By Jeff Mallinson –
Diversity, difference, and strangers intrigue me, as I’ve stated before. Nonetheless, the self-righteous gasps of people who pretend they are scandalized when someone expresses an honest opinion are galling. Most often, this occurs when progressive friends are so burdened by race or class guilt that they think they can prove they’re a good guy person by memorizing and aping socially-acceptable terminology or catchphrases. Don’t misunderstand me; I think language is powerful and appropriate sensitivity is important. And when I learn a more loving way of speaking, I try to alter my language. What bugs me isn’t constructive correction, it’s the feigned righteousness of hypocrites.
If you think only progressives operate in this way, you’re mistaken. Peruse the comments on The Jagged Word posts and you’ll see conservative folks getting worked up over seemingly innocuous opinions. I’m very glad folks read, and read these essays. But they’re just blogs, man. Diversity is good for you, and it’s more fun than dietary fiber. Do some click-bait-mongers deserve the ire they inspire? Probably. But friends, why raise your own blood pressure? Relax. Jesus’ got the whole world in his hands. You can let go once and a while.
Anyway, as I write, I’m in Hong Kong. It’s a hot muggy evening, and I’m relaxing after a week of teaching high-school students about virtue, ethics, and leadership. I love this town. Few cities have this much lively diversity in so few square miles. Almost as refreshing here is the local candor. This is a place where they tell you if you are a fat American and don’t think they’re being cruel. The cats I’m hanging with in this back alley restaurant call themselves yellow. They’ve got prejudices and they don’t hide them behind a veneer of false sensitivity. They don’t have to. You know where they stand. So you know where you stand. And that’s comforting. Some places lay down your food and grimace at you, ‘cause they’d rather you not be in their establishment. Then there’s Tak, my main man, who owns a place with menus I can’t read; I can’t tell you the name of the place because it doesn’t have a sign. If I could tell you the name of the joint I wouldn’t, though, because I don’t want too many of you squares (you know who you are) coming by and harshing the vibe. A gentleman needs a few places to escape the madness, at least after 10pm. Anyway, Tak keeps bringing me bottles of Blue Girl beer and sinks them into a plastic bucket of ice. The waitress keeps refiling my glass, and they don’t even take tips. Cheers to you, Hong Kong.
I better finish this post before—you know—I get even more incoherent. Right. I was going to tell you about one of John Calvin’s best quotations, apropos. He throws this down:
“We are pleased with the common division into offense given and offense taken, since it has the plain sanction of Scripture, and not improperly expresses what is meant. If from unseasonable levity or wantonness, or rashness, you do anything out of order or not in its own place, by which the weak or unskillful are offended, it may be said that offense has been given by you, since the ground of offense is owing to your fault. And in general, offense is said to be given in any matter where the person from whom it has proceeded is in fault. Offense is said to be taken when a thing otherwise done, not wickedly or unseasonably, is made an occasion of offense from malevolence or some sinister feeling. For here offense was not given, but sinister interpreters ceaselessly take offense. By the former kind, the weak only, by the latter, the ill-tempered and Pharisaical are offended. Wherefore, we shall call the one the offense of the weak, the other the offense of Pharisees, and we will so temper the use of our liberty as to make it yield to the ignorance of weak brethren, but not to the austerity of Pharisees.”
—John Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.11
Check out this week’s Virtue in the Wasteland podcast, and you’ll hear Dan van Voorhis and me ranting about the way in which self-righteous progressives refused to even read Harper Lee’s new/old book Go Set a Watchman. If you aren’t following this story, it turns out America’s beloved fictional attorney Gregory Peck Atticus Finch is into state’s rights, and not so keen on integrating public schools. He’s not the progressive champion we seem to have imagined he became. In other words, he is not perfectly free of racism. So, I guess that means we shouldn’t read the book?
Wait… whoever thinks we shouldn’t read a book because it portrays a character with complex and uncomfortable opinions in the mid-twentieth-century should get a D- in progressivism, not to mention literary analysis. Seriously, if you are a wannabe progressive champion, go pay for a ticket at the Museum of Tolerance and enjoy trying to get through the door on the right that reads “unprejudiced”. Here’s a hint to help you avoid embarrassment: it doesn’t open. Instead, it lights up and says “Think … Now, use the other door.” The point is, pretending we are completely unbiased is dangerous. This doesn’t mean we should be complacent in our ignorant ways. It just means we don’t get on to deeper understanding by lying to ourselves and others.
I’m pretty sure if Harper Lee were to concoct a story about a southern white guy who, back in the day, was cool with marriage equality, Muslim mosques in town square, and interracial marriage, she wouldn’t be an acclaimed author. Moreover, she’d be painting over reality. Truth telling is what good literature is all about. We can and should get disgusted with the bad ideas of the past. But to close our eyes and stop our ears when people say and write things we find problematic helps no one.
As for the Calvin quote, which I laid into your lap and then ignored like a puppy bought on a whim at the mall, ask yourself this question when you get uber offended: are you offended because you are the weaker brother, or because you harbor a sinister feeling about your brother? I know these dudes at The Jagged Word can get rascally, and that papist stuff ruffled my own feathers. But they are pretty cool guys overall. Even if they weren’t, the offended one should use their reaction as an opportunity for introspection. If you, the offended party, are weak, then bulk up, brother. Get thicker skin, for your own good. If, you the offended party, of the Pharisaical sort, go read Galatians once more, hug your kids, kiss your wife, and take a nap. Goodnight, dear reader.
The Wayfaring Stranger
Composed at Tak’s place, eating some unnamed dim sum dumplings with seafood meatballs and a quail egg inside; I’d say I was sipping a Blue Girl beer but, like this essay, it too is most certainly finished.