Showing posts with label freedom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freedom. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Freedom of Speech

Before I get started let me say "I'm sorry."  I know I probably don't really have regular readers, but if I do, I know I haven't posted regularly since December!  I've had writer's block and then I went on a business trip in January and started classes.  Now my classes are over and I'm going to try to get back into blogging more.

It may seem odd to you, what with a title like "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness," that I don't often blog about political ideas.  I know, sometimes I think I ought to change the name of my blog to reflect my thoughts, but in a sense I feel that regardless of my specific topic, it always falls under those liberties.  However, today I want to talk about something I've been thinking about for a couple days now, the freedom of speech.

As with all rights, I feel that this right also ends when it infringes on someone else's rights.  Some may claim that my position on abortion doesn't make sense in light of my position on the death penalty, but in the sense that one's right to life ends when it infringes on someone else's right to life it makes perfect sense (at least to me).  The freedom of speech though is a bit tougher concept though.  In a literal sense one's speech cannot ever really infringe on someone's right to life/speech/etc., unless you count someone simply yelling so loud that no one else is able to speak at all.  In the light of the Charlie Hebdo incident, this debate about the freedom of speech including the right to offend, and this debate about liberals stifling intellectual diversity on campus; I've had to rethink what it means to infringe on one's freedom of speech.  First, is hate speech a thing?  Does it exist and what does it look like?  Second, how can one infringe on another's right to speech with speech?  Can that ever happen? And third, are there other ways to infringe on freedom of speech and expression?  Can and does that happen?

So, hate speech, what is it?  Should the government regulate/restrict it?  What about decency?  Should the government regulate that?  Wikipedia has two definitions that are quite significantly different: "[O]utside the law, speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation."  That definition is way too broad, it's basically saying, hate speech is any bigoted communication.  Is saying that you dislike someone because of X characteristic wrong?  That seems clearly covered in free speech.  If you want free speech you have to be willing to sometimes be offended.  Offensive speech is not and should not be defined and enforced by law.  It's a slippery slope to over-censorship.  The second definition is better: "In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by certain characteristics." (emphasis added)  If I say, "So-and-So (S&S) is a jerk."  I'm not using hate speech!  That, by itself is not hate speech.  If I say, "S&S is a jerk and you ought to hate S&S too, S&S did this, that, and the other (all true), so you need to get on board with hating S&S.  If you don't hate S&S you're wrong.  S&S is evil incarnate, etc. etc."  That seems pretty clear cut to me, that is hate speech.  I'm encouraging and even shaming you into hating or treating S&S in a particularly bad way.  Notice what I didn't include there.  If I say S&S is doing some sin, like homosexuality or stealing etc.  That is not hate speech.  Perhaps it borders on indecent speech, as in, I don't walk up to people every day and confront them in their sin.  In fact if you do, you're not following the Bible's guidelines on that, as Christians are supposed to confront other Christians on their sins, not non-Christians.  That's not to say that sermons and evangelists ought not talk about the doctrines around sin, it's just that evangelism in a sense doesn't really need to tell people that they're sinners.  Romans 1:18, 19 makes it clear that people, really, deep down know when they sin.  It may be offensive to some of you, but really think about what you've done in your life and I'm sure you'll see that every time you've done something that is wrong, deep down you knew it was so and felt remorse for doing it.  (This does not necessarily include psychopaths, that's an issue for another discuss/time.)

So, hate speech is when someone incites or tries to incite hatred and mistreatment of a person or group of people.  Saying someone has sinned is not hatred.  Indeed if you think about the message of the Gospel, it's one of the most loving things a person can do.  But I digress.  The next (and arguably more important) question is, "Should the government regulate/enforce hate speech laws?"  Before I get started on this, don't say, "you can't legislate morality."  That's complete crap.  All legislation, even seemingly unrelated legislative acts, are a form of legislating morality.  So, in a sense I'd be perfectly happy with legislated speech, but in another sense that scares me quite a bit.  If you listen to second debate I mentioned above, about liberals stifling intellectual freedom on campus, you'll hear arguments that on campuses all around the U.S. liberals are trampling on the freedom of speech.  That's one of my fears on this issue.  I know that rights, once given up to the government, will never be gotten back.  And, if the government is going to restrict free speech, it will most likely err on the side of liberal ideals.  There should be at least some limitation on speech, hate speech should certainly be treated as different than free speech.  I certainly don't have a problem with the right to free speech including a certain amount of offensive speech, but there should be a limit.  I don't want the government to draw that line though.  If people would have more self restraint, we wouldn't need government intervention.

