What is it to be offended? Not a seemingly difficult question, but one for which the surrounding issues seem as well understood as a quantum mechanical unicorn. Theists in particular seem to be unreflectively convinced (gasp) that offence is something requiring immediate acknowledgement and redress, and that it overrules almost any other principle imaginable. A state of affairs which is instantly made worse by their somehow thinking their own beliefs and feelings have a kind of innate sanctity lacked by others.
Being offended is little more than the emotional correlate of disagreement. Disagreement with a statement, if it contravenes one’s sensibilities, or disagreement with a state of affairs, if it departs from one’s ideal. Little enough, but clearly sufficient to warrant an only weakly-challenged torrent of words and action against freedom of expression and action (to the extent that is free). As if harbouring a feeling of offence will cause the self or mind to unravel the way they presumably imagine society will if such transgressions are allowed to continue.
But the fact is nothing happens. It might be psychologically unhealthy to carry this permanent sense of furious indignation, but considering how unlikely it is the entire world will conform to one’s utopia I would think it more sensible to aim for a sense of perspective than burning cinemas or bowdlerising books.
Having mentioned perspective something else rarely injected into this debate is the side of the atheist, or relativist. As if not subscribing to an absolutist worldview renders one unable to recognise or decide that something causes offence. I, for example, am mortally offended by each and every single theistic concept, multiplied by the billions of instantiations they have by running as cretinous software in the brains of those so deluded. And yet I would disagree with a ban on religion (perhaps the idea offends me…) since I cannot bring myself to the cyclopean arrogance to assume that my personal sensibilities must dictate the world of others.
Further, a world without offence, without the possibility of offence, seems one anodyne and devoid of any intellectual challenge. A bland, cloying reality where boundaries aren’t even approached let alone crossed. Stultifying and stupefying. And depriving intelligent people of the chance to finding the right way of acting and the right things to say, in a world where anything can be said and done, and especially one in which there is no Right thing.
It is said that offence is taken, and not given. An idea which is very true, if not literally so. I have often tried desperately to give offence, and have little idea of my success rate. It would be pleasing to imagine this is because I live in an environment of balanced and reasonable people. But, being balanced and reasonable, I expect it’s simply because I don’t matter. Something the offended should perhaps try on.