Freedom of Expression and Religion

Butler University’s Seminar on Religion and World Civilization public lecture series for the coming year is on the topic “Freedom of Expression and Religion.” If you click through, you will see that there are four interesting topics lined up: “Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Faith: Understanding the First Amendment and Its Global Implications”; “Islam and Free Expression”; “Mr. Putin Goes to Church: Religion and Freedom of Speech in Modern Russia”; and “Academic Freedom and Faith in Higher Education.” Blog readers will be familiar with Pete Enns, and I am delighted to say that he will be one of the panelists for the final topic.

Each year there is a seminar course that runs in parallel with the public lecture series, and this year I’ll be teaching it.

Click through for more information!

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  • newenglandsun

    There’s no such thing as “freedom” of religion, “freedom” of speech, or “freedom” of religious expression. There is such a thing as limitations on religion and speech. If I were to invent a religion that required human sacrifice to appease the deity, could I still practice it under freedom of religion? If not, then it isn’t freedom.

    • Ian

      This is an undue binary, surely? If something is not complete, it does not exist.

      There is no such thing as objective reality, because everybody accesses reality subjectively. There is no such thing as a safe airplane, because there is always a possibility that something will go wrong. There is no such thing as altruism, because at some level there is always a benefit (perhaps emotional), and so on.

      It always seems an unnecessarily linguistic technicality to me. If there is no such thing as ‘freedom’, then there’s no point having the word. If there’s a point in having the word, then it probably doesn’t mean in practice what you’re suggesting it does.

      • newenglandsun

        Maybe the word exists as a literary device. Similar to the word “utopia”. A utopia is a fictional state of complete perfection and paradise but nevertheless, the word still exists.

        • James F. McGrath

          I had the same thought as Ian when I saw your comment. Suggesting that if there is not infinite freedom, then there isn’t freedom, faces many problems. Democracy in particular, but society more generally, has always involved balancing freedoms for all, some of which inevitably restrict the freedom of others. If someone were free to practice human sacrifice, others would not be free to refrain from being sacrificed.

          • newenglandsun

            I guess my comment was a little bit confusing overall. My point was basically that “true” freedom is essentially non-existent unless it is a purely fictional world since someone has to decide what qualifies as “true” freedom and for some this might as well just translate to serfdom. Think Christopher Hitchens/Communist Russia’s Stalin style atheism where all forms of religious expression (even the non-harmful such as human sacrifice) are eradicated.

            The error being that many people are either too liberal or too conservative and have too many blind spots. When we spout off “freedom of religious expression” we have to say it on qualified terms otherwise we end up the promoters of tyranny or the tyrants ourselves. When we shut down an exclusive form of religious expression (such as Sati), we might as well ask ourselves why we didn’t shut down that particular religion and hence, that religion in general.

            If a primitive Aztec or Mayan religion is resurrected and practiced by more and more people, we might end up with the idea of human sacrifice being all right. And hey, no one ever asks “combative belligerents” if they are fine with having their human rights taken away (which is what most human sacrifices turn out being unless it’s your children and we can have all sorts of philosophical debates as to whether it’s moral or not to off them to a god including, but not limited to, whether or not the children being sacrificed are actually “persons”).

            Hate to point out reality here, but it seems that most of the stuff we see in our modern world today is largely unquestioned human sacrifice that people believe is okay under the circumstances being carried out. We’ve practically turned war into a religion (even a game of sorts).

    • arcseconds

      May as well say that there is always such a thing as freedom of these things, as there is always freedom within the set limits.

      • newenglandsun

        freedom: defintion 3, – “the power to determine action without restraint”

        If there are “limits” on freedom, there is restraint. Which is not freedom at all.

        Our constitution is pretty much a death trap though. I believe that when it talks about freedom of religion it is begging you to create a religion that practices human sacrifice to connect to your deity which would make you a criminal which would allow them to take away your freedoms. All of them.

        And when it speaks of freedom of speech, it is begging you to go out in public and make terrorist threats so that it can entice you within its snares.

  • Lothars Sohn

    As a rule, it would be great if mainstream intellectuals would realize that “religious” fundamentalists are not the only ones to be a treath to our open Western society.

    Militant atheists are at least as intolerant and constantly advocate emotionally bullying those disagreeing with them, what only a few Christian fundamentalists actually do.

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn

    • James F. McGrath

      I’m not sure that we have the statistics to really play this sort of comparative numbers game. I have had much more experience of or become aware of emotional bullying in Christian contexts, in actual face-to-face, but that is probably due to my having been in such contexts. On blogs and discussion boards I may have lost track of which I’ve seen more of, but I have definitely seen both.

      But if your point is that there can be threats to openness and freedom of expression that come from atheists as well as religious believers, then I don’t know too many who would dispute that. But again, it may have more to do with the circles I am connected with, than the actual situation on a national or global level.

  • Best Messianic Jewish Theology

    It’s very good to hear that Each year there is a seminar course on Freedom of Religion. I am really going to attend this seminar. thanks for sharing.

    • James F. McGrath

      The public lecture series, and the seminar course that accompanies it, are on different topics each year.