Rather recently, I noticed an article discussing neuroscientist and pop-philosopher Sam Harris on the Burkean Conservative. I also noticed reference to the debate between Dr. Jordan Peterson and Susan Blackmore over the question "Do we need God for life to make sense?" It reminded me of the older videos of the New Atheist movement: when members such as Dr. Richard Dawkins, Dr. Daniel Dennett, Mr. Christopher Hitchens, and Dr. Sam Harris dominated the intellectual landscape. Their videos populated YouTube in a way that cannot be said about much else in the area of academia and debate. One merely has to see various pages that continue to post these videos, and new videos, in order to see the dominance of New Atheism, even if such dominance is waning.
The New Atheists, however, were not ready for Jordan Peterson. The professor from Toronto University, YouTube star, and renowned Jungian psychoanalyst, is a deep thinker to say the least. From his position on free speech to his position on the relation between biology and gender, he often has a well thought out (albeit very long-winded form of reasoning) for every position he is asked about. He is a man who admits he believes in God, although he rather insistently resents the question, "Do you believe in God?", seeing it as a way to label him and being woefully unable to deal with the depth and breadth of the religious impulse. Somewhat ironically; he has this whole argument built upon, for the most part, the works of the atheist thinker Friedrich Nietzsche.
To discuss the state of the New Atheist movement, in relation to the rise of Jordan Peterson, I will break down my analysis into three parts: The intellectual state of pre-Peterson New Atheism, the critique of Jordan Peterson, and my response to the Peterson's critique.
1. New Atheism, Pre-Peterson
New Atheism came to rise in the minds of the world from 2006 with a slew of books published by the likes of Dr. Richard Dawkins, Dr. Sam Harris, Mr. Christopher Hitchens, and Dr. Daniel Dennett, later joined by the philosophers Peter Singer and A.C. Grayling, as well as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Steven Pinker, and others. They came out against religion, arguing for it to be criticized along the lines of rational argument, scientific inaccuracy, and as a proponent of immoral doctrines. Following the release of their books, the New Atheists went about the country, debating theist thinkers in forums, on campuses, and on some news networks. Often scorned by their fellow atheists as well as by their opponents, New Atheism brought to the forefront the doctrine of rational humanism, Enlightenment values, and a pro-science agenda. Along with these came a support for Free Speech that the current cultural war was sparked by, as the New Atheists divided the left wing between classical liberals and (what I call them) New Age liberals. In an age where post-structuralist ideas had taken root as the status quo, with perspectivism as it's epistemological crux, the New Atheists fought back against such a laid back, accepting doctrine.
All of this was done with the use of Reason. Such reliance on Reason by the New Atheists was tied to a love of science, in which they argued that science can be used, among other things, for deconstructing religion, progressing mankind, and being the basis of morality. This form of argument can be traced back to the essay Why I am Not a Christian, written in 1927 by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, which often leads one to question how New Atheism differs from Old Atheism. The difference, I would argue, between New and Old Atheism is based on the idea of faith.
The old atheists may have argued against religious faith, but not faith in, say, evidence or science. The New Atheists, however, reject faith fully. They argue that science reveals the objective Truth, and thus we must realize that science and morality are inexplicably intertwined. Specifically, evolution is exalted as the basis of understanding the human condition. Altruism, compassion, charity, and even a desire for peace are extrapolated from data about the evolution of man. The New Atheists accept the idea of a natural determinism while arguing that a person can reject religious dogma based on their own Reason. Sam Harris ambitiously set out what he believed was a good argument for ethics being derived from science, in his book The Moral Landscape.
The New Atheists are practically Promethean, something I quite admire about them. In the grey mire of our post-structuralist society, the idea of men and women possessed by the idea of Truth, of Freedom (in whatever imperfect form) and of Human Progress is invigorating. It strikes at the heart of the desire to believe in the future.
