Book Club Discussion: Does This Offend You?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Probably my favorite show on television is the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. I don’t think I would have made it through the 2008 election had it not been for this daily dose of smart, hilarious satire.

David Dark, author of The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, seems to appreciate Colbert as well, for he begins his chapter on “Questioning Our Offendedness” with a “tip of the hat” to the comic genius of the caricature that is Stephen Colbert—a caricature that highlights how “we develop a built-in resistance to any information that refuses to fall in line with our preconceived notions.” (p. 53)

I chose the clip above because it highlights how our culture glorifies the act of being offended, and it illustrates Dark’s point in Chapter Three that we tend to be “selective fundamentalists,” especially when it comes to what offends us.

Writes Dark:

“Feeling offended summons a sense of being in the right, a certain strength, a kind of power, an espresso shot of righteous indignation...But if we feel deep affection only for people who tell us we’re right and only give high fives to the like-minded, all we’ve done is joined a club. We risk becoming incapable of the give-and-take of genuine conversation. If all our friends and news sources require of us is a ‘Ditto’ and “I think what you think,’ we might be in danger of becoming impenetrable to wisdom, immunized against the sensation of sympathy, resistant to the pleasure of being amused by our own ignorance, and closed to the joy of being wrong.” (p. 58)

Dark writes about how being offended is easier than loving our neighbor and loving our enemies. He reminds us that, as followers of Christ, marginalization and public ridicule is supposed to come with the territory; it shouldn’t surprise us. “Proclaiming the kingdom of God,” he says, “does not include shouting down anyone who finds your proclamation unconvincing.”

This is my favorite quote of the chapter...maybe even the whole book:  “If we’re more opposed, for instance, to what we take to be ‘bad language’ and nude scenes and films about gay people than we are to people being blown up, starved to death, deprived of life-saving medicine, or tortured, our offendedness is out of whack.” (p. 56)

This chapter was really convicting to me. When it comes to “selective fundamentalism,” I tend to wag my finger at other people – those who consider Fox News a reliable source of information, those who protest intensely against abortion but have nothing to say about poverty or torture or excessive materialism, those who consider Anne Coulter a representation of Christian values. But when I’m honest with myself, I see that I too am prone to indulging in the power-trip that comes with being offended. I yell at the television when I don’t agree with how I assume the gospel is being portrayed by televangelists. I rant about quotes from books that I haven’t read in their entirety.  I look down on people based on remarks they make on their Facebook statuses about politics or faith or pop culture. I spend more time reading/watching/listening to people who I think will convince me of what I already believe than I do really listening to those who might disagree.

This, according to Dark in Chapter Four (“Questioning our Passions”) this is the essence of “perversion.”

“Perversion,” he writes, “is a failure of the imagination, a failure to pay adequate attention....There’s always more to a person—more stories, more life, more complexities—than we know...Perversion is a way of managing, getting down to business, getting a handle on people as if they were things. A person reduced to a thing has been, in the mind of the perverter, dispensed with, taken care of, filed away. Perversion is pigeonholing.” (p. 76)

I am reminded of the time when, as a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, I got an angry e-mail from a woman who assumed that because I had referred to “holiday season workers” in an article I wrote about college students taking on extra retail jobs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s that I had a clear, “anti-Christian” bias.  The woman was absolutely convinced that I hated God and that I wanted to “keep Christ out of Christmas.”

“I know what you’re trying to do,” she said.  “I know you have an agenda.”

But she didn’t know. She didn’t have any idea.

So often we make assumptions about media/artists/leaders/ friends/family without really knowing what’s going on, without taking the time to hear the full story. So often we either preach to the choir or sit in the choir loft, mindlessly nodding along.

So, in what ways have you inadvertently offended other people? In what ways are you a “selective fundamentalists”?
And—perhaps most importantly—what do you love most about Stephen Colbert? : )

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