THE BLOG
01/15/2015 08:39 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

The Sin of Provocation

This morning on the news, I heard someone complain that the editors of Charlie Hebdo were guilty of the "sin of provocation" for continuing to publish any cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.

Last week, 12 people were murdered by terrorists who were offended by the publication and its history of publishing satirical cartoons that depicted religions and politicians in negative and even offensive ways.

There has been much debate, certainly since the attack, about whether or not news media should widely disseminate the offending cartoons in the news stories of the attack.

I've been conflicted. I support free speech, even speech with which I don't agree. It is a hallmark of a free society that I fear is under attack in many ways. I also try not to just annoy people and aggravate them because I can, because that's a jerk move.

When I heard the comment about the sin of provocation this morning, though, it clarified something for me.

People who accuse people of the "sin of provocation" are actually people with poor boundaries who are blaming other people for their own behavior. It is not limited to terrorists, although they are clearly the most deadly illustrations.

I would likely be offended by Charlie Hebdo. You know how I handle that? I don't read the magazine.

I am also offended by Fox News. You know how I handle that? I don't ever turn my dial to that TV channel.

People are willing to offend us all the time, I'm sure, if we are looking for it.

When people say a woman can avoid being raped by not dressing provocatively, or by not drinking in public, they are accusing women of the sin of provocation.

Anytime schools enforce dress codes for female students, or anytime courts say a man has a right to fire a woman who works for him because he is tempted to have an affair with her just because she's in the same room with him, we support the idea that our behavior is dependent on the behavior of others.

When I see an attractive man who isn't wearing much clothing, do you know how I manage not to rape him right there on the spot, blaming him for his clothing choices? I manage because it has never occurred to me to do that in the first place. Why would my behavior be his responsibility?

When opponents of marriage equality speak against same-gender marriage, their claims often revolve around how offensive it supposedly is to their religion and to their own marriages. They are accusing same-gender couples who are seeking equal rights under the law of the sin of provocation.

You know how I "protect" my heterosexual marriage from the "scourge" of gay marriage? I support my marriage by tending to it, not by saying its success depends on the behavior of someone outside my marriage. I can come up with no possible way that another couple's happiness could possibly threaten mine.

Society cannot rule itself when people who live in society do not take responsibility for their own behavior.

We can't censor publications because someone might be offended, unless we decide we cease publication of all ideas.

We can't tell women to censor their clothing choices because someone might be offended. What's the line where nobody would be offended?

We can't restrict civil liberties because someone might be offended. Again, where's the line? Your gay marriage offends one person. The bacon I had for breakfast offends another. My lack of headscarf offends someone else. The possible list of offenses is endless.

We can't define our behavior in civil society by the poor boundaries of a few who live among us. The sin of provocation is no way to live. Don't validate the people who won't be responsible for their own actions.