Tuesday 21 October 2008

You have a right to be offended

You might take offence at all kinds of things. If someone suggests that your dress-sense isn't all it should be, or derides your taste in music, you may believe they have offended you. Indeed, someone might have intended to offend you.

But offence is a consensual state of mind. If someone intends to offend you by taking certain actions, then they will only succeed in their intention if you agree to it. You must consent to the offence, by agreeing with the offender that their actions are offensive to you. Whether or not you are, in fact, offended, is entirely up to you. You can choose between being offended and not being offended.

You can take offence or not, as you please. That is your right, and your choice.

Anyone who maintains that they are being offended against their will is admitting defeat. I think religious people who claim offence know this, and that's why their response is so often to seek to reprimand or silence the offender, or in more 'serious' cases, to seek recourse to law. Or in the 'worst' cases, to kill the offender.

When there's no sound, reasoned argument that can be put forward in defence of the offended, the offended resort to playground tactics: whining to teacher about 'what someone said', or in the case of the offended who tend towards the bully-boy approach, plain and simple violence against the offender.

These tactics are similar to those employed by the purveyors of quack medicines. If someone points out that a quack medicine doesn't do what it's claimed to, or that the evidence presented by its purveyors is flawed, you can be sure that they won't respond by presenting sound evidence. They will seek to silence the dissenter, by law if necessary. It's a reliable test of genuineness - if the medicine was genuinely efficacious, but the evidence was unsound, surely the way forward would be to get better evidence. If, instead, the lawsuits start flying, you can be pretty sure the product is bogus.

And so it is with religion. The most bogus religions are the ones that bleat loudest about being offended. What about those religions that don't protest about 'offence'?

Can you think of any?

UPDATE, 2008-10-22: See this important post on the Center For Inquiry website: