Why Christians Must Resist Hate Speech and Anti-Blasphemy Laws

hate-speech

Jesus Christ.

To Christians, these are among the most precious words in the world, the name of our beloved Lord and Saviour that stands for God’s definitive revelation of love to all humanity.

To many others in the post-Christendom West, however, the words are mere expletives used to express dismay or fright, or even just frustration or annoyance.

Christians follow their religious ancestors, the Jews, in forbidding the use of the name of God in such an empty, “vain” way. Misusing the name of God is, indeed, the third of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:7).

As strongly as Christians feel about such misuse, however, few of us want modern states to criminalize blasphemy. It pains us to hear people use the name of Jesus as they do, but we put up with it as a cost of living in societies that also grant us the freedom to use it properly, in private and in public.

Not so ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and many other fiercely conservative Muslims around the world. They want to make misusing the name of God, and any untoward mention of Muhammad, a criminal offence. All over the world, in fact, such Muslims press their governments to enact blasphemy laws.

Curiously, the other people most active in silencing speech they dislike are radical secularists on the political left. They, too, want to correct, silence, or punish any speech that offends against their own sacred principles and practices.

They call it “hate speech,” rather than “blasphemy,” but what they want to outlaw is not just speech that literally incites an audience to violence against a particular despised group. No, they advance an agenda of complete intolerance toward any individual or movement that expresses ideas contrary to theirs.

So if they can’t get antagonistic speakers invited to university campuses to be un-invited, they shout them down, or worse, rather than engage them in intelligent debate.

If they can’t get the authorities to forbid demonstrations, presentations, and rallies on behalf of what they believe to be incorrect ideas, they disrupt or demolish them.

In extreme cases, speakers from other countries are turned away at the border as politicians of a certain stripe use their muscle to quarantine viewpoints critical to their own.

And in the worst cases, they assassinate people and blow up media that publish ideas that offend them.

It is a strange time in which we live, therefore, when the two groups most vigorously pressing for “blasphemy laws” are radical Muslims and radical secularists, two groups not generally known for their affinity.

On this matter, however, they are identical. Neither group will stand for anyone articulating a contrary view, and both have evidenced a shocking willingness to engage in holy war, using every means available to them, to prosecute and persecute their enemies. They want to revive the ugly practice of inquisition, and they must be resisted.

Christians, therefore, must stand with moderate Muslims, Jews, secularists, and all others of a truly liberal (that is, “freedom-loving”) sort against such ideological imperialism. That, too, is an unexpected alignment and alliance, but it is increasingly necessary in a world full of the self-righteous who will brook no version of the true, the good, and the beautiful but their own.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 700 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book is scheduled for release later this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).