No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

4 Misconceptions About the Nature of Offense

Here are four common sense assumptions about giving and taking offense that I think are fundamentally mistaken and which atheists need to argue against:

“You have every right to be offended, but you don’t have the right to censor others just because you’re offended.”

“You cannot blame people for getting offended by satire since satirists aim to offend people.”

“We liberal secular atheists cannot blame religious people for getting offended by satires of their religions unless we are going to say we cannot be offended by satires which are racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise upsetting to us.”

“What is offensive to a given person is just a matter of feelings or taste and you cannot judge other people’s feelings or taste.”

So what is wrong with these views? What does it mean to rightly take offense or incorrectly take offense?

Morally Rightly Taking Offense

Taking offense is not just a matter of taste or arbitrary feeling. It is not the same thing as being annoyed or irritated or flat out disliking something in any other non-specific way.

Rather, offense purports to be (and should therefore be judged as properly felt only when it really is) a fitting moral emotional reaction to being illegitimately personally disrespected in ways that are abusive, harassing, defaming, coercive, or otherwise undermining of your (or another’s) basic dignity, moral rights, and/or legal rights. A proper and virtuous sense of dignity does not allow oneself or one’s genuine rights to be trampled upon. A proper concern for the rights of others does not allow them to have their rights trampled either. One should feel offended when such indignities are truly inflicted.

The right feeling of offense is both (a) a proper cognitive recognition of the truth that one has been wrongly slighted and (b) in many cases a helpful part of the psychological process that motivates us to take actions which justly rectify such slights.

Last November atheists attending Skepticon IV were morally and legally right to be offended when they discovered that they were illegally barred from a gelato shop on account of their atheism. Their offended reaction, and that of atheists online, was a way to properly and truthfully feel the indignity done to them as the injustice that it was. And we were right to be motivated to take action to protest both the ban and the bigoted attitudes of the gelato shop owner which led to it in the first place. His actions and his attitudes were both objectively offensive. Offense was the right emotional and cognitive response both in terms of properly appreciating the wrongness of the discrimination against us atheists and in terms of motivating our assertion of our rights, and warning others who would take them lightly that we would make a big deal of it if they did.

Morally Wrongly Taking Offense

But in cases when someone has not been illegitimately disrespected, it is oversensitive and arrogant to take offense. In those cases, you do not have a moral right to feel offended. In fact, I would say morally you are obligated not to feel offended in such cases, but instead to feel appreciation for the limits of your rights to immunity from criticism. It is a misperception of the truth about values to feel offense when you have not been treated inappropriately.

Of course you (correctly) have the legal right to feel offense even in many cases in which it is not morally appropriate, but you should not have the right to legislate that others respect your illegitimate feelings of offense by demanding that they never offend you in those ways. And both socially and legally, no one should be coerced to refrain from actions that do not legitimately offend others.

And people should even have legal rights to be actually morally offensive in some ways. Not all forms of disrespect should be policed through law but only those which threaten other people’s full, free, genuine, uncoerced participation in their society according to their own consciences.

When you regularly feel unjustly disrespected in cases where you have not in fact been treated poorly, then your oversensitivity and arrogance are more than just immediate feeling responses, but blameworthy character dispositions (to the extent that they are in your power to change). And when you are justifiably offended morally, but not in ways that should be made illegal, if you try to use the arm of the law or other coercive institutional measures to avenge yourself on your violators you become troublingly authoritarian and intolerably hostile to healthy freedom of expression.

If you take offense illicitly, when you are not morally or rationally warranted to do so, and you then do something immoral or illegal in your unjustified anger, then you are culpable for your character which leads to your behavior, as much as for your actions. Then those whom you have wronged have an interest in determining whether the oversensitivity and arrogance which led to your action were just impulsive feelings which you regret having let control you or whether those traits are vices, i.e., character dispositions which can be expected to lead to more immoral and illegal actions in the future.

So, when you take offense when you shouldn’t and you do something immoral and illegal to try to harm me or my group, and then beg for forgiveness when you get caught (risking possibly severe consequences for your wrongdoing), I want to know that you repudiate your poor judgment about when to take offense before I consider you and me to be in a copacetic relationship again.

Why I Didn’t Forgive the Gelato Guy for Being Offended

For me to forgive you fully, I need to see that you regret your wrong action and your wrong feeling, and I need to see that you are willing to introspect about whether your wrong feeling is an actual disposition to feel wrongly which needs to be actively changed lest it harm me again the next time I trust you. If you recognize that your wrong feeling really is a vicious disposition to regularly harm people the way you did, then you need to conscientiously resolve to change before I forgive you. If you don’t request forgiveness for the right thing and resolve to change in the right ways, I am under no obligation to forgive you. In fact, it would be foolish for me to do so.

This was why I supported not forgiving Andy Drennan, the gelato shop owner who discriminated against atheists but only apologized for how he reacted to feeling offended and not for being offended by an atheist satire in the first place. I don’t think he had a moral right to be offended. Irritated? I can understand that. But not offended. And this is an important distinction.

Let me now turn to explain how I apply these general moral considerations about the nature of offense and when it is appropriate and inappropriate to the murkier particulars of this empirical case to make distinctions about what is morally properly offensive, and not, in satire and elsewhere.

Satire

Satirists are regularly willing to piss people off. The nature of satire is to use parody with some degree of mockery to highlight absurdities in ideas, in current events, in institutions, in social conventions, in human behaviors, etc. Satire is a performative way of bringing to light truths about the logical or practical inadequacies of whatever is being satirized. It is a species of art and critical reasoning which has distinct (and often unique) prospects for exposing harsh truths that may not be as well articulated in other modes of expression. In this way it is a valuable tool in the critical search for the truth and the good.

But should people be offended by it? When is it offensive or not to mock people? Where should we draw the line?

Satire vs. Personal Encounters

In non-satirical social encounters, it is offensive to mock people in a malicious or critical spirit. If I want to criticize your ideas, as much as possible I should stick to focusing on the wrongness of your ideas without personal attacks. If I make it insultingly personal, this is a bullying and irrational attempt to manipulate your emotions and coerce your agreement. It’s anti-rational and antithetical to concern for your abilities to think freely and to reason your way to the truth based on evidence, because it attempts to employ non-rational leverage.

