Offensensitivity

Start with this beautiful and prophetic word from my all-time favorite comic strip, Bloom County. (Be careful not to have your mouse pointer over the image or a large ‘no-copy’ image will display instead.  If you move your pointer off to the side of the browser window the image will display properly)

Now consider a few current instances of offensensitivity.  First, there is this article from Duke University’s publication, The Chronicle.  Some incoming students are refusing to read one of the books on Duke’s summer reading list.  Why is this news?  The article states at the very end that the reading list is apparently optional – nobody is forcing them to read the list.  I’d like to know more about what the list is and what the intent of the list is and how the material will or won’t be incorporated into student coursework.

The committee tasked with selecting books for the list apparently anticipated that the book would be contentious to some students.  Some students seemed to infer just the opposite – that the committee had selected the book without realizing that it would be offensive to some people.  If the intent was to challenge and shock, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that some would choose not to read it.  If the list is optional, what does it matter whether some students don’t read one or more of the selections on the list?

Or consider this – some people are outraged that a few costume companies plan to sell a Caitlyn Jenner costume for Halloween.  Why is this a source of outrage?  Proponents of the LGBT movement insist that they want to normalize these lifestyles, yet refuse to allow these lifestyles to be the source of the same sorts of critiques and caricatures that everyone else is open to?  What gives? A quick scan of the breadth of costume options available will quickly demonstrate that most every occupation and lifestyle has a costume option, many of them offensive in one way or another.  How do we handle these sorts of things normally?  By choosing not to purchase them, rather than demanding that they not exist in the first place.  Why would a Caitlyn Jenner costume be considered any different?   Isn’t that a sign that proponents are achieving their goals?  Once again a double-standard is at play – everyone needs to accept these lifestyles as normal, but nobody is allowed to treat them as normal, meaning open to criticism, parody, etc.

As people in the comic strip realize, life is offensive.  We are surrounded by ideas and people and words and images that for many different reasons, people find offensive and distasteful.  The issue becomes how we handle this.  Paul doesn’t go up on Mars Hill and express his outrage and offense at the many idols there (Acts 17:16-31).  He knows that his hearers don’t find anything wrong with those idols, whether they believe in one or more of them or none of them at all.  Instead, Paul utilizes those idols as a jumping-off point to share the Gospel.  Demanding moral conformity is not the same as sharing the Gospel.  We can sanitize our neighborhood of things that contradict Scripture and still have a neighborhood that doesn’t know Christ.

Christians – of all people – should expect that the world is not going to act or look the way they’d like it to.  They should know this first of all because they find the same reality in themselves – we know our own sinfulness even as we affirm and strive for a holier life.  They should know this because Scripture tells us as much, and because expecting people who aren’t Christian to accept and understand and appreciate Christian norms of behavior doesn’t make a lot of sense.  As our culture grows more distant from it’s Judeo-Christian underpinnings this is going to be more and more the case.  We may not like it but we have to be prepared to deal with it.

We deal with it first of all through a firm grounding in our faith, and by helping others to ground their faith for impact with alternate world views and ideas.  I can try to protect my kids from pornography but they’re likely going to encounter it eventually, and they need to know how to deal with it as followers of Christ.  If I never let my kids interact with people who come from other faiths (or no faith at all), how are they going to know how to deal with those other faiths and viewpoints when a professor in a classroom in college pushes them, or when a colleague or supervisor at work pushes them?   We can’t and shouldn’t live in hiding from the world, and the reality is that more and more our kids are going to find a culture where more and more they as Christians are going to be the fish out of water rather than the other way around.

I’m dismayed that a major university would suggest pornography as summer reading, but I’m not surprised.  I hope and pray and work towards preparing my kids to deal with this reality should they be required to, whether in a suggested reading list or a required reading list or assignment for class.  I’m all for experiences that broaden our minds and force us to encounter different viewpoints and situations, but I think pornography – even literary pornography – is a poor focus for this, when there are so many other valuable ways to stretch people.  It simply points once again to the cultural and intellectual agenda to normalize the denigration of gender and sexuality by treating these things as simply a smorgasbord for temporary pleasure.

You want to broaden someone’s cultural horizons?  How about travel?  How about philosophy and theology?  How about reading political publications that you know contradict your own preferences or perceptions?  How about asking students to meet their neighbors and spend some time getting to know them?  So many options out there, yet what is focused on is sex.

Yes, life is offensive.  Intentionally so, sometimes.  You need to be strong enough to process the offense, to articulate what is offensive about it and why, and to determine why you won’t accept or align yourself with that offense.  Simply hiding from it is not a good response, and it’s increasingly not even an option.  Be prepared.

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