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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Bowl of Fake Rights

Fake rights are all the rage.

Sure, the “right” to almost anything, duly constitutionalized and conferred upon us by government, can be created out of thin air provided there is sufficient public demand. But in the absence of heavenly authority, state-enshrined rights are both morally incoherent and logically inconsistent. In practice they are largely unenforceable.

In short, fake.

The hottest new fake right on the block has to be the “right not to be offended”.

Discriminate. Hate. Incite.

Oh, nobody calls it “a right not to be offended” on paper. The legal terminology sounds perfectly sensible to most. Even the average Christian has few complaints about initiatives to reduce “hate” or “discrimination”. I mean, really, who wants to sock it to “victims”?

Bill C-16, introduced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year, adds the words “gender identity or expression” to the Canadian Criminal Code, thus making discrimination against particular “victim” groups a hate crime subject to sentence increases consistent with the alleged perfidy of the discriminatory act committed.

The word “offend”, in the sense I’m using it, appears in the bill precisely nowhere, but because the words “discriminate”, “hate” and “incitement” are used so broadly by Canadian courts, the effect is to create a “right not to be offended” for a brand new victim group.

But it’s a phony right.

The Search for Genuine Justice

Sure, the new right allows the self-perceived victim of discrimination or hate to seek redress at law. Perhaps there will be a monetary award, the overturning of a decision, or some future attempt to stifle the offender’s legal right to express himself. All these have been tried. But we can be sure no genuine justice can ever result from such clashes between citizens in the courts.

This is not because it’s good practice or good Christianity to say genuinely hateful things to people. It isn’t. Still, to imagine a government can effectively micromanage all the interpersonal exchanges between its citizens is laughable. Any administration that tries it will invariably create more problems for itself than it solves.

Offences must occur, not least because they are unavoidable in a fallen world. Woe to those who cause them! Still, for the Christian, offences have a unique upside. Grace comes in many forms, and every offence is a unique opportunity for the grace of God to be revealed:

Every Offence is a Revelation of TRUTH

When I say truth, I don’t mean capital ‘T’ Truth. It’s not a spiritual thing. I mean small ‘t’ truth. Offences show us the Way Things Really Are. When people get angry they speak plainly. Their real nature comes out in the open where it can be dealt with. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” That doesn’t mean every nasty thought ought to be aired, of course. Many things are better not said. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control, after all.

But once something IS blurted out, at least there’s a chance it can be dealt with. It can be retracted, modified, corrected or even restated with greater force and clarity if necessary. If you don’t like me, I’d rather know it than have you pretend to be my friend. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.”

If we want the truth, we’d better be able to handle the truth. Giving someone the “right not to be offended” is like giving him the “right to be blind” or the “right to avoid reality”.

Thanks. Thanks a bunch. Not helping.

Every Offence is an Opportunity for EDIFICATION

Almost every genuine learning experience begins with some measure of psychic shock, emotional discomfort or cognitive dissonance. The truth is often offensive. When iron sharpens iron we should expect sparks, and sometimes that’s what it takes to get us to sit up and take notice. But every interaction between you and me that starts badly is a potential teaching moment. One of us needs to adjust our thinking; perhaps both of us. Maybe you are offended for reasons that make no sense to me. Fine. I need to hear your point of view to broaden my own understanding. You need to hear mine to broaden yours.

If we take that discussion to court instead of just having it out between us, nobody hears anybody anymore, and who knows if the outcome will be remotely just when we commit it into the care of those who know nothing of real justice?

Every Offence is an Opportunity for FORGIVENESS

Every act of forgiveness is a potent reminder of the cross. As someone who contributed to the public humiliation of the Son of God, I never get the moral high ground in a fight with my neighbour. Thus it is my obligation to be continually forgiving of those who repent (even the chronically offensive) just as God in Christ forgave me.

But take our disagreement before the courts, and no practical forgiveness is possible. Someone gets charged, someone gets convicted, someone does the time or pays the bill. That’s how it goes.

Every Offence is an Opportunity for Greater UNITY

If your ill feelings and prejudice about my race, my sex or my behaviour stay in your heart and never find expression, we can never find common ground. The myth that peer pressure and public education will eventually cure you is just that: mythical. It doesn’t happen.

So why not try opening your mouth and hurting me instead? That way, when you see the pain in my eyes or the tears on my cheek, or when you hear a soft answer from me instead of a stream of abuse, maybe just for a second you’ll stop and question yourself and your way of thinking. Do that, and maybe today we can build bridges instead of digging trenches.

Hey, better you do it to me than to someone else. Isn’t that what my Saviour did? “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

Every Offence is an Opportunity for TESTIMONY

Not every incidence of verbal abuse is “persecution” in the sense Paul uses it: suffering for the sake of Christ. Most abusive behaviour is simply about us: the colour of our skin, our accent, our sex, our circumstances. That’s easily fixed: make it about Christ. Take yourself, your desires, your need for validation or victory out of the picture. Responding to abuse as Jesus would have responded to it changes the narrative, and turns an enemy into a witnessing opportunity. If the abuse continues when we are behaving as the Lord Jesus behaved — when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten — then we can be sure it’s now about him, not about us.

A society that browbeats offence-givers into keeping their mouths shut for fear of the courts also deprives Christians of opportunities to witness.

Right Back Atcha

There is an ironic utility to the dark side of human interaction that only God could come up with. Probably something about using the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

You may have noticed in passing that the apostle Paul’s strongest statements about rights are to the effect that he doesn’t generally make use of them. That’s the Christian way. And he was speaking about genuine rights, not phony ones.

Fake rights give us cause to be offended when we ought to be gracious, cause to fight when we are better served by holding our peace, and cause to view ourselves as victims of oppression when we are in reality more than conquerors.

The world’s response to offensive behaviour is litigation. The Christian response is more like that of Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, I want some more.”

And the good news is there’s always plenty more out there.

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