The Right to Offend

As a Texan, I am, by constitution, friendly and congenial to most anyone. I love to have a good time and I love for everyone else to have a good time. That’s why we Texans love Texas. No matter our political, religious or college football loyalties, we are generally polite and considerate of each other enough to get our party on and leave the inner bitch at the door.

This is quite the handy personality considering I live amongst and am related to heavily-leaning right wingers, Fox News watchers, Rush listeners, Alex Jones readers, Obama deplorers, firearm devotees and Bible beaters. Don’t get me wrong, I llloooovvvvveee Dallas. I really, really do. But everyone knows what our batshit-crazies in the ballot booth hath delivered to us as governor and that our state legislature is erasing decades of reproductive rights for women, trying to get Christian lessons taught in public schools, and also pissed off the Justice Department with voter ID laws aimed at handicapping the minority vote. Hoooray.

How do we, citizens and voters, be the change we want to see and push, pull, and shove our state and country toward the progress we seek to achieve? I’m a liberal atheist. How do I, as busy mom of an infant and toddler, have skin in the game, put my money where my mouth is and work for a better world for my boys?

Raise my voice. Raise all our voices. Be it blogs, be it conversation, be it my Obama/Biden t-shirt in the grocery store. The best way we can be a force for good is to be visible and audible in our goodness. But if others don’t like our version of good, or are even offended by it, are we still doing good?

Yes. Groupthink has been the anchor that has kept Texas and the rest of the South resistant to modernity and the inevitable arc of history. Everyone assumes everyone else is Christian and pro-life and Republican and anything outside those bounds is cold, uncomfortable and to be avoided.

Change is unavoidable, however. The DFW area has one of the largest, if not THE largest, groups of free-thinkers in the country. How did this happen in such a deeply religion-entrenched metropolis? An atheist or agnostic here started a group and then another and then another and then attendance at free-thinker meet-ups exploded. All because a few trailblazers raised their voice.

Breaking free from the groupthink, from the borg of the close-minded, by simply speaking up is the biggest, most effective tool we have to exert change peacefully and effectively. It takes bravery to tell someone you do not agree with them.

Many times, this does include offending people – especially those self-righteous enough to consider their opinion sacred and untouchable as our culture has led many religioners to believe. But when religion has become a weapon of oppression, it is the responsibility of the rest of us to raise our voices and join together to illuminate a path to for those who wish to escape the bondage of their culture, family or groupthink – even if we risk offense to the stalwart ideology of those who live with certitude.

Jon Stewart once said, “I’m not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance.”

In a free society, freedom of speech bears with it the right to be offended and to offend. It is an immature, intractable mind that cannot tolerate disagreement. If we adhere to those standards and believe politeness to be our first priority, we slow our development and we inhibit the change necessary for a better world.

We cannot be afraid to say what we think or fear what others will think of us. It is not okay to hide behind a religion in an effort to stifle the rights of others or dictate the will of your neighbor. It is not okay. I will not bow to others’ expectations or cultural norms that would hinder a cleaner, freer, more humane society. We must do good by being good and talking good. Even if it’s bad.

I exert my right to offend others and appreciate their right to speak their truths. May we all find celebration in our mere ability to discuss and disagree without hate or violence or fear of imprisonment.

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