Is Free Speech a Christian Value?

I was thinking about the growing number of people who show contempt for free speech as they believe the State needs to silence opposing “dangerous” opinions. It is an approach that is alien to my way of thinking. Perhaps it is time to consider that the rise of anti-free speech sentiments might be connected to the rise of the post-Christian world. After all, it is clear that not all world views value free speech. We know, for example, that two large non-Christian world views, Islamic fundamentalism and atheistic communism, disdain free speech and do everything they can do to silence unapproved speech which they deem “harmful.” We also know many countries in the West which at least have a remnant of respect for free speech have been shaped by Christianity in the past. If free speech is indeed a value derived from Christianity (perhaps as an offshoot of recognizing the importance of free will), we would predict the rise of the post-Christian world would lead the rise of anti-free speech sentiments. While I am not claiming an established, causal connection, I would like to raise this as a hypothetical proposal.

As we all know, much fuss has been made of the fact that the Millennials are less religious than older generations.  But this is not the only way the Millennials differ from previous generations.  For example, a few years back, a survey found that over 40% of Millennials believe that the government should outlaw speech that is deemed offensive to minorities.  Apparently, these young people would not agree with George Orwell’s famous quote: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

In fact, here is a breakdown by generation.

GenerationAgeOppose Free SpeechReligion is Important to You
Millennial18-340.40.41
Gen-X35-500.270.53
Boomer51-690.240.59
Silent70-870.120.67

Sources: HERE and HERE

Wow.  Don’t need statistics or a graph to notice that relationship.  But just for fun, let’s plot the % of people who think religion is important on the Y-axis and the % of those who oppose free speech on the X-axis:

fig1

Now that’s a correlation! The less important religion the more likely someone opposes free speech.

What about the percent who have a very strong conviction that God exists?  Here are the data:

GenerationAgeOppose Free SpeechCertain Belief in God
Millennial18-340.40.52
Gen-X35-500.270.64
Boomer51-690.240.69
Silent70-870.120.71

And here’s the graph (with % certain belief in God on Y-axis and % who oppose free speech and X-axis):

fig2

So both increasing secularism and atheism are correlated with a decreasing commitment to free speech.  Interestingly enough, this trend is also seen in the New Atheist’s favorite cultural comparison:

ft_15-11-19_speecheurope

Food for thought, eh?

This entry was posted in Christianity, free speech, postchristian world and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Is Free Speech a Christian Value?

  1. A Person says:

    I think it may be closer to the truth to say that people with power oppose free speech, and those without it support it. Although Christendom generally had fewer restrictions on speech than others, there traditionally were more than what we had from say the 1950’s to the 2000’s (when the left dropped “tolerance” and started attacking free speech more openly). The US had blasphemy laws and laws against pornography. Society would be a much better place with those IMO. Yes you could argue that people ought to have the self-discipline to not be affected by them, but that just isn’t the case, and the same argument could apply to any law really (don’t want your stuff stolen? lock it up better…)

  2. If God doesn’t exist then utopia can and must be brought about by human efforts. One of the first steps towards this human-made utopia is to forcibly get rid of any ideologies that might get in the way. I mean, it’s not as if any secular utopian ideology could possibly be wrong or based on faulty assumptions.

  3. Bilbo Baggins says:

    Mike, should one have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater?

  4. Dhay says:

    Bilbo Baggins > …should one have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater?

    The security staff will promptly eject one for violating one’s theatre ticket’s Terms & Conditions.

  5. Kevin says:

    Mike, should one have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater?

    Is that what Michael meant when he said there was an increasing number of people with contempt of free speech who want to silence opinions they deem “dangerous”? Or what Orwell meant in his quote that free speech was the ability to tell people what they want to hear? “Fire”?

    I suspect the only type of “Fire” Michael is talking about here is the “Fire him/her” mentality so many have – as in, target the employers of anyone who says something you don’t like and try to get them fired as punishment.

    Leftwing Twitter mobs and cowardly employers and people who see no problem with that cancel-culture mentality are a blight on humanity. They already take sadistic pleasure in ruining the lives of those with unapproved opinions, but they also are the ones petitioning for the increase of so-called “hate speech” laws to allow the government to also punish it.

    Has absolutely nothing to do with using language with the intent to directly incite harm.

  6. Ilíon says:

    Is Free Speech a Christian Value?

    Yes; and a societal commitment to ‘free speech’ cannot long exist in a society that is not Christian.

  7. TFBW says:

    “Is Free Speech a Christian Value?”

    Up until recently, I would have said so. Recent events have caused me to pause and reflect, and I find my position to be lacking sufficient support. As such, the answer is, “I don’t know.” It’s supposed to be a Liberal value, but what is the exact relationship between “Christian” and “Liberal?” It’s not nothing, but it’s not an identity relationship, either. The most outspoken of so-called liberals are vapid, unprincipled libertines with no real values, who treat their mores as a status symbol to be flaunted in public, rather than as a guide to personal behaviour, but even if we disregard them as unrepresentative of Liberalism, I have serious, unanswered questions as to what counts as the intersection between Liberalism and Christianity. Both might value Free Speech, but have differing standards as to what manner of speech ought to be protected by it. I suspect that Liberalism is too accepting of evil, and that’s why its so-called adherents tend toward the libertine.

