Vinoth Ramachandra

On Giving Offence

Posted on: October 29, 2015

How does an obscure Polish priest who is gay become the centrepiece of the leading headline in yesterday’s online BBC news worldwide?

Since long before Europe even existed, the Roman Catholic Church has required all priests to take a vow of chastity, along with vows of poverty and obedience, at their ordination. Those who are unable to fulfil these ordination vows leave the priesthood and some join other Christian denominations, most notably Anglican. But it seems that when it comes to a priest with a gay orientation, the requirement of chastity is seen as “homophobic” and the Church is expected to change its practice to suit his “sexual preferences”. The BBC with its cult of “political correctness” propagates such double standards.

It appears that the only time the BBC shows any interest in ecclesiastical matters is when the “gay” issue is on the agenda. The recently concluded Vatican synod had far more pressing issues to consider, but one would have gathered from the bias of BBC reporting that the entire synod was dominated by disagreements over homosexuality. That the latter is not the most important pastoral or moral issue for the vast majority of the Roman Catholic church- most of whom are found in the Two-Thirds world- does not register on the minds of BBC journalists. But by constantly highlighting cases of so-called homophobia while completing ignoring other news stories, including the systematic persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in many parts of the world, the BBC practices a form of cultural imperialism (“we will keep hounding you until you accept our values”) under the guise of liberal tolerance.

I have written before on this Blog (e.g. The Death of Argument, 16 July 2010) of the insidious effect of “political correctness” and “victim politics” on Western universities and law courts, the very institutions which should be protecting peoples’ civil liberties. Attaching the suffix “–phobic” to a person or institution is considered sufficient to dispense with all argument. Ironically, it is the same when any criticism of Muslim teaching or practice is denounced by Muslims as Islamophobic. The inability to discern between valid arguments and invalid caricatures or stereotyping is a sad reflection of both the state of higher education and the state of contemporary politics.

In the U.S., the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports that more than 55 per cent of colleges and universities maintain at least one policy that substantially restricts constitutionally protected speech. They issue “trigger warnings” to students when courses offer content that might upset them, instead of enabling students to understand contrary opinions, sift their content and refute what they may regard as erroneous.

Earlier this year, a proposed debate on abortion at Oxford University was cancelled by the organizers due to militant feminists who protested that both debaters were men and “those without uteruses” had no right to speak on the subject. These self-fertilized women obviously need to attend a class at the university on human embryology. As one astute observer noted, “YOU-cannot-say-that” has come to supplement “You-cannot-say-THAT”. Both incompatible with academic freedoms. Both echoes of the Orwellian thought-police.

From uteri to penises. The latest celebrity victim of “victim politics” is the feminist writer Germaine Greer. Her scheduled guest lecture at Cardiff University in Wales was cancelled following strident protests by LGBT students. Her crime? Her publicly expressed opinion that transgendered women were not really women; that they did not “think, speak and behave as women”. Instead of openly engaging Ms. Greer in vigorous debate, the students and weak-kneed university authorities preferred to silence her. One spokeswoman deemed Greer’s views as being “offensive” to “our transgender siblings.”

Speaking at a liberal university in the U.S. four years ago on the theme of “justice”, I could sense that students were embarrassed when, towards the end of my talk, I mentioned “protecting embryonic and fetal human beings” as one example of practising justice. This was taboo, long associated with those right-wing fundamentalists. But, then, when I gave as two further examples of practising justice “defending the rights of the poor” and “reducing anthropogenic global warming”, they were confused. These belonged to a different political agenda.

Jews like Bernie Sanders expose the absurdity of so-called “pro-life” churches and Christian colleges being indifferent to the plight of impoverished mothers, those who have no access to affordable health-care, and all whose lives are imperilled by climate change. His remarks may offend many American Christians, but for that very reason they are to be welcomed. Offending for the sake of offending is not the same as offending through arguments that some find unpalatable. The latter is what every great educator, not to mention Jesus himself, has done.

The mania over “-phobias” has led to many universities in the U.S. and Britain now ceasing to be places where ideas, however controversial, are voiced, explored and either embraced, modified or refuted. Instead, they have become the principal promoters of conformity by giving into the politics of resentment and victimhood. Are they becoming citadels of mindlessness? Sorry, no offence.

