Why are we so easily offended?

The stereotype used to be that liberals were the ones easily offended by everything, and were politically correct to a fault. But lately it seems the tables are turning. In my world, both online and off, it is the conservatives who are the easily offended and make mountains out of tiny mustard seeds when there’s absolutely no need for it.

I ask myself often, Is this really what Christianity is all about, or is this just the Christian-tainted culture water in which I swim? I can’t imagine the early Christians bickering about the context of curse words or satirical Facebook memes when persecution and death were so imminent. At some point in evangelical history, aversion or disagreement on faith-related issues became perceived as a threat. For many people, the best way to protect their faith from crumbling like a house of cards is to surround themselves with like-minded people who never challenge their ideals. For many, it’s a virtuous act to avoid the world beyond their bubble.

#NotAllChristians

I wish I didn’t have to keep repeating “This message does not apply to all Christians,” but inevitably, someone will feel compelled to point out that #NotAllChristians act this way. And that helps proves my point: there are enough Christians in the fold to whom the criticism applies. If you feel offended, perhaps that’s a hint to examine your own heart. Why is it so hard for us to own up to our collective mistakes? Why is it so hard to acknowledge that we do have quite a few people in our midst who do the exact opposite of everything Jesus said to do, and call out hypocrisy for what it is?

A meme like this, for example, is not an indictment of everyone who attends a megachurch (there’s nothing wrong with that) but rather a call to keep our priorities in order (source):

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Shortly after one of my seminary friends shared this on Facebook, the comment thread blew up with responses from other Christians about how offensive it was, that clearly my Christian friend had never been to their megachurch, etc. In other words, they completely missed the point. There should be “mega homeless shelters,” but in the midst of arguing the merits of megachurches and the people who attend them, the homeless people in question were completely forgotten.

Another Christian friend shared this recently (source):

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It’s possible that the outcry from this one comes from an inability to distinguish satire on the internet, which is why I firmly believe that Facebook should invest in a sarcasm font over another ‘like’ button. Satire, as you may know, is intended to point out a problem – in this case, an ethical problem – using humor. We know there are Christians who act like this. They’re the kind who want drug tests administered before families can go on welfare when Jesus did no such thing (or whatever a first-century equivalent might be). They want the “good” families, with both a mother and a father, who are married, to receive benefits, and to hell with everyone else. If you are straight, part of a traditional nuclear family, and vote a certain way, you gain all the Jesus Points.

What both amuses and saddens me is that the Christians who were so offended by this meme were acting just like the Pharisees that Jesus was trying to reach. People always ask me what it is about Christianity that appealed to me as a Jew, and one item on that list is just how much of a mensch Jesus was. He acted boldly and used strong words when necessary, knowing he would royally piss people off. His methods – flipping over tables, responding to questions with more questions – might be considered flippant and even rude by our standards. Read in the context of his time, Jesus’ actions were appalling, depending on which social class you belonged to.

Through a glass darkly

Here’s the thing: sometimes, harsh words (or memes in this case) are necessary to get a point across. My theory is that those who are most offended might be the ones for whom the meme was intended. I strongly encourage you to ask yourself why it is you might be offended. Does it upset you when Christians as a whole are portrayed negatively? Or are you embarrassed at being called out for behavior that you are guilty of practicing?

If it’s the former, that’s understandable. No one likes to be insulted, especially when you know yourself well enough to know you don’t personally deserve it. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that one denomination’s truth is another denomination’s heresy. Today we’re ashamed of the Christians who condoned slavery, but they were utterly convinced they were doing God’s work – and the abolitionists were the sinful ones.

Christians have hurt people. Christians have been wrong about a number of things. Those are facts, and it’s a mark of maturity to be able to own it.

Shaking off the dust

Growing up Jewish, I was misunderstood quite a bit, so much that I eventually got used to being asked if Moses was the “Jewish Jesus” and if Jews had a Santa Claus equivalent. Those questions (let’s admit, they’re pretty dumb) didn’t exactly stop in elementary school. They were asked of me in college as well. But putting up with that ignorance gave me a priceless gift: thick skin.

You know what’s funny? When I became a Christian, I thought it was required to be insulted at every anti-Christian remark, because Jesus warned that his disciples should expect persecution. I wrote what is now a pretty embarrassing editorial for my school paper – and sadly, one that got some of the most page views online – about how an ad in the student center from the Freethinkers club, “Smile, there probably isn’t a god,” was bonafide Christian persecution on campus. The nonreligious students bashed it to pieces on the web while my inbox overflowed with messages from Christian students and faculty alike, praising me for my bravery. It was all so bewildering. Today, though I still admire College Sarahbeth’s pluck, I’d want to smack her upside the head for being so naïve.

Over the years, I’ve developed a sense of self-awareness. It’s easier now than it used to be to admit when I’m wrong or guilty of something (though it does kinda depend on what it is I’m wrong or guilty about!). When I see memes like the ones above on Facebook, I know they have nothing to do with me. When I read blog posts by friends of mine who call themselves anti-theists, I’m not offended because I know that religion can hurt, and I know what they’ve been through. Venting can be a critical part of healing.

