Listening and Freedom of Speech

Dominic Burbidge has an insightful essay What It Means to Listen: Free Speech from the Perspective of the Abrahamic Religions posted at the The Witherspoon Institute’s website. He makes the point that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a different view of reality from Secularism.

Free speech arguments in Western Europe or North America often demand that persons subject their beliefs to rational discourse and debate. This is supported in the traditions of Abrahamic religions but not through the separation of believer from belief that is characteristic of liberal individualism. For someone of an Abrahamic faith, beliefs are subject to rational evaluation as coherent wholes, which are therefore refuted by an alternative system of thought that is able to display greater unity, coherence, and breadth of application.


The liberal argument for free speech envisages a free exchange of ideas that exposes the irrationality in other systems of thought. What the person of Abrahamic faith resists is not this but the way in which the method of exposing irrationality solidifies a position of moral relativism through which traditions of thought are rejected en masse as forms of indoctrination, dismissing in turn people’s capacity to reason from within them.

From the point of view of a Christian, I’ll note that the Bible describes a God who seeks a personal relationship with each of us. He speaks to us about how we should live while in that relationship. He speaks of how we should relate to the rest of his creation, but in doing so he tells us how to exercise self-control rather than how to control others.

Thus, I believe that people should be generally free to express their ideas and take their own choices, even those I find wrongheaded, so long as they aren’t harmful to others. There is a strain of Progressivism/Modern Liberalism with intellectual roots in soil such as the Prohibition Movement. In many cases the Prohibitionist urge to control the behavior of others (for the others own good) came from what I see as a confused view of Christianity as viewed through the lens of Modern Liberalism. (There’s a long essay lurking in that thought.) That misunderstanding is a source of some of the intellectual tension between Secularists and Believers.

In any event, Burbidge’s essay is thought provoking. Read the whole thing.

3 thoughts on “Listening and Freedom of Speech

  1. To your point of Prohibition-style roots of modern Liberalism:

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

    — C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)

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