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“I’m Offended, I’m Offended!”

“Bishop accused of incitement to hatred in homily” – so reads a recent headline. The Bishop of Raphoe, Philip Boyce, in a sermon delivered at Knock last August seems to have run foul of humanist John Colgan.

Whilst the bishop and I may not be on the same page on quite a number of issues I find myself in sympathy with him at this point. Following a claim that the sermon was an incitement to hatred, a file has been prepared by the Gardai and sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

What language did the bishop use? Did he urge his congregation to rage against the rising tide of atheism? To take pitch-forks against oppressors of the Catholic Church? Did he single out Mr Colgan for particular vitriol?

Apparently not. In two ‘offensive’ passages he referred to the Catholic Church being “attacked from outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture” (whilst also identifying that the church was “rocked from the inside by the sins and crimes of priests and consecrated people”), and stated that “the distinguishing mark of Christian believers is the fact they have a future… they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.”

Such is the level of the inflammatory statements!

Mr Colgan has received little support in the press, and even the commenters on the ‘Atheists and Agnostics’ forum on give short change—for example: “I get the smell of someone who is looking to be offended” and “Too much of both intolerance and taking offence in the world these days”.

Whilst there are many who identify the emptiness of Mr Colgan’s complaint, it is also indicative of where culture has been going for a number of years. People seem to feel they have a right to be unoffended by the opinions of others, that somehow others should only voice opinions that they like.

No-one likes offensive or degrading speech, but there is a difference between something being offensive in and of itself, and taking offence from something you don’t like. Just because you disagree doesn’t give you a green light to feel offended. Yet, as one cartoon on put it, today’s mantra is “I’m offended, I’m offended.”

We have lost the concept of tolerance in recent years—proper robust tolerance where I may disagree with your opinion, but I will respect your right to have it. We want to homogenise everything—everyone must have the same opinion, and it must be like ours. The problem comes when that doesn’t happen—what do we do? Do we shrug our shoulders and accept it; do we run away and cry into our tea, or do we seek legal force to make others think like us?

Uniformity of thought has a long and grim history in places east of here. Ironically it is the influence of Christianity in the West that has maintained the freedoms that allow a variety of voices—even secular humanist ones.