The YMCA where I go to take exercise classes has Bible verses up on the walls throughout the building, and has a big nativity scene in the lobby at Christmas. As an atheist, does this offend me? It does not, in fact I feel very little emotion of any kind about it. The YMCA is a traditionally Christian organization and a private establishment. (FYI: I mention this mainly to head off dismissive comments from Christians that any display of Christianity in public view is offensive to atheists.) As long as I am not getting discriminated against or actively preached at while I am there, then it is all fine with me. I am the same way about people posting up Ten Commandments signs or crosses in their own yards, even though for personal safety and sanity reasons I would think twice about moving into such a neighborhood. At any rate displays that are on private property are mostly to the discretion of the property owners and maybe their neighborhood association.

There is a billboard that you might see on northbound I-65 between Elizabethtown and Louisville that proclaims in big and brash letters “HELL IS REAL,” perhaps as a warning to heathens going to Louisville to get drunk at 4th Street Live. I was in Bardstown, Kentucky yesterday and saw a church sign with the rhetorical question “You think it’s hot here?” attributed to God. If I were a theist I might be offended by those who presume to put words in the mouth of God. As it is, I am no longer offended but just simply horrified that there are people out there who actually still believe in such things as a place of eternal fire and torture for those who die not believing in Jesus as their “personal lord and savior.” (Sorry, dear reader, if you are not familiar with fundamentalist Christian beliefs, because I don’t intend to open up the whole can of worms of what that previous phrase actually means. That could take quite some time…)

There are some things that do offend me. Recently I was offended to the very core of my being by the audacity of that terrorist in Norway who wanted to turn his trial into an opportunity to declare to the world that what he did was right and justified. Big kudos to the judges in Norway to opted to deny him the opportunity.

Another thing that boils my blood is any kind of joke about rape, or even the hint of bringing up what a woman was wearing when she was raped as if this made any difference whatsoever. I’m even getting tensed up I write about it.

And, yes, I do get offended when people who make claims that atheists are “attacking America” or that secular philosophies cause the problems of society or other such nonsense. Not just because I know it is nonsense but because it perpetuates a very real prejudice towards people like myself who are atheists and not ashamed of it.

The thinks that most offend me are the things that violate my sense of justice and fairness, such as both of the items above. Things that seriously hurt people. Overloaded rhetoric and actions that has the potential to lead to real fear and violence.

I might feel offended at times from hearing statements where that I strongly disagree.  But I take the view that the mere fact that I am made to feel uncomfortable, or even angry, by some act or statement does not in and of itself mean that this statement ought to be censored or punished. I may be justified in standing up and yelling “I don’t like it!” but not justified in demanding “That should not be allowed!” There must also be some case in terms of legality, justice, and other higher principles that come into play other than “that makes me mad!” In the case of the American Atheists suit against the World Trade Center cross, I believe there is such a case in legal terms and in terms of equality and justice, and it is not merely the case that the cross offends my sensibilities. (See my previous post Opposing the WTC Cross.)

What about stuff like this? (from Offensive? Why? What do you think his point is?

And here are what I think are the most important questions: If you are offended by this, do you think that it actually does real harm to people and that it should be blocked from all public view? Or do you see your offense as a personal matter of  “I don’t like it” for your to deal with in your own private way?