Freedom of speech has been and continues to be a major topic of debate in these days. The ability of terrorists to hide behind this freedom and the efforts of government agencies around the world to close perceived loopholes, has only served to expose the complexities of the argument.
It does, however, impinge significantly on how Christians are able to exercise what has traditionally been regarded as a democratic right in Western democracies. Hence its being the topic of this first post on a newly-established blog. In particular a blog that hopes to offer a Christian perspective on a whole range of issues.
Although free speech is usually touted as an inalienable right, there is more to it. Rights in themselves can be used as blunt instruments to justify behaviour that is not always appropriate. In that sense a proper understanding of human rights in general and civil rights in particular must include another vital component: namely, responsibilities.
One man’s ‘right’ to exercise the ‘freedoms’ it enshrines will often come at the expense of another man’s freedom and the protections it affords. So it is only as we are aware of and have respect for the needs of others that we will give more thought to the privileges we ourselves enjoy and seek to preserve.
The problem with a purely rights-based mentality that it makes the individual the centre of the universe and, when that happens, it is the wider community that inevitably will suffer – from the family, to local community, through to a national level and ultimately the family of nations.
The Bible provides a very different perspective, but one that provides an even greater protection for the individual. It says, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12.31). In other words, we will not merely want, but actively seek the good of our fellow human beings as we would wish them to do for us.
So, when it comes to how we use our freedom to speak, we will do so with due thought for those to whom and about whom we speak. St. Paul urges Christians in Colosse, ‘Let your speech always be gracious’ (Colossians 4.6). That is, even when they are saying things that others may not want to hear – in his case, to present the message of the Christian gospel – they should do so in a way that is not abrasive or derogatory, or cause unnecessary offence.
This does not in any sense stand in the way of robust debate, or make people shy away from challenging issues that need to be addressed; but it will allow those exchanges to take place with due respect for those with whom we interact.