2. The Peterson Critique
Enter Jordan Peterson. Professor, lecturer, Jungian. He talks about God and Nietzsche in the same sentence, before discussing the nature of young men (using archetypes of course). As soon as he uttered the words "metaphysical presuppositions," I knew he was serious. He points out that the New Atheists have a faith which they deny as a faith, specifically in science. As is argued in Nietzsche's work The Gay Science and Will to Power, Peterson points out that science presupposes a "metaphysical faith." That is, science must assume both that there is a truth and that Truth is worth finding at all costs. To expound on this more, let me quote Nietzsche from The Gay Science, in his essay To What Extent even We are still Pious. (Prepare yourself, dear reader, for a very lengthy quote):
It is said with good reason that convictions have no civic rights in the domain of science: it is only when a conviction voluntarily condescends to the modesty of an hypothesis, a preliminary standpoint for experiment, or a regulative fiction, that its access to the realm of knowledge, and a certain value therein, can be conceded, always, however, with the restriction that it must remain under police super vision, under the police of our distrust. Regarded more accurately, however, does not this imply that only when a conviction ceases to be a conviction can it obtain admission into science? Does not the discipline of the scientific spirit just commence when one no longer harbours any conviction? It is probably so: only, it remains to be asked whether, in order that this discipline may commence, it is not necessary that there should already be a conviction, and in fact one so imperative and absolute, that it makes a sacrifice of all other convictions. One sees that science also rests on a faith: there is no science at all "without premises". The question whether truth is necessary, must not merely be affirmed beforehand, but must be affirmed to such an extent that the principle, belief, or conviction finds expression, that "there is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value". This absolute will to truth: what is it? Is it the will not to allow ourselves to be deceived? Is it the will not to deceive? For the will to truth could also be interpreted in this fashion, provided one included under the generalization "I will not deceive" the special case "I will not deceive myself"....Thus the belief in science, which now undeniably exists, cannot have had its origin in such a utilitarian calculation, but rather in spite of the fact of the un-usefulness and dangerousness of the "Will to truth", of "truth at all costs" being continually demonstrated. "At all costs": alas, we understand that sufficiently well, after having sacrificed and slaughtered one belief after another at this altar! Consequently, "Will to truth" does not imply "I will not allow I myself to be deceived" but there is no other alternative - "I will not deceive, not even myself"; and thus we have reached the realm of morality. For let one just ask oneself fairly: "Why will you not want to deceive"? Especially if it should seem - and it does seem - as if life were laid out with a view to appearance, I mean, with a view to error, deceit, dissimulation, delusion, self-delusion; and when on the other hand it is a matter of fact that the great sweep of life has always shown itself to be on the side of the most unscrupulous polytropoi. Such an intention might perhaps, to express it mildly, be a piece of Quixotism, a enthusiastic craziness; it might also, however, be something more serious, namely, a destructive principle, hostile to life - "Will to Truth" that might be a concealed Will to Death. Thus the question "Why is there science” leads back to the moral problem: What in general is the purpose of morality, if life, nature, and history are "non-moral"? There is no doubt that the conscientious man in the daring and extreme sense in which he is presupposed by the belief in science, affirms thereby a world other than that of life, nature, and history; and in so far as he affirms this "other world" - what? Must he not just thereby deny its counterpart, this world, our world? But you will have gathered what I am driving at, namely, that it is always a metaphysical faith on which our faith in science rests - that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysians still take our fire from the flame lit by a faith a millennium old, the Christian faith, which was also the faith of Plato, that God is truth, that the truth is divine..." (The Gay Science, pg. 201)
Famously, the last lines of that quote are repeated by Jordan Peterson in reference to the Sam Harris and the New Atheists.
He points out that, whatever their beliefs, their tendency to rely on Reason, Truth, and Science are a product of Christian metaphysical presuppositions. This can become almost glaring when Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the other New Atheists are asked ethical questions. Often, without hesitation, they will reveal a desire for ethical beliefs described in the Bible, often justifying it by referencing the fact those ideas have been around before the Bible, or outside the Bible. Jordan Peterson's critique, thus, come as a shock often to the New Atheist, because he is not tying them to any particular religion as much as tying them to a faith that can be questioned: a metaphysical faith in Truth, and the fact that it is "good". While Peterson says "Christian" metaphysical presuppositions, I would argue that what he is actually getting at is "religious" metaphysical presuppositions, in which faith is placed in a method or idea that one believes will lead them to a truth that is good or, as the religious call it, "divine". It is seen as the ultimate goal.
