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When I was in Israel a few years ago, I took in a Sabbath supper hosted by an Orthodox Jewish family. We were all guests of David Abitbol, a Canadian Lawyer who had moved “back” to Israel in what is known as Aliyah – the Hebrew word for “ascent” (for more see the Psalms of Ascent: Psalms 120 to Psalms 134).

Now living in Jerusalem, David and his wife Ayo are part of Shabbat of a Lifetime where they invite travellers, Jews and non-Jews alike, to share a Shabbat (sabbath) meal together (to read more see “A Muslim, A Jew, a Christian, and Atheist walk into a coffee shop“).

Aside from the hospitality, David engaged his guests in a “question of the evening” in order to have a friendly and lively discussion. His question for us was on “Free Speech.”  It set up the very real point of the discussion when later we found out that one of the last people to speak up was a person with whom he personally had rough and tumble twitter battles. Megan Phelps-Roper was in town to talk about how her free speech banter led her to eventually become free from the vitriolic Westboro Baptist Church – and the subsequent freedom to become friends with David. Together they were set to give a set of public lectures later in that week.

Addendum: The free speech discussion arose from the example of the 1978 march of Nazis through what was known as a predominantly Jewish community in Skokie, Ill. What did it mean then to exercise free speech? For more see “From free society to fear society…

What I suspect David hoped we’d get from the discussion was that in spite of opposing positions and deep seated hatreds, there is a need for free speech nonetheless. He and Megan were illustrations of free speech at work – not political-correct speech to shut down unpopular ideas.

Where are we today with Free Speech?

Recently Danica Kirka with the The Associated Press wrote about the “Open Letter against the threat of free speech“:

“Dozens of artists, writers and academics have signed an open letter decrying the weakening of public debate and warning that the free exchange of information and ideas is in jeopardy amid a rise in what they call “illiberalism.”

J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood are among dozens of writers, artists and academics to argue against ideological conformity in an open letter in Harper’s Magazine. The letter comes amid a debate over so-called cancel culture — where prominent people face attack for sharing controversial opinions.

“The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy,’’ the letter said. “But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.’’

The letter criticized the state of public debate and the “swift and severe retribution” dealt out to any perceived wrongs. It decried an “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.’’

The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” the letter said. “We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.

Churchill is the focus of being cancelled based on things he had said… but I would nevertheless like to hear him defend himself in a day when cancel culture would shut him down, even though I might disagree with him.

Have you been Cancelled Yet?

Megan Murphy of the Feminist Current asks sardonically,

Have you been cancelled? Not to worry, you will be soon. Not one of us is pure enough to be safe, and the cancellers are never satisfied, but rather always hungry for their next victim… Cancel culture is not about righting wrongs or making the world more tolerant — it’s an addiction to power.

Is this what we’ve come to: Waiting to be cancelled by some current loudspeaker fad of politically-correct dogmatism? Are we to fall in line with these present-day autocrats who want us to join their herd of independent thinkers?

Cancel Culture as Bad Religion

Nick Cave. says cancel culture “embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer”:

“Answering a question from a fan, in the latest of his Red Hand Files series of correspondences, the 62-year-old wrote: “As far as I can see, cancel culture is mercy’s antithesis. Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world.

“Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer (and none of the beauty) – moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption. It has become quite literally, bad religion run amuck.”

The Gospel for Such a Time as This

While cancel culture offers no good news but what may temporarily fit the rigid boundaries of the current ever-changing and diminishing ice-flow of thought, the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers solid, robust, enlarging redemption. He brings forgiveness. He authors transformation.

The raciest racist, the most foul fibber, the most banal of evil – including you and me, and everyone of the cancel culture can be forgiven and redeemed because of Jesus (for more see “Radical Hospitality“).

The cost of freedom from alienation and brokenness is the price Jesus paid. In Him we find the ability for speech free from darkness, bondage, and anchors to our decaying past. Come as you are… but if you follow Him, you’ll continue the process of transformation.

This is more enigma than dogma.

For more on the topic of “speech” consider:

Wholesome Speech

Befriending Radical Disagreement

Before Commenting on a Controversial Topic