When I personally insult you in ways that are not mutually understood to be playful but which have explicit or implicit harms to your psyche, I treat you in a way that undermines your dignity and is immorally disrespectful. You have a moral right to be offended. And if this attack undermines your ability to feel like you can safely exercise your full rights in society to pursue your conception of the good to the maximum, I offend you in ways that might rise to the level of being legally addressable too.

Mocking Groups Legitimately and Illegitimately, for the Sake of Truth

But if I satirize a group’s ideas or behaviors which flow from a group’s debatable ideas and conventions, then I am operating not on the level of personal insult but on the level of criticism of forms and institutions. If I satirize a powerful individual, then I engage in a potentially vital form of dissenting from a potentially coercive influence in society. In these ways, as long as I am not fundamentally malicious and subversive to people’s basic rights or basic dignities, I am merely critical of influential ideas and practices in a way that love of truth and the good justifies.

And if, on an interpersonal level, you and I tease each other in good natured ways that do not harm or have the potential to effectually relegate each other to inferior statuses, then this is harmless play.

On the other hand, when dealing with especially disempowered groups and individuals—on individual, social, and even satirical levels—one must be very careful that one’s mockery does not reinforce actual moral and legal disrespect that the members of that vulnerable group suffer in real life detrimental ways.

But, I do not think I have the right to be offended when, say, South Park ruthlessly satirizes those of us self-assured outspoken intellectual atheists. If I disagree with a particular criticism this may irritate me the way any expression of an idea I think is false irritates me. But it should not be personal even though I am a serious atheist and even though they are satirizing the ardent atheist’s identity, values, and viewpoints. Even as they challenge deep parts of my thought and identity, I should be able to distance myself from these ideas and this identity conceptually, be capable of criticizing or laughing any flaws which are helpfully revealed, and ideally be able to improve my thinking and self-understanding in light of insightful criticisms. Humor can be enlightening in this way. In fact, my personal thinking about atheism and atheistic identity has actually been especially improved by satirists like Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Between friends and in formal impersonal contexts, joking can be a uniquely valuable way to make important truths about ourselves, our institutions, our ideas, our practices, or our values crystal clear to us. Sometimes we even learn and internalize a harsh truth the least painfully when we are induced to laugh at it than when it is demanded that we accept it as defeat in a logical debate. Our minds can be more stubborn than our senses of humor when it comes time to capitulate to an uncomfortable idea. And satire which is simply wrong as a point of truth can be either laughed off or shrugged off depending on how funny or not it is on its own terms.

We should take truth-based criticisms and satirizations of both ideas and ourselves at arms’ length insofar as they are not morally or legally malicious and do not constitute a real life threat to our real life dignity or real life rights.

The Moral Right to Offend the Religious

But what about the religious? Don’t they have the moral right to get offended when their beliefs or their revered figures are flagrantly mocked in public?

No. They have the moral right to feel irritated and they have the legal right to feel offended. But if they try to use moral or legal means to prevent their ideas, identities, institutions, values, or leaders from being satirized then they are saying it is immoral for others to subject these things to harsh scrutiny.

This is because the only bases which they could possibly have for treating these things as off limits to criticism, including mockery, is the authority of their religious traditions. Their religious traditions may explicitly or implicitly guide them to never treat certain things with irreverence, critical thought, or mockery. If that is the case, it is understandable that they feel personally or communally bound not to do so. I think it is bad and unhealthy for them to do this since putting anything off limits to criticism and mockery stifles their likelihood of rejecting or improving any inadequate ideas they might have. But it is their prerogative morally and legally insofar as people are morally and legally free to be mistaken and to hold false moral ideas whose harms to themselves and others are sufficiently limited in scope.

But the moment that the religious insist that their gods or ideas or values or revered leaders or institutions or books, etc. be off limits from intellectual or artistic or interpersonal criticisms (including ones which have extremely sharp and irreverent humorous edges to them) lest they be offended, they are insisting that their traditions and beliefs, etc., are morally in principle above reproach. This demands implicitly of all outsiders to their tradition that we treat their tradition’s attitudes about what is sacred, inviolable, and never to be criticized as our own. This effectively demands that we take their religious judgments as our own moral guideline and to let them restrict our own abilities to pass moral and intellectual judgment according to our own consciences.

In effect this demands us to adopt their religious values as our own. This is too much for them to demand of us. This is a violation of our own moral and legal rights to intellectual and moral conscience. To be offended at our exercise of our own rights to criticism (including artistic or intellectually forms of mockery that have the potential to be insightful) is to assert a moral claim against our consciences. But our consciences should feel innocent here. The religious have no right to make such claims on our consciences, either morally or legally. Therefore, they should not take offense—no matter how irritated they may be or how substantively wrong they may think our implicitly or explicitly made claims may be.

Atheists (and others) have the moral right to critically satirize religious ideas, values, institutions, people, identities, practices, etc. The religious may get irritated as they wish. They may respond with their own satires or vigorous intellectual criticisms if they wish. But morally they do not have the right to complain we have assaulted their dignity or disrespected them simply because we criticize them or use impersonal humor as part of doing so. Therefore they have no moral right to be offended. To claim otherwise is to claim that non-adherents to a religion are bound to respect that religion’s precepts about sacredness even in violation of the non-adherent’s own conscience. That is a morally unconscionable demand.

Just to wrap up the gelato affair (3 months late!): this is why I didn’t think Andy Drennan was within his moral rights to be offended. This is why I thought he needed to apologize for more than just discriminating against atheists by denying us access to his shop. This is why I thought he had to stop implying that his offended reaction was itself morally understandable. It is obviously psychologically understandable, in that it is normal for people to get offended when they really have no moral right to. But it is not something morally approvable and unless he recognizes this, he goes on assuming he has the right to get offended by valid forms of atheistic criticism. And then he has learned nothing and may continue to be part of the immoral dominance of religious people who silence atheistic critics by illicit claims to a right not to be offended.

A follow up post for those unconvinced by this one that offense needs to be considered a moral category: Moral Offense Is Not Morally Neutral

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

    If offense is defined as an emotional/cognitive state, how is this not thought policing?

    • Robert B.

      Because it’s not being done by the government, it’s not any sort of punishable law. The OP was very clear that everyone has the legal right to be offended, it’s just that in some cases it’s wrong.