Further, such an idea of divine Truth (I use this phrasing because that is ore properly how to define the New Atheist belief in Truth) can further be tied to the idea of an almost transcendent Reason. Reason alone, the New Atheists argue, will lead to Truth, and since the Truth is good, thus Reason is good. This is something Peterson argues against, pointing out that Reason of this kind leads often to Utopian ideals, which have in the 20th Century led to absolute bloodshed and death. He points to Fascism, Communism, and other ideologies assured that Reason was good, taking their beliefs and applying them to the extremes. He makes use of the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, specifically his book Note from the Underground. In one of his many lectures, Peterson quotes a passage from his book, which is the following:
"In short, one may say anything about the history of the world--anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can't say is that it's rational. The very word sticks in one's throat. And, indeed, this is the odd thing that is continually happening: there are continually turning up in life moral and rational persons, sages and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all their lives as morally and rationally as possible, to be, so to speak, a light to their neighbours simply in order to show them that it is possible to live morally and rationally in this world. And yet we all know that those very people sooner or later have been false to themselves, playing some queer trick, often a most unseemly one. Now I ask you: what can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with strange qualities? Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself--as though that were so necessary-- that men still are men and not the keys of a piano, which the laws of nature threaten to control so completely that soon one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar." (Notes from the Underground, pg. 39)
What we can see from both of these quotes is that Jordan Peterson is, as he also claims, is a pragmatist. He often discusses the idea of Truth as something we cannot know, pointing out that often, we claim that science is true merely because "it works", which is ultimately a pragmatic position. While not saying it explicitly, if one reads Nietzsche carefully, they can find the crux of Peterson's critique of Reason: the idea that the brain is not designed to search for rational truths, but merely pragmatic solutions. Nietzsche, in his work Will to Power, put it this way:
"It is impossible that our "knowledge" should extend further than is strictly necessary for the preservation of life. Morphology shows us how the senses and the nerves, as well as the brain, develop in proportion to the difficulty in finding nourishment." (Will to Power, pg. 272)
This is perhaps the most important point to understand about Peterson and his beliefs. His critique of the rationalist New Atheist is based on the very evolution that the New Atheists espouse. It is the very natural question of how Evolution, which seems to be driven by a naturalistic pragmatism based on what best allows man to survive, may blur whether we are even developed to consider "Truth."
3. A Response: Mediating the New Atheist and the Rise of Jordan Peterson
So what is an atheist to do? For starters, read Nietzsche. There is a reason that many of those who have come to understand Nietzsche consider him so incredibly important: he is correct in many areas, including predicting that the loss of religion would lead to the rise of ideologies in it's place, with bloody consequences. He discusses everything, including Truth, leaving nothing unexamined. This is not to say that you must agree with him, but he must be contended with.
Further, one must formulate a response to Peterson's critique, and not a dismissal. The one thing that has always struck me as odd about New Atheism is the tendency it has to dismiss, rather than address. In the case of Peterson's critique, it must be addressed. Does science have a metaphysical faith? Why or why not? Is Reason transcendent, or is confined to pragmatism? How do we move beyond the religious metaphysical presuppositions about Truth being intrinsically good? Or do we? Can we know Truth, and is that truth provided by science? Is there a such thing as Truth at all?
I would agree that the New Atheists are currently operating within a set of religious metaphysical presuppositions. I would argue that atheism can far more easily move away from Truth as Good to Truth as non-axiological. Truth has no value outside of what we impose on it. As to whether we can know Truth, I argue we can, because the idea of the human mind, which psychoanalysis functions upon, is an illusion. The human mind is, in and of itself, a metaphysical entity that even Nietzsche did not question. He presumed he knew how it worked, and thus derived his conclusion that it looks for pragmatic solutions rather than rational truths. Is Reason transcendent or is it pragmatic? I would argue it is neither; it is phenomenological. Reason is the function of Consciousness in relating phenomenological values to our perception of reality. Is science built upon a metaphysical faith? Currently, yes, but it is also the one thing is most corresponds to reality, ad further it must be separated from ethics.
So is there Truth? Phenomenologically speaking, yes -- there is.
With the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in February and the Santa Fe High shooting in May, there has been a renewed call from both the media and gun control activists to enact gun control. While some call for simple reforms like background checks or red flag laws, others have been more radical and called for the complete ban of all semi-automatic weapons. This has evoked a strong response from those opposed to gun control such as groups like the NRA and the Republican Party.
While at the surface this may seem to be a debate over how to stop mass shootings, the true issue that lies at the heart of it is the meaning of the Second Amendment of the American Constitution. From the left wing, the general point of view is that the Amendment is meant to either protect the ability to hunt or for state and local governments to maintain peace keeping forces like the National Guard and local police forces. From the right wing, the Second Amendment is almost universally seen as saving the individual right to self protection whether that be from a criminal or a tyrannical government. To discover the answer to this crucial question, it is important to not only know the philosophical origins of the right to bear arms, but also what the Founding Fathers intended with the Second Amendment.
