The fear of words is rational because words are powerful. But censorship is generally the response of irrational fear by powerful people.
The powerful person who is fearful is the person most to be feared. Out of fear they attack any perceived threat, as they use their power to protect themselves. They fear others and do not understand how powerful they are, or how other people perceive their power or how they are misusing their power in self-interest. Sadly, even Christians have misused power for self-protection.
Censorship is one of the tools of powerful people or groups. History is replete with tyranny-censoring criticism, for censorship is the tool of fear: fear of ideas; fear of truth; fear of words.
There is some protection that is right and needed. False witness and perjury cannot be tolerated or justice will be undermined. Slander and libel should come at a cost, for they cost the victim. Publishing somebody’s private information is a form of theft. Individuals, businesses, Governments, groups and families need some privacy to speak amongst themselves without fear of their words and ideas being reported to others. It was Hezekiah’s folly to show his wealth to the Babylonians (2 Kings 20:12ff).
The protection issues of vilification and offensive language are particularly difficult – especially in humorous or satirical contexts. It is hard to define either vilification or offensiveness. What some would see as legitimate criticism or appropriate choice of words, others will see as prejudicial, rude and offensive. For the health of society it is important that people do not feel ostracised by the speech of others. Only when people are free to speak can you know that they have genuinely accepted you in the society. Indeed without freedom of speech it’s possible to be brain washed (e.g. the North Korean defector Yenomi Park). Social cohesion is not as important as concern for the truth.
Being offended is a price we sometimes have to pay for freedom of speech. As a Christian, I am deeply offended by our society’s blasphemous use of my Lord and Saviour’s name, but I wouldn’t want blasphemy laws reintroduced. The better response to censoring offensive speech is to be careful not to similarly offend others about things they hold dear.
As a citizen I am also offended by the bias of our public media as it so frequently attacks and distorts Christianity, without the same disrespect for other religions or secularism (e.g. the frequent gratuitous ridicule of Jesus on “QI”, which is not similarly aimed at Mohammed). Yet, I would not want the media to attack others in order to show even handedness, nor would I want criticism of Christianity to be banned lest I find myself brainwashed by being denied critical information and critique. As we come to Easter, we can expect the usual media beat up about supposed errors concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some new archaeological discovery or ‘expert’ opinion, will appear prominently on page one, only to be discredited in a couple of months time in a one inch column on page forty-two.
The public media is often the defender of free speech while being the great censor of opinions. The use of the media to hold the government to account has only led to new forms of ‘political speech’ that tells us nothing other than something is being hidden. Politicians use journalists as journalists use politicians – and the public is entertained while being told what to buy by advertisers. Political journalists have become bullies and blackmailers as they force people to answer their questions while giving them no time or opportunity to put their point of view.
The internet is to commercial media what commercial media is to the Government. When only the Government can speak, the populace does not know what to believe. When only public media can speak, the populace only knows what the journalistic cabal thinks. The internet enables us to hear what anybody who cares to speak thinks. But the degeneracy of human speech (e.g. pornography, gambling) tempts us to the very dangerous action of censoring the internet.
Amongst the strangest censorious power groups today are the minorities and victims. The homosexual lobby has repeatedly bullied people into silence, its latest victim being the IT giant Mozilla whose new CEO Brendan Eich, a co-founder of the company, was forced to resign for opposing gay marriage. Another minority movement which bullies organisations into censorship, is the Islamic community living in Western nations. So Brandeis University has withdrawn its offer to confer an honorary doctorate on Aayin Hirsa Ali. She is an ex-Muslim atheist whose personal life is highly controversial but whose public life has involved campaigns against genital mutilation, honour killings and forced marriages. It was because of her published opinions against Islam and Mohammed that the university withdrew the offer of the degree. Those who live in Islamic lands do not have the freedoms that Muslims enjoy in Western nations, yet they use our freedoms to bully us into silence.
Australia is still struggling with censorship. The idealism of the 1960’s has proven untenable, with the rise of the pornography industry and, in particular, child pornography. But the real problem of censorship is the silencing of intellectual debate about issues of abortion, homosexuality, child raising, multiculturalism and Islamic violence.
If you do not defy bullies you will be enslaved to them. Undoubtedly, at times, Christians in power have been at fault, but since the Reformation, Christians have slowly learnt the importance of truth setting us free rather than offence needing to be restricted. We now need to learn not to be cowered into silence by bullies.
The Christian pulpit is one of the few uncensored voices left in our land. We must use it to declare God’s powerful word, for without it, we will be in a drought too dreadful to contemplate (Deuteronomy 8:3, Amos 8:11).