A lesson in growing up: I know that you are offended—and no, I won’t be apologizing or adjusting my language to match your sensibilities

I’m here. I have unorthodox views. I’m expressing them directly.

Deal with it.

Philip Pullman asserts his right to set the rhetorical tone and intellectual content of the messages that he sends and the right of people to give them attention (or not):

And Saint Stephen transcribes it:

Yes.

It was a shocking thing to say, and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended.

Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if they open it and read it, they don’t have to like it. And if you read it and dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me — You can complain about it. You can write to the publisher. You can write to the paper. You can write your own book.

You can do all those things, but there your rights stop.

No one has the right to stop me from writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought, or read.

And that’s all I have to say on that subject.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to A lesson in growing up: I know that you are offended—and no, I won’t be apologizing or adjusting my language to match your sensibilities

  1. andrewclunn says:

    Score one for free speech 🙂

  2. concerned christian says:

    I guess we live in a world turned upside down where Christianity is the only religion and Jesus is the only religious figure who can be attacked with immunity. But this is already old news, if you really want to fight for free speech there another unnamed prophet who you can loose your life by putting him in a cartoon!

  3. santitafarella says:

    Concerned:

    Yes, you make a very important point: could Pullman have written a book titled “The good man Mohammad and the Scoundrel Mohammad”?

    Obviously, his publishers, fearing for their safety, would, in all likelihood, have ducked the opportunity to publish a book of this title.

    And this is a point for Christianity: Christians have learned how to live and have regard for a world in which plurality of opinion is valued and protected, whereas those living in authoritarian Muslim countries (like Saudi Arabia and Iran) have not. If Islam, as a whole, is to adjust to modernity, it must learn from the Christians how they do it. Christians have an opportunity to point the way here. The danger is that Christians might bemoan Western freedom and even use it as a foil to say: “If an author can’t blaspheme Mohammad or Allah, then he mustn’t blaspheme Jesus or Jehovah either.” That is exactly the wrong lesson.

    Let the light of evolved Christian tolerance—a hard lesson learned from a painful history—shine as a virtue, not a source of annoyance for the “privilege” that Islam, in the realm of contemporary public discourse, enjoys. It is not a sign of Islam’s strength that people fall silent around it and don’t parody it, but of its weakness. It is like the Russian dictator who gets his jokes laughed at, and who is never laughed at himself. It is a product of the resort to force or the threat of force—not of intellectual respect—and so a sign of his lack of real and lasting human power.

    If history goes well, contemporary Islam will evolve toward Christian forms of tolerance for Modernity, not Christianity in the direction of Islamic ideas of “offense.”

    One thing is certain: when a movement runs out of intellectual power, it has only violence left. It is to Christianity’s great credit that it contends in the marketplace of ideas without attempting to shut others up. It has intellectual confidence.

    Hannah Arendt’s great little book “On Violence” is informative here: http://www.amazon.com/Violence-Harvest-Book-Hannah-Arendt/dp/0156695006/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270264969&sr=8-1-spell

    —Santi

  4. concerned christian says:

    Santi:
    It’s true that Christianity over the years learned to “contend[s] in the marketplace of ideas without attempting to shut others up.” Unfortunately there are those who take advantage of this virtue and don’t hesitate to attack Christian beliefs just to score a point or get louder applause. I read and enjoyed his Dark Matters trilogy ignoring his attacks on the Judeo-Christian faith. But taking Pullman’s advice I will be one of those who refuse to read this book and the whole series on Myth that it’s part of it. What Pullman accomplished by writing this book is polarizing the community; some on the left may love him more, but many conservatives will simply reject him and whatever he writes later even if it’s good literature.

  5. santitafarella says:

    Concerned:

    And you are free to do so. What is important about the exchange is that no Christian is threatening the life of Pullman or advocating the censorship of his book by calling for a ban on its publication. A boycott of a product is perfectly consistent with Western values. Christians in the West respect boundaries of conscience and free speech (however dismaying to them personally, or however annoyed by the low or uncharitable motivation of some of those who might speak).

    —Santi

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