Offensiveness, as defined by (the best source of information bar Wikipedia), is: causing resentful displeasure; highly irritating, angering, or annoying.
I’ve always supposed that, being a political atheist (or ‘secular humanist’…as a more accurate term in the context of politics), I would end up raising the ire of certain groups – particularly ones  such as the Catholic Church, Family First party and SaltShakers all of which I have absolutely no patience or sympathy for. Politically, these groups and I are diametrically opposed on most issues. All three, in my view, are bigoted, anti-science, sexist, homophobic and dogmatic. I’ll discuss the finer details of that later, but for now, I’m talking about offensiveness.

What constitutes offensiveness in this context? If I say “I hate religion”, most people won’t take offense to it because I’m not attacking a particular religion. But because religions vary in their dogmaticness, vitriol and rationality, it would simply be too simplistic to say that all religions are bad, or all are good or all are mediocre. They are all relative; I for one would argue that, compared to the three main Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), Sikhism is fairly mild. I also find Mormonism to be particularly bad a religion if not for their door-to-door marketing techniques and the clear absurdity of believing Utah to be some kind of holy site (whereas no other monotheistic religion says so). Utah isn’t Jerusalem. But is this targeting of certain religions fair?

I very much doubt that this poster would be socially acceptable in Australia, given our huge Christian population...

I very much doubt that this poster would be socially acceptable in Australia, given our huge Christian population...

Freedom to insult religion is a fundamental human right, I believe. If the insult isn’t justified, then the argument can be taken down in true argumentative style (complete with jibes at the opposition’s facial hair). If I declare that Judaism is evil because of events in Israel/Palestine and that the conflict there is because Judaism is an evil religion, it can be safely concluded that what I’m saying is abjectly specious. But people should have that right to think that. It might be terribly and deliberately offensive, but it’s no more irrational than Creationism. I’m opposed to any attempt to remove free speech. In that example, I’m fairly sure most Jews would be offended if I called their religion evil. I’m maliciously targeting them. But how is this different to liberals calling conservatives ‘evil’? If someone holds that value (be it religion or politics) close to heart, then it can be very offensive. But what if that value of theirs offends you?

As an atheist, should I have the socially-permissable right to insult the hell out of Christianity – seeing as Christianity as a concept and a religion, offends me? Actually it doesn’t really…but I’m reacting to Christians who are offended by atheists. In an ideal world, nobody would be offended by diverse views on the world – but let’s assume they do. Well..the thing here is that saying Jews are evil (to re use that same example) is deliberate and calculated. Me saying that Christianity is throughly annoying is not deliberately offensive. I don’t go out of my way to insult Christians. I might vote against them or rally against attempts by Family First to destroy secular education…but that’s about it.

Should I make myself feel offended by these people? In reality, I condescendingly cast a weary eye over them and wish they'd just sod off...

Should I make myself feel offended by these people? In reality, I condescendingly cast a weary eye over them and wish they'd just sod off...

People can choose to be offended by someone’s actions, assuming their actions were deliberately offensive. I could choose to be offended by anti-abortion protesters (whose inability to recognise the difference between a bunch of totipotent stem cells is second only to their inability to understand women’s rights), but I’m not. I would understand, however, if a woman who’d recently had an abortion would be offended – particularly if the anti-abortionists were religious ones (the ones who say you’re going to hell if you do X, Y and Z). The midway point between being insulting to someone and unintentionally being rude about their belief system is insensitivity. Most people suffer from this. It’s not deliberate. The problem that lies herein is determining whether something said or done was deliberate or not. It’s no easy feat.


7 Responses to Offensiveness

  1. I agree with this.
    Insulting someone due to their race or gender or sexuality is illogical because it is something that cannot be helped.
    Religion is simply an idea, a consideration. Nothing more. I despise organised religion.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Reuben, I find it slightly comical that you feel you can rate any two completely unfounded beliefs against each other. There is no reason that Jerusalem is any better a holy site than Utah.

    Ultimately, all of our judgments are based on some kind of arbitrary assumption. You for instance, Reuben, have for some reason decided to adopt the creed of equality. I would hazard a guess that this is a result of the society you were brought up in (which might not have always demonstrated this value, but at least claimed to be aiming at it).

    There is no way science or rationality will ever tell us that, for example, it is wrong to kill someone because they are of a different race. This is something that we must arrive at independently (perhaps we decide this because we are programmed to empathize or something).

    Anyway, taking off my philosophical hat, I do agree with you that most organized religions do in some way stand in the way of progress. However, I also acknowledge that their removal will have to take time and result from many choices of individuals. In the mean time, I feel the efforts of those who seek to end them should be focussed on stopping those that play on people’s fears and insecurities.

  3. nlthinking says:


    Anonymous, good points. My point was that whilst at least three major religions consider Jerusalem to be holy, only one segment of one considers Utah to be holy. I guess it’s more just a conformist arguments. If more people believe in X than Y, in spite of any other true evidence, then it’s intuitive to think X is truer; it’s not necessarily though…

  4. Brian says:

    “I’m opposed to any attempt to remove free speech.”

    I can think of a couple of idiots who would be improved by having a bung stuck in their gobs. (A certain R.H. springs to mind.)

    “The midway point between being insulting to someone and unintentionally being rude about their belief system is insensitivity.”

    I’ll go along with that you secular dutch puff.

  5. dave s says:

    someone in the australian skeptics apparently once said about superstition “ you have the right to believe what ever you like but you don’t have the right to be taken seriously “

  6. Txtraveler says:

    The thing about the Christianity slowing progress poster is that it assumes that Christianity ruled the entire world – which it didn’t. The Chinese were quite advanced, and unaffected by the Dark Ages, as were the residents of several other continents (South America, North America, Africa, etc).

    And so while it may be both amusing and vicerally satisfying to blame Christianity for something like that, I doubt that a rational Christian would be offended by it.

    Now an irrational one is a different story…

  7. Anonymous says:

    I found the comment about the sign to be both funny and revolutionary for our current culture. I’m a Christian. I have my beliefs about truth, faith and God. It has seemed that those who are Anti-Religion have in some way, been trying to deny the fact that they, like me are simply a person with a position and the right to articulate it.

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