  8. Michael says:

    Mike, should one have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater?

    If you were in a crowded theater and you truly beleived a fire started, you’d have a moral obligation to warn the others. But this is where objective truth comes into play. If you were correct, you would be a hero. If you were delusional, you’d be in some sort of trouble.

    Now, it would seem to me that when Oumou Kanoute screamed “racism!” into the crowded social media, this is strongly analogous to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. This set off a racial panic, followed by a witch hunt, followed by people losing their jobs and suffering health problems. But in this case, there was no racism. Oumou was delusional.

  9. Ilíon says:

    Concerning “Liberalism” —

    One the one hand, there is “liberalism” … which in Current Year America we call “conservativism”; on the other hand, there is leftism, which has been calling itself “liberalism” for about a century, after running its prior “progressivism” label into the ground.

  10. Ilíon says:

    … so, if you’re going to talk about an intersection of Christianity and “liberalism”, you need to know which “liberalism” you’re talking about.

  11. TFBW says:

    The classical one. The modern one is obviously bankrupt.

  12. Ilíon says:

    “Classical” liberalism *assumes* Christianity, without explicitly stating that it is so grounded. To be more precise, it assumes the broad currents of Anglo-Protestantism, including simultaneously Puritanism/revivalism and the developed/learned unease with “enthusiasm”. Culturally and politically, it manifests as a mutual agreement organize society, and society’s laws, on the principle of the Golden Rule. Its glaring weakness — and point of attack used by the leftists, both “progressive” and “libertarian”, to undermine it — was its disinclination to explicitly affirm that it is grounded in, and depends upon, Christianity.

    On the other hand, the leftism of the “Progressive Era” (whose adherents later hi-jacked the “liberalism” label) rejected Christianity, but for strategic reasons, without openly admitting to that, and sometimes denying it, again for strategic reasons. “Progressivism” wanted to have the cultural goods which follow from a broadly Christianized culture, while rejecting the font of those goods. And, since rejection of Christianity was/is the non-negotiable distinction of “progressivism”, what we are seeing in the current era is the logically inevitable evolution of “progressivism”.

  13. TFBW says:

    Classical Liberalism seems to be part of a broader programme in which successful practises that emerged from largely Anglo-Protestant society were analysed and reduced to a set of principles, and then detached from their religious and cultural foundations in the misguided belief that those foundations were superfluous. (This is in contrast to the other major programme, which attacked the foundations directly because it hated them, and imagined the utopia that would exist if we only managed to rid ourselves of these religious shackles.) My concern is that the Classical Liberal principle of Free Speech was likewise detached from its foundations, and may have come adrift relative to the Christian conception of the same. Maybe it hasn’t drifted far: I’m not sure; I need to reorient myself.

  14. Ilíon says:

    Perhaps; but I think that the detachment and the misguided belief came later … as a more covert part of the left’s attack on those foundations. As I see it (and said above), that “classical” liberalism didn’t *explicitly* affirm its grounding in Christianity provided a point of attack for the anti-Christians, who used that point of attack or blind-spot to convince the *next* generation of “classical” liberals that that set of principles, from which the cultural goods of liberalism naturally followed, were universal axioms of the human condition, rather than being the consequences of reasoning based on prior (and explicitly Christian) truth-claims.

  15. Ilíon says:

    Also, that a prominent current in the Anglo-Protestant experience looks askance at “enthusiasm” provided another means of effecting that detachment (from which the misguided belief follows).

    Above, I said, “classical” liberalism “assumes the broad currents of Anglo-Protestantism, including simultaneously Puritanism/revivalism and the developed/learned unease with “enthusiasm”.

    This dichotomy is present to this day, and not just as two contrasting “factions”, but also within the mindsets of individuals … such as my own self.

  16. Ilíon says:

    My concern is that the Classical Liberal principle of Free Speech was likewise detached from its foundations, and may have come adrift relative to the Christian conception of the same. Maybe it hasn’t drifted far: I’m not sure; I need to reorient myself.

    Indeed, it has. This detachment followed from the libertarianesque absolutizing of Free Speech, initially to give public/cultural sanction of open pornography … and leads directly to Current Year suppression of so-called “hate speech”.

  17. grodrigues says:

    @TBFW:

    “My concern is that the Classical Liberal principle of Free Speech was likewise detached from its foundations, and may have come adrift relative to the Christian conception of the same. Maybe it hasn’t drifted far: I’m not sure; I need to reorient myself.”