Before we dive into this however, it is important to have a basic background in the history of English culture. When William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, the laws varied from region to region. In order to help unify the laws of England, he restructured the legal system. William did this by ordering judges to publish their rulings nationally and then he ensured those rulings would become law. These laws/rulings were then used as precedent for future cases which helped to further develop national laws. Thus the Common Law of England was born.
While introducing ideas from his native French culture, Williams allowed the English to keep the majority of their cultural customs and practices as a means of preventing societal unrest. This is important because unlike the rest of Europe which was mostly accepting of absolute monarchy, the people of England cherished individual liberty as it was strongly ingrained in their culture. As a result, the royal courts were influenced by these norms and over time, such personal liberties were codified into Common Law and collectively became known as the Rights of Englishmen.
While these rights were generally respected by the crown, at times the royalty wasn’t always so honoring of them. When this occurred it lead to several defining civil wars in English history. The first of these wars was the Magna Carta conflict in 1215 between the nobility and King John. This conflict arose when King John levied taxes against the nobility in order to fight war in France without their consent and then later trampled upon the judicial rights of due process and the right to trial by jury in order to suppress those who opposed his actions.
When the nobles waged war and eventually defeated King John, they forced him to sign the Magna Carta. This not only further cemented the rights John had violated into English law, it also established the idea of the rule of law in which all people -- even the king himself -- had to honor both the individual and judicial rights.
Even with this new principle established, it still did not prevent kings from violating the Rights of Englishmen. The next major conflict was the English Civil War which started in 1642 and ended in 1651. This war involved Charles I repeatedly attempting to usurp power from Parliament by ignoring their legislation. Things ultimately reached a breaking point when Charles attempted to dissolve Parliament without their consent and attempted to arrest five members who were highly critical of him.
The result was the division of England between those loyal to Parliament and those loyal to King. After a long and violent civil war, the forces of Parliament won and abolished the Monarchy. While the crown was eventually restored eight years later with the enthronement of Charles II, the Civil War marked the beginning of the end of the supremacy of the king and the rise of the legislative supremacy of Parliament.
The final death knell came in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution. King James II was dethroned in favor of his daughter Mary and her husband Prince William of the Netherlands. This occurred after James II silenced judges and clergy who disagreed with his views on Catholicism and on his power in relation to acts of Parliament. When William and Mary took the throne, they signed the English Bill of Rights which affirmed two critical things. It first affirmed all the established Rights of Englishmen, which would later all be found in the American version of the Bill of Rights. The other thing it established was the principle that government is derived from the consent of the governed. The Rights of Englishmen prohibited the crown from levying taxes, passing legislation, or raising an army in a time of peace without the consent of Parliament.
The centuries of conflict between the people and the crown ingrained a view within the English people that their history was defined by the struggle to defend their rights. This viewpoint was so ingrained in the people that when the colonists in America began the War of Independence, they saw it as a continuation of the struggle of their ancestors to protect their rights from violations committed by the crown.
Now that we have an understanding of the Rights of Englishmen and the blood shed to protect them, we can now begin to understand the philosophy behind the right to bear arms. The philosophy behind it is best explained by 18th Century English legal scholar William Blackstone in his renowned Commentaries on The Laws of England. In discussing rights, Blackstone argues that there are three absolute rights that form the basis for all other rights: personal security, personal liberty, and private property. He then argues that such rights are in vain without constitutional power to protect them. Thus, he argues, five auxiliary rights arise that protect the three main rights.
The first two auxiliary rights are the powers granted to parliament and the limitations on the power of the king, respectively. The third one is the right to redress of grievances and the fourth one is the right to petition the government. The fifth auxiliary right is the right of the individual to bear arms. In discussing it, Blackstone writes,
“The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute . . . and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”
In essence, Blackstone argues that the purpose of the right to own a gun is to protect not only the lives of citizens, but also the citizens' rights from any threat when normal means granted by law are not sufficient. Furthermore, in the larger context of the passage, it is clear that by threats Blackstone includes cases in which the government is violating their liberties.
With the American Founders' English inheritance combined with their knowledge of English law and history, it is more evident what they intended by the Second Amendment. The Founders desired the Second Amendment to mean the individual right to bear arms for self defense including defense from tyrannical government.
There is still one dangling thread, however, as the Second Amendment also includes the phrase “A well regulated militia.” Many gun control activist center their arguments around this phrase. But what did the Founders mean by this? In Federalist 28 and Federalist 29, Alexander Hamilton puts forth a few arguments as to what the militia is and its importance. He argues in Federalist 28 that, “If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government..” In Federalist 29, he argues that a standing army is the biggest threat to civil liberty is a standing army because their loyalty might not be to their people, but rather civil authority.
