Of Free Speech and the character of Christian witness (Commentary on the post immediately above)
I have always thought it a mistake to stand on the idea of free speech. Is it a neutral religious principle? It is not. Free speech enshrines the pluralistic voices of many gods.
Yet even that is in some ways a facade, a veneer over a much deeper reality. For, the gods must conform to an order above any of them, if there is not to be outright war between their subjects. "Let us exchange ideas instead of bullets; and cast votes rather than spears" is therefore the overarching framework of democratic liberalism, within which the gods must all operate.
This framework operates with many prior basic assumptions. For instance, the nature of knowledge and who has the right to it: who says that knowledge (the right to declare and explain things, to construct reality) is a public artifact, to be considered by all? Our ideas of knowledge have been transformed by the philosophical rationalism of science and the political thrust of egalitarianism; in the days when knowledge was delivered by priest-kings, knowledge was administered and kept as a means of power and control, a means of constructing and directing the group identity and mission. The point is that these things with whcih we are so familiar - bedrocks of our thinking and actions - are not static, eternal and simply "the way things are"; they are constructed and contestable.
Less abstractly, there is the question of who is eligible to exchange ideas and cast votes. This is what knowledge looks like when it is exercised in public: I say this, you say that. So let us vote in the sacrament of the Pantheon. I know life this way, you know it that way. So let us vote.
The right to vote only happens when knowledge is democratised and made, as a matter of principle, accessible and constructable by all. Thus, far from being a right and power vested solely in the priest-king, it is the right and power of all: and therefore, who has the right to express his view is either a god, or the representative of one. Liberal democracies are politico-religious-philosophical teachers. They embed a world-view.
"Free speech" is therefore never atheistic, or even agnostic. It is the conversation of the Pantheon, shaped and presided over by the chief god, demos. And demos creates the framework for discussion: which involves questions of eligibility, questions of who may represent (or be) a participating god.
And thus Chris Trotter is simply being honest. Some gods may - or must, for the sake of the rest - be excluded. Some forms of knowledge threaten the whole system. The ones that are the most threatening are those which question the eligibility of participants. The larger the number of those whose eligibility is questioned, the greater the threat posed by the question. That is why, politically, we hate religious fundamentalistists. They threaten the voices of other gods.
And so we get to the European Parliament. YHWH is to be excluded from the Pantheon of debate, because sexual choice has become the other sacrament (apart from the self-determining vote), the ultimate symbol, of democratized, individualistic knowledge. It is the expression of individuals freed from the priest-king, freed to represent other gods, freed to proclaim their status through their sexual behaviour. Deny that - call homosexuality a sin - and you have set yourself against autonomous knowledge itself.
As for how I, as a Christian, should respond to this: well, that's hard. My reading of scripture and reflections on Christ's life suggests to me that it the church must embody, or incarnate, a redemptive kind of knowledge. We must set forth the truth, the trustworthiness, of God. We do this as a form-of-life (I cannot stress that enough): and so we must oursleves repent of the idea that knoweldge is an intellectual thing, that the mind and body are opposed. We must stop thinking, for instance, of doctrine as a matter of propositions for assent, of faith as a commitment to a system of thought. Faith is knowledge; knowledge is action. Only when I act do I truly know. Anything else is just a movement of chemicals in the brain.
We (not I, we
) must challenge demos in ways that mimic Christ's willingness to die for the sake of resurrection: for the sake of restoration. Only as the Christ-embodying (the Christ-incarnating) community in whom the Spirit dwells will we offer a real challenge to the status quo. In one sense, who cares what parliament does; the fight is not at that level. How do I respond to homosexuality, or to Islam? Maybe not with law, but with the evangelism of an embodied redemption. With the light that will be attractive and compelling to all who seek restoration.
Clearly, there is so much to be said about so much of this. A whole-of-life redemption does not exclude law, nor does it exclude philosophy, nor does it exclude propositions. Of course not. But these are aspects, components, pieces, of the full picture, and it is a picture that, at its heart, is personal: not in the sense of yours and not mine
, but in the sense of manifesting human life, of having a corporate (and corporeal) body in which the true meaning of these things is seen and confronted.
is true knowledge. Neither that of the priest-king, nor of the autonomous god-self, but that of redemptive confrontation with YHWH.