Monday, November 08, 2004

Who Doth Offend Thee?

About a month ago I wrote a post about a crazy commitment given by a bishop. My take was that the bishop's council was a bit kooky. In the comments I was called to repentance at least once and no less than three people vowed they would never return. I think they were offended. And frankly, that offends me.

Before I went to BYU I had never been exposed to such large scale offense-taking. The letters to the editor of the Daily Universe opened my eyes to this aspect of Mormon culture I had never been a part of. I often asked myself if the writers were earnest truth-seekers or a hilarious satire fabricated by the editors? As it turns out, they were real. Oh, they were real.

I religiously read Eric Snider's column, as it regularly invoked wrath (in the form of letters to the editor) from the student body. He wrote a perfect parody of those letters. I became dismayed at how many seemingly normal (uh...) students would get so upset about something that someone else said. If someone else is committing the (apparent) sin, why are you so offended?

This leads me to my first question:

1) Is taking offense a virtue?

Using God as the measuring stick, apparently he constantly gets offended: "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against not is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments." But that doesn't really answer my question, being something that I couldn't possibly get offended for. Someone once said that the more like Christ we are, the less offended we get. Hmmmm....

On a blog about obscene conversation, John Fowles recently remarked, "...those things are to be avoided. Partaking in them leads to desensitivity... and causes a general blind-spot or callous to grow in place that could or should be a spiritual barometer (i.e. our speech and thoughts)." I agree that bad speech, thoughts (and actions) are all bad. But is the callous bad if we aren't doing those bad things? Can't it actually be advantageous?

An example:

My mom hates the F-word. She's offended whenever she hears it. She feels that it's poor communication and incredibly dirty. Me? I don't even hear it anymore. She's sad about that. I think I'm better off now that I'm lifted of the burden of being bothered every time I hear it (which is often, I live in Brooklyn). Some would say that I've been de-sensitized (or past feeling). They're right!

Another example:

In my line of work (graphic design) I constantly have to look through photographer's portfolios. Oftentimes they have nudes. This is unavoidable. However, I might be at a point now that I don't even notice them any more than any other photo. I'm not "offended" or even stimulated. You could say that I'm past feeling or desensitized. There is a callous there.

Now my second question:

2) Can being desensitized be a virtue?

I'm not going to be able to avoid the F-words here in New York. Neither am I going to be able to avoid the nude photographs. So isn't it better than I don't hear the word and don't feel any sense of lust inside me when I see the photos BETTER than the contrary? Isn't it better that I have developed a callous there?

Now, I also say that it would be horrible to be desensitized to p0rnography. But of course that is something that I can avoid. So maybe it might be best to say that it's good to be desensitized to those things over which you have no control, but sensitive to those you control? Is this part of what it means to live in the world and not of it?