Thursday, March 15, 2012

Long Article, Part One: On Being Offended

(This article got quite long, so I've decided to break it up into two separate posts. First, we'll tackle the problem of offendedness and freedom, then move on to the sticky little issue of facts getting in the way of our belief systems and a logical fallacy that really ticks me off. Shall we begin?)

Everyone is so easily offended these days, to the point that the word has lost most of its meaning. When I hear "offended" being used, most of the time what the person is actually saying is, "I don't agree with your position and I don't like that it is different than mine. I'm confused why anyone would believe differently than me, so I'm going to close off my mind now, because information that causes me to rethink or substantiate my position might cause me to doubt my strongly-held beliefs and that's offensive."

Such attitudes are a serious blow for maintaining intellectual integrity and are a real danger to maintaining a free and civilized society. I see them all the time...from the friend who was irrationally offended when informed that the Onion article he'd passed around as a SUPERIMPORTANTBULLETIN about the dangers of Harry Potter was in fact a parody (he didn't want to know the truth, because it didn't suit his preconceived beliefs about fictional witches) the people who are offended by comparisons of undocumented immigrants to their own those who don't see any similarities between the struggles for women, African-Americans and others to receive fair and equal treatment under the law and today's hot-topic civil rights issues. You might not agree with something, but that hardly makes it offensive.

Albert Mohler explains this much better than I:
"We should note carefully that this notion of offendedness is highly emotive in character. In other words, those who now claim to be offended are generally speaking of an emotional state that has resulted from some real or perceived insult to their belief system or from contact with someone else’s belief system. In this sense, being offended does not necessarily involve any real harm but points instead to the fact that the mere presence of such an argument, image, or symbol evokes an emotional response of offendedness....Many persons who claim to be offended are speaking merely of the vaguest notion of emotional distaste at what another has said, done, proposed, or presented. This leads to inevitable conflict."

He then goes on to quote Salman Rushdie in a quote that is worth printing out and posting on your bathroom mirror:
"The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other’s positions...People have the fundamental right to take an argument to the point where somebody is offended by what they say. It is no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defense of free speech begins at the point where people say something you can’t stand. If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech. You only believe in free speech as long as it doesn’t get up your nose."
(Original source here.)

Now, Albert Mohler is a man with whom I would disagree, vehemently, about many things. I know this because according to his Wikipedia page, he's a Southern Baptist, on the board of Focus on the Family and is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We've got very different ways of approaching how faith and life ought to intersect and interact. To use popular jargon, some of his beliefs offend me. I chose to quote him because I wanted to show how on this point, it doesn't matter what our beliefs are. His exercise of free speech will certainly "get up my nose" but I defend his right to say it, and support his right to say it. And I want to interact with what he says, not walk away from it because it doesn't sit right with me. I want to understand the positions that put me out of joint, so that I can better understand WHY they irritate me and whether my views need to change in light of the evidence opposing views present.

Not only do I support his right to say things I don't agree with, I also support his right to DO things I don't agree with. I do that because I want him to extend the same courtesy to me. I don't want to live in a world in which Albert Mohler's views are enshrined as the law of the land. I like my Chardonnay. I am thankful that birth control allowed me not to have to choose between sex with my husband or being able to walk. (Rheumatoid arthritis drugs are very dangerous to unborn children; my doctors wouldn't even prescribe them to me unless we agreed to use two forms of birth control. Sorry for the TMI. It was hellishly nervewracking to go off the drugs and I am sothankfuloverwhelmedbygratitudeohthankyouJesus that we were able to get pregnant soon after clearing the drugs from my system. I woke up nearly every day expecting excruciating pain. Thankfully, pregnancy is a temporary cure!) I am glad that while some people feel a woman's place is solely in the home, we don't live in a nation (yet) where that is enforced by the powers that be.

As a Christian and as a human being who is passionate about freedom, I'm adamant that religious and moral beliefs be respected and yet not imposed on those who do not hold them. Some religious folk are staunchly opposed to the use of caffeine. They probably don't want their tax dollars being used to encourage the consumption of such products, don't want their employees to consume it (on or off the premises) and etc. The anti-caffeiners, however, don't get a free pass to ban caffeine from public spaces or infringe on someone else's right to imbibe unless it is objectively hurting someone else. (That's why you can't smoke in most closed public areas any more.) We stop living in a free society when one person's offendedness and belief system is privileged to the detriment of someone else. Democracy, as Rushdie noted, is not a polite tea party...

To be continued tomorrow.

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