      I agree that there should not be “legal thoughts” vs. “illegal thoughts.” But obviously thoughts can still be right or wrong – otherwise, why should we care about atheism? Or skepticism, or rationality?

  • peterh

    “No one has the right to not be offended.” – John Cleese

    • lordshipmayhem

      Agreed, and this makes sense. You can be offended any time you wish – it’s a proper emotion, but it’s subjective. You do NOT have the right to demand an apology, or refuse to treat with offending members of the public if you are running a business.

      Enough with this “legitimate” versus “non legitimate” offense bollocks. We’re just cutting hairs with this. The concept offends me.

    • Robert B.

      Wait, no such thing as “legitimate offense”? Seriously?

      Imagine a high school teacher goes to work wearing a rainbow pin on his lapel, symbolizing gay pride. Word gets around, and parents are offended: they say that their values are being attacked, they’re concerned for their children’s safety, and they demand the teacher be fired.

      Now imagine a high school teacher goes to work in full Ku Klux Klan regalia, symbolizing white supremacy. Word gets around, and parents are offended: they say that their values are being attacked, they’re concerned for their children’s safety, and they demand the teacher be fired.

      Are you saying that there is no moral difference between the parents’ actions in these two examples? That in neither case is their reaction justified?

    • http://adf.ly/2Wg9O Sour Tomato Sand

      What I think is being ignored here is that the legitimacy of the actions of the two sets of parents in question are a matter of consequences. I’m not quite sure how you arrive at “morally right” and “morally wrong” in a secular setting without discussing consequence. I’d say the parents are right in the KKK example because a) the KKK are/were a violent group that lynched/supports lynching of minorities, b) the KKK are so hated that wearing such regalia is likely to incite retaliatory violence, and c) white supremacist groups openly and directly contribute to the further marginalization of an already marginalized group, which leads to further violence and other negative consequences against that group.

      The parents are wrong in the gay pride example because a) gay people and their allies are not any more or less violent than the population at large, b) having a person in a position of authority support gay rights is psychologically beneficial to gay kids, c) institutional acceptance of gay kids may lead to less bullying/violence against them, and d) LGBT people are already marginalized, and showing overt support for them helps fight that marginalization.

      In essence, in these cases, it boils down to one group of parents opposing an action that supports violence against a group (the KKK example), and one group of parents contributing to violence against a group (the gay pride example). I think that we can use “violence is bad” as a near-universal point of agreement to base morality on without requiring further justification. But I think you need to relate justified offense/illegitimate offense to such moral issues, or it’s meaningless.

    • echidna

      The difference between them is that the rainbow pin is non-threatening, the KKK outfit is threatening.

      Offense doesn’t really come into it, in my view.

    • echidna

      No let me rephrase that. Offense is a secondary consideration.

    • jay

      Ok let’s take threat out of it.

      Teacher wears a gay pride pin.

      Teacher wears a pro-marriage pin.

      Both non threatening, both likely to offend some groups. Neither carries any kind of implied threat. Yet both groups of objectors will equally feel they are in the right to be offended. And since each side is working from gut feeling, logical convincing would be unlikely.

      Of course the best course of action for a teacher is to wear neither (this is not to allow abuse, any teacher, regardless of their personal opinion is required to protect any person being abused or harassed because of sexuality or any other reason)

      I disagree with this acceptable/unacceptable offense dichotomy. In some cases it’s pretty obvious, but in many many cases there is quite a bit of room for subjectivity. True I didn’t like the South Park atheist episode, but then I loved the Scientology one, and the Catholic one. Go figure. You’ve got to take a few punches, as good as you give.

      One other point. I disagree with the concept of treating behaviors differently if they are against ‘empowered’ vs ‘disempowered’ groups. If it’s unacceptable for one, it’s unacceptable for the other.

    • Robert B.

      @ echidna: Certainly people’s “gut feelings” are unreliable when making ethical calls. But what Dr. Fincke argues, and I would argue with him, is that you don’t need to have feelings of any kind be the standard that divides justified vs. unjustified offense. Injustice is the standard: if you have been done to unjustly, you have the right to be offended.

      My example of the two high school teachers was asymmetric on purpose. I wasn’t trying for just a liberal and a conservative example – in fact, you could replace the rainbow with a cross or a Republican elephant if you like. I meant for the second teacher to be doing a different kind of thing from the first teacher, a more extreme and obviously unjust thing, even though they’re both “only” expressing an opinion with their clothing.

      Yes, the difference is that the Klan robes were threatening, and the rainbow pin was not. That was the point. A legitimate threat is exactly the sort of thing that makes taking offense justified. I suppose offense is “secondary” in that we should judge these matters based on the actual threat or other injustice, not the emotion it causes. But that emotion, taking offense, is a tool, and it has right and wrong uses. The sorts of actions people want to take when they feel offended – passing laws, firing people, refusing to do business, etc. – are appropriate responses to injustices, but not to annoyances. So the right way to use that feeling is to take offense at threats and other injustice, and not at, say, public satire. Taking offense is not “secondary” in the sense that we shouldn’t worry about it. It matters, and one can either do it right, or mess it up.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I don’t think offense is just a secondary issue. The insensitivity and cavalierness about the evil of the KKK is intrinsically upsetting. It says something about someone’s corrupt moral judgment, their indifference or possible hatred to blacks. It does not matter if you know that they are themselves temperamentally disinclined to actually engage in violence, they are being intrinsically disrespectful and there’s a wrong in that itself.

    • John Morales

      “No one has the right to not be offended.” – John Cleese

      Huh?

      You quite sure that’s the quote? :)

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    I think people do have the right to feel offended, and I’m willing to forgive them for it.

    On the flip side, no one has the right to not feel offended.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I think I have a moral right to not be treated genuinely offensively by you. I don’t have the legal right, but the moral one. That’s the precondition of all my acts of complaining morally about your mistreatment of me. If I have no rights to go without being offended, you’re basically saying I have no moral claim that you must show me proper respect.

      I have no right to claim that you show me more respect than I actually deserve. I have no right to claim that you show my ideas more respect than they deserve. I have no right to insist no one ever irritate me in ways that are part and parcel of legitimate disagreement or other basically respectful human interaction.