13 Responses to "On Giving Offence"

Reblogged this on Thought Fragments and commented:
On the practice of “heckler’s veto” in Western academic settings!

We are indeed all being indoctrinated without being aware of it. Universities rather than being places of debate and discovery have become places of uniformity. The spirit of rebellion of the 60’s that produced many of the liberal ideas of today has now become quite Orwellian.

Here in Germany we are arguably at the center of the massive European migrant/refugee situation. The German political and media mainstream has basically eliminated all argumentation from those who, even slightly, disagree with the very progressive policies coming out of Merkel´s camp.

If you disagree, even slightly, you´re a right-wing fanatic. There doesn´t even seem to be a forum where what is a caricature and what is solid argumentation can be debated. It´s as though big brother has already made the decisions and has already established the opinions for us all!

How did liberalism and political correctness become such a behemoth?

Very well said! And usually the views that are tolerated are nowhere close to the interests or beliefs of 2/3s of the world. It is another form of Western dominance and feelings of superiority over other places with different values. The so-called “liberals” are as rigid as the “fundamentals” they mock.
Name calling has kept us from discussion. I remain fairly firmly a middle of the road person, trying to hear both sides, but it is difficult.
Faith calls us to listen, and to love even in the midst of wildly varying arguments.
By the way, i consider myself somewhat of a liberal….

Meanwhile, referring to your opening comment re the coming out of the gay priest. What has always (and essentially still does) happen to priests who have been caught with their pants down in the company of children?
The side ways soft-shoe-shuffle via a well orchestrated world-wide conspiracy to prevent/pervert the necessary course of justice.

And why not Google the topic the sexual lives of the popes, and the truth-telling book The Criminal History of the Papacy by Tony Bushby.
Or Google the website Bishop Acountability.

Meanwhile the “catholic” church still features a list of unsuitable or “banned” books. This is even more so with the deeply misogynist outfit opus dei which now has a huge and growing influence on the applied politics of the “catholic” church

Frederick, it’s a pity that you seem to read my post as a rejection of any criticism of the Roman Catholic church (or any other church for that matter).

The “soft-shoe-shuffle” that you mention is not limited to the Vatican. The BBC itself has practised it. So have the medical, judicial and legal professions. The biggest serial-killer in British history was a family doctor. But nobody in the media damns all family doctors, let alone the entire medical profession, because of that. So what is the relevance today of invoking the criminality of medieval popes?

The Essential difference between the Vatican and the Catholic church, and ALL other institutions both religious and secular which have always attempted to hide the truth about sexual crimes committed within the walls/space of their institution is that the Catholic church PRETENDS to be the only vehicle of Truth in the world. And according to Ratzinger the Catholic church pretends to be the only remaining bastion against the curse of modern and post-modern moral relativism.

Ones moral integrity is always infallibly demonstrated by what one actually does, and not in any sense by what one says and/or self-justifying appeals to “tradition” or the Magisterium

Re Ratzinger’s applied politics I highly recommend the truth-telling book by Matthew Fox titled The Pope’s War Against the Church in which Fox describes how Ratzinger & JPII facilitated the rise to power within and over the church by the deeply misogynist outfit Opus Dei, and similar essentially bogus “traditionalist” outfits.

Re the criminality of past Popes, these chaps, the supposed “vicars of Christ” were/are supposed to be appointed on the basis of “holy apostolic succession”. In fact many of them were far from being in any sense holy. Indeed they were essentially psychopaths and unfit for any kind of human company. And what about the wall-to-wall criminality of the well known Borgias?
By the way are you familiar with the way in which the Vatican via the then Pope gained special privileges for itself at the beginning of Mussolini fascist regime – not a pretty story.

After all of that please check out two related sites which give a left/liberal/progressive perspective on the double-minded deeply puritanical sexual politics of the Catholic church.
The Open Tabernacle
The OT site has also run an excellent series on the role of Opus Dei in the now-time catholic church.

One more point. You rail against the liberal media which is fair enough because they are somewhat biased against religion, especially that promoted by back-to-the-past “traditionalists”
But where are you going to get a more balanced perspective?

