Je suis Charlie je ne suis pas Charlie

Actually they’re both wrong from a Christian perspective; both are appealing to absolutes. One is freedom of speech. The other a demand for religious tolerance to be expressed by limitations on that freedom. Christianity’s absolute is God, and to set anything else up as an absolute is an act of idolatry.

So does that mean that Christians should be supporting Muslim calls for restrictions on free speech? That would, I think, be unwise. Despite a strong biblical rejection of ‘mocking’, in Proverbs

[The Lord] mocks proud mockers but shows favour to the humble and oppressed. (3:34)

we should follow its advice

Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. (9:7)

recognising that

If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. (9:12)

It is worth recognising the underlying philosophy that is being propagandised for by such mocking. Existential nihilism, believing that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, is at the heart of their approach; as so elegantly demonstrated in Monty Python’s ‘Meaning of Life’ which concludes the meaning of life is ‘Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.’

A further reason for supporting free speech is to recognise the desire to silence Christians is always at work in certain sections of society. This has become very clear in the attacks on homophobia in recent years, but if we are doing our job right, we should expect persecution. (Note that this is not the same as claiming that persecution is proof that we are doing our job right…) Of course historically the church had a propensity to limit freedom of religion, and therefore speech, to protect people from being deceived; there is an irony therefore that the British Universities are now taking over that role to ‘protect vulnerable students’ from ‘cultic churches’ in this case from Swansea.

Another justification for free speech lies in the gospel verse ‘the truth will set you free’. Sadly this is taken out of context; the full quote says: ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’. (Jn 8:31,32)

Let’s not go too pessimistic here: exposing lies with the truth is always a worthwhile project. Unfortunately too often getting a proper understanding of ‘the truth’ is hard work, and spin is always around us. However drinking deeply of Charlie Hebdo is ultimately a counsel of despair; we need to hold to Jesus’ teachings, becoming his disciples and then we will be set free, to live with Him for ever.

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