Philip Pullman: nobody has the right not to be offended

Philip Pullman responds deftly and incisively to a Christian who is offended by the title of Pullman’s upcoming book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ:

12 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Pullman, of course is correct is what he says in the video.

    This is a work of fiction though.

    See Amazon.com’s product description:

  2. SaintStephen
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I think that gem of a reply deserves its own transcript:

    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.”

  3. steve
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    The corollary of this is, as a grown up member of society, you have a responsibility to not take offense.

    If you don’t like an idea then you have a responsibility to rebut it in the marketplace of ideas.

    Religion, more than any other institution, seems to grant it’s members carte blanche to act like petulant children rather than adult members of society when confronted by ideas they don’t approve of (or more likely were told they don’t approve of).

    • SaintStephen
      Posted April 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      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.”

      I don’t think Pullman necessarily agrees with your “responsibility not to take offense” corollary. It sounds like he believes it’s perfectly okay to BE offended, but nobody has the RIGHT to be offended.

      Complaints, yes. Censorship, no.

      • steve
        Posted April 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

        I’m using offense in the sense that the person who posed the question to Philip Pullman meant it, i.e. the title was offensive to Christians.

        The questioner seemed to be saying that what you said hurt my feelings so I don’t think you should be allowed to say things like that.

        There was no actual addressing of the ideas posed by the title of the book, just the feelings of the questioner were what seemed to be at issue.

        I don’t see how one can be offensive to ideas, one can agree with or rebut them, only people can be offended.

      • Posted April 2, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        I partially agree with Steve. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “as a grown up member of society, you have a responsibility to not take offense,” but in this particular circumstance, it’s a rather silly thing to be offended about.

  4. bric
    Posted April 2, 2010 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Stephen Fry’s remarks on taking offence are also to the point

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/jun/05/religion.hayfestival2005

    • Launcher
      Posted April 2, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing that link, Bric. Fry expressed some understandably conflicting opinions on the issue of maintaining laws specific to blasphemy. My take on his experience is this: doesn’t it suffice to criminalize the vandalism of a grave or corpse (which I’m sure is the case in Slovakia and just about everywhere else)? It shouldn’t matter that the interred or the family of the interred is religious.

  5. Michael K Gray
    Posted April 2, 2010 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    Anecdotes are piling up as to the effectiveness of ‘giving offense’ when it comes to shaking someone out of their mental state of superstitious certainty.
    E.g.: Hitchen’s has garnered several voluntary public conversions amongst the priesthood as a result of his no-bullshit tome “God Is Not Great”.
    I can recall scores of other similar deliberately provoking and hence offensive routes to making mental infants become adult.

    • Posted April 2, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Yep. I know somebody who finally took the leap to reject the last vestiges of her Catholic upbringing as a reaction to Bill Maher’s Religulous. We all know that Religulous, eh, wasn’t exactly an incisively argued piece of social commentary — but it was outrageous enough to get people’s attention and make them think.

      (And FWIW, I still find the closing monologue of Religulous to be the most moving call to arms for secularism that I’ve ever heard)

  6. naomiki
    Posted April 6, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    If you’ve got an iPhone, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is also available as an ‘enhanced edition’ – featuring audio, the full text and exclusive video content. Find out more at http://bit.ly/ee-Scoundrel.

  7. eddie
    Posted April 6, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Philip Pullman’s story of jesus a work of fiction? Wouldn’t be the first time, eh?


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Saint Stephen transcribes it: […]

  2. […] Via Jerry Coyne. […]

  3. […] attempt to enforce worldwide blasphemy laws and outlaw any criticism of Islam (and by extension, Christianity). A case studio in this is the craven attitude of the media in response to the Mohammed cartoons […]

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