorrah  

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America

by Dan Savage, 2002, paperback.

You Should Know

I’m a longtime reader of Savage Love, Savage’s weekly column. I also almost managed to arrange for him to give a lecture for the students in my program. The only thing stopping me was budgetary issues.

I have not read either Slouching Towards Gomorrah or Slouching Towards Bethlehem.


The truly revolutionary premise of our nation’s founding document is the freedom to pursue happiness-with-a-capital-H.

So begins Dan Savage’s book on the things that make people happy, and why he thinks moralists, or “virtuecrats,” as he calls them, should keep their mouths shut about other people’s happiness. The title comes from Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah, a book that discusses the “moral collapse” of America (and which in turn, as the author’s brother explained to him, gets its title from Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethelehm, which gets its title from W. B. Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming”).

The entire first chapter discussed Bork and other virtuecrats such as Dr. Laura and Pat Buchanan, and how their views are both ineffective (the sale of rap CDs, Savage notes, has not declined in the face of criticism) and possibly un-American (as the founders did not revoke the “pursuit of happiness” clause when they wrote the Constitution).

Savage then devotes one chapter to each of the seven deadly sins. He explores greed by visiting casinos in Las Vegas and Dubuque, Iowa, where he learns to play Blackjack. He looks into lust by visiting with a pair of swingers – an otherwise conventional, devout Jewish couple (he also finds out from a Baptist minister that, as a monogamous gay man, he is incapable of committing adultery). In the chapter on sloth he… doesn’t actually do much of anything, aptly enough, but he discusses the legalization of marijuana at length, and plays around with footnotes (“Footnotes are fun, aren’t they?” he asks in one). 1 In exploring gluttony, Savage laments that no one has managed to combine his two favorite foods (bacon and cake), then attends a convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance. He grows envious at an exclusive weight-loss spa for the wealthy, where visitors pay $3200 to spend a week living without luxuries. He attends a gay pride parade that turns out not to be so much about pride as about having fun. Finally, he gets to experience pride while exploring anger at a Texas shooting range (it turns out he’s a natural shot).

For the final chapter, Savage makes a trip to New York City just a few weeks after 9/11 to see if he can get all seven sins accomplished in one weekend while contributing to the (underground) economy per President Bush’s wishes. He concludes by meditating on the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, and notes that while the cities were no doubt full of vice, they were only destroyed when their inhabitants started trying to impose their morality (or lack thereof) on Lot and his guests – giving them more in common with the virtuecrats than the sinners, in Savage’s view.


Read it, but know what you’re getting into. As in the case with many books about American life, either you’ll completely agree with the author, or you’ll find him to be a nut-job who personifies everything wrong with America. However, if you read it expecting funny stories, interesting perspectives with which you may or may not agree, and a thorough exploration of sin, you will be satisfied.

Also, anyone who enjoys Savage Love should read this book.

The rest of the Internet

The book's profile.
Dan Savage according to Wikipedia.
a rediculous raw youth discusses a Dan Savage college lecture.
Pop Matters reviews the book, too.
So does Zubon Book Reviews.
I also reviewed Savage's The Commitment

1. Yes. Yes they are.

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