How Free Are We To Speak in The World Today?

So… here I go.

I’ll be honest, I’m holding my breath as I type this/send it out into the wide world of the internet.

I’ve seen how people’s opinions can be treated out there – I mean, just look at Twitter!

However, there has been a lot in the news media in the last month, especially here in New Zealand, regarding freedom of speech, and what that looks like. Since I live in a democracy, and in a free society, I am going to join in the conversation.

Now whether anyone will read this, well, that’s another matter, and actually, doesn’t bother me too much.

Full disclosure up front, just so you know where I’m coming from, I am a white, middle-class, straight, Christian male.

With that point made, let me highlight a couple of cases that have got me thinking about this.

Again, I want to stress that this is my own personal opinion, and I am not, in any way, trying to make, or force, others to accept it as truth. I am trying to be as faithful as I know how to the person that I follow: A poor Middle-Eastern man who was executed as a criminal.

First, there was the incident where Israel Folau responded on Instagram to someone’s question, ‘What is God’s plan for gays?’

He was criticised quickly and overwhelmingly. It got to the point where someone called for him to be banned from New Zealand for his comments.

That is scary.

As a Christian, I find that scary. As someone who tries to love and engage with people where they are at, I find that frightening. Someone could be banned from a country for stating what they believe.

As someone who is part of a group of people who hold a certain belief, that not everyone has to agree with, and who is not trying to force people to believe the same, I find it difficult to accept when people, who belong to a different group, try to silence someone who says something that they don’t like.

The go to remark for something like this is ‘bigoted’ or ‘hateful’.

Someone, in one of the articles linked above, said – “I just wish we could get to a place where everyone can accept everyone for who they are and who they want to be.”

Now, they are saying this because someone disagrees with their position on an issue. That is different to not accepting someone who holds that opinion. Part of being in a free society is that people can disagree on things, and when you shut someone down from talking like this, you are not accepting them. You, by definition, want to excluded them and their opinion from the conversation. Both sides are guilty of this.

If you want everyone to accept everyone then you have to be prepared to accept the people that you disagree with too. You have to be in the place where you can say, “I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but I can, at least, accept you as a human being, who has innate dignity because of that.” If you can’t do that, but instead must yell at someone until they don’t speak, well, that’s not acceptance is it?

Ask what it is that you want from people, and then give that.

The second thing that I wanted to address, really comes out of the same issue. It was an article entitled, ‘No one’s exercise of free speech should make another feel less free’.

This is interesting, because if we are going to be truly free to talk about the deeper issues, then we are each going to share things that will upset and offend each other.

Unfortunately, to offend someone seems to be the greatest sin of all in today’s culture. Other articles on the site say that one religion is just superstition while defending another against the same claims.

If I say that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God, and you say that it is only through Allah that we can attain paradise, or you say there is no such thing as an afterlife, or that we are reincarnated, then we all hold different things to be true.

Does that mean that we have to disparage one another’s views? Does that mean that we can’t hold a dialogue? Does that mean that we can’t be neighbours? In my faith, that is what makes us all neighbours. Those who we disagree with the most, those who are our ‘enemies’ are those who we should seek to bless and pray for. Those who hold a different view from us should be given the most respect.

Does that mean that we refrain from telling them what we see as reality, as the true story? Not at all. But we give all people the right to do that.

For us to say that in order to be free we can’t constrain anyone is to put constraints on everyone, and so no one is truly free.

These are my rambling thoughts on this issue.

I’m sure I could write far more, and I wish they were more coherent, but at this stage,​ they’re not.

I am happy to enter into a conversation though – one that is respectful and will hear the beliefs of others without condemnation.

Or, happy to just let this sit here.

I’m sure it will come up in a podcast in the future, and then we can all talk about it in more detail.

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