Friday, August 20, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Witnessing as Hate Speech

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

What constitutes “hate speech”? A fairly standard definition goes something like this: “Speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation.”

Tom: Now, personally I’d consider even that arguable, not least because the word “attacks” is nebulous, which leaves hate speech to be defined by the party claiming injury (a bad idea), not to mention it takes for granted that “sexual orientation” is a valid concept even though science has not yet demonstrated it is anything more than a personal preference.

You Need Jesus

In any case, the public debate over that question is about to become even more muddled. Kent State University is giving serious consideration to whether the words “You need Jesus” qualify as hate speech.

How about them apples, Immanuel Can?

Immanuel Can: Wow. So “You need Jesus” is hate speech now? I suppose we can trust that “You need mouthwash” is still just information ...

Tom: For today, anyway. This is where amorphous language leads. Presumably anything that suggests — however deferentially — that you are anything less than absolutely perfect just the way you are is construed by some to constitute an “attack”.

Now the article does draw a distinction between things like “Death to Israel” and the gentle suggestion that a relationship with God might be a necessity for everyone. The former drew condemnation from campus leaders, students and faculty when shouted by an associate professor at Kent State a few years ago, so there’s a fair degree of unanimity about calling it “hateful”. The latter is only being “mulled over” at this stage. But as one critic put it, “Nobody wants to be told ‘You’re going to hell.’ ”

Politics and Reality

IC: Nobody wants to be told “You have cancer” or “You need surgery” either … but the alternative is sickness and death.

In light of what’s at stake in the case of speaking of the Lord, I wonder if deliberately holding back the gospel ought to be considered “hate [non-]speech”. After all, it amounts to saying, “Go to hell.” I’d say that’s pretty hateful, wouldn’t you?

Tom: Absolutely. But we’re rapidly moving to a place in Western societies where we have assumed to ourselves the “right” not to hear anything we don’t want to. And that’s terribly unhealthy.

IC: Yes. Our politics have become more precious to us than our very grasp on reality. Facts are out, and feelings are in. Truth is out, and delusions are sacred.

Tom: This discussion comes on the heels of concern about maintaining “safe spaces” for students, which in this instance could end up meaning “safe from hearing about the only Person who can ever make you truly safe”. Not too ironic.

Another Perspective

But the president of the Catholic Student Association has urged Kent decision-makers to consider that “They share this with you because they believe it is in your best interest. I feel few students stop to consider this perspective.” I think he’s probably right about that.

IC: Well, yes. Consider it this way: suppose you don’t believe in heaven or hell, and perhaps you don’t even believe in the claim that God exists. Let’s accept that, for the sake of argument. Fine.

But what would you expect of someone who genuinely DID believe these things? What would you think that such a person ought to do in respect to you? After all, what sort of a person would say to you, “I genuinely believe you’re in danger of hell, but I’m not going to tell you”? Does that sound like a “good” person, even to a rank atheist?

Tom: No. Not at all. Not even if they are respectfully PC-kow-towing to your wholly-manufactured not-quite-legally-established right to not hear anything that makes you think for more than five seconds, and certainly not anything that might cause you to agonize for a moment over the condition of your soul.

IC: I guess they’ve defined “hurt” as referring to feelings, not to the actual doing of harm.

An Honest Answer

Tom: Thing is, every single person I respect and love today has hurt me at one time or another, and the ones I respect and love the most have hurt me the most, because they loved me and were willing to risk my friendship to tell me things I needed to hear. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips,” says the writer of Proverbs. There is truly almost nothing better, and certainly nothing more necessary in this life, than honesty with ourselves and honesty from others. People that dignify us by telling us the truth when we have strayed off the path are the best friends we will ever have.

So, yeah, let’s legislate against that. That couldn’t possibly have any negative effects.

IC: And yet, historically, when the mainline churches gave up preaching the gospel, and began catering to hurt liberal-humanist feelings and selling the same thin universalist gruel the secular liberals were peddling, the people to whom they most wanted to appeal, the general public, dumped them in droves.

How Much Do You Have to Hate Somebody?

They don’t get it. Ironically, I remember coming across a relevant quotation from avowed atheist Penn Jillette. He said:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward — and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself — how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Good point, Penn. One of your few, maybe; but still, a good one. Now that’s hatred — not well-intended speech that merely temporarily hurts feelings, but a malevolent silence that actually resigns souls to hell.

If the Militant Elements Win

Tom: I agree. How can you not agree? So let’s suppose the more militant progressive elements at Kent State U win out and manage to get themselves a ban on phrases like “You need Jesus”, or “No man comes to the Father but by me” or any number of similar truths. What should the righteous do? What’s the appropriate Christian response?

IC: I think the apostles gave it to us: “We must obey God rather than men.” Or maybe we should just go back to what the Lord himself said: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore ...”

Kent State can’t countermand a direct divine order. It just doesn’t have that kind of authority. Nobody does.

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