It Is Sometimes Necessary to Risk Giving Offense

Msgr. Charles Pope • February 22, 2017 •

We live in times when many people take offense very easily. While this may have been a human problem seen in all ages, it is particularly evident today, when relativism and subjectivism are so widespread. Relativism is essentially a form of subjectivism. In subjectivism, the measure of truth shifts from the object (i.e., that which is being perceived) to the subject (i.e., the one who is perceiving). In this system, truth becomes relative, because there are as many versions of truth as there are subjects to perceive it. In this highly subjective perception of reality, people tend to take their own views very personally and are easily offended by views contrary to their own.

Over time we have seen how subjectivism has given rise to “identity politics.” No longer does a person say that he holds liberal views; rather he says, “I am a liberal.” No longer does a person say that he struggles with same-sex attraction; rather he says, “I am ‘gay’.” Views and interpretations are no longer merely philosophies, paradigms, or tendencies through which a person interprets things. Rather, the cry goes up, “This is who I am. If you disagree or even worse seek to refute my viewpoint, you are offensive and hurtful. By disagreeing with me you are attacking me; you are a hater. You are an enemy whom I must fear and must keep at a distance lest you do me harm.” So-called “safe zones” on college campuses are an extreme outcome of this. In identity politics, the mere questioning of one’s views amounts to a personal assault that may cause lasting harm to the psyche!

We have also seen how relativism and subjectivism have led to the shaming and silencing of politically incorrect views, especially those based on traditional biblical faith. Too many Christians have allowed themselves to be silenced by accusations such as this common one: “You are judging me.” Never mind that the conversation is about a moral issue or a particular behavior, not about “you.” Identity politics says, “I am my behavior, therefore your contrary view hurts me; this makes you a bad and offensive person.”

No one (other than a sociopath) deliberately tries to hurt or offend others. Many Christians have been effectively silenced by the fear of causing offense, even if there is no reason for offense to be taken. As our fearful silence has spread, the moral darkness has grown ever deeper.

Volumes could be written to address the problems associated with subjectivism and relativism. St. Thomas Aquinas provided a cogent response to the issue of so easily taking offense in his Summa Theologica:

It was foretold (Isaiah 8:14) that Christ would be “for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to the two houses of Israel.”

The salvation of the multitude is to be preferred to the peace of any individuals whatsoever. Consequently, when certain ones, by their perverseness, hinder the salvation of the multitude, the preacher and the teacher should not fear to offend those men, in order that he may insure the salvation of the multitude. Now the Scribes and Pharisees and the princes of the Jews were by their malice a considerable hindrance to the salvation of the people, both because they opposed themselves to Christ’s doctrine, which was the only way to salvation, and because their evil ways corrupted the morals of the people. For which reason our Lord, undeterred by their taking offense, publicly taught the truth which they hated, and condemned their vices. Hence we read that when the disciples of our Lord said, Dost Thou know that the Pharisees, when they heard this word, were scandalized? He answered, Let them alone: they are blind and leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit (Matthew 15:12,14).

A man ought so to avoid giving offense, as neither by wrong deed or word to be the occasion of anyone’s downfall. “But if scandal arise from truth, the scandal should be borne rather than the truth be set aside” as Gregory says (Hom. vii in Ezech.).

[Summa Theologica III, Question 42, Article 2 ….  END QUOTES

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