Perhaps at Fox (faux) “news”, the National Review, the various official and semi-official Catholic propaganda outlets, including the multiple propaganda sites run by Opus Dei such as the website Catholic Voices (for instance).
The chap now in charge of the Vatican’s propaganda machine is a high-ranking Opus Dei operative, and what is more he used to be a big shot mover-and-shaker for the Fox propaganda machine in New York.

Hi Vinoth,

Could you clarify what you mean with: “These self-fertilized women obviously need to attend a class at the university on human embryology.”

Hi Vinoth. I am a theology student from New Zealand, currently studying in the United States. I often read your blog and always enjoy your insights. However, I have two critical comments about this particular entry.

Firstly, with regard to your comment that “disagreements over homosexuality … is not the most important pastoral or moral issue for the vast majority of the Roman Catholic church- most of whom are found in the Two-Thirds world-” and that Western media fixating on this is “a form of cultural imperialism.” I agree that the Western media should focus on other topics as well. However, it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time, and I do not think it is wrong of Western media (or people anywhere who care about social justice) to be concerned with “disagreements about homosexuality.” It is known that certain (contortions of) stances on homosexuality cause and/or justify violence and oppression of LGBTI people in every country in the world (even in supposedly “liberal” countries like New Zealand, mental illness/violence/suicide/etc harm God’s LGBTI children far disproportionately to others), and draconian jail sentences or even capital punishment in some countries.

In one of your books that I read (Subverting Global Myths, I believe) you distinguished between the interests and perspectives of an oppressed people and the interests and perspectives of the persons who hold power in those societies (typically, middle-aged or old, middle-class or rich men – and, I might add, heterosexual or sometimes celibate). This insight was influential on me. I think this distinction is vital and needs to be applied in many situations, including this one. The upshot is: even if the bishops and politicians of Uganda and Nigeria do not think homosexuality (and cultural attitudes and laws about it etc.) is an important issue, and even if the heterosexual majority also does not think it is an important issue, that does not mean it is not an important issue. The people being marginalized, attacked, assaulted, jailed, executed, and murdered in those countries most definitely think homosexuality is an important issue (just like the people subject to violence and oppression in Western countries think it is important, and have fought to get the rest of their societies to agree that it’s important). They may be the minority, but our God leaves the 99 to go to the one.

Secondly, I have read a lot of articles and blogs which, much like yours, make alarming claims to the effect that academic freedom and free speech are being ruined by trigger warnings and an associated culture of political (and/or therapeutic) correctness. I do not doubt that there are some horror stories where, firstly, students misunderstand mental health and think the solution to trauma is to shield people from anything that could remind them of that trauma, and, secondly, they try (sometimes successfully) to impose this misguided therapeutic stance at the expense of allowing education and academic conversations to occur. I know that these situations exist because I’ve read the horror stories in these articles and blogs; and I’m not surprised at these stories, because students, like most human beings, are often prone to naïveté, zealotry, and simplistic thinking. However, I do have to suspect that these articles tend to exaggerate the problem, because I’ve never heard so much as a single trigger warning at my own American university (Notre Dame), nor my previous ones in New Zealand as far as I can recall; let alone an all-pervasive culture of political correctness and censorship.

Anyway, insofar as these horror stories exist (and I guess they’re more common at more liberal institutions), I agree that these situations are unacceptable. Yet too often it seems the articles criticizing these horror stories engage in the same “invalid caricatures or stereotyping” you criticize. They seem to view the situation in black-and-white terms, talking as if any kind of content warning or sensitivity to how academic dialogue can be unequal and marginalize certain people apparently represents censorship and exclusion of free speech. This is not at all true or honest.

Sensitivity to power dynamics in academic settings (including content/trigger warnings where appropriate) is intended to increase, not decrease, free speech (including potentially disturbing speech). A content warning is not censorship of difficult topics; it’s the inclusion of difficult topics, but with a heads-up that those topics will be discussed, for people who could potentially find those topics difficult. Content warnings don’t do any harm to people who wouldn’t have found those topics difficult anyway (except perhaps using a few seconds of our time). But they can be helpful for people who do find those topics difficult, because they let them know in advance what they’re dealing with, so that they can make decisions about controlled exposure etc., and feel safe to participate on their own terms, so that their important voices are more likely to be heard.

