Irene F. Starkehaus -
To learn who rules over you, you must find out first who you are not allowed to criticize.
This is a quote credited to French philosopher Voltaire, hero of convenience to both the political Left and the political Right for differing reasons. Funny really because in actuality, there is no record of any historic import...unless you assign the internet that status…providing evidence that he ever uttered the words, but it does sound a lot like something that Voltaire would say, so our intellectual lethargy might be excused just this one time for convenience sake to move our discussion along productively.
We ask, "Who might be trying to subjugate us through the suppression of free speech that we should worry about such matters in the first place?"
We could look to our mainstream media for the answer, but popular culture tells us that it's America's Judeo-Christian traditions that most endanger our realization of an idealized America, the Shining City on the Hill. It is America's Jews and Christians…Muslims are excluded from the criticism… that set limits on sexuality, expression, family, personhood, identity, and equity after all. Traditional religious expression must therefore be the problem.
And it is true that Judeo-Christian traditions provide an exacting blueprint for living lives of virtue. When we adhere to those values, we limit the choices we will ultimately make. It is also true that when orthodox Jews and Christians politically express themselves, it is in advocacy of self-denial, personal responsibility and restraint. To that end, we must pause and sincerely consider what self-restraint means in this instance because this is where our understanding of free will versus fate really takes its shape. Free will requires self-control. Fate relies wholly on external controls. When we won't control ourselves, someone or something will do it for us.
To learn who rules over us, we must first learn who we're are not permitted to criticize, so we take an almost superstitious leap in logic only to discover that we are all pointing at primarily Christians as the culprits. Yet here is the crux of the problem with that particular reasoning. Nothing. Nobody actually stops us from criticizing Christians or God himself for that matter. America for her part is rabidly fond of critiquing God and Christianity to such a degree that the act actually loses its mystique and becomes pastiche. It's not just common. It is clichéd. There are forces at work in this country that are far more likely to demand retribution for criticism than God ever would be, and those forces are inclined toward violence in order to gain recompense for perceived slights.
It is kind of interesting that with the weeks passing by, Pamela Geller and her free speech event in Garland, Texas which resulted in a terrorist attack in the name of Islam continues to capture the imaginations of critics and supporters alike. The growing obsession with the limits that we should or shouldn't place on free speech can allow us to follow our Voltarian stream of consciousness and ask just exactly who rules over someone like Pamela Geller as she finds herself in the figurative and now literal crosshairs of any number of angry socio-political groups that would suppress her right to say what's on her mind. I can absolutely tell you who doesn't rule her.
You may not like what Pam Geller stands for, you might not agree with a word she says and you may not be willing to defend her right to say it, but one thing is certain. There are very few people in the world who are as unencumbered by oppression as she is. With fatwa upon her, Geller quite accurately walks through the valley of the shadow of death, but she fears no evil…or maybe she does, but she isn't letting fear undermine her duty to love her neighbor.
"Pam Geller loves her neighbor since when?" you may openly mock, but I suggest to you that Pam Geller loves the people practicing Islamic traditions more than they love themselves, and in a very real sense she loves them more than she loves her own life. She loves them enough to tell them that she thinks they are wrong. She is fulfilling her civic duty.
Quoting Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia in an article entitled A City Upon a Hill: Augustine, John Winthrop and the Soul of the American Experiment Today:
"Actively witnessing to our convictions and advancing what we believe about key moral issues in public life is not "coercion." It's an act of truth-telling. It's an act of honesty. It's vital to the health of every democracy. And it's also a duty – not only of our religious faith, but also of our citizenship."
Advocating for one's beliefs and directly telling someone that he is wrong may not be your cup of tea but it is the supreme act of love for one's neighbor. To this end, Pamela Geller is one of the freest people in America because she has risen to liberty's challenge for a vibrant defense at the risk of great personal loss. Again from Archbishop Chaput:
"Democracy depends on an honest, unashamed, public struggle of ideas. If we withhold our religious and moral beliefs from our political debates because of a misguided sense of good manners, we are not being "polite." On the contrary: We're stealing from the public conversation."