      But I have a right to not be treated like dirt, harassed, abused, or otherwise treated with disrespect. And offense is the proper moral response to being treated with disrespect.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Do people have a right to be respected? Outside of respecting a person’s right to exist free of physical harm, I’m not sure they do. If respect is expected, it means nothing to respect someone. Just look at your wording: how can one even quantify whether someone is asking for “more respect than they deserve?” Am I supposed to give my wife 3 Dali Lamas (or 4.2 David Beckhams, if you’re using the antiquated English system of measuring respect), while Westboro Baptist Church gets .1?

      But I do get what you mean by “morally.” I definitely did not respect the presence of that word, as I always think of rights in a legalistic sense. You got me there. It is one’s moral duty to act against injustice, I just would never call a stance so important by such a frivolous title as “being offended.” I don’t ever get offended, but I know what it means to feel morally compelled, but I suppose that is merely semantics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1468751142 Kevin

    I don’t think I have the moral right to offend the religious.

    I think that I tell the truth, and they take offense.

    My moral obligation is to the truth, not the consequences.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Right. I’m saying the religious don’t have the moral right to offense in many cases they are claiming it, not that atheists should be “offending at will”. Atheists should show genuine respect and religious people should not be offended by it. Where atheists are genuinely disrespectful they are in the wrong and the religious are right to be offended. But merely confronting the religious with uncomfortable truths is not disrespecting them. But also atheists treating the religious to unrestrained abusive derision is genuinely disrespecting them, even if done in the name of truth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

    It seems generally unhealthy for one to hold a grudge.

  • BinJabreel

    Honestly, I think I’ve got every right to be offended by satire when it’s bad freakin’ satire.

    Like the South Park example: Fucking hated those episodes. They were lazy and shallow and seemed to lack any point beyond, “Why get fired up about religion? People will just find some other reason to shoot each other.”

  • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

    I agree with your points about the offensiveness of their taking offense, but I have a different take on ‘has a right to’ – and sorry if it sounds like nitpicking, but I think the matter might give rise to misinterpretations.

    A view that I find plausible that there is a difference in being morally right to be offended, and having the [moral] right to be offended (at least, in a common usage of the latter expression).

    More precisely, the former would be a claim of moral rightness of the feeling of offense, whereas the latter is a claim about how others should behave towards the person who feels that way.
    People would have the right to be offended if and only if it would be immoral for others not to allow them to be offended (who the ‘others’ would be depends on the case), which is not the same as to say that they’re morally right to be offended.

    For instance, often it would immoral for a person (say, Bob) to claim that people deserve infinite torture for, say, converting from Christianity to Islam.
    Yet, it seems to me that in many contexts, Bob would still have the right to make that claim, even if he lives in a place where he does not have the legal right to make it – i.e., if that is correct, in such cases Bob has the moral (not the legal) right to make the claim, even though he’s behaving immorally by making the claim.
    Generally, it may be that in many cases, Bob has the right to free speech, even if the government fails to recognize his right, and even if he would be acting immorally if he made some kinds of speeches (i.e., he has the moral but not the legal right to free speech, but he’d be acting immorally by exercising that right in certain ways).

    So, with regard to the religionists you’re talking about, I’d say in most cases they have the [moral] right to be morally offended, but they’re being immoral for expressing that offense, and perhaps even for being morally offended without warrant for it.

    As an alternative (though I’m not convinced), perhaps, the usage of ‘has a right to’ is not uniform enough, and saying that they’re being immoral in their attitude would clarify the matter.

  • leftwingfox

    Honestly, I think you go too far in trying to redefine “offense” in a way that legitimizes the word as an actionable violation (as in a criminal offense). I think coming at this from a step removed (offense as a personal emotion to a perceived attack) is more helpful.

    I feel I have no “right” to tell someone not to be offended, just as someone offended has no right to shut me down. There are times I am going to offend people, and justifiably so. We we talk about Ann COulter for example, I believe her to be a moral monster, a violent thug willing to stoke the fires of violence to make a quick buck. She may well be offended by that, but what do I care?

    I think where we get caught up is that we too often direct our insults and complaints unintentionally at a broader audience that we intended, and the catch is that we offend allies, be revealing cultural biases they may be fighting against. Using gendered insults against Ann Couter is insulting to women in general, even (and especially) those who are my friends and political allies. The same would be if I attacked her with broadly racial, cultural or religious markers: I’m bount to offend people who have nothing to do with her, or my particular ire in this case.

    I think it’s helpful to understand WHY an individual feels offended about a phrase. As you say, there are certainly legitimate reasons to feel offended when an individual behaves unethically, dismissively, or illegally. I think it’s useful to listen to their reasons for offense, and to try and improve by focussing your criticism, or recognizing their cultural experiences where necessary.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      But offense is a moral category, it’s not just the dislike at being attacked. I hate being attacked, most everyone does. But I don’t get offended unless the attack is personal and vicious and disrespectful, etc.—in other words, only when it reaches to a moral level.

      On your logic you don’t care about degrading Coulter but only about not degrading your allies. But Coulter deserves respect too. If her ideas are really as pernicious as you judge or at least if you can make a reasonable argument that they are, then you are justified in making them and she is not justified in being offended as though it were more personal or unfair than it was. But if you are genuinely letting your emotions and your tendency towards demonization of enemies run away with you then that’s you being unfair and not only should she be offended, but you should take responsibility and apologize for attacking someone unfairly.

  • Francisco Bacopa

    To say that a theist has a right not to be offended makes no more sense than to say the rat that came into my apartment when they did the foundation leveling had a right not to be killed by my cat.

    Theists use their supposed “right to not be offended” as a bludgeon against us in the public sphere. In some parts of the world they back this up with state sanctioned violence or accepted violence.

    Our goal should be to reduce their influence until their claim to the right to not be offended is never backed with any force ever. Then we are the cat and they are the rat.

    We secularists can never be free until we have this much power over our opponents. You would appeal to reason with them? Foolish! They teach that things cannot be right or wrong without an Asskicking God making thing right or wrong. Reason cannot win them over.

    • Robert B.

      Every functional adult is receptive to reason at least a little bit, or they wouldn’t be able to do everyday tasks. And some theists are much more rational than others. Whether you personally prefer to reason with people or leave them alone depends on you and whoever your potential audience is. But in general, reason can work. Look at some of the entries in PZ’s “How I Became An Atheist” series, and the stories of Dr. Fincke and other FTBloggers. Heck, I was reasoned out of what little theism I had as a teenager, and then I was reasoned out of my rather more entrenched woo beliefs last year.

