It Is Sometimes Necessary to Risk Giving Offense

We live in times when many people take offense very easily. While this may have been a human problem seen in all ages, it is particularly evident today, when relativism and subjectivism are so widespread. Relativism is essentially a form of subjectivism. In subjectivism, the measure of truth shifts from the object (i.e., that which is being perceived) to the subject (i.e., the one who is perceiving). In this system, truth becomes relative, because there are as many versions of truth as there are subjects to perceive it. In this highly subjective perception of reality, people tend to take their own views very personally and are easily offended by views contrary to their own.

Over time we have seen how subjectivism has given rise to “identity politics.” No longer does a person say that he holds liberal views; rather he says, “I am a liberal.” No longer does a person say that he struggles with same-sex attraction; rather he says, “I am ‘gay’.” Views and interpretations are no longer merely philosophies, paradigms, or tendencies through which a person interprets things. Rather, the cry goes up, “This is who I am. If you disagree or even worse seek to refute my viewpoint, you are offensive and hurtful. By disagreeing with me you are attacking me; you are a hater. You are an enemy whom I must fear and must keep at a distance lest you do me harm.” So-called “safe zones” on college campuses are an extreme outcome of this. In identity politics, the mere questioning of one’s views amounts to a personal assault that may cause lasting harm to the psyche!

We have also seen how relativism and subjectivism have led to the shaming and silencing of politically incorrect views, especially those based on traditional biblical faith. Too many Christians have allowed themselves to be silenced by accusations such as this common one: “You are judging me.” Never mind that the conversation is about a moral issue or a particular behavior, not about “you.” Identity politics says, “I am my behavior, therefore your contrary view hurts me; this makes you a bad and offensive person.”

No one (other than a sociopath) deliberately tries to hurt or offend others. Many Christians have been effectively silenced by the fear of causing offense, even if there is no reason for offense to be taken. As our fearful silence has spread, the moral darkness has grown ever deeper.

Volumes could be written to address the problems associated with subjectivism and relativism. St. Thomas Aquinas provided a cogent response to the issue of so easily taking offense in his Summa Theologica:

It was foretold (Isaiah 8:14) that Christ would be “for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to the two houses of Israel.”

The salvation of the multitude is to be preferred to the peace of any individuals whatsoever. Consequently, when certain ones, by their perverseness, hinder the salvation of the multitude, the preacher and the teacher should not fear to offend those men, in order that he may insure the salvation of the multitude. Now the Scribes and Pharisees and the princes of the Jews were by their malice a considerable hindrance to the salvation of the people, both because they opposed themselves to Christ’s doctrine, which was the only way to salvation, and because their evil ways corrupted the morals of the people. For which reason our Lord, undeterred by their taking offense, publicly taught the truth which they hated, and condemned their vices. Hence we read that when the disciples of our Lord said, Dost Thou know that the Pharisees, when they heard this word, were scandalized? He answered, Let them alone: they are blind and leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit (Matthew 15:12,14).

A man ought so to avoid giving offense, as neither by wrong deed or word to be the occasion of anyone’s downfall. “But if scandal arise from truth, the scandal should be borne rather than the truth be set aside” as Gregory says (Hom. vii in Ezech.).

[Summa Theologica III, Question 42, Article 2]

Not a bad reply; read it and heed it!

Remember, just because some takes offense, doesn’t mean you gave offense.

8 Replies to “It Is Sometimes Necessary to Risk Giving Offense”

  1. Very true! I wonder, though, whether the problem is not more often a lack of genuine faith rather than an overabundance of deference for the feelings of others.

  2. The best response to identity politics is love, followed by science.

    God created people who think they are Jesus. He sustains their existence. He permits their self-deception. He forgives them. He gives them into the hands of doctors and nurses to take care of them. He permits them to suffer self-deception and permits them to lie for their salvation, drawing out of evil a greater good.

    This is God’s Love, which we don’t imitate by enabling self-deception and lying. Rather, we imitate by taking care of the people and, if it helps them, teach them why they’re wrong. Some people react violently, thinking you are denying their humanity, dignity or free expression. Other people react confused, wondering how is it someone doesn’t believe they are Christ.

    Science helps us in leading people away from lies to the truth. We can make many theological arguments, but these people have rebuttals:
    – Jesus lived 2,000 years ago (“Yes, but He’s not bound by time”)
    – Jesus wasn’t a woman (“Yes, but He appeared as a gardener to Mary Magdalen”)
    – Jesus did not sin (“Yes, but the Jews mistook His Works for sins”)
    – Jesus was God Incarnate (“Yes, but He seemed only human even to the Apostles”)
    – Jesus was born to a Virgin (“Yes, my mother was a virgin too”)
    – Jesus was a Jew (“Yes, and so am I”)
    – Jesus is resurrected, not reincarnated (“Yes, we are all ‘another Christ’ by Baptism”)
    – Jesus performed Miracles (“Yes, but why test me? Do not test the Lord!”)
    – Jesus fulfilled Scriptures (“Yes, and so am I by giving alms, freeing prisoners, etc.”)

    Scientifically, we know these people aren’t Jesus because Jesus is historical, each person is real and occupies a space in time while time moves forward, and no two people are the same. But science can only go so far, and can cause some people to react violently or be confused.

    That’s why love is the best: with science, doctors and nurses respect the person by caring for him or her, in such a way that does not tempt them to violence or confusion. We care for the person by praying for him or her, wishing the person well, and firmly living by the truth, because everyone shares in and has the right to know and live by the truth. Enabling self-deception or lies only violates this human right and prevents us from sharing in the truth, so the human virtue of and human right to love are against it.

    Violent reactions and confusion do not waiver our rights and virtues, for evil does not change our species; indeed, only man can do good or evil as a moral creature. All other creatures are amoral, so we cannot dehumanize people or anthropomorphize other organisms in the name of not offending people with the truth, for than even the claim “everything is relative” becomes relative – and so neither true nor important – itself.

  3. Here is how I understand the necessity of giving offense. In John 8: verse 43, “Bear,” is a key word relating to taking offense. Some cannot “bear,” to hear His Words, His Truth. Why? Scripture tells us – because men love darkness rather than light (Truth).

    John 8: 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44* You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. …John 8: 59* So they took up stones to throw at him;

    John 3: 19* And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

    Can’t we just talk it out – and actually get along?

    No. Why not? Because God put “enmity” between the devils children and Mary’s children. Evil does not rest with merely a seat at the table. No – once at the table it desires to murder everyone else sitting there and sit your little house on fire.

    Genesis 3: 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

  4. Over the years i have come to think that “PC speech” stands for Pseudo Compassion. It seems that people rename things to appear compassionate when there is a blatant falsness to their rename. Truth is speech is getting harder by the day.

  5. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
    Rejoice and be glad,
    for your reward is great in heaven.

  6. Wonderful article, Monsignor Pope! The clearest, most succinct, and simplest description I have seen. Thank you so much.

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