Do you believe in free speech and the freedom of the press? Most people would say “yes”. I certainly would. If I change the question slightly to, “Do you believe that people have the right to say and to write anything they want?” Would you still agree?
The founders of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) were bright-eyed, somewhat naïve, college grads who envisioned the positive aspects of their services when they began. It was a way to stay in touch with people and make new friends. It was bringing people together. They did not imagine that their same service could help organize revolution (both revolutions you support and those you don’t), sway political elections through misinformation, stimulate mob mentality, incite violence, be a tool for bullying, provide a way to research a person, grow into an arm of a surveillance state, rob a person of privacy, spread the truth, spread falsehood, make everyone unsure of what is truth or if there is such a thing, and so on.
The lesson is simple. New innovations are meant for good. Human nature will find a way to use it for evil. It makes you wonder whether we should seek new innovations, but if it can be done then it will be done for evil. The atomic bomb and nuclear energy is an example. Manipulating the genome of anything is another. Almost everything is a two-edged sword. It is hard if not impossible to control.
So you must control yourself. When it comes to free speech, you can say or write it, but that doesn’t mean that you should. Controls imposed by the government or by social media giants may have to exist at times. But they cannot be the answer unless the controls themselves become a form of totalitarianism. So where is the balance point?
When we study history, we look with horror at the control of speech imposed by Communist or Nazi regimes. That kind of world nobody wants to live in. A similar kind of censorship was also present within the state/church at the time of the Reformation. We want truth to be freely and widely expressed, but we struggle to agree or know what the truth is. So acknowledging our limitations, we must allow falsehood to be communicated, and all of us must become better at discerning unsupported, fabricated lies. We must also be able to discern what is a legitimate difference of opinion or interpretation of the facts and allow ideas to be shared. This is not as easy as it sounds.
People tend to seek out supportive ideas. They don’t like to read contrary ideas. In doing so, we become self-radicalizing. Also, some things are legitimately complicated but they are still relevant topics to our lives. We can easily feel overwhelmed. It is bad feeling. So do we want those in charge to decide what we can know and what we cant’ know? If your answer is “yes”, move to North Korea; you will love it.
I would urge everyone, but especially Christians, to be very cautious about promoting ideas as truth that you have not completely tested. One command of God is to not bear false testimony. Lying to hurt someone or some cause, either intentionally or unintentionally, is not acceptable to God. This is true even if you think the end is justified. Lying is the tool of the Father of Lies. We don’t use it.
We are also instructed about our own unwholesome talk. When we speak with anger and have no love, we not only fail to reflect God, we diminish our credibility in the public square. You may think that this type of speech is your right or that it works, but it is not what God wants.
We should control ourselves. This does not mean that the proponents of ideologies hostile to God will follow the same rules of discourse.
A big fear is that the opponents of truth will eventually use censorship or carefully manipulated public opinion (read “political correctness”) to silence certain ideas. Here are the big ones of our time:
- We are not the product of evolution but created beings with meaning. There are solid, scientific reasons to challenge what is considered by many to be the established truth. True science would allow these ideas to be debated in the press and in universities. An unstable scientific orthodoxy would call for these ideas to be censured. And that is what is happening.
- The best course of action for people with sexual dysphoria is not to alter their bodies to match their feelings, but rather work with their minds. It is being promoted as repressive to suggest that the problem exists in the mind rather than the body. Evidence suggests that this is a mental problem. The LGBTQ movement wants it be otherwise, even though being T has little to do with being L, G, or B.
- Any alternate theory on why people are homosexual is not hate speech. I am strongly against violence, hatred and criminalization of homosexuals. They have a heavy burden to bear. The fact is that we don’t have scientific understanding of why this happens and probably can’t now because it is so politicized. To say that homosexuality is a neurosis, or a choice, or developmental problem in utereo, or genetic, or socialization, or a combination of the above is not hate speech. To say that it is sin isn’t either. We are all sinners. We are all born that way. The profile of my sinful nature is just different than yours. Normalizing it is not the answer. That isn’t “homophobia” either. It is fear for those who are so oriented.
- People should have their right to life protected from conception. The collision of a woman’s right to her body and the right of the unborn to live is the most emotional and consequential collision of fundamental rights that there is. Broad public discourse on this dilemma is more important to ending abortion than laws. Silencing ideas has been the methodology of victimized other groups in the past.
When does an unorthodox opinion become dangerous enough to curtail its movement through the internet or airwaves or printed media? I’m not sure. Direct calls to violence could be one test. Calling for corroborating evidence might be necessary for other ideas, like “the coronavirus is a hoax”, for example. Being wise enough to not pass along stuff that stretches credibility without proof, should be enough. Sadly, we can be very gullible.