      (And by the way, I’m totally down with reducing religion’s influence But if we’re not using reason, how are we supposed to do it? Interpretive dance?)

  • Ariel

    I think that what we have here is a case of a real, vicious conflict, which can’t be easily mitigated. For this reason, I still think that an approach of the sort “I will forgive the believer (like gelato guy) only if he appreciates the atheist’s moral right to mock religious ideas” is exaggerated and makes no practical sense.

    The conflict goes as follows:

    Atheist: my reason and conscience tell me that religion is bad and harmful! I have a right to act in accordance with what my conscience tells me. If you disagree – if you refuse me such a right – you demand in effect that I adopt your values as my own, and this is unacceptable! Appreciate that; only then I will forgive you! Otherwise go to hell!
    Believer: I’m convinced that religion is sacred and that mocking it is blasphemous and harmful. I have a (moral) right to say it and to act in accordance with what my conscience tells me. If you refuse it to me – if you insist that I should appreciate your right to mock religion as a prerequisite for forgiveness – you say in effect that I should accept that religion is not sacred and that it is a proper object for mockery. In other words, you demand that I adopt your values as my own. Your approach is: “I will forgive you, but only on condition that you will become a (semi)atheist”. You know what? Go to hell!

    My worry is that this approach to forgiveness is completely counterproductive. To be sure: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t mock religion. I’m saying rather that in my opinion our standards for forgiveness shouldn’t be that high. We live with these people after all. I don’t want the world to become composed of two offended gangs, with their noses high up in the air. And yes, I’m inclined to think that it is exactly such an approach that would be an excellent topic for mockery and satire.

    By the way, a side question to all of you (mere curiosity). Imagine a big event organized in your area just for one purpose: mocking feminism (not women, mind you: feminism). They have various sketches, satires, performances (oh, one could be for example: victims are burning at the stake, and the feminists gathered below are hotly debating the choice of a proper gender-neutral term referring to them. And many others. Easy!) Then you would be:
    (a) irritated (but not morally offended)
    (b) morally offended
    (c) neither of the above
    I’m really curious about your answers.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks, Ariel, you get superbly to the heart of a key issue. My point is that the gelato guy was not offering a compromise where we live and let live by justifying his offense. He spoke out about how wrong it was that the atheists speak out against his beliefs in the manner they did but then just said he should not have reacted illegally or taken it out on all the other good atheists.

      He is not saying he wants to live in a society where he appreciates our rights to express our disagreement with him freely without him getting pissed off about it. He wants us to change the way we express our ideas still. He won’t stop us from expressing them as we do, even though he won’t stop selling us gelato. So, why should I feel like he’s my fellow citizen who wishes me well and take an attitude that we should be in a copacetic relationship because he apologized for the time he violated my civil rights?

      I don’t get offended by the mere existence of religious people or their worship services. I respect their rights to them and don’t get in a huff about them expressing their views. I get angry about the content of the ideas and write vigorously against them. But I don’t start demanding they stop expressing them for the sake of my feelings the way Drennan was. It’s his attitude that is the uncivil one because he is not acknowledging the basic playing field of accepting that each of us in our own meetings and art will sometimes satirize or speak harshly about each other. He is the one trying to silence us by claiming his right to genuine moral offense at what we do.

      If his expression of offense is not to be taken as a call for us to stop doing what we are doing then it’s not really “offense”. Offense is a moral category and it carries with it connotations that offenders are in the wrong and should change. If he was just irritated, well, then, I grant his right to that.

      The dilemma is that I cannot accept the terms whereby he has the right to moral offense at my atheistic satires without conceding his moral terms and he cannot accept my right to offend without conceding my moral terms. But my moral terms are the ones that allow mutual respect for freedom of expression in the social sphere. His are ones that inherently subordinate my concerns to his. I’m allowing us to disagree respectfully, whereas he is demanding special concessions.

    • Ariel

      The dilemma is that I cannot accept the terms whereby he has the right to moral offense at my atheistic satires without conceding his moral terms and he cannot accept my right to offend without conceding my moral terms.

      Yes, that’s the heart of the quandary.

      But my moral terms are the ones that allow mutual respect for freedom of expression in the social sphere. His are ones that inherently subordinate my concerns to his. I’m allowing us to disagree respectfully, whereas he is demanding special concessions.

      Fine, but you see, it only emphasizes the problem. The believer can even grant you all this; the difficulty is however that in his eyes it is the sacred that takes precedence over “mutual respect for freedom of expression”. It’s like … oh, well, would you be ready to defend mocking the Holocaust by an appeal to mutual respect for freedom of expression? Perhaps not. Perhaps you would say that here we’ve got something that shouldn’t be mocked, period. And that’s the believer’s position.

      I remember many discussions with believers, who claim that the so called “secular state” doesn’t in fact produce a neutral playground, that what it really supports and produces is atheism/indifferentism. They smell a trap here: they suspect that the secularists using this whole “neutrality” language are trying to turn them into half-atheists (full atheists in the future). Freedom of expression (including spitting at religion) more important than reverence for the sacred? Really, who else than an atheist could say that? :-)

      You know, I sort of understand their mistrust. They have a reason for it. To repeat my earlier point: it looks like you want them to become half-atheists before you can forgive them. That’s a war morality and I’m not into it.

  • http://surgoshan.blogspot.com/ Surgoshan

    I think of offense as an emotional response rather than a rational one, and has very little to do with morality. Now, acting on offense becomes a moral quibble.

    However, I think the work of Jonathan Haidt is very useful for understanding why the religious take offense at pretty much everything we have to say about them, their religion, their beliefs, and so on.

    http://people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/

    Haidt’s work has elucidated five pillars of morality that people more or less universally follow. The important one here is the fifth, sanctity/purity. Specifically, the sanctity of ideas, symbols, icons, beliefs. Certain things are designated as sacred and are, in and of themselves, deemed to be immune to criticism. The non-believer looks at it and deems it a sacred cow, fully worthy of criticism and fairly silly in itself. The atheist looks at a field dotted with sacred cows and has trouble wrapping his head around the notion that believers honestly don’t see that their own sacred cow is no different from all the others.

