Something’s been weighing on me since the “Muhammed drawing contest” ended tragically a couple of weeks ago. What I’ve seen in social media were either denouncements of those who would hold such an event, or those who would inflict violence against cartoon-drawing. Freedom of speech surely is sacrosanct in a Western democracy and that does mean that one cannot compel by force perfect political correctness.
Freedoms are coins with two sides, though, and on the other side is responsibility and we often forget this. We value our civil freedoms guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and the US Constitution because it is an expression of God’s creative power working in us. In the beginning was the Word, and in the beginning, God spoke. Our freedoms are meant for good. Speech and expression used to initiate and strengthen relationships within a civil society, ideally an image of the Trinity, but with far more conflict, tension and opposition. That is fine too, but freedom of expression ordered to truth and love is what is.
In a diverse society, we broadly recognize the important positive role of religion/ spirituality. Rather than using our freedoms to incite more holy wars, Christians should strive to be positive examples of love, as a counterpoint to the examples of hate that would be demonstrated by, say, ISIS. Celebrating freedoms doesn’t mean celebrating offensiveness. Christians don’t kill people for profaning the Eucharist or holding a black mass, but we use every legitimate means from our freedom to oppose it and pray that God would lead people’s hearts to avoid that activity in their freedom.
When asked about the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Pope Francis made comments that repercussions could be expected when taunting those who are offended. That isn’t so much a justification as it is highlighting that there is a responsibility not to incite. Sin distorts our ability to react rationally and all violence and irresponsibility is a shared burden of our fallen state. Unfortunately overreaction to these types of public expression could mean one day losing our freedoms if we don’t know how to cherish and nourish them.