Jimmy’s Table PodcastCuriously evangelical. Politically homeless. A dreamer of small things. On this podcast, I am having conversations about the intersection of faith, life, and culture.

Responsible Blasphemy (Thoughts On Free Speech) ~ Episode #97

Gina Carano

“The Mandalorian” star Gina Carano was recently fired from her acting job on Disney+ over controversial comments she made on social media.

Her firing is one of an increasing number of high profile figures who’ve lost their jobs and platforms as the result of them saying things that inflamed the public.

Incidents like this have brought up robust debates around the freedom of speech, cancel culture, social media, and the role of government in regulating speech. In today’s podcast, I simply want to offer my thoughts about these issues.

The Freedom Of Speech Is A Human Right

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

~ George Orwell

To be clear up front, I absolutely and dogmatically believe in the freedom of speech as a fundamental human right, and its importance in a civilized society.

People must have the ability to communicate, to come together to exchange ideas, and challenge one another. While exchanging ideas can often be contentious process and lead to warring factions, it’s impossible to achieve peace without the ability to freely dialogue with one another.

We must be able to work out our differences, and we cannot do that if we aren’t free to speak our minds.

Free Speech Is Always Dangerous

With that said, speech can be dangerous. And this must be recognized as such. Fundamentally, the freedom of speech is about the ability to speak blasphemies. It is the recognition that what is blasphemy to one person is a divine revelation to another. And without it, it’s impossible to make progress as a society. People must have the right to challenge the orthodoxies of the past with heresy in the present.

But, speech doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As the book of Proverbs reminds us, “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21) Words have consequences. Shout fire in a crowded theater and things are gonna happen. Lie and slander a person or corporation in such a way as to harm them and their reputation, and you’ll find yourself in court being sued for libel.

Likewise, saying things that offends the sensibilities of others might cause people to get de-platformed, canceled, or even fired from their jobs.

And, that may or may not be okay, depending on the situation. If you say something in a public venue that makes your employer look bad, causes them to lose money, or creates hostilities in the workplace, it’s probably best for all involved that you consider other opportunities elsewhere.

“The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right to not agree, not to listen, and not to finance one’s own antagonists.”

~Ayn Rand

You might be free to speak, but that means such speech contains risks. It means other people might not like what you have to say, and may treat you with hostility as a result. You might be free to speak, but you don’t have a fundamental right to use social media, or have a job at Disney+.

With that said, however, I worry that these knee jerk reactions we have in which people form Twitter mobs get together and cause people to lose their jobs is something that shows people aren’t as open minded about living in a world with diverse opinions. It shows, at heart, they aren’t okay with people speaking blasphemy.

Stifling Free Speech

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”

~Henry Louis Gates, Jr

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

~President Harry S. Truman

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

~Benjamin Franklin

I worry about about us creating a society in which we focus on shutting people down instead of working out our differences. Instead of mutually exchanging ideas until the best idea wins, we’ve increasingly become a society that shoves ideas down others throats by force. “Winning” and coming out on top becomes more important than working through points of disagreement. As a result, we’ve become more interested in tribes over truth instead of truth over tribes.

No wonder people are looking for government intervention. They need a sword to baptize others with their thoughts. For the conversations stopped a long time ago, and the free exchange of ideas is less important than using powerful forces to coerce agreement.

The times are becoming increasingly polarized in America. And because they are becoming more and more polarized, as a Christian I believe it’s time we act with wisdom.

Make Your Words Count For Something

Jesus taught that we should be “Wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) We must pick our battles, and pick them carefully. Not every hot button culture war issue is something we need to speak on. Just because it’s a headline doesn’t mean we should chase it with our lips in the marketplace of ideas.

Jesus warned us, “For every careless word people speak, they will give an account for it on the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36) So, if we are going to have to given an accounting for every idle word we speak in this life, let’s make sure we make our words count for something! Choose your words carefully, for not only will you have to answer for them in this life, but you will have to reckon for them in the next.

The apostle Peter said “Make sure none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or troublesome meddler, but if anyone suffers, it should be as a Christian…” (1 Peter 4:15-16) I don’t know about you, but if I lose my job for something I say, I don’t want it to be because I was running my yap on social media, and made a mob angry just because I had a point to prove politically or in the culture wars. That would be dumb. If I’m going to suffer job loss like Gina Carano, let it be because I was sharing something about the goodness of God.

Speaking Responsibly

And as someone who has caught a lot of flack over the years for things I’ve said, and upset a lot of people at home, among friends and family, at work, at church, and social media.. let me simply say, be very careful what you say. You might have the right to the freedom of speech. But you also have the right to bite your tongue.

The older I get, the less I see the need to play the role of an angry John the Baptist type figure. What I need to focus on is speaking kindly and gently to others. And that’s not to throw shade on John the Baptist. But I’ve not been called to be John, and neither have you. We’ve been called to be like Jesus Christ in all things.

So, if you must speak blasphemies in public, and exercise your freedom of speech, and must say something the moment demands something big be said, let me simply encourage you to do this:

Blaspheme responsibly.

Let me close out today’s podcast by reading from James chapter 3 in the Bible. It’s an entire passage about controlling one’s tongue.

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