Hamilton therefore says that a well regulated militia is the best defense for civil liberty. In discussing what this militia is, he makes the point that not only is coming up with military exercises but also training all capable people are both impossible to do because of the size of the country. So instead, he believes that work must be done to ensure the people are sufficiently armed and read should the federal government need to mobilize them to fight a foreign threat. In these two essays, the main point is that the militia refers not some government sponsored peacekeeping or law enforcement group, but rather the common man. Not only did Hamilton expect people to have the right to self defense from a tyrannical government, he also expected the people to organize themselves into a fighting force against it.
To conclude, the right to bear arms originated with the English culture’s valuation of personal liberty and the centuries of civil war the Englishmen undertook to defend their rights. Furthermore, this all led to the British seeing the right as a means of defending themselves from tyranny and led to a mindset of vigilance that the colonists would later take with them and embrace during the American Revolution. Finally, the word militia to the Founders meant all physically able gun owners and not simply just local militias or peacekeeping forces. Overall, the claim that the Second Amendment means nothing less than the full protection of the individual right to bear arms is philosophically and historically bankrupt.
In a Facebook post made on June 2nd, The Burkean Conservative wrote on the outrage over a videogame that simulated a school shooting. In response to this game being available, the writers associated with this site wrote the following:
“Burke often said that in order for freedom to be preserved, it must be limited.
This is different than the libertarian version of freedom that has injected itself so much into current conservative discourse in America. Libertarians will tell you that more freedom in almost every situation is a good idea.
But Burke knew that freedom can only survive insofar as the citizenry remain virtuous. Playing a video game simulating a school shooting in which *you* get to be the shooter is, in my opinion, one of those limits. It demonstrates the point that freedom of expression cannot be absolute if we are to preserve the decency of society, justice, and —ultimately— freedom itself.
This is entirely different than gun ownership. There are valid, tasteful, and wholly justified reasons for gun ownership including hunting, marksmanship training, and home protection. But a video game is for entertainment, and this one bleeds over into a virtual reality that is unnecessary and perhaps dangerous.
Conservatives love freedom. But we understand that it is a fragile and beautiful thing, and that too great a license for vice will destroy the whole enterprise. Say ‘no’ when necessary to protect our civilization.”
In The Burkean Conservative's perspective, virtue and freedom are intertwined in a way that, for a Sartrean like myself, is a bit worrying. While I will not dispute the accuracy of the observation made about mainstream libertarians believing that more freedom is the same as more virtue (which absolutely is the case), I will dispute that the rules of play are not changed, merely amended. The argument is that freedom is related to virtue still, but in an inverse way: the better (not the more) it is limited, the closer it comes to virtue. The last line eloquently encapsulates this sentiment well, but I would like to challenge it with three points: the argument that freedom is not a social construct, the argument that freedom has no connection to virtue on its own, and the argument that freedom of expression is absolute.
As for my first point, I do not find freedom to be a social construct. What do I mean by this? Well, if freedom is a social construct, then it would make sense to argue that freedom is “fragile” and thus requires some form of protection upon on that basis. More concisely, freedom is not reliant on the existence of society or social norms in order to exist. It is, to put it vulgarly, an ontological fact. We are free, and condemned to be so, whether we like it or not. The irony of this is not lost upon me, but I must be serious on this note: freedom, even when physically suppressed, exists. In his article Lettres francaises, Sartre wrote,
“Never were we freer than under the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces. ... They deported us en masse. ... And because of all this we were free.”
What this statement means, although at first seemingly contradictory, is that freedom exists even when we are limited. Every action is a commitment, and all freedom is not dependent on the outcomes (as libertarians and conservatives argue) but on the very ability to choose. Even strapped in a chair, with your eyes held open, you have a choice. You can scream, or you can be quiet.
This is important because we must realize that any attempt to give “trade offs” for freedom, whether a trade off for security or a trade off for virtue, is impossible. I cannot trade my freedom for anything. In our society, I find we are often told we are giving up or have given up our freedom. That we cannot, say, go to a store and steal some candy bars. However, in fact, you can. That limit is not set by anything but yourself. You can assume the consequences, and you can calculate if it is worth it, but ultimately it is your choice. When someone tells themselves that they “cannot” do something, they commit what Sartre calls “bad faith." This is the idea that we limit ourselves, under the false assumption it cannot be done, when in fact it can, we are merely trying to console ourselves because we are trying to shirk our responsibility.