Today, I have my own faith and don’t feel a need to defend it. I’m aware of what my flaws are, for the most part, and what I need to work on. For all the talk about Christ dwelling in us, Christians are still people, which shouldn’t be difficult to understand. We can love our family members even if we occasionally have to apologize for the things they say or do in public.

Like this post? Check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available on Amazon.

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6 thoughts on “Why are we so easily offended?

  1. hannah out loud says:

    Hi

    The irony is many Christians often call me a Pharisee, for practicing a “rules based religious system” in Judaism, whilst simultaneously saying they love the sin but hate the sinner (which to my mind is a paradox) . Maybe these people need to acquire a sense of perspective?

    With regards to humour, I do recall that you mentioned you read English at university as an undergraduate, so I thought this clip might cheer you up (it’s a tv comedy about William Shakespeare and family) :

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      Are you familiar with Amy-Jill Levine? She’s a Jewish Bible scholar who’s written a number of interesting books on the Christian disconnect with Judaism, particularly the misunderstanding of 1st-century Judaism as a misogynistic, rigid social caste system.

      Like

      • hannah out loud says:

        Hi

        No I haven’t read that book. Although the misunderstanding (s) haven’t stopped at the 1st century as they’re still here in the 21st. I find with the evangelical Christians- who are the ones I’m mostly familiar with- there is a gaping chasm in how Judaism is portrayed in Christian circles and the reality. The stereotype is that people think it’s dull, boring impossible to fulfil rules. Yet I’ve welcomed Christians to my Friday night Shabbat meals and come away singing.

        I find discussion on thu bible difficult because of how a text is interpreted or specifically the inability to at least accept there can be multiple interpretations of the same text and that being valid , even if one plumps for a particular viewpoint. The Talmud is replete with multiple arguments over passages and sometimes it isn’t clear what the consensus is. It’s not just theology, but also in some cases a different way of translating Hebrew to make things “fit” into Christian theology.

        As I get to read the interpretation of our Torah by Christians – I don’t just mean the messianic proof of Jesus verses- but many other things e.g. Sodom and Gomorrah, the Akedah, even the creation narratives. It becomes more removed from the classical Jewish Orthodox tradition (let alone whatever liberal/ reform Judaism makes of it) that I know.

        I have no issues with this as such as Judaism and Christianity are separate faiths , but by their own tradition Protestant are ostensibly allowed to individually interpret their own scripture , rather than being told to have to use a final say hierarchy in interpretation, unbound by past tradition. But rather paradoxically this doesn’t seem to happen and therefore there’s as much uniformity and dogmas as anywhere else.

        Like

  2. socalkdl says:

    I think much of what Evangelicals get offended by stems from White xenophobia. The whole we’re being persecuted therefore need religious protections from Gays is largely a White thing. Heck, Evangelicalism, dominated as it is by Southern Baptists, is predominately a White thing as well. When you look at the “lets make America Christian again” or “let’s make America great again” nonsense and the offense that Evangelicals derive from our culture, we are talking about conservative White values.

    IMO, one of the greatest failures of modern Evangelicalism is its failure to empathize with the marginalized, the homeless, Queer kids, Blacks, refuges, equal rights for women…and on and on. Instead, Evangelical Whites tend to be offended by these groups. These groups need to be controlled, further marginalized. When anyone from these groups complains of having their rights hampered, Evangelicals deny it, turn it around and say they are the ones who’s rights are infringed. It’s rather pathetic.

    Although there are some good Evangelical organizations doing work amount the poor, the tendency is to concentrate on third world countries. It’s far easier to send our money overseas than spend it here in rich America where our poor Blacks should be able to find work yet would rather milk the welfare system! Reminds me of the movie “The Help” where the White congregation cannot see the hypocrisy of sending help to poor Africans yet refuses to help Black Americans.

    None of this was an issue a hundred years ago when Fundamentalism ruled. White males were on top of the heap, foreigners and minorities, women, Jews and Catholics, all were neatly controlled. But now, well, “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!” Whites have lost control, and want it back again, er, I mean, want to make America a Christian nation again!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. seekeroftruthweb says:

    When it comes to being easily offended I actually think conservatives have been at it longer! I’m a church kid(was homeschooled starting in grade 6) and heated the usual anti-PC messages. It didn’t take too long to realize that Fundamentalists were doing the very same thing they accuse liberals of(I’ve brought it up on Love, Joy, Feminism).

    I personally don’t find offense at critiques of Christian Culture(TM), as I’ve seen the toxic aspects and people I know IRL get triggered by things. I actually think the liberals and atheists I interact with in the blogosphere are more lenient than I am(and I’m Evangelical!)

    I remember people’s getting offended when Obama said USA isn’t a Christian nation; when Oprah said Jesus isn’t the only Way to God, something that subtly suggests “Questions Not Welcome”!

    Thank you for this post; things you say are many of the things I think!

    Liked by 1 person

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