Offense Is In The Eye Of The Offended.

Offended Photo

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Offense is in the eye of those offended. No statement or action is inherently offensive. Not one.

Not sure that you agree with what I just wrote? Fair enough; try a couple of examples with me.

  • “Too bad that Hitler did not succeed with his mission to exterminate all Jews. International Jewry is at the root of many of our modern problems.” Many people would choose to be offended by this statement. Others would not have any opinion. Some would eagerly agree. Or,
  • “The United States was founded as a God-fearing nation. We must stem the secular tide, and return to Him as individuals and as a nation.” Once again, people would divide themselves into three camps; offended, no opinion and supportive.

I could go on and on with other examples, but you get the point. If no statement offends everyone, then it must be clear that no statement is inherently offensive. If it was, then everyone would be offended by it. Right?

The same is true for actions. Take something as horrific as the gas chambers during the holocaust. Or as well-intentioned as a Billy Graham Crusade. Even while the gas chambers were operating, not everyone was offended. (Hitler’s SS were not alone in their support of the Holocaust.) Even today, there are public figures, more on the international front, and their followers, who somehow manage to simultaneously deny that the Holocaust existed, and think it was a good idea. The Billy Graham Crusades clearly did not offend the attendees who sang and donated. And just as clearly, that kind of loud, high-energy Christian Evangelism was offensive to many.

Pause to point out a dangerous falsehood that is gaining traction: “What you are saying or doing is clearly offensive. Want proof? I’m offended. That’s proof enough.”

If something that I am saying is factually incorrect, or my reasoning is clearly biased, that’s on me to fix. And I will. If someone is offended by what I am saying, that’s on them. Remember: Between every stimulus and response is choice. The same goes for my actions. For example, if something I am doing is unnecessarily hurting a person or animal, that’s on me to fix. If someone is offended by what I am doing, that’s their choice.

The “It’s offensive because I’m offended” belief is roaring through our society like a plague. Some of the results are simply curious. For example, some folks are offended by people who are offended by in-your-face transgenders. And those who choose to be offended by those transgenders are offended by those who see their view as offensive. See how quickly this can go from the silly to ridiculous. And then to dangerous.

On the dangerous side, you have outfits like Antifa. Their position is that speech they classify as offensive is therefore violent and justifies–requires–violent actions to stop it. And they do.

Behind this, “It’s offensive because I’m offended,” reasoning is, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” If someone who has the false belief that certain things are inherently offensive, it is based in their conviction that if they are offended by something and you’re not, you’re wrong. Conversely, if you’re offended and they are not, again you are wrong. They don’t see a difference of opinion, with something for both sides to learn from engaging in a thoughtful discussion; they see right and wrong. Black and white. Tellingly, their beliefs about right and wrong are not based in assembling evidence-based facts and applying non agenda-based reasoning to achieve agreed-upon results. To them their beliefs are right because of who they are; your beliefs are wrong because of who you are. Identity politics at it’s dangerous worst. Check out “I’M RIGHT BECAUSE I’M ME.”

There is nothing wrong with being offended in certain situations. Like righteous anger, being offended can be a powerful tool. When held in check and focused. The danger is here threefold: 1. Feeling like we all need to be offended by the same things 2. Allowing radical actions to be taken because some are offended and 3. Not separating the claim of being offended from the truth of what is really going on and why the claim is being made. Usually loudly and with as many attention-getting actions as possible.

Where are you on this? What do you think of this blog? (Don’t worry, I won’t be offended…:) ).

Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.

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6 Responses

  1. Lee Reply

    Thoughtful and well articulated as usual, Will. I have come to understand, expect and even accept that simple minds will always veer toward simple , black and white thinking and, I would suggest, don’t get the “nuances” or purpose of dialogue as a way of furthering the thought let alone accepting that respectful disagreement is an option. With simple minds, it will always be about “I’m right and you are wrong” judgements and the false comfort “being right” provides them..

    • Will Luden Reply

      Lee, wonderfully well said. Yes, simple minds content themselves with simplistic, erroneous and dangerous thoughts and “solutions.” And at the same time, most of the best solutions are simple ones–crafted by thoughtful people–after a ton of thinking and work. Cheers, Will

  2. Charlie Reply

    Isn’t this another manifestation of the self-esteem fallacy? Since our young have been brought up with the concept that they are the most important thing, any statement that disagrees with their world view is automatically offensive because it threatens their “right” to be right. Instead of using a differing opinion as a way to improve one’s own ideas, that point of view is considered a personal attack. Of course this is diametrically opposed to the reformed Christian view that we are all deeply flawed and undeserving of anything we receive but for God’s grace.

    Having said that, there are still some statements that are made in a spirit of hate and intentional disrespect which truly merit being considered offensive. A couple of those about the holocaust that you quoted could easily fall into that category.

    Carrying this offense thing to its logical conclusion, we should rename all geographical locations whose current name offends some group. First off is the capital of Ohio, whose name is an affront to native Americans. My first thought was to rename it Buckeye City, but the word “buck” has both sexist and racist connotations. Still thinking on that one. And, of course South Carolina has the same problem with the name of its capital, plus the word “South” itself brings up a history offensive to many. And don’t forget South Dakota which also has a capital which, even though they pronounce it “peer” is clearly indicative of their desire to be a part of Canada and add Trudeau’s face to Mt. Rushmore. Meanwhile, all of those cities named after saints are constantly causing discomfort on the part of atheists and many Protestants. All must be sanitized! Particularly egregious is St. George, Utah which is the home of the offensively named Dixie State University and down the road from the Biblically named Zion National Park. They need to take an eraser to the whole map of southwest Utah and start over.

    Well, that’s all for now. If there are any out there whom I’ve failed to offend, please let me know.

  3. Sid Reply

    I feel that the secret to being angry and yet not sinning, is to separate actions from identity. Someone who loses a game shouldn’t be identified as a “loser,” unless that is a deliberate and habitual state of affairs. We have all, at some point, told a lie. Not everyone deserves the label “liar” unless that is so habitual that it truly is part of their character. It isn’t easy to separate actions from identity, but it is critical for our ability to stem the divisive tide sweeping across the land.

    You are correct in that something that offends one may not offend another. That’s ok. Ultimately, I am accountable for what I do with my reaction to something that I find offensive. Sadly, the enforcement of personal accountability and the understanding of the intrinsic value of others is no longer applied in most of our society today, including within religious circles. That statement is true, unfortunately, across every social, economic, racial, and geographical subset that I know of.

    Revival starts at home…that’s what I’m banking on. Thank you for keeping these discussions in front of us and relevant to how to live better today and build a better tomorrow for those who will benefit from it.

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