The right to not be offended

My job makes me think a lot. (yes, even more than usual, gosh how am I coping I hear you ask).

Part of my work involves reading a lot of articles every day, in both the secular and Christian media – from sources of varying intellectualism, political and theological stances. This means I get multiple perspectives, often on the same news, in the form of reportage and comment.

That’s actually quite challenging. Some of the things I read make me want to bang my head against a wall; occasionally even disappear from the face of the Earth for a little while. Sometimes I don’t want to even give certain websites my attention, because I feel like in some strange way, I am advocating their stupidity just by reading them! The opposite is true as well; I can find myself experiencing confusion because anothers’ views are so well presented that I have to stop and re-evaluate my own. This may be a political idea, or it may even be something that challenges my faith and my view of who God is.

Here’s the twist you might not have been expecting: This is a really, really good thing!

I think being forced to engage with different opinions is a great advantage. Nothing tunes your critical thinking skills like understanding another point of view.
I’m fairly used to this as a former Lit student, but the subject matter, whilst definitely not irrelevant, was rarely so immediate as the headlines I read every day. Now, as I read more, I find more gaps in my own knowledge on national and world issues; I see arguments I don’t know how to counter.

Generally, I try to put myself in the situation of the writer and understand how he or she came to such conclusions. What kind of worldview do they adhere to and why? Why would they come to such a view on X subject? Why (in some cases) would they refer to Christians/Christianity in such derogatory terms? What are the facts on the issue?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself in the simple hope that I might not only sharpen my own convictions, but also gain a fuller understanding on relevant subjects. And ultimately understand the bigger picture (a recurring theme… seems to be how my brain works…).

Without a well-rounded understanding of all sides of an argument, how can you be sure that you’re right?

To clarify, I’m not necessarily referring to belief in the existence of God. I can’t speak for you, but my belief in God is based on a two-way relationship, not on reason alone.

I am, however, talking about political and social issues, and also about issues that divide the Church. It’s not always a binary case of right/wrong. But at the heart of everything, I believe, there is one universal Truth, and that is Jesus Christ.

Do the views I am reading/watching – even views expressed by Christians – align with the Word of God? Do mine?

The second part of my thought pattern these days is related to the first. It’s a little word that keeps getting brandished in the media: offence.

This is something I’ve been thinking about on and off, in light of the current debate around free speech, which could be seriously threatened by government proposals to counter various forms of ‘extremism’. Censorship is on the rise, which seems strange considering the increasingly liberal society we live in. We live in a culture that claims tolerance yet takes offence incredibly easily, leading to censorship of the views that have been deemed offensive. Germaine Greer and her recent (somewhat rudely expressed) comments on transgender people, for example, has led to universities trying to ban her from speaking at their events.

I’m absolutely not advocating abuse or discrimination. But I think people in this country keep demanding the right to not be offended, forgetting that they already have it.

It seems to me that we live in a very ‘feeling-based’ culture. Everything has to cater for your personal feelings. I don’t say this flippantly because honestly I am quite an emotional person at heart, but there are so many problems that come with prioritising your feelings when making all your life choices.

You know, you can disagree with someone’s opinion without taking offence, even if those views are insulting or bigoted. You still reserve the right to walk away.

The concept of freedom is absolute, isn’t it? Either you are free or you are not.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that rather than getting offended, surely the better option would be to engage with the topic? Understand the point of view you disagree with, and then if you are able, challenge it. (Might be a better option than slapping the label ‘-phobic’ on people who have reservations or disagreements about certain topics, which seems to be what the government is trying to do…)

Just some thoughts I’ve had recently. I hope this is coherent and that my words, flawed as they may be, will have conveyed something worthwhile.

3 thoughts on “The right to not be offended

  1. Thank you for your post…love reading your thoughts
    This is something i sometimes try to avoid…getting into conversations about topics i have no idea about…reading your words has made me realise why i do that and it is because i am afraid of seeing the gaps in my knowledge….good old pride haha
    Do you have a list of trusted sources from which you gain information?
    How do you cope when you spend time reading about troubles in the world…where do you draw your strength from? I guess that last question relates back to your post ‘break my heart for what breaks Yours’.

    • Hey Sarah, thanks so much for your comment.
      You’re absolutely not alone in worrying you don’t know enough about certain topics! I feel like that so often 🙂
      With regards to your first question, it depends on the topic. I write for a Christian campaign organisation in the UK and we have a daily ‘media monitoring’ list from various news sources to keep up with relevant events. That ranges from high end commentary such as the Spectator right down to tabloid style sites (e.g. Daily Mail). On bigger stories there’s normally coverage from various sources.
      If you’re referring specifically to the ‘extremism’ stuff I mentioned you can read the official published government strategy here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/counter-extremism-strategy

      As for your second question, I suppose there’s a level of detachment that I have to force myself to undergo, so as to not feel too burdened. I find that for me, praying helps a lot, and believing that the Lord is sovereign and has the ultimate victory.

      Hope that helps!

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