    I may be misreading you here, but I concur. Someone else mentioned “laws against pornography”, presumably because he thinks pornography is a form of speech that should not be banned. I disagree violently: there should be limitations on pornography (the exact details would need to be hashed out); all societies have some form of limitation on speech. I do not want public displays of pornography as much as I do not want public endorsement of nazi ideology. The problem is that people have a false notion of freedom, conflating it with licentiousness and libertinism. Freedom, classically understood (and by classically I mean the the line that runs from Plato and Aristotle down to its medieval and, mostly but not all, Catholic progenie) is the freedom to pursue the Good, which of course presupposes that there is some objective way to access the Good. But this is precisely what has been rejected, in some form or another; and since, allegedly, there is no way to ascertain the Good and we do not want wars erupting left and right, a spirit of tolerance replaces the ancient conception of freedom. But there is, and there can be, no limiting principle for tolerance, so we are back at the same conundrum, now in modern clothes and without the ancient wisdom, or God’s wisdom for that matter, to guide us.

  18. stcordova says:

    I think free-speech became a LATER Christian value. There were blasphemy laws in England during Darwin’s time which got people like Robert Taylor (the Devil’s Chaplain) to get in trouble. John Calvin consented to the execution of a non-Trinitarian during the reformation, etc.

    Free speech seems to be a value of AMERICAN Christianity, where freedom to exercise one’s conscience is deeply valued, and that means freedom to express one’s CONSCIENCE, but not just stir up trouble. Free speech succeeds in moral environments, but in environments where morals have decayed, it can be used to spread lies that the perpetrators of the lies know are lies.

    So I think free speech derives from the Christian virtue of following one’s conscience, and there was a passage in the new testament regarding the eating of food where people had differing views about food sacrificed to idols, but God commanded each to follow his conscience, which is amazing in that this was one of the VERY few times a moral judgement wasn’t actually rendered explicitly but left to the discretion of the individual.

    I don’t see where in the New Testament free speech was specifically promoted, BUT I would say since Christianity of the New Testament was expected to flourish by preaching rather than governmental suppression of opposing viewpoints, free speech is an implicitly sought after condition for society that needs to hear the truth.

    I would say free speech is a Christian value now in the USA since the government is now the promoter of anti-Christian values, and if unchecked, it will hinder the spread of the Christian message.

  19. Ilíon says:

    ^ What you’re noticing is that the leaven of the Gospel has to work its way through a society — which can take generations — before most people of that society begin to grasp the implications of the Gospel. And, similarly, breaking with the Romanish bureaucracy did not automatically free one entirely of the mindset fostered by generations and centuries ruled by that bureaucracy.

    As for anti-blasphemy laws, there are *always* anti-blasphemy laws. The difference in the anti-blasphemy laws of Victorian England (and America) compared to Current Year Anglo-Sphere countries is not *whether* there are anti-blasphemy laws, but rather in the content of the enforced anti-blasphemy laws; and the content and enforcement of anti-blasphemy laws follows directly from who or what is the “god of the system”.

  20. Ilíon says:

    I refer to the Roman denomination as “The One True Bureaucracy” in part to mock its imperial pretensions to lordship over the souls and consciences of all men, and in part to emphasize that it is a bureaucracy which outlived its Empire.

  21. TFBW says:

    I’m still unsure as to whether Free Speech is a Christian value, and if so, for what exact definition of “Free Speech”. It occurs to me, however, that speaking the truth is a Christian value, even if that speech puts you in mortal peril or breaks local laws. So there’s that to consider.

  22. Ilíon says:

    TFBW:I’m still unsure as to whether Free Speech is a Christian value, and if so, for what exact definition of “Free Speech”.

    Obviously, it always makes a difference what one *means* by the terms one uses. Pace to the libertines/”libertarians”, pornography does not fall under the ambit of “free speech”, but “offending” [the professionally-offended] does.

    Have any historical non-Christian cultures developed the concept of “free speech”, much less made protection of the same the cornerstone of their fundamental law? Have any of the recent anti-Christian regimes done this. No, and no. Now, this in itself isn’t proof-positive that “free speech” is a Christian value, but surely it ought to count as evidence.

    Is “freedom of the conscience” a Christian value? Yes. Does not the freedom to *believe* what one believes — even if one is in error — also imply the freedom to tell others what one believes, and to try to convince them to believe likewise? Is not telling others what they believed (even in the face of persecution) how the early Christians “conquered” the societies ruled by the Roman state? Is not *debating* opposing views/religions, including mocking some aspects of the various paganisms, how the early Christians *shamed* the pagans into giving serious consideration to their message? Does not actual debating of beliefs or claims to which one is opposed presuppose the freedom of one’s opponents to: 1) hold those beliefs, and 2) advocate for those beliefs?

    Is forced conversion compatible or incompatible with Christianity?

    When the Christ first sent out his disciples to spread his message to their fellow Jews, did he say, “If a household or a town will not receive your message, report back and we’ll send an army to “convert” them“? Or, did he say, “If a household or a town will not receive your message, leave them (in their error) and move on“.

    When Paul was instructing the early churches on how to deal with false teachers (i.e. heretics) and those who fell under their influence, did he say, “Force them to recant, and if they will not, kill them“? Or, did he say, “Show them the truth, and if they will not recant, have nothing to do with them“?

    Is “the Golden Rule” a Christian value? Is demanding the freedom to preach *our* message, but restricting the freedom of those who oppose our message to preach *their* message, consistent or inconsistent with “the Golden Rule”?

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