Why It is Critical to Stand for Freedom of Expression in Politics and Religion, Even When it Means Defending Utter Crap


In a letter to Edward Carrington in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later. But I mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

I find this one of the most amazing things said by an amazing person, complicated, moral failure in many areas, hypocrite in some, and at the very same time as John F Kennedy said at a dinner honoring Nobel Prize award winners, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” To my mind Jefferson’s comment on access to information earns that accolade…

I watched the trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” on Youtube. It is thirteen minutes and fifty-one seconds of hateful crap.

And…

I find myself concerned with this issue for two reasons. One is that this free access to information, both acquiring the ability to comprehend it (which demands people get decent educations that include some serious critical thinking skills), and then having the widest possible access to information is indeed the foundation of modern liberal democracy.

But, also, for me this is something that lies at the heart of liberal religion, the principle institutional expression of which is North American Unitarian Universalism.

This full access together with some tools for dealing with it is our way.

This is predicated upon a belief that all religions contain what is necessary to salvation. Salvation, salve, healing of broken hearts. It doesn’t mean all religions are true. In fact I don’t think so. What I do believe is that we contain within our human hearts and minds and therefore within our institutions devoted to meaning and purpose, all that is necessary to find that healing.

No doubt there is a ton of nonsense that comes along in both the institutional expressions of our hearts and hopes, because there’s a ton of nonsense that comes along with our human hearts and hopes. Hence travesties like the “Innocence of Muslims.” Human beings see all things through a glass darkly, but, and here’s the rub as I see it, there is no “then” when it will be otherwise. The cloud and the clear occupy the same time and place.

So, I defend no orthodoxy, and defend the right of every one of them to state their case.

And, for us each us, this is a call to learn how to examine closely. To question authority, starting, of course, with that nasty and lovely little authority that drives the thing called “me.”

Only don’t know, as the wise say. This is the universal solvent.

Is this movie, that it or at least the trailer is available and the horrific responses throughout the Muslim world evidence of a clash of civilizations? Perhaps. Although I notice there are those within our own civilization who would silence those they don’t like – and I’ve seen this on both right and left.

This radical freedom is a radical stance everywhere. People fear it. People will undermine it in a New York minute if they can.

And…

Freedom of speech is the core liberty from which all others arise.

So…

Let the presses run. Let Youtube post every lecture, sermon and rant.

(And, no, this doesn’t mean I’m obligated to post your hate speech here. It means you can start your own blog…)

And, don’t forget the part of Jefferson’s little comment, prepare yourself to deal with the information you’re given. There’s a terrible noise to message ratio in life, and as I’m concerned mostly with religion, there’s a terrible noise to message ratio in, near as I can tell, all religions. Some better than others, but none exempt…

Prepare yourself.

Then pay attention.

That’s the way to the holy.

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