The narrative against Geller persists, so let us pursue the questions. Has Pam Geller unreasonable provoked Islamic jihadists because she sponsored a cartoon contest? Do Islamic fascists have the right to put a ransom on Pamela Geller's head because her exercise in free speech disturbed them? Is it reasonable to assume that if you critique someone's deeply held beliefs, your murder is permissible?
Critics on the Left and (sadly) the Right contend that Geller and those who participated in her political cartoon contest have done something that lives outside the parameters of protected free speech…that they are somehow to blame for the shooting that took place in Garland, Texas some days ago because they incited Islamic extremists.
Free speech advocates then rightly point to urine on a Crucifix or a painting of the Blessed Virgin in elephant dung as examples of offensive rhetoric against Christian values that received particularly impassive reactions from Christians. Time and again Christians resort to stoicism against insult not because they are indifferent but because their faith and society as a whole demand that Christians grin and bear extreme belligerence as a matter of course.
I'm not sure what cultural declaration is supposed to advance through the inconsistencies on display here. Does society mean to suggest that Christians are morally superior and must be held to a higher standard than Muslims, or do they mean that Muslims are bestial and can't be expected to behave themselves? Which is it?
Without losing sight of the intolerable acts of tyranny promulgated by our government against Christian people when forcing Christians to aid and abet the murder of unborn innocents through HHS mandates or the public funding of fetal death camps, can we also please bear witness to the profound onslaught on Christianity that occurs routinely in the news, in film and on television. Let Christians answer this question. How many times have you witnessed your own value system under attacked while watching a TV show? Really, isn't television just the modern equivalent of the Roman coliseum where Christians go to be persecuted?
How about in American public schools where educators are regularly undermining Christian values and teachings when referring to Mohammed not simply as a prophet, but the prophet who maintains a moral sameness – shoulder to shoulder with Jesus of Nazareth. That narrative is mind-bendingly offensive to an untold numbers of Christians. Mohammed is neither theirs nor their children's prophet. Jesus is the Messiah and not a prophet, and I don't know who or what Allah is but he bears no resemblance to the one true God of Christianity.
Why is there no attempt to apologize for this taxpayer funded insult? Because democracy depends on an honest, unashamed, public struggle of ideas and if parents don't want their children propagandized then they should exercise free will and go out of their way to find out what is passing for education these days.
How about the music industry? Right now listed on Billboard's top 100 songs, you will find at least 70 artists that espouse values antithetical to Christian beliefs and several of those songs are outright screes against traditional Christianity and specifically Catholicism:
Think about it. This particular song wasn't just played at one event in Texas during a free speech rally. It has been in constant rotation on Top 40 stations throughout the country since it entered the charts a few months ago. The artist has three specific goals in mind with this song. It is meant to make money via attacks and false witness. It is meant to further a political agenda that is antithetical to Christian beliefs and it is meant to subvert the authority of Christian parents by propagandizing children because that's easier than swaying adult opinions.
When Christians speak out against blasphemy such as this, why is there no scrambling to sensor expression of free speech to mollify Christian sensibilities?
Because democracy depends on an honest, unashamed, public struggle of ideas and if parents don't want their children propagandized then they should exercise free will and go out of their way to listen to the radio and hear for themselves what is passing for music.
Pam Geller is a hero and this is the value system that she is trying to express just as Voltaire might have done if he had lived in a 2015 PC environment. If you doubt this:
"But that a camel-merchant should stir up insurrection in his village; that in league with some miserable followers he persuades them that he talks with the angel Gabriel; that he boasts of having been carried to heaven, where he received in part this unintelligible book, each page of which makes common sense shudder; that, to pay homage to this book, he delivers his country to iron and flame; that he cuts the throats of fathers and kidnaps daughters; that he gives to the defeated the choice of his religion or death: this is assuredly nothing any man can excuse, at least if he was not born a Turk, or if superstition has not extinguished all natural light in him."
Voltaire (December, 1740 referring to Muhammad, in a letter to Frederick II of Prussia)