Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Being Offensive

The world focuses attention on being politically correct. Avoiding some statement that might offend some particular group or person. Inevitably, by the very nature of concentrating so hard on not saying something, we invent whole new ways to be offensive.

Something that struck me recently, though, is that in the world of religious quips, it is more acceptable to add a statement or notation. To ask one to refrain is considered rude. (A great example is refraining from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.”)

This point was brought home by two incidents.

First, I still receive those general e-mails from friends and family which often include a verse at the end, or a statement about God blessing me. They know I am an atheist. They are well-aware that such statements have no meaning to me. But I am part of the crowd receiving the e-mail. A crowd that is mostly Christian. Should they erase that part from the e-mail before sending it to me to be “politically correct”?

Second, on a blog which concentrates in defending Christianity, an entry was placed about praying for an individual’s health. Since it is typically a free-for-all regarding discussion, not surprisingly a person eventually posted a comment regarding how prayer was ineffectual. The Christians were (also not surprisingly) shocked at the heartlessness of the comment. I have been told by people they are praying for me. Should I ask them to not, out of “political correctness”?

Don’t misunderstand me—I am not offended by some verse in a letter, or a statement of “I’ll pray for you.” Our society is pervasive with such things, and my particular environment has traditionally been inundated with it. I tend to overlook it.

But what if I did the same? What if I included in my e-mail a quote? Something along the lines of:

“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand. – Mark Twain”

I already know my friends and family would be shocked. Offended. Taken aback. They would be hurt and puzzled over how mean it is that I would dare include such a blasphemous statement when I know they are a Christian. As if I was being deliberately odious.

Isn’t that a bit of a double standard? While I may not be bothered so much by some verse or quip, other people are. Yet Christians are not equally receptive. Part of it is the fact they are convinced they hold truth. That they are entitled to do such things, because it is the right thing to do. Adding a verse in a letter that might…just might lead someone to Jesus is the equivalent of giving a warning that drinking bleach might…just might be hazardous to one’s health.

While I am equally convinced that getting people to think with clever quotes is the “right thing to do” that is superceded by the fact that it offends others. Which is the wrong thing to do. Therefore I exercise restraint. Christianity cannot take that extra step. Offending others is part of the stamp of being a Christian.

If they are not offending us, they must be doing something wrong. If I dare ask, “Hey, can you not bother to send me a verse?” that is proof positive that the one thing they absolutely MUST do is send me a verse! It is validation that I must be “feeling the heat” and it is time to turn up the temperature.

Occasionally, in my discussions ‘round the net, I come across a Christian who says “I will pray for you.” I desperately want to tell them not to bother. It is a waste of time. Yet I know, if I dare even breath the slightest protest, they will only waste more time and effort in the endeavor. My request to not, is proof that they must.

I understand both the Christians on the blog being offended by the statements regarding the ineffectiveness of prayer, as well as the person who posted, since it was traditionally a blog that was open to such arguments. Christians have no problem (and I invite them) to post a comment on my blog regarding the fact I am going to hell, or am an apostate, or became an atheist because of some terrible sin. I will be more than happy to engage them in that discussion.

It seems a bit odd to have a blog such as this, and then complain if someone posts a comment that is not complimentary. But, Christians often feel that if we dare “return fire” on their sacred cows, it is rude and insulting. Why? Why can a Christian tell me “I will pray for you” and we must find that acceptable, but if I reply, “Good, I will think for you” then I am just being a nasty person.

Where is it written that a religious statement, regardless of the intention, must be viewed in the most positive light? Have I lost the opportunity to be offended?

Rather than pray for me, take a few moments and hug your spouse. Hug your child. Call up a friend and chat. It has more benefit.

It seems to me, the most politically correct thing to do is either stop tossing out religious post-it notes, OR stop being surprised when a few post-it notes come back your way.


  1. Dagoods: "Why can a Christian tell me “I will pray for you” and we must find that acceptable, but if I reply, “Good, I will think for you” then I am just being a nasty person."

    Zoe: I think in society "prayer" is basically seen as a positive activity. It comes across as a kind & caring activity. Almost always, it seems to be related to "times of trouble." Sickness, tragedy, financial problems...it's easy to say "I'll pray for you." And I suppose that is less offensive & harmless then those who say in response to our unbelief..."I'll pray for you."

    To the prayer warrior, we the unbeliever are in a "time of trouble." To them it is only a "caring" attitude to offer to pray.

    As a Christian though I quickly learned that some "I'll pray for you," offers were only a type of salutary acknowledgment & really never meant anything more then, oh that's too bad, I hear you, well I don't know what to say, so I'll say something that might bring you comfort & me too, since I don't know what to say anyway.

    *Sigh* I've spent more time then needed worrying about offending believers then I should be...but it tends to be "my way" of relating to people. It interests me though that when a Christian complains that I or other unbelievers are offensive that it never crosses their minds that they might in turn be offensive to me/us.

  2. Dagoods,
    Yep. Recently mentioned to you a comment my (Christian) wife made re atheists: "I've never met one that didn't have a chip on their shoulder." I have been pondering this and think it's related to them "having the truth" (as you point out) versus a non-believer being deceived, etc. I think it's good for all of us to be aware of the baggage that goes along with "being right" or "Knowing the truth." A little self doubt goes a long way to aiding listening.

  3. This was quite insightful, and enjoyable reading, too.

    My own sister includes a quote from Karl Marx on every one of her emails, and that annoys me as much as the fluffy Christian "I'll pray for you" nonsense.

    I try not to put tacky quotes and quips on any of my emails or in my conversations. It's not that I'm all that concerned about political correctness, but if the person receiving my communication is edified or irritated, I want to know that it's my own words reaping the reaction.

    Off topic: Dagoods, if you have the time, would you be willing to contact me? I don't have a way to directly contact you and I have a question that I'd like to ask off blog, so to speak. I can be contacted by clicking here.