Let's look at infringements on free speech.  As I often repeat, one's rights end where they infringe on another's rights, but that's much more nuanced when it comes to speech.  In a very literal sense there's not really a way to use one's speech to restrict someone else's free speech (excluding the already mentioned possibility of using a super megaphone).  However, there is a way of using one's speech to minimize or marginalize someone to the point that they are not able to speak freely.  Say for example, people call me a bigot or intolerant so much that I'm no longer respected (not that I'm really all that respected).  Those people can use their freedom to speak their mind (even in an offensive way), to the extreme point that restricts my freedom to express my opinions.  This is obviously more nebulous than murder, assault, etc., but the point is still there you can use free speech to limit someone else's freedom of speech.  However, the same comments all apply with regards to litigation.  It would be a terrible idea for the government to try to limit free speech in order to limit this type of abuse of the freedom.  It is too nuanced to be dealt with by legislation, and the right to free speech includes some amount of the right to offend.  No matter what position one takes, we must all be prepared to accept the idea that someone will probably say something that will offend us.  Offense is a regular part of freedom to express oneself.

There are other, more obvious ways people, especially those in positions of power, can limit other's freedom of speech.  As the debate mentioned above and some of the research conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education indicates, liberal administrators on college campuses all around the U.S. are doing just that.  They are using their positions of influence to restrict or limit various groups' freedom of speech.  The vast majority of academics are decidedly liberal, and in many cases they are using their positions of authority to limit conservatives' freedom of speech.  That's a scary thought.  If free speech is restricted, it will be on the side of liberals, and against conservatives.  I am a conservative, well, sort of.  Regardless, I hope the government keeps its nose out of free speech.  However, with free speech, comes a price tag ... be prepared to be offended, and that's okay.  Free speech, will mean that someone will eventually step on your toes, and that's okay.

Image source here.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Death of Free Will

Calvinism leads to the death of free will. I know that May seem like a serious claim but let's break it down.

Freedom - The ability to do as one wants.

Now, this is a simplistic definition of freedom because there are, most certainly, limitations to freedom. Take for example, I am not free to choose to breath oxygen, freely without mechanical assistance, under water. I'm limited by the laws of physics. I'm also bound by circumstances. For example right this moment I'm not free to go parasailing because I'm sitting in my living room and part of the laws of physics and my circumstances dictates that I cannot parasail at this very moment.

One last, and possibly the most important part of this idea, one cannot go against oneself. Now, before you get in a huff about this and say that I'm Calvinist after all... Listen, there are different levels to a person. For example, I want to eat ice cream right now, but I'm choosing not to do so because my will is overriding my natural desire. Anyone who's ever dieted can attest to this conundrum. I want to but I don't want to and that's okay. In the end I'm still doing what I want on a certain level.

Choice - an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

This requires an actor, and two or more options. This doesn't mean that there cannot be agreement between two actors. Take my wife and I together we chose to attend a financial class. We came together and talked about the choice and decided that we agreed we should take this class. That's a different class of choices.  We're talking about two separate actors that do not consult each other.

Take Bob. Bob decides to murder his neighbor. Did God choose for Bob to murder his neighbor? There is no evil in God, therefore God could not have gone against His nature to choose murder.

Take Jim. Jim hates the very thought of God. His heroes are Nietzsche and Hitler. Jim is faced with a choice, to murder his neighbor or not. He chooses not to do so. Did God choose this? If all choices are God's choice then He did choose that. But, everything an evil person chooses is evil, so God couldn't have made this choice either because it's an evil choice too because Jim is evil.

