I thought longingly about free speech last week when I found myself in a remote area of California but couldn’t get a signal to send out a blog.
No Internet meant the inability to speak freely.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris two weeks ago ignited a global discussion about free speech. Millions marching in the streets with pens raised in protest gave the impression that free speech will triumph over the murderous ways of the jihadists.
But what is free speech? Is it okay to bash the prophet and other religious leaders? Should it be legal to yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater? What about four letter profanities on the evening news?
There are three ways to look at freedom of speech, and only one of them produces true liberty.
A good resolution for most of us to make this year would be to learn to think more in terms of worldview.
I had never heard of this word until Francis Schaeffer introduced it to me via his writings in the mid seventies. Dr. Schaeffer taught that all human beings have certain presuppositions about life–things we assume or believe to be true, that is, a grid through which we view reality.
That’s our worldview. Every human being has one (whether we realize it or not).
My latest book which will be out in 2015 is a thorough discussion of the battling worldviews we face in the 21st century. The thesis is that there are only five concepts about reality–in other words, five views of God and their ramifications. And though there are five, I believe only three will battle for supremacy in the coming years.
Understanding these competing worldviews and their differences is crucial. Worldview affects everything you do, how you live and where you end up in eternity.
And worldviews have much to say about free speech. In fact, the three primary worldviews of the 21st century espouse very different views of freedom.
Let’s look at them one by one.
The Islamic View of Free Speech
Islam is unique to the three worldviews because it is both a comprehensive religious system containing concepts of God and how we get right with him, and a political structure that governs society.
As a religious ideology, Islam does not permit unkind words about its Deity or the Prophet Mohammed (this sin is called blasphemy). Politically, it forces submissive of all people and subjugation of women under the harsh dictates of sharia law.
Free speech in Islamic societies boils down to this: Submit, shut up, or die. You are not free to speak your own mind on many subjects and if you cross the line, the heavy hand of the law will come down upon your behavior and lop off your head or bring you forty lashes.
Freedom in Islam is forced submission of all words and behavior to the tenets of the Koran. You’re only free when you submit.
And the Koran is a book written during the Dark Ages, thirteen centuries ago, whose tenets were formed during a primitive and lawless time. Its teachings of sharia law have not been progressively updated or refined. Pre-medieval morality and austere views of human freedom still remain in place like moral dinosaurs.
Thus we understand why the Islamic terrorists in Paris savagely killed many people and did it in the name of Allah and Islam. Their worldview or religion tolerates little freedom of expression.
Over fifty nations on earth subscribe to the primitive and brutal nature of Islamic freedom.
The Secular View of Free Speech
The second worldview we saw in response to the Paris massacre was that of atheism or secularism. President Hollande of France who is a socialist, and most that marched with him, declared to the world that free speech is a glorious right and there are no exceptions to its rule.
The Charlie Hebdo people who lost their lives at the hands of the jihadists represent this side of the debate. I don’t know of their personal faith or worldview, but their cartoons and commentary mocking all things religious or political appears to state loudly that they believe in absolute freedom of expression.
The secular view of free speech is that anything goes.
In secularism, because there is no God, men become self-deities and this elevated status gives them the freedom to do whatever they desire. They can say what they want, do anything sexually that they want, and generally live hedonistic or narcissistic lives as long as they “do no harm.”
Of course, they are the ones that define “harm,” and the secularists have twisted that freedom to include aborting inside the womb at least one billion babies in the past century. Secular tyrants such at Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong killed hundreds of millions more outside the womb.
Secularism’s view of freedom is constantly evolving to include persecuting people of religious faith such as a Christian florist refusing to do flowers for a homosexual wedding. Admittedly, run-of-the-mill secularists don’t butcher people like Muslim terrorists do, but they like to restrict the freedoms of religious people.
But in sex and other areas there are no restrictions because there is no God (they think) to whom we are accountable.
Secular freedom declares that anything goes. Remember the waving pens in Paris.
The Biblical View of Free Speech
The two worldviews we’ve already mentioned, the Islamic and secular worldviews, are essentially opposites on the spectrum. On the one side, Islam believes in domination and control. Don’t mock the prophet or we will cut off your head. On the other extreme, the secularist worldview believes in unrestrained license. Do or say whatever you want.
The biblical worldview takes the wise middle ground–the balance between truth and grace. The Bible teaches us that freedom or liberty comes from doing what’s right through the power of God’s Spirit in the individual (Romans 8). Liberty is the fruit of righteousness. And when nations conform to God’s wise principles of behavior and justice, liberty is experienced in society as a whole.
But that liberty, or in this case, free speech, is not without limits.
Last week a Catholic leader appearing on a major news program said rightly that Bible-based free speech has many limits or allowances. They include:
- Protecting people’s lives–We are not “free” to yell FIRE in a crowded movie theater.
- Protecting the innocence of children–media outlets are not “free” to use four letter words or erotic sexual scenes in certain time frames or settings where they can hurt or influence children.
- Freedom to discuss or mock any idea or religion (concepts are fair game).
- Even a freedom to blaspheme God (use his Name in vain) because He is big enough to take care of His own reputation.
In ancient or primitive times, blasphemy was not permitted in Jewish culture because at the time God was concretely teaching His people basic concepts of right and wrong in the midst of dark and profuse idolatry. This was done through commandments that were necessary for the Old Testament era.
But we live in the period of the New Testament where old forms of learning have been replaced by the abstract motives of love and grace. There is greater freedom now because of increased understanding.
Thus the development of biblical virtue is the true religion of progress. The Old Covenant of law has been replaced with the truth, grace, and supernatural power of the New Covenant. Both Islam and secularism are not progressive in the true sense of the word.
Biblical faith is. The biblical worldview of free speech is this:
Liberty with loving self-restraint.
So don’t get carried away with either of the excesses of Muslim or secular concepts of free speech. One is ruthlessly controlling and the other is wildly unrestrained.
Build your life and nation on the time-tested revelation of freedom of speech that tolerates all opinions, lets God be the Judge, but wisely restrains itself because it loves Him and people.
Liberty is a beautifully balanced thing.