There are certain values which are so foundational to our society that we take them as a given and always assume that they will remain. But when the foundations are being destroyed perhaps we need to sit up and pay attention – and strengthen what remains before it dies.
Western civilisation is based upon the four great freedoms as expressed in the first amendment of the US constitution – freedom of religion, assembly, the media and speech. Remove any one of those and we are no longer a Western liberal democracy.
Three events this past week in the UK serve as warnings that these basic freedoms are under threat. This threat comes not from Muslim extremists, or far right terrorists or any external political ideology. No, this threat has arisen from within.
When 'misgendering' becomes a crime
Caroline Farrow is a columnist, TV commentator and committed Catholic. Last Monday she was contacted by Surrey police (who clearly don’t have enough real crimes to tackle) and told that she was to be interviewed under caution for misgendering the daughter of the trans activist Suzie Green.
The tweets concerned the fact that Suzie Green allowed her teenage son to have sex-realignment surgery in Thailand which included penis removal (something that is not permitted in the UK). Farrow commented that in her view this was child abuse. Green denies this and says it was done with the best interest of her child, who is now identified as female.
The question at issue here is not whether you agree with either of these positions, but whether you are permitted to say what you think without attracting police attention! The bottom line is that today in modern Britain we have a journalist being investigated by the police because someone complained that what she wrote was hurtful. The fact that this story comes just days after a street preacher was wrongfully arrested shows how this is becoming a very serious problem in our society.
Excluded for 'wrong' beliefs
This week the divinity faculty in the University of Cambridge tweeted that their offer to Jordan Peterson of a visiting fellowship had been rescinded. (It is interesting that they chose this method of communication – they had not tweeted the offer in the first place. Are they playing to the Twitter mob?).
Peterson had been due to spend two months at the university, as part of plans to produce a lecture series about the book of Exodus.
The University told the Guardian “[Cambridge] is an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot”. The fact that an academic can write such a chilling and contradictory tweet only shows just how far down the rabbit hole of intolerant irrationality some of our academic establishments have gone. How can an institution claim in one breath that they are an ‘inclusive’ establishment and then state that those who do not agree with them are excluded?!
Christians need to stand up for free speech – not just for ourselves but especially for those we would disagree with
Peterson responded in a scathing blog: “I think that it is deeply unfortunate that the authorities at the Divinity school in Cambridge decided that kowtowing to an ill-informed, ignorant and ideologically-addled mob trumped participating in an extensive online experiment in mass Christian and psychological education...I think that it is no bloody wonder that the faith is declining (and with it, the values of the West, as it fragments) with cowards and mountebanks of the sort who manifested themselves today at the helm."
Peterson is correct. The theological faculties of many of our Universities have been used for decades to undermine the basis of the Christian faith, by adhering more to the cultural norms of the prevailing zeitgeist, rather than the Word of God. The disturbing thing about the Cambridge decision is that by giving in to mob rule, they have not only lost one of the most effective theological communicators (his lengthy lectures on Genesis have been viewed by over ten million people), but have shown themselves to be unworthy of the title of University – a place where different views are discussed, expressed and examined. Instead Cambridge are one of a number of academic establishments who would be better renamed Monoversities.
The new blasphemy
Free speech is not just being curtailed in law and in the academic world. Sadly the Church is joining in with its own version of the secular inquisition. Jayne Ozanne, whose ‘progressive’ credentials are now so impeccable that she has been appointed to the Government's new LGBT Advisory panel, recently gave a lecture at the University of Oxford (no chance of her being banned!). Her argument makes the Surrey Police and Cambridge look positively libertarian. While recognising that free speech is the bedrock of any free society and democracy she adds a very important caveat. "I for one am a great believer in the importance of promoting a society that enables freedom of speech to the point that it does no harm."
But who defines what harm is? The irony is that Ozanne complains about those in power abusing that power, while herself being in a position of great power – as a government advisor. A year ago I wrote about the danger of a new crime (spiritual abuse) being placed on the statue books – as advocated by Ozanne and the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS, now known as thirtyone:eight). This is now coming to pass.
I hope we are all against ‘spiritual abuse’ and indeed ‘speech that does harm’ (or hate speech). The devil is however in the detail. I think liberal theology is harmful – does that mean I want liberal theologians silenced by the law? God forbid! We are entering a new era of blasphemy laws being enforced by the powerful – those who sit on government committees, academic institutions, corporate boards, media panels and police advisory groups. They are the new secular inquisition who will determine that anyone who does not accept their ideology or philosophy is committing blasphemy. To disagree with them is to be guilty of causing harm and hurt. We are the new heretics.
These are perilous times. Christians need to stand up for free speech – not just for ourselves but especially for those we would disagree with. Our heresy is to believe that the truth of Christ will ultimately overcome the lies of the Devil. If we really believe that then we have nothing to fear in the there being a free marketplace of ideas. Its time for us to stand up for free speech for all.
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