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.