    This really is a real thing. People have an incredibly powerful emotional reaction to criticism, satire, or sometimes even discussion of things they hold sacred. This ties into the fact that we are incredibly credulous as children, and I think is an evolved mechanism to make sure we learn our lessons when our parents are teaching us. We have to hold onto those things tightly, or else it just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, we get a lot of crap in the process.

    And as this is an evolved emotional response, I think we’re fighting an uphill battle. I think it’s something we have to keep doing, because sacred cows are not, in fact, sacred and no idea is immune from criticism. However, I think you’re wrong to cavil over when offense is acceptable. Offense is a strong emotional response, and I think your examples show that it’s an emotional response to immoral behavior.

    The focus of Haidt’s research is on the moral divide between liberals and conservatives. The primary difference he’s found is that liberals strongly respond to Injury and Fairness and weakly to Respect for Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Sanctity/Purity, whereas conservatives respond strongly to all five. Your examples are textbook liberal: the gelato shop owner was wrong to be offended by disrespect for his sacred cow; we were right to be offended by his unfair and illegal action in response.

    We’d do better to consider offense as an emotional rather than rational response. In that light, telling people that they’re wrong to feel offended is kind of a dick move. But then, so is my go-to response. “You have the right to be offended, but I have the right to not give a shit.”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      But this is exactly why my arguments above are so important. Your “I don’t give a shit” response is inadequate. It’s callousness. It’s not going to change the emotions of the religious. My argument is about how the emotions should be rationally criticized. I’m saying that if the religious are to learn—in this case if the gelato guy is to really grow beyond the irrational overreach of his religious emotions and be a fairer person, then he has to be confronted over how his emotions need reexamination. Like I said in the article, I get it that it’s an understandable psychological reaction that he had. But if I affirm it as not a moral failure I don’t teach him or other overreactive religious people that it’s not acceptable to bully the irreligious like that, that it’s not acceptable to let their feelings of sacredness run roughshod over everyone else.

    • Robert B.

      You can’t just say “oh emotions aren’t rational” and wash your hands. An emotion is a physical event in your brain, and it has physical consequences. Emotions make it harder to do certain things, and easier to do others. Hopefully they’re making it hard to do the wrong thing and easy to do the right thing. If it’s the opposite, you’re in trouble. If your goal is to maximize how often you do the right thing, you’d better do whatever you can to aim your emotions at their proper targets.

    • Villa

      To an extent I think you can say ‘emotions aren’t rational’ and wash your hands of the moral question.

      Emotions aren’t reasoned. They’re not, in an immediate sense, under our conscious control. So, talking about immoral emotions is as nonsensical as talking about immoral dreams.

    • Robert B.

      No one promised life would be fair. Emotions can’t be easily or directly controlled, they can only be guided and nudged by less-than-perfectly-reliable techniques that often require the help of other people. Some people get into a lot of trouble by assuming their control over their emotions is greater than it is. I’m one of them.

      But so what? Ethics is not limited to that which is easy or without tension. The point of ethics is to win, to get as much as you can of whatever outcome you value. If something goes wrong, there is no ethical referee who will say “Oh, well, that was because of something you couldn’t control all that well, so it doesn’t count.” The bad thing still happened. Unless our control over something drops to literally zero, we still have to try. (And if it does drop to zero, we’re just doomed, which is worse.) Since it is possible to manage our emotions at least to some extent, we have to give our best effort to do so.

    • http://surgoshan.blogspot.com/ Surgoshan

      I said deal with it as an emotional response, not ignore it as an emotional response.

      They are having an emotional reaction for a very good reason: we have profaned that which they hold sacred. This elicits as strong and valid a response as if we had burned the flag or pissed on the carpet in the Oval Office (all things held sacred, though for different reasons and in slightly different ways).

      As the offense taken in response to violation of the fifth of Haidt’s five morals is defined mostly by cultural mores, I believe that it is open to discussion, redefinition, and movement by the zeitgeist. However, I don’t think that we can say that they’re wrong to feel it without first convincing them that what they hold to be sacred is, in fact, not sacred.

    • Robert B.

      It’s not that we can’t say it, exactly, since we should always have the right to say the truth. But if the person we’re speaking to is still uncritically buying into the “sacredness” concept, we might have a hard time making ourselves understood.

    • http://surgoshan.blogspot.com/ Surgoshan

      If Haidt’s correct and sanctity/purity truly is a universal human moral precept (albeit weaker in liberals than in conservatives), then I don’t think will ever be possible to get rid of it. My understanding is that if a behavior is universal in a species, then it’s best understood from a biological perspective, and in that case, no amount of argument will ever shift our drive to protect the sacred.

      However, I see that the key word there is “uncritically”, and I do think that the view of the sacred could be redirected, or repurposed to skepticism and secularism, such that instead of holding some concepts as being above or beyond study, reflection, or criticism, we would hold the acts of study, reflection, and criticism to be themselves sacred rites (evidentiary criticism, not mindless teenager-style criticism).

      But maybe that’s just a pipe dream.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus
  • dubliner

    Good grief!. I’m glad I missed reading about gelato guy at the time. I was already wondering after eleavator guy if to be an American atheist meant over reaction was congenital. The ice cream vendor made a mistake, he apologised and you still made WW3 about it! Maybe us Irish are just naturally more chilled or maybe a few hundred years of being on the receiving end of actual persecution means we save our outrage for a little more than minor brief episodes of human fallibility. And the endless navel gazing! Even a psychologist such as myself would be mortified to indulge to that extent.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      His mistake was illegal. And his apology, for the reasons I explained went and blamed the atheists for offending him where he had no moral right to be offended.

      I can understand if you or others get the wrong impression that I’m making WW3 of it by talking about it three months later. But it’s not like I woke up with my daily anger at gelato guy. I just drafted this post as the last in a promised series in November when the story was current and then fell behind and only got around to finishing the draft the other day. The philosophical points and moral arguments have broader application than gelato guy so it was worth it to go through with my delayed plan to make them. Since gelato guy was the example case that led to these investigations I kept him in there as a paradigm case (though I reduced the emphasis on him there would have been at the time).

      It’s not an issue of an overblown sense of proportion. The general issues of when and how it is right or wrong to give or take offense are serious ones whether or not you “as a psychologist” think so. The applications of the arguments go well beyond any atheist navel gazing to any inter-group or interpersonal conflict. I just used an example salient to the atheist community a few months ago.

