So all of this mess, every bit of it, is because someone took offense. That’s what the television and newspapers say. That the demonstrations and the riots, the rocket propelled grenades and the two embassies that lay in rubble—the dead—is because of a movie no one has seen. Because someone somewhere just so happened to click on some link that led to some website, and that someone showed someone else, and so on and so on, until (as these things so often do) the world is lit afire.
So they say.
It is rare that I use this space to rant and rail. Whether the object of my frustration is politics or culture or this dark world in general, I usually keep it to myself. The internet is full enough of loud people who yell and cuss and blame. If there is a prideful bone in me, it is that my tiny corner of cyberspace is free of such things. It is instead a place where you and I can gather and sit a spell. Where we can speak as friends and be well met.
This post may be an exception to that.
If the events in the Middle East this past week have shown me anything, it’s that the world is mired in a culture of offense. One that apparently has reached new heights. Because to hear the media and the government explain things, the fault lies not with the people who destroyed our embassies and paraded the dead body of our ambassador, but with some guy who made a movie. And to perhaps emphasize this point, there is talk that this filmmaker may soon face federal charges.
As someone who sees the first amendment as the vehicle for a good portion of his livelihood, hearing things like this makes me nervous. And angry. More and more, writers and artists are being governed by some perverted version of the Hippocratic Oath. Instead of First, do no harm, it is First, do not offend. Say the wrong thing, and at best you will be set upon with a relentlessness that will not yield until you have been pummeled into an apology. At worst, you will be charged with having blood on your hands.
Watch what you say, in other words. Especially now. Because sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can get you branded as a hate monger or an infidel or, worst of all, insensitive.
Like you, I haven’t seen this movie. Also like you, I have no plans to do so. A person’s faith is the most sacred thing in his life, and it should be respected. What this man did was wrong, it was stupid, it was mean, but I defend his right to do it. And lest anyone think such a thing is easy for a guy like me to say, let me remind you that I’m a white Southern conservative Christian male who spends most of his week in a blue collar job at a liberal college. Trust me, folks—something offends me about every five minutes.
My point to this rant is simple, spoken best by another Virginian some two hundred years ago—we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. First among these is the right to stand up and speak out in whatever way we believe right. Whether that way lifts up the world or drags it down doesn’t really matter, not here. Because the right to free speech cannot be at peace with the right to never be offended.