The recent tragedies in France have spotlighted again how much Western European democracies have idolised “freedom of speech” as an incontestable virtue, ignoring its inherently unstable foundations.
I utterly deplore and condemn the terrorism of militant Islam, but surely there must be some soul-searching amongst those who seem to prize the “ability to offend” above much else. Whilst this liberal tenet enables ideas to be properly discussed and dogmas challenged, its abuse results in much unnecessary suffering. Enlightening conversation all too easily degenerates into a room full of angry voices, competing to be heard.
Freedom of speech, without commitment to goodness and truly respecting one another, is a sure recipe for calamity. Instead of honestly engaging with the genuine frustrations and grievances of devout Muslims, they are mocked and satirised in popular publications. How do you think they feel when religious leaders, looked-up to and even worshipped, are mercilessly pilloried? Of course, there are errors in their thinking that need to be gently and, where necessary, firmly challenged, but that does not give carte blanche to the “edgy” comedian who only seeks to sell prints copies by “pushing the boundaries”.
Why do we lionise the expression of words or ideas which simply have no merit? Why do we stick-up for the “freedom” to speak drivel?
Ultimately, what stops both the wounds that flow from mocking deeply-cherished beliefs, or executing those perceived as “enemies” of a religion is the Christian faith. The Bible teaches we are made in God’s image, seeing human life as sacrosanct, neither to be ridiculed or murdered. We must recognise and appreciate people’s varying emotions, backgrounds and circumstances, not ride roughshod over their culture. Belief must never be imposed, as God did not make us robots, but encouraged and nurtured. Where error needs to be challenged, we are instructed to “speak the truth in love” and where injustices must be righted we are reminded that we will one day all face the Righteous Judge to whom we must each give account.