    • dubliner

      I find the American culture war fascinating and repulsive and watch the demonising of each side in blogs like freethoughts and freerepublic with a growing sense of despair for the most powerful country on the planet. Now of all the freethought blogs your own is probably the least likely to engage in such behaviour usually. But not today. Can’t you see how objectionable it is to use someone who quickly and readily admitted his error illegal or otherwise as an ‘example’ of what not to forgive? How on earth is the bridge between the cultures ever going to occur if either side demands a level of perfection and behavioural ‘purity’ that makes an ‘example’ of that poor man. That man seems to have grown and learned from the experience while atheists who like to consider themselves compassionate and logical sit in judgement over his human fraility. Not healthy.

      The internet is a wonderful tool to access information which serves to undermine indoctrination but it is also a tool for driving the wedge deeper. I often wonder how many people who start to explore outside the box of their religious indoctination are sent running back to the arms of ‘safety’ by the impossibly high demands many of these blogs set for human logic and behaviour.

      It takes a very brave and big person to admit a mistake and to walk into the lions den to apologise. That should surely be rewarded and encouraged and not derided even if it doesn’t quite meet the standards of logic some atheists like to set.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dubliner, if you go back and read the articles from the time you’ll see that he only increased his apologies in response to the drubbing his business was taking on the internet from angry atheists. He had every business incentive to be terrified and apologize. This was not some “poor man” who learned his lesson. It was a businessman who made a calculation that he needed to put out a PR disaster.

      And EVEN THEN, in that context, his response was to STILL, in a further interview disparage the atheist who he felt offended by for doing so.

      So what in the world did he learn exactly? He showed up to the convention with the presumption his religion was above satire morally and legally. He left with an appreciation it is not above satire legally but he still holds out the right to be offended by atheist expression morally? How does this advance the cause of atheists no longer feeling bullied into silence and acquiescence to religious dominance?

  • roland72

    I think everyone has a right to be offended at anything at all. I don’t think the word “moral” adds any meaning. You can’t make rules about how people feel or what they think. However we can make rules about what they do. So you can say you’re offended – of course. You can even say that you don’t think people ought to say things that offend you. No problem with that at all. What you can’t necessarily expect is for people to agree with you or obey you.

    There are some things which offended people do which are not allowed – like saying the offensive people should be killed (incitement to murder), or trying to suppress them by threatening them or damaging their stuff.

    But they must not expect the offenders to stop being offensive, if that’s all they’re being. This is why I think the pictures of Mohammed thing is so important – nobody is harmed by this, only offended. So actually I think we ought to put up posters of Mohammed absolutely everywhere so that we can show that offence in and of itself is not something you can demand to have a right to avoid.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      The word moral distinguishes being irritated and claiming a right to protest the cause of offense as a cause of morally unacceptable disrespect.

      Without this distinction, there is just irritations and there is no difference between people who deserve moral blame for the ways they irritate others and those who do deserve such blame.

      Yes, sorry, we CAN talk about objective grounds for judging people’s thoughts and feelings. Without it, our entire social moral life collapses. That’s never going to happen. We will always be assigning praise and blame in moral terms. We must be rational and draw fair distinctions for moral terms not murky the waters between different kinds of things.

    • roland72

      But I’ve got a right to protest against pictures of kittens and cupcakes as a cause of morally unacceptable disrespect if I so choose. I have a right to demand that all pictures of kittens and cupcakes be removed from the world in order to placate my offence. You in turn have a right to carry on posting said pictures and tell me my being offended does not make any difference to what you want to do.

      I don’t think you can easily judge people’s thoughts and feelings. For a start, it’s notoriously difficult to find out what they are. Someone might ask you to judge theirs – but that’s not what we’re talking about here I think, and I probably wouldn’t make the attempt even then. You can judge what they do – and we have a right to stop people doing harmful things. Now if I could show that pictures of kittens and cupcakes did actually harm me then I would be justified in criticising people who, knowing this, deliberately put them in my way, but then I’m not just “offended” any more.

      Asserting that our social and moral life collapses if we can’t judge others’ thoughts and feelings for me leaves an awful lot of questions unanswered – not least of which is what does “moral” mean?

      Really at the bottom of this for me is a mistrust of the word “moral”. I haven’t ever felt that it contributes to discussions of what people ought to do because for me it carries an awful lot of religious baggage. I prefer the term “ethical” – though when pressed I’d be hard to tell you why. I think it’s because for me it’s easier to conceive of an ethical system based on arbitrary axioms. And the axioms really are arbitrary – I might base mine on the idea that I like to be happy and I like other people to be happy – really a sort of Golden Rule – but it’s still arbitrary and it’s certainly not objective. I’m hard pressed to think of what an objective ethical system might be – there seems to be nowhere to start.

      But if you couple the suggested ethical system with the idea that you can’t judge people’s thoughts, only their actions, does that imply a collapsed social and moral life? I don’t think so – and it doesn’t seem to be impossible or self-contradictory.

    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

      As I mentioned earlier, I think that there is a difference between having a (moral) right to do something, and saying that it’s not immoral for you to do it.

      So, I would agree that you have the (moral) right to demand that pictures of kittens be remove as a cause of morally unacceptable disrespect if you so choose.

      I would even say that you have the (moral) right to make such demand with respect to pictures of, say, any gay person, or any Black person, as a cause of morally unacceptable disrespect, if you so choose.

      However, if you did such demands, you would be acting immorally (in the case of gay or Black people, at least, and perhaps in the other one as well).

    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

      By the way, ‘immoral’ means the same as ‘unethical’, so you may understand my post as saying it would be unethical of you to do that.

      Also, when I say that doing that would be immoral, I’m talking about an arbitrary choice, not – say – if you made such demands because someone is pointing a gun at you and telling you to do so. But that’s not what we’re discussing here, I think.

    • roland72

      I think you make a good point – but I think it can be made without using morals. My demand for the world to destroy all images of kittens and cupcakes doesn’t harm anyone; actually going out and trying to do it myself would because I would be destroying other people’s stuff, which is both unethical by my system (I don’t like my own stuff being destroyed) and, as it happens, illegal.

      But a demand to destroy images of black and gay people is different. The demand itself causes harm because it disseminates racist and homophobic ideas which can cause damage (through actions other people might feel empowered by it to take) both to black and gay people and to the cohesion of our society at large. So as a society I think we are justified in saying this sort of demand may not be made – hence laws (in Britain at least) against inciting racial hatred.