So freedom cannot be fragile, it is the basis of our entire existence. It is the base of the tree. Any trade off for freedom is nothing more than allowing for yourself to be artificially suppressed.
To my second point, I question this assumed relationship between virtue and freedom. While it makes sense to argue that without freedom, there is no possibility of virtue, the existence of freedom does not correlate to there being virtue in either the conditional or unconditional sense. While virtue itself is hard to define, the nature of virtue tends not to change: it is the idea of acceptable behavior being elevated to a moral imperative. So one would have to be free to accept this idea, but one would have to then act this way regardless of the fact that they could act in some other way. Often, we find in theories of ethical behavior that exceptions to rules can always be found (like when Kant said one can never lie, but then one must consider what to do about the axeman) and often have to be considered due to the variability of life. So if an individual is virtuous, are we to say that it is because they adhere to a specific form of life, or is it because they exercise their own judgement when life gives them lemons?
Alas, we always try to label something virtuous, or to give credence to people by saying if they are virtuous, then the dangers of life will melt away in the face of this virtue. To be free, again if we accept the usual definition of virtue, is to be free to be full of vice. Thus the connection between freedom and virtue is not as clear cut. One can choose to do the virtuous thing, but to try and guarantee it, through some naive idea that freedom is inherently virtuous or through the idea of some regulatory virtue ensuring it, is to not understand freedom.
Third and finally, freedom of expression is absolute. The fear that seems to permeate throughout the post, subliminally, is that freedom of expression lacks consequence. This is not an entirely unfounded fear due to the attempt by our politicians to make a world where consequences are dulled (eg. safe spaces). This notwithstanding, what must be understood is that freedom of expression is absolute. If I want to play the game mentioned above, I can. If, due to this, you wish not to associate with me, or want to report me to the police (which I would say one should), then I am entirely responsible for the consequences.
But freedom of expression is not merely absolute because I have to accept responsibility (which can be done even if I possess the cognitive dissonance to deny my responsibility), but because as I mentioned before, freedom is an ontological fact. Were you to keep me from playing this game, I would still have the freedom to expression, even were it not in the form of playing the game. I am always expressing myself, thus the problem one has in deciding where freedom of expression has gone too far is deciding where to draw the line. To quote one of my favorite TV characters, Raymond Reddington from The Blacklist, “Do you know the problem with drawing lines in the sand? With a breath of air, they disappear.” Thus, it is so with drawing lines on expression. It can go too far, or it can be overcome by changing social norms, or by the innate desire to be free.
I suggest we leave freedom of expression alone.
The Burkean Conservative, respectfully, got this one wrong. Notwithstanding, we are far closer than the substantial majority of political pundits in contemporary society.
President Trump was not elected as a hitman per se. The reasons for one’s political views or votes goes much deeper. Studies have shown that people tend to vote against something as opposed to for it. Additionally, people tend to vote for those that will tell the truth; or, who is “genuine.” This holds true even when the official has been caught in a lie. For example, Bill Clinton lied often about personal topics including the use of marijuana during his time at Oxford. Obama miraculously twisted language to the end of blatant lies, like the gender pay gap and the state of America in foreign affairs. What really strikes people as crossing a red-line is when the office is either used for personal gain; or when those, within the same faction, do not follow through on promises (i.e. the GOP establishment and spending) President Trump challenged the status quo of politics, like our Founders did in their time, because the actions that have been taken almost have never matched the rhetoric that got officials elected. He basically ran on saying, ‘I am tired of the inaction and false promises.’
President Trump can make myriad lies on one speech (or hyperbolic exaggerations) and actually grow in support as new studies have shown, because the consequences remained consistent and true to the intelligentsia of our particular faction. Now, things are intimately more complicated when it comes to governance (he could not have done anything without a GOP Congress). But, notwithstanding, the effects of his actions remain true. He said he would cut taxes, and taxes were cut. He said he would make China renegotiate on trade deals, and China has announced repeatedly that they are now open to negotiations with the President. He said North Korea would be tamed, and what we are seeing is as much progress as ever before. CNN had a very biased segment where they asked evangelicals how they could support him and said it was hypocrisy! That is not how logic works. The group of women correctly asserted “[he] was not their preacher.” If you look to the President for moral authority and guidance, then it would appear that, that particular individual is lacking both within themselves. It seems, to me, as an outsider of the evangelical circle, that the faction that supports the President, which is continuing to grow, can pierce through that illogic and see that actions at that level ought to matter more than just rhetoric. This is not to say that rhetoric doesn’t matter—it does. But, rhetoric good or bad ought not be the sufficient conditional that drives American’s decisions.
