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08 January 2015


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Jim Gordon

David these are wise, careful and deeply Christian thoughts. I want to offer one or two comments if I may?

Freedom of speech does sometimes mean offending the deepest religious convictions of others even at the risk of death - the violent persecution and hostility of the magisterial Reformers against the Anabaptists was based on the conviction that they were blasphemers, a danger to society, and eliminating them was a divinely authorised duty. The freedom to challenge another person's religious absolutes is always a dangerous freedom. How far should such freedom to challenge absolutes be constrained because the form of the challenge is offensive, even deliberately provocative, and a possible response is murder to enforce silence or as retribution?

The galactic gulf that exists between satirical cartoon and bloody massacre is so great that it is difficult to interpret how such catastrophic effect relates to the alleged cause. Were the magazine staff foolish, reckless, picking a fight, arrogant, scurrilous? - yes, one or all of these. When satire is inevitably and deliberately offensive, intended to ridicule and rubbish and rob of credibility convictions which underpin a worldview, it invites response. The connection between cartoon and kalashnikov will always be a possibility. Should the cartoonist desist? Or tone it down? If they do, is that an accommodation to threatened and real barbarism? If they don't, are they entitled to cause general offence to a world faith shared by 20% of the global population?

As a Christian I am called to an ethic of language, relation-building and social responsibility. But what are the legitimate moral constraints on the core value of freedom of speech for a satirical magazine in 21st Century secularised Europe?

I affirm deeply what you are saying David - I have no better answers, and simply share the anguished questions of how we learn to live together in a dangerous world, lethal in its outbursts of religious violence.

David Kerrigan

Jim, I share your anguish and therefore largely share your sentiments. I will claim my right to free speech also. My right to argue that an Islamic interpretation of God is incompatible with my Christian convictions. That the Koran is not, in my view, a higher scripture than the Bible. That Mohammad was not the greatest prophet of God but that Jesus was the eternally begotten ‘true God from true God’. That too will offend some, but I am not seeking to offend. I will argue respectfully. If some radical chooses to kill because I have caused offense, then I have died for a worthy cause.

In trying to formulate a Christian response, recognising the rights of those who published and the wrongs of those who killed, I am asking myself what can change the paradigm we are now locked into. Therefore I want to ask questions that flow out of my Christian view of the world.

If loving my neighbour means anything, should it not mean restraining my freedom to offend? Can we claim and exercise the right to mercilessly mock the most cherished beliefs of Muslims and simultaneously criticise Muslims for not integrating? Does our mockery encourage Muslims to remove the veil and see the West as their friend? Is our pride in our western liberal democratic society given its richest expression by offending those who have come amongst us as guests? Do we look like generous hosts?

As a Christian I am called to be a peacemaker and often that means restraining my rights. Turning the other cheek, if you like. That may be asking too much from secular writers, but it is a contribution to the debate we can make as Christians, especially in an environment when journalists have understandably closed ranks and few have dared to ask whether the actions of the magazine were entirely justified or appropriate.

Jim Gordon

Thanks David. Yes to all of this - the challenge is for Christians to bear witness to a way of being in society that embodies respectful dialogue (Kenneth Cragg and Lesslie Newbigin are exemplars), kenotic hospitality shaped by generosity, welcome, conciliation and respect (cruciformity as Michael Gorman would call it - do you know that book David?), and the kind of peacemaking that is both receptive to the other, and resistant to all that despises that same other. Shalom David, and much blessing.


You give a curious list of places where innocent people have been murdered: New York, Bali, etc. No mention of, say, Gaza City, Baghdad, Cairo, Oslo/Utøya or Newtown Connecticut, to pick a few off the top of my head.

Of course your list is about 'Islamic fundamentalism' - a broad catchall covering a highly diverse set of groups and individuals, whose main common features are that they are 'Muslim' and violent. 'Christian' and violent isn't part of that list, nor Western-recognised-state and violent.

Okay, on one level I am clearly being a bit snotty in the way I'm pointing this out. But I do seriously wonder if such apparent one-sidedness is the best approach to peacemaking? I also wonder at how easy it is to frame issues in a fundamentally slanted way within our own heads.

David Kerrigan

Blackphi, I'd like to think that the context of the sentence is clear insofar as I'm referring to places where Islamic fundamentalists have attacked innocent people. But feeling snotty is Ok, especially when our sentiments are so screwed up after the events of yesterday. I am not blind to the faults of my own people but that isn't what I was writing about. However, your comment is helpful as it helps me to see how others might read my list - for that, thanks.

Mrs  Beverley  Ann Leese

Freedom of speech is an essential part of our democratic values. I would not deliberately offend or be rude to anyone. I am a Christian and fiercely patriotic. The two world wars were fought for our freedom and values, and it cost our nation hugely in loss of human life. I think the problwm is that the cultures are so far apart, we will never live peacefully together in the real world. But I live by my democratic right to use freedom of speech. Sometimes that may cause offence, it is inevitable. When people offend me, I rise above it. In this country we do not murder someone because of an offensive remark. I will not be rude to people, but neither will I be tolerant. Why should we accept their rules, they should live by ours. I live in a CHRISTIAN country, and will never accept any faith which is not our faith.

David Kerrigan

Thanks Beverley

Mrs  Beverley  Ann Leese

My pleasure David. I believe that we are in Our Lord's final plan. This has been prophesised in the Bible. I have no fear of being murdered if it is done in the name of Christ. Like your goodself I would consider it a worthy cause. We would be with our Lord even sooner,we are in a win -win situation. I am not ashamed to confess the faith of CHRIST crucified. I live for him and him alone. Freedom of speech is exactly that. If we have to put limitations on that, it is no longer freedom of speech. God bless and keep you safe!

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