Some of the most prejudiced people are those who take easy offence.
How is this so, and so what?
This is very relevant in our politically correct era when those in public life and on social media are busy taking offence at their opponents’ opinions.
So what is the connection? Both prejudice and offence are personal judgments, just like belief itself.
Prejudice is pre-judging a matter before one knows all the facts.
Taking offence involves forming a judgment about what has been said or done, then judging the person who said or did it, and acting according to this judgment.
There is nothing wrong with forming judgments but there may be something wrong with the way that we form these judgments.
If we take offence and do not interact with the perceived offender then we are liable to remain ignorant of the basis of their opinion and we are unlikely to be able to help them.
Christianity is about helping people, not attacking them, especially with one’s own prejudicial opinions.
Let us consider those who are easily offended.
How do such offended people react? Whatever it is, how long can they keep up their offence? I ask this because its length is likely to be related to the length of time that they continue to nurse their prejudicial offence by failing to interact meaningfully with the offender. To adapt the Scottish bard: “nursing their wrath to keep it warm.”
This is why Jesus tells us to discuss the matter with those who have offended us Mat 18:15-17. Discuss, not attack, far less gossip about one’s prejudicial opinions with others, transferring your prejudices to them, if they are gullible enough to adopt them.
Many people ‘nurse their wrath to keep it warm’ whereas we should be ready to forgive. We should be ready to notice any repentance or change of mind emerging in their attitude towards us, and not to hold grudges against them, far less to continue to hold these grudges.
It is easier to be offended by people whom we do not know. When we know people well we are not so easily offended or at least we can clarify the matter by conversation. Professional negotiators attempt to resolve disputes by collecting the disputants into the same room to talk. Offended people who are unwilling to talk demonstrate what spirit they have, as well as betraying that they want to hold on to their prejudices and do not want them disturbed.
Let us consider prejudiced people.
Not only do they jump to conclusions, but they act upon them, or we would not know that they are prejudiced.
Why are they prejudiced? They are happy to live with their current opinions and will not engage sufficiently well with others in order to improve or modify their opinions.
In effect, they do not interact with others with whom they disagree. They confine themselves to their own echo chamber, a term now popularised by social media. In another post I have challenged my readers to speak to those with whom they profoundly disagree, to develop each other’s understanding, to challenge our prejudices, and to improve our debating skills.
The common feature, in easily offended people and prejudiced people, is their failure to interact meaningfully by way of conversation. “I am not going to speak to that person again,” they may conclude. So much for their charity. Christian charity goes further than this worldly opinion and seeks to help other people.
Learning to converse
Many people find it difficult to enter a room full of strangers. The gentle art of conversation should be taught at school, because it is a quick way to learn about new subjects. Most people are happy to talk about what interests them.
Christianity teaches and encourages this conversational networking through its emphasis on evangelism and doing good to our neighbour.
However, the prejudicial people to whom I have drawn your attention have no such desire. They are happy to live with their prejudices, nor are they interested in helping others.
They may shout down others on social media. Some of them will walk away or avoid people whom they do not like.
This could imply that they think that they have nothing meaningful to learn from their opponents.
Worse still, does it imply that they have so little charity that they will not even try to help their neighbour to improve? Possibly, like the proverbial lawyer, they will not give advice unless they are paid for it or at least gain something in return. Must they monetize everything, knowing the price of everything but nothing of Christian charity?
Unashamed, unchristian attitudes
I think I have shown the uncharitable and even spiteful character and attitude of such people. Yet they are happy to put themselves on display and to articulate their opinions forcefully in the mistaken belief that it shows them up in a good light.
They do not have Christian love that seeks the welfare of its neighbour. Rather, they fall into the “us and them” attitude promoted by ungodly behaviour.
Sometimes they even hate their neighbour and have no shame in expressing it.
The Hebrew word sane’ ‘to hate’ an enemy is a strong word, and the Bible speaks of those who hate the poor Pro 14:20. It suggests that such rich people do not want to know the poor and set up barriers Pro 18:11 and keep them at a distance Pro 19:7. They have fallen short of Christian standards.
Although social media is such a jamboree of barbaric behaviour, yet I believe that it will eventually improve as the foolish are shamed into silence or at least into more thoughtful speech and behaviour.
This will take time. I can illustrate it with the advent of television, when people watched whatever rubbish was broadcast, but with the passage of time audiences became more sophisticated. Similarly, I think the ability to interact with others in the public sphere will improve everybody’s debating skills to the betterment of all. It may take a generation.
At present, on social media we are discovering the prejudicial conversations that take place at mealtimes and in pubs and clubs around the country. Such prejudice has always been there, but it is now public and capable of being challenged. If nothing else, their own pride will soon moderate their foolish speech when they are shamed by the exposure of their ignorance, prejudice, and aggressive attitudes.
Learning from others
One of the fastest ways to develop oneself is to learn from others where our blind spots are.
We need to speak with people, even those with whom we disagree. When someone says, “I cannot understand how he/she thinks,” then it is time to ask them, not to judge them, far less to miscall them, even less to avoid them.
The Bible speaks of God’s patience, or long-suffering, tolerating sinners for a long time. We need to learn patience and to bear long with those who offend us.
If we knew ourselves and the offence we cause to God as well as to others, we might learn to react more slowly to offence, to bear longer with it, to interact positively with the offender and to avoid giving unnecessary offence to others.
We need to learn forgiveness especially from God’s forgiveness. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath’ Eph 4:26. Keep ‘short accounts’ with God. Christians are to be calm in the middle of the panic that others experience in earthly calamities Lk 21:19.
18 Oct 2017: a feminist discovered the value of listening instead of expecting to be offended.
15 Oct 2022: if the cap fits then wear it.
29 Mar 2023: the empty benches in the House of Commons. Our non-listening politicians.