The Framers of the Constitution and Founders of the nation did not necessarily live moral lives: Ben Franklin was a womanizer; Thomas Jefferson fathered an illegitimate child; Alexander Hamilton looked down on the lower classes of people; James Madison was known for being cowardly at times and sticking to studies and argumentation; and, all were slaveholders. Okay? Therefore, in all cases whatsoever, they were not men of immense reading across disciplines and the benefits they wrought were for not? No. One must extrapolate the good, criticize the bad, and weigh the totality of the evidence. It seems this is where those that support the President (which the numbers have grown exponentially) are at even if it is unwittingly. Say that the President sleeps around. Okay? Black unemployment is the lowest it has ever been. Say he lies in speeches or misrepresents the “truth.” Okay? Obama traded five terrorists for one traitor, and the current President caught five leaders of IS and secured the return of three North Korean prisoners. Say he is a demagogue. Okay? Show me a politician that is not one. Moreover, show me a politician save for the President that would say anything to garnish as many votes as possible and then enact policies contrary to the rhetoric that garnished said votes. That would be lying as well. Its important to keep in mind the actual issues that bother the individuals.
The Enlightenment is predicated on principles and knowledge across the spectrum: science, morality, and reason. For example, is it more moral to elect one with benign rhetoric even though unemployment will remain constant or even rise; or, is it more moral to elect one who actually moves to lift people out of poverty and reassert the sovereignty of the polity? That type of inquiry, logical reasoning, and balancing is far more representative of the Enlightenment than just one of those principled elements (morality). This understanding better explains, to me, what some are calling a phenomenon. I cannot point to a campaign promise that the President has not fulfilled. When the President calls MS-13 animals and the mainstream media and almost all liberals impute their lies by twisting language and saying he was talking about all immigrants, that is the real miscarriage of truth and which leads to the appeal of the President. It seems evident that the actionable truth is more important than rather or not he lied about something superficial, and I think many are beginning to see that.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16
Is it possible in today’s culture for there to be a place where ideas, opinions, and affiliations are challenged in a constructive manner without people being offended? Will you, as a reader, move forward in this blog with an open mind and heart to the very end? Can we have a constructive dialogue right here and now? The reality is that we live in a world obsessed with political correctness, struggling with identity, and polarized by political and religious extremism. My hope is that in the next few moments, I can discuss each of these issues and propose a resolution.
Political Correctness has become the mandate of the day. The ultimate trump card in our society boils down to two words: “I’m offended.” Use these two words in an argument, and our culture awards you the victory. We have elevated avoiding offense over and above any other value. I believe this is hindering our nation, and ultimately, hindering the church.
Why? Because using the “offended” trump card ultimately hinders constructive dialogue and discourse. It is a cheap method of victory, saving oneself from actually defending a position and sparing one’s ideas from being scrutinized. Our culture has allowed the words “I’m offended” to spare oneself from being forced to examine their own ideas and opinions. But our ideas and opinions need to be examined. How else do we grow as people if we do not challenge our ideas, opinions, preconceptions, methods, etc.? The entire scientific method is founded upon putting one’s ideas or hypothesis to the test. Yet when we engage in discourse and our ideas are put to the test, it scares us. We think, “If my idea is put to the test and found wanting, it will make me feel stupid, insecure, ill-equipped; or worse, it will force me to change.”
Why do we fear this so much? Because we have attached our ideas to our identity. Identity is a word that is used so often in our culture. We use it in politics when we ask, “which party do you identify with?” We use it to discuss sexuality by defining one’s attraction as sexual identity.
Our world has inextricably linked ideas, opinions, attractions and affiliations to identity, so much so that if one were to disagree with someone’s idea, opinion, attraction or affiliation, it is to disagree with that someone’s very personhood. And if your ideas, opinions, values and perceptions change, then your identity changes along with it. Therein lies the problem: when your identity is attached to things that can change and be challenged, can you ever truly know who you are?