      I don’t think the word “moral” adds anything to that conclusion.

      And everyone has the right to racist and homophobic thoughts and beliefs. I think all we can do is judge people’s actions (including their speech), and try to build a society where racist and homophobic beliefs are more difficult to hold.

    • roland72

      @Angra – yes I guess it’s fair to use “immoral” and “unethical” as synonyms. I guess I prefer “unethical” but it doesn’t really make a difference for my use of it so long as I’m clear that I don’t think there’s any such thing as an objective morality. “Unethical” doesn’t need that qualification so much perhaps.

    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

      @roland

      @Angra – yes I guess it’s fair to use “immoral” and “unethical” as synonyms. I guess I prefer “unethical” but it doesn’t really make a difference for my use of it so long as I’m clear that I don’t think there’s any such thing as an objective morality. “Unethical” doesn’t need that qualification so much perhaps.

      I do not know what your metaethical position is, or what you mean by ‘objective morality’ in this context (some people will go on about mind-independent value (whatever that is), whereas others will understand ‘objective’ in the vernacular sense of the word).
      In any event, I think I’ll pass on delving any deeper into such metaethical issues in this discussion. It would take too long, and it might be a change in the topic that other posters might not appreciate. :)

    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

      But a demand to destroy images of black and gay people is different. The demand itself causes harm because it disseminates racist and homophobic ideas which can cause damage (through actions other people might feel empowered by it to take) both to black and gay people and to the cohesion of our society at large. So as a society I think we are justified in saying this sort of demand may not be made – hence laws (in Britain at least) against inciting racial hatred.
      I don’t think the word “moral” adds anything to that conclusion.
      And everyone has the right to racist and homophobic thoughts and beliefs. I think all we can do is judge people’s actions (including their speech), and try to build a society where racist and homophobic beliefs are more difficult to hold.

      I was saying that you actually had the right to make such demands – if so, the laws in question would be unethical!
      But that’s a disagreement that we do not need to settle, since that’s only secondary to the point I was trying to make.
      Let me try another example:

      Let’s suppose that some Christians make a public claim that same-gender sex is always immoral, and that God will punish gay people for engaging in gay sex.
      I’m pretty sure that British law is compatible with that, so they have the legal right to do so. Also, I would say that it would be unethical for the British authorities to pass a law criminalizing such behavior.
      If such a law were passed, Christians would no longer have the legal right to publicly claim that same-gender sex is always immoral, and that God will punish gay people for engaging in gay sex.
      However, banning such claims, the British authorities would be violating those Christians’ right to free speech, even though no legal right would be violated. So, that’s a moral right.
      In other words, Christians have the moral right (under most realistic conditions, anyway) to publicly claim that same-gender sex is always immoral, and that God will punish gay people for engaging in gay sex .
      However, if some Christians publicly claimed that same-gender sex is always immoral, and that God will punish gay people for having gay sex, they would be acting unethically.

    • roland72

      I basically agree with you I think. There are certainly things which the law allows us to do which are unethical by pretty much any definition – e.g. most kinds of lying, cheating on your partner. Proclaiming that same-sex sex is immoral and that God will punish those who engage in it is certainly unpleasant and false (therefore immoral by certain definitions!), but you’re right that in Britain anyway you have a legal right to say these things. There’s an argument that such speech harms GLBT people and therefore ought to be illegal – i.e. that the right of GLBT to be protected from harmful speech outweighs the right of religious bigots to say stupid things – but that’s an argument about what the law ought to be, not what the morals of the case are.

      I think it’s a lot more difficult to argue that putting up posters of Mohammed harms Muslims.

      I have to run now – maybe catch up later? I’ve enjoyed this discussion.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

      The main issue I see in this is that, yes, you can draw distinctions between words and categorize emotional states with precise terminology all you want, but since there’s no agreement among the community at large, it’s not necessarily fair to hold someone’s statement about their feelings to your own very strict definition. Generally, people like the gelato guy who probably aren’t very introspective about the precise definitions of words, may use certain words in a looser way than you would; therefore, it might be a mistake to assume that a person is taking a position further than “I felt that was wrong and didn’t like it” without further clarification from the individual involved.

    • roland72

      Well, yes – which is why I argue against using “moral”, or indeed “ethical”, when addressing this. Gelato guy put up a sign which offended a lot of people. But it did more than that – it contributed to their othering and their exclusion from what you might call mainstream society. In a small way, it made life more difficult for atheists. Lots of people didn’t want that, so they said so, and the guy took the sign down and apologised. Were the lots of people content with the apology? Yes and no.

      Should he have put the sign up? Well, it depends on what he’s trying to achieve. If all the above, then yes, actually. Are we justified in demanding that society has rules which forbid the display of such signs? I think we are, because then minority groups do not find themselves harmed in this way any more. I find this way of looking at it more productive than worrying about whether people are acting “morally” or not.

    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

      But when you ask “Are we justified in demanding that society has rules which forbid the display of such signs?”, it seems to me that ‘morally’ justified is implicit.

      I mean. f the answer were ‘no, we’re not justified’, what would that mean, but that it would be immoral of us to do that which we’re not justified to do?

  • EmuSam

    I suspect “offense” and “offend” have suffered from definition creep. Mr. Fincke is using them as philosophical terms, and possibly ones that have been well argued-over and specifically defined within the study of ethics (itself a discipline with a wide vocabulary, and one which many people feel themselves to be familiar with through the process of living an ethical life). Several others in this thread are using offense and offend as not having much difference from feelings of irritation or being disrespectful.

    It’s like the difference between tolerate, accept, and welcome in some contexts. A person who does not welcome religious interference may be scolded for being intolerant when they express their discomfort.

  • David

    The funny thing about this is it reveals just how irrational atheists are. It is all the more devastating because of your personal vanity with regard to you’re supposed intelligence.

    How can you have morally wrong for being offended? Especially when you can’t have an objective moral standard? People don’t dislike you so much because your an atheist, they dislike you because of you’re pseudo intellectual musings that you believe make you the elite of the human species, which in fact show you to be a blowhard.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Who said I “can’t have an objective moral standard”? Here is just one of many articles in which I defend an objective moral standard.


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