Are content warnings and other attempts at political awareness & emotional sensitivity in academic dialogue sometimes done wrongly, such that it actually stifles free speech, the way you and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education fears? (e.g. when it’s no longer warning about difficult content but censoring it)? Yes, certainly; we’ve all heard the horror stories in all these articles, and I think almost everyone (even the most ardent defenders of trigger warnings) would agree that these are bad situations and not how it is supposed to work. Is the best solution to these horror stories abandoning all of this political/emotional consciousness/sensitivity, and pretending everything was fine and dandy and not at all unjust in pre-trigger-warning academia? Most definitely no.

It’s also worth considering the wider picture into which trigger warnings fit: some sociologists have suggested it represents a broader change from a “culture of dignity” (where we respond to insults with a Stoic resilience, trying not to allow the insult to affect us) to a “culture of victimhood” (which actually tries to change the unjust social structures that caused the insult in the first place). Here is a blog discussing this concept: . This explanation certainly makes me feel that the new culture of victimhood has a lot of good in it, as well as its problems and excesses (just like the dignity culture had its advantages too, but also its problems, e.g. it doesn’t really challenge unjust systems but just tells the victims to deal with them).

Thanks for your blog and opportunity to respond.
– Caleb Day

Caleb, thanks for you thoughtful criticisms. Much appreciated.

Briefly, in response:

(1) I was addressing the issue of gay priests within the RC church, in the context of the recent Synod, and not the treatment of gays in general in some African countries. I agree with you about the latter and have, wherever I have had an opportunity, argued with and challenged African Christians to seek to stop punitive practices and change social attitudes. Many are indeed doing this.

You write “our God leaves the 99 to go to the one”. Have you met anybody in the US who is protesting about the treatment of Edward Snowden? Or the cruel and biased punitive practices in the U.S criminal justice system? We all have our blind spots.

The charge of “cultural imperialism” applies to where there is no attempt at presenting arguments in the Western media nor any recognition that other sexual norms can apply in other cultures and contexts. The language of “gay rights”, for instance, is simply asserted and proclaimed as if it were a self-evident concept.

(2) I am not surprised that you haven’t experienced trigger warnings at Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic university! I don’t know anything about NZ; I only go by what I read and hear from North American colleges and universities. One example:

I found the link you sent quite simplistic and unhelpful in its classification of cultures. It is also naive in that we can be, simultaneously, victims on one axis of oppression/discrimination and victimizers on other levels. Your statement (referring to my book SGM) about “the powerful in society” seems to imply that gays are all on the social and political margins. Not so. Many are found in politics, the media and entertainment industry; and even in a country like mine, where homosexuality is (unfortunately) still a criminal offence, our PM and foreign minister are open about their gay lifestyles.


Please tell me what Vatican II or post-Vatican II documents you have ever read. I would like to see where you found the evidence to justify your claim that “the Catholic church PRETENDS to be the only vehicle of Truth in the world”.

You are reading secondary sources and indulging in stereotyping and caricatures. There is as great a theological diversity within the Roman Catholic church as there is a among Protestants, and the current Pope is taking on the Vatican establishment with a courage that I find deeply admirable.

Bernie Sanders was given a courteous welcome at Liberty University’s (a leading evangelical/conservative college) convocation last month.

Triumphalism of science or “scientism” is very well prevalent virtually in all secular universities. Christian professors and students who hold to creationist or intelligent design (ID) views are considered ‘nice’ people but not suitable to be around, while positivist dogmatism of science is proclaimed as ‘real science’.

Apt points! I saw a show in London this summer, _1984_, which modernized Orwell to the present era and brought Snowden to mind. We should all beware of thought police, especially in the US where we have experienced recent overreach of police power on the level of surveillance and militarization. Freedom of conscience is vital but has often been neglected by the church. It is sad that one can no longer count on universities to train scholars for debate, given that honest debate has a role in defusing violent conflict.

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