This is where the church should step in and lead our world. We have the answer to identity: true identity, one that cannot change and cannot be taken away, is found in Christ alone. We discover this throughout the scriptures. In 1 Peter 2:9-10 God defines us as “chosen,” “royal,” “God’s own people.” In Titus 3:3-5, we discover who we used to be without Christ, “foolish, disobedient, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” But when Christ enters the equation, your identity changes; and more than that, your identity is solidified and founded on that which cannot change: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
As Christians, our identity is found in Christ and Christ alone. And more than that, I would argue that because of our identity in Christ, our diversity is highlighted, elevated, and even celebrated in a way not possible apart from Him (but more on that in a moment). Yet far too often we allow ourselves to be influenced by the society in which we live. We find ourselves “offended” at those who would disagree with our political affiliations. We are “offended” at someone who would dare to disagree with our ideas and thoughts on a topic. I would challenge that where you find yourself offended is where you find yourself placing your identity.
Let me pause here to make two things very clear:
1. This is in no way a license to denigrate another person's opinions on the basis of “religious freedom.” Far from it, this is a call to the church to a be place where no person is denigrated, but instead have their ideas challenged in a constructive manner so that we can collectively grow and mature. The church must be a place where personhood is esteemed, not on the basis of ideas, opinions, thoughts, feelings, or affiliations. Rather, we esteem every human being’s value on the basis of God’s truth alone; namely, that we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
2. I am not saying that the church has historically represented what I am arguing for in this post. I know that in the history of Christianity and the church, there have been instances and even eras of racially motivated crusades, poor treatment of women and other minorities, political leveraging of religious power for personal gain, and many other abuses of power. I do not contend that the church has always been a proper example of this historically. What I am arguing for is that the church is called to be this type of place Biblically.
The church is supposed to be the one place where, no matter your ethnic, political, socio- economic, familial background, you can dwell unified in Christ. The church is supposed to be the one place where God’s love is strong enough to conquer our differences. The apostle John paints a beautiful picture of heaven in Revelation 7:9 when he writes, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Every tribe (who you affiliate yourself with). Every people (type of person, shape, size, color, etc.). Every language (every word spoken proposing ideas and opinions). Every nation (where you find yourself living and growing). In all of this, the people John saw in Heaven were unified in their worship of Christ.
I want to compare two Johns for a moment: the Apostle John, and John Lennon. One of the most celebrated songs in history is John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” In it he sings, “Imagine there's no heaven It's easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today... Aha-ah... Imagine there's no countries It isn't hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion, too Imagine all the people Living life in peace... You... You may say I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will be as one.” And yet, I believe Lennon’s idea of unity is cheap. Unity without diversity isn’t unity at all; it’s uniformity.
Yet look at what the Apostle John writes in Revelation 7:9. He does not ignore the differences of the people, he celebrates them! He understood that true, powerful unity comes by recognizing, inviting, and celebrating diversity! We as Christians should do the same. The church should not and cannot be a place where we leave our diversity at the door. Rather, it is a place where we bring our diversity inside, and stand unified in Christ in spite of the differences we have. The church is a place where constructive dialogue and discourse should thrive, where different opinions and ideas can be openly discussed without the fear of one’s identity and personhood being devalued because we all recognize that our identity does not lie in our ideas, but rather is found in Christ alone!
Jesus makes room for diversity to exist without the risk of being marginalizing. It’s the forgiveness we receive from him that unifies us, it is the identity that we receive through Him that defeats marginalization, and it’s the love that we receive from Him (and demonstrate to one another as a result of His love) that enables us to celebrate our differences. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
So often, Christians find themselves describing their perspective as the “good” while labeling the opposing perspective as the “bad,” especially as it relates to politics (whichever party you are affiliated with, in my experience this seems to be the case). We have to move beyond this “good guys vs. bad guys” perspective. We have to strive to see people who might have a different perspective as people, not the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” American Christians are in danger of falling prey to just that: "Americanizing" Christianity. We can fall into the trap of exchanging "what is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We can fall prey to exchanging “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8) for "my personal rights and freedoms must be protected, even at the expense of someone else’s."
I believe that Jesus was intentional in his final recorded prayer before his ascension to heaven. In John 17:15-23 Jesus prays first for his disciples with Him, and then for us (for all who would believe as a result of his disciples’ ministry). He says,
“15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by[d] the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
My challenge is this: are you sanctified by his truth, or are you more influenced by the world around you? Are you seeking unity in Christ, or are you more concerned about protecting your own ideas, rights and opinions? Are you celebrating diversity, or are you becoming divisive?
Jesus understood this one fundamental truth: when, in the midst of our diversity, we stand unified, “the world will know that you [God] sent me [Jesus] and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
It’s time for the church to step up, stand unified, and change the world.