A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Culture of Thin-Skinned People

Organizers of the Christkindlmarket in Chicago have decided to ban advertising of the new movie, The Nativity, in order not to offend those who fail to share Christian beliefs (story here).

What has happened to a society where the most important thing not to do is to offend people? I am not suggesting for a moment that we should intentionally seek to insult people, that we should be insensitive, and that it is OK to be inconsiderate of other people's feelings. But it is absolutely amazing to me that in a society that supposedly celebrates diversity, we are unable to appreciate the religious diversity in our country.

I am one Christian who does not believe that all religions lead to God. While God is the ultimate judge of all of us, the New Testament makes no sense apart from the conviction that Jesus is the only way. If Jesus is Lord, no one else is. But that affirmation does not, therefore, mean that I cannot respect and appreciate the religious convictions of others, nor does it necessarily follow that I should be offended when I see the symbols of other religions. Neither should I be offended by the Muslim who believes his religion is the only true faith. Such competing religious views hopefully pave the way for some respectful, but serious and meaningful discussion. There is nothing profound about any religion if all religions basically lead in the same direction.

While we should not seek to offend others, when one of the greatest sins of a culture is to give offense, that society will do nothing other than produce thin-skinned people whose lack of self-confidence elicits being offended at the most trivial things.
Moreover, a culture of thinned-skinned people will not encourage the kinds of courageous deeds necessary to achieve justice and accomplish great things. Would Columbus have sailed west had he been offended by those who ridiculed him for believing the world was round? Would we have vaccinations had Louis Pasteur listened to the insults of his fellow scientists? Would women have the right to vote had Susan B. Anthony allowed the abuse she suffered to offend her? Would the Wright brothers flown at Kitty Hawk had they allowed themselves to be insulted by those who said, "If God had meant man to fly, he'd have wings?" Would Martin Luther King, Jr. have continued to lead the movement for civil rights had he given up the first time he was called names I can't even mention? Would Jesus have secured salvation for us had he been offended by the rejection he received in his home town of Nazareth? Would Paul have ceased taking the Gospel to the Gentiles had he let the accusations of his rejection of Judaism offend his sensibilities? Thin-skinned people who are offended by the most trivial things lack the mettle to accomplish the difficult but great things.

With all the problems in our society that cannot be fixed except by great moral fortitude and courageous tenacity, the last thing we should be focusing on is whether or not people will be offended in having to be around the religious contexts of others. It seems to me that those who are most offended at having to gaze upon religious symbols are themselves quite insecure in their own beliefs. Perhaps being around people who have strong convictions reinforces to them their own lack of faith in anything significant. Anyone who is offended by a store clerk wishing her or him a Merry Christmas reveals more about her/himself than that clerk who is simply offering good wishes to another. I hope that the Jewish cashier in Wal-Mart wishes me a Happy Chanukah. It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to offer such a greeting in return. Why should her Judaism and her joy in believing and practicing it offend me?

In writing this post, it is not my intention to offend anyone, but if you are, it's your problem... deal with it.


Oloryn said...

Yes, the whole 'sensitivity' thing is grotesquely one-sided. The whole emphasis on not giving offense gives license to people to be easily offended and to use that offense to impose their own agendas on others. The result is the tyranny of the thin-skinned.

FidoNet had the right idea: "Don't be annoying, but don't be easily annoyed". I'd love to see "sensitivity" classes accompanied by "insensitivity" classes designed to teach giving people the benefit of the doubt rather than jumping on the merest possibility that something might possibly be able to be interpreted as 'offensive'.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I like the idea of the insensitivity classes. It could go a long way to reducing the number of offended people along with the offensive ones.

Ted M. Gossard said...


Great point. It is absurd how we go overboard not only to be politically correct (which can be one thing in one place, and the opposite in another- in my experience). But also worrying ourselves sick over whether we're going to offend someone.

Jesus would offend EVERYONE if he was here. And EVERY GROUP. I believe. Not because he's off track, of course. But because we have plenty to learn and unlearn.

Thanks much.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Great observations. I truly believe that the hyper-sensitivity in our society today is nurturing people who are frankly quite wimpy; and I do not mean that in some macho way, but wimpy in a manner in which we lack the courage and moral fortitude to do what is right and to be willing to sacifice for others.