If God makes all choices then God is evil.

Now, if you say God made the decision to let Bob and Jim make those decisions, that is a TOTALLY different position. That is a totally different decision. God didn't decide between the two options to murder or not to murder. That is not an option that God's nature allows. God chose to let Bob and Jim make those decisions.

Within Calvinism there are several ideas that rob everyone of this idea of choice. That is, within Calvinism mankind is limited by his nature to choose; the whole TULIP acronym, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints means that mankind has absolutely no decision in salvation.  Within total depravity, is the concept that mankind has a sinful nature, and as such people cannot choose to love God.  Also, this sinful nature is part of mankind's birthright, it has nothing to do with each individual's behavior or anything like that.  To a certain extent I can see the point there, but the problem comes when one says that a sinful-natured person cannot go against that nature and choose God.

In this Calvinist view, mankind cannot be said to be punished for individual choices, only the choices of Adam/Eve.  They're the only people who have ever been able to make the choice to love God or disobey Him, ever since that one fateful decision all mankind has been doomed to hell.  Don't get me wrong, I feel the Bible more or less supports that idea (Rom. 5:12ff).  The problem is this, if no one can choose to do good ever, that means that mankind is doomed to hell not based on his own decision but based on the decisions of someone else.  That isn't freedom, that's slavery.  Now, yes, we are slaves to sin and after forgiveness we're slaves to righteousness so, we're always enslaved, but here's the kicker, how can we be punished for our nature?  That'd be like me being punished because I'm red-haired.  So, according to this view, I'm a slave because I was born a slave and I'll be punished to everlasting torment because I didn't win the lottery?

Here's the second issue, Unconditional Election especially when coupled with Irresistible Grace.  They also together remove all choice from mankind.  So, according to Calvinism, not only can I not make the decision because of my sinful nature, God specifically chooses exactly who gets saved.  Now, don't misunderstand me, I think in a certain way God chooses.  God is omniscient, which would mean that He knows who does and who doesn't want to be saved, and God is omnipotent, which means that He could work in such a way that makes whomever He wills choose salvation.  But, again, that's not freedom.  Being chosen by God as a random (that's the unconditional part, meaning it's not contingent on our actions or choices) recipient of grace and forgiveness is not freedom.  Especially with the idea of irresistible grace.  Not only can we not choose God, but if chosen we cannot resist, we cannot go against His choice in us.

So, where's this free will again?  Oh, it's dead.  It was recently engaged in so strong an argument that I would rather be an atheist than a Calvinist.  If this God that Calvinists believe in is really that terrible I don't want anything to do with it.  Maybe it's supposedly more biblical as some seem to believe, but it's certainly not rational.

I found yet another site about Calvinism and the first point it tries to make is that "man is one hundred percent responsible for his behavior."  I found this interesting site also which makes it clear that the Bible teaches that mankind can make free choices.  "Luke reports that, “by refusing to be baptized by [John], the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (Luke 7:30, emphasis added). How could Scripture be more explicit than that? So too, in Isaiah the Lord says, “Oh, rebellious children…who carry out a plan, but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin” (Is. 30:1). Again, how could Scripture get any clearer than that?"  So, which is it?  Did the Pharisees actually reject God?  Not according to Calvinism, they were born rejecting God as part of their sin nature, not as any actual choice of their own.  So, how is man responsible for his own choices if his choices are

I realize that philosophically speaking having at least two options presented to an individual is all that's required for choice.  However, I would posit that there's more to it than that simple concept.  I believe that for a choice to be real the different options have to be viable options.  Like in the examples in Calvinism the sinful human cannot choose God/good because of a born-in predilection to sin.  That is not a real choice.

If Calvinism is right then John the Baptist was wrong in saying: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

In summary, I still believe in God.  I will always believe in God.  Also, I believe Christianity (really the Bible) has the best description of God available for mankind.  I will never and can never accept that Calvinism has the answers to the nature of Christianity/salvation.  I know I may be missing something, but as it stands, I don't think I will ever be dissuaded from holding that view.