It is not particularly surprising but it is disappointing.
Furthermore, it is dangerous. It is in some respects the typical
kneejerk reaction to current events (by which I mean events over the
last few months, even years, rather than merely weeks), and the typical
danger that you can never be entirely sure in which direction the knee
will jerk and the foot will strike. It is the continued assault on freedom in the name of freedom.
In the last week or so school inspectors in the UK gave an unseemly grilling to primary school pupils at Grindon Hall Christian School,
where the impression was clearly given (even if not intended) of a real
hostility - in the name of promoting "British values" - to the school's
distinctive Christian ethos.
Quite apart from the
inappropriateness and intrusiveness of some of the questions asked by
almost-complete strangers to young children (questions which, in any
other context, might have been taken in an altogether distasteful way),
it rather opened a window into the attitudes of some of those who are
appointed guardians of freedom.
But time marches on, and new challenges are already arising. The government is now rapidly pushing forward legislation
that will preserve our "British values" and combat anti-extremism.
Among the consequences of this legislation would be the opportunity -
even the requirement - for university authorities to vet the addresses
and materials of visiting speakers. That is the context in which I first
saw the warning given, but the consultation document is pushing it
across the public sector at the very least, with a variety of services
and spheres impacted. Effectively, a proactive and preventative demand
for censorship would be imposed in a variety of key public settings and
I am sure that the opportunities for those who
believe that "British values" demand, or provide the opportunity to
pursue, a sort of amorphous atheistic amorality will not be slow to use
the weapon put in their hands. As so often, the latest two-edged
Excalibur, offered as the key to defending freedom, may become the very
means by which freedoms are curtailed.
Naturally, the government
provides all manner of assurances about how such things are enforced.
With regard to school inspections, for example, Department for Education
guidance makes very clear that in advancing our ill-defined "British
values" schools are not required to promote "other beliefs" or
"alternative lifestyles." However, this seems to be precisely the point
at which pressure was applied to the school in question not only
corporately but individually and inappropriately with regard to
particular students. We can expect that the same will happen with these
new powers, should they come into law.
So, while our politicians
line up with their pens and pencils aloft to trumpet their allegiance to
free speech, they are simultaneously - and in the name of freedom -
preparing to crack down on freedom of speech. It is, it seems, OK to be
Charlie Hebdo (not personally, one understands, that would be a little
dangerous, but it's fine for other people to be Charlie Hebdo), and be
able to poke fun at the fundies of all stripes. That must be defended.
But I suggest that it must be made clear that such swipes and skewerings
are not the only expressions of freedom of speech.
speaking, and despite media attempts to push us into the first of the
following categories, true Christians are neither violent extremists
(dogmatic conviction need not translate into militant physical
aggression) nor extravagant satirists (willing and able to undermine and
offend for the mere sake of it, and call it wit and art - never having
read Charlie Hebdo, I cannot comment on whether or not or to what extent
they fall into this category). The Christian's only real offense should
be the offense of the cross, though the rugged edges and sharp points
of that cross have a habit of puncturing pride and pomposity wherever it
is found, and pride is of the essence of fallen man's sense of himself.
The weapons of our spiritual warfare are not carnal but mighty in God
for pulling down strongholds. The armoury of God's kingdom bears little
relation to those of the kingdoms of the world. However, those without
spiritual discernment are quite prepared to lump true Christians in with
the violent extremists and deny them any of the privileges of the
extravagant satirists. Indeed, the very nature of our message indicates
that the gospel will be among the first and most aggressively pursued
targets of those who - in the name of freedom - wish to silence dissent.
a fool would deny the difficulty of ensuring genuine freedom of speech
and expression while at the same time preserving a measure of social
order and cultural decency. But the response to terrorism, even Islam's
militarised religious supremacism, should not be to diminish all
freedoms. That will not halt the terrorists, not least those driven by
religionised hatred. In some respects, it will simply simplify their
But watch this space, for this is the brave new world. As
mentioned in a previous post, to the humanist unbeliever who denies that
he or she exists in their own tightly woven cocoon of a certain kind of
'faith', the Christian is just one of a range of dangerously nutty
voices in the gallery of the fruitcakes. Indeed, the offense of the
cross means that our gospel words will prove the pre-eminent spiritual
red rag to the bulls of mere human reason and religion. But, if we are
true to our convictions, we know that we echo the one voice of true
reason, the single declaration of spiritual sanity, the alone hope of
salvation, in an otherwise unstable and disordered world, wrecked by sin
and riddled with its consequences. Unbelieving humanism is one among
the range of rotten systematised alternatives to the truth as it is in
Jesus. To whom else should we go? Christ has the words of eternal life.
should expect that our freedom to make known the hope of the world will
be deliberately (whether incrementally or more abruptly) assaulted and
where possible eroded and removed by the very world that needs to hear
it. The patients will assault the envoys of the only doctor with a cure
for their condition. We must therefore ensure that our declarations and
their accompanying actions are entirely consistent, that we bring with
us everywhere the savour of Christ. As citizens of earthly kingdoms, we
are entitled graciously yet firmly to assert our rights as citizens. But
as citizens of heaven, we do not expect to find the warmest of welcomes
in a hostile world. So let us brace ourselves against the storm, hold
fast to the Christ who holds fast to us, speak the truth in love, call
sinners to repent and believe, love our enemies, serve our Redeemer, and
press on toward glory.