The Tyranny of the Offended

August 25, 2017

By David Fritsche Th.D.

  • “I am offended!”
  • “It is your fault that I am offended!”
  • “The solution to my problem is that you stop offending me!”
  • “My actions, while offended, are your fault!”

And so the line of reason goes…

We live in a nation and culture where free speech is paramount to our community discourse and our political process, and yet, we have gravitated to a new low in the pursuit of that freedom. The end result is a setting in which you can say anything you want as long as no one is offended. But if you do, someone will be offended, so, in the interest of our right to not be offended, just shut up!

This end result of the ‘Right to Not Be Offended,’ is a focus on those who speak their mind, who represent something that not everyone agrees with, or who are part of any group that has as its basis of definition, a purpose or belief outside of the bounds of those who might…, just might, be offended.

As a young man in high school, I remember an outcry against books that were presumably being secreted into the libraries of our schools, that presented Communist thought. That was in the time when Communism was a clearly defined enemy of America and our principles. It was also a clearly defined enemy of faith based groups and churches. The outcry was to ban the books and ban any reference to this godless, tyrannical governmental system. I reacted.

My reactions were at first misinterpreted. Some thought that I was a communist sympathizer and wanted the material available in the schools. But, as a member of the school debate team and as an aspiring minister as a calling in life, I did not favor communist thought, but did believe that if any system of thought, any political position or any religious doctrine were open to debate and sound-minded discourse, truth would prevail. In one debate I challenged, “Bring it on! Let the communists speak and tell us what they think, and then let them listen, as we will do!”

You see, I had already read the Communist Manifesto and formed my position which was securely grounded in my Christian philosophy of life. I saw folly in the socialist view of life, economics and spirituality. I still do, even when it is domesticated, cleaned up and presented to us as liberalism. I disagree with it, but I do not fear it. It is weak in foundations and the social experiments of the past reveal its lack of success and productivity.

So also do I regard any other system of thought. Ideas are not actions. Ideas are not physical weapons of war. Ideas are the source of all progress and change. Ideas can stimulate thought and action, but in and of themselves, do no damage, unless, of course, we allow our emotions to be affronted and counter those ideas, not with a counter logic, but with the fear of their being true, and of our vulnerability to their message.

And that is the bottom line. Being offended betrays fear of the thing that offends me. It is not the offender who has the problem, he only has the idea. It is the offended who have the problem. So I ask, then why is it that the claim of having been offended, takes priority over all other items in human discourse? Why do the offended become inordinately noticed and focused on in the course of human interaction? Why does the speaker become the evil villain in the setting while the offended gets their way?

I decided years ago that what others say has nothing to do with me, it has to do with them. Even if they target me as the object of their verbal attack, it is not about me – it is about them!

I spent some time in police work in my early working life, in fact it has followed me through my life and later ministry. I have been involved in law enforcement all of my life, in one form or another. The first day on the job I found out that people hated me. They did not know me but they hated me none-the-less. It was obvious that their hatred of me was not personal, since they did not know me, it was a projection of their own condition. I confronted the evil in them and rather than acknowledge it and change, they got mad at me.

Since those days, I refuse to be offended. Simple! I seldom personalize the position of those who attack me verbally, even when they lie about me. The issue is what is in them, not what I am. There is no right to not be offended.

Why then do we cater to those who are offended by their perception of offense, by their assumption of prejudice, by their intolerant religious position or by their fear of anything? It is not my problem, by and large. They can be offended if they choose to or they can get over it. Only they have the power to deal with their internal struggles and the fear that bind them.

When I first wrote this, there are riots and demonstrations in Libya and Egypt because someone in The United States produced an amateur video clip about their religious leader. Hay, Hollywood types made movies about Jesus being a homosexual and sleeping with prostitutes. So they lack class and social grace. So they are ignorant of historical facts and want to rid themselves of any moral absolutes. So what?

The Christian church spoke out against those movies and lobbied for the faithful to economically boycott them. This amounted to more free speech in opposition to the initial free speech. Good enough. But to riot, burn, pillage and kill because you are offended speaks of a greater problem. No act of violence in reaction to something said is justified. Period!

Our response? Apologize! For what? Apologize for offending? Therein is the problem with weakness in the exercise of our speech. If we have to apologize for our being who and what we are, then we are taking responsibility for something in someone else and we cannot resolve that. If we believe in the freedom of self expression than we should never take group responsibility for the speech of any one individual, regardless of how tasteless and ignorant their presentation. Can I condemn them for their tastelessness? Certainly. But that does not rise to the level of justifying murder because of being offended.

It is time we understood the tyranny of the offended, and stop pandering to it. If you are offended, get over it. Deal with your fear, consider that which you fear and don’t personalize it. But if you do, don’t expect me to bail you out with an apology. I cannot resolve your fear of me or your distaste for what I believe.

Really, I am not a bad guy, as my mother will tell you, and I delight in an open and honest discussion of ideas, even way out ones. So, come on in, set down and grab a soda… Let’s talk and challenge one another with new possibilities and thoughts. You cannot offend me.