A Choose Your Own Adventure About What “Free Speech” Actually Means.

A Choose Your Own Adventure About What “Free Speech” Actually Means. October 29, 2014

Fundagelicals might not ever have understood exactly what free speech is. Certainly they drift further and further away from that understanding. Instead, they whine about free speech whenever they are not allowed to trample over others or get reined in. Today, I’ll show you what this right really is, and why Christians’ willful misunderstanding of the concept only hastens the decline of their religion.

Nathan Penlington. Also I had about that many CYOA books.
A picture taken for this fellow’s CYOA documentary, found here. (Nathan Penlington, CC-ND.)

(I wrote this post in response to a couple of drive-by recent Christians who cried wolf like that when I banned them. Christians misuse a great many big words they don’t understand.)

The Power of Bumper-Sticker Theology.

Fundagelical Christians adore catchphrases and slogans. They always loved them. In my day, Christians adorned their cars with bumper stickers that said stuff like “Jesus said it, I believe it, that settles it!” and “In case of Rapture this car will be unmanned!”

Apologetics as a field thrives on these sorts of sayings. Indeed, humans generally tend to believe statements that rhyme over statements that do not. Quick, pithy, catchy phrases stick in our minds and sound more believable, especially to folks who don’t possess skills in critical thinking. So “Know Jesus, know peace/no Jesus, no peace” and sayings like it catapult into popularity very quickly. Similarly, we see phrases like “were you there?” become popular. Christians use these phrases in lieu of any credible reasons to believe their various claims. Additionally, these phrases soothe the otherwise-unbearable cognitive dissonance that extremist Christians experience.

A couple of years ago, Christians realized they were solidly losing the whole anti-gay marriage fight that they themselves had started. They suddenly began wringing their hands about “religious freedom” and “freedom of speech.” These phrases describe actual real things, of course. But Christians used them in very new and strange–and distinctly self-serving–ways. They acted like young children losing a board game, who often try to suddenly change the rules of their games on the fly.

I think Christians get the idea of crying about manufactured or repurposed rights from the forced-birther crowd. For years, forced-birthers have shrieked that a fetus’ supposed “right to life” supersedes even the rights that society rightfully gives to actual people–and, uh, even corpses.

Christians, especially fundagelicals, now consider as read that their made-up fake “rights” can and do supersede actual people’s rights. This notion bleeds into all sorts of other situations. It goes along with the idea that some rights are automatically more important than other rights. Thus, obviously fundagelicals possess the “right” to impose themselves on other people’s space. This made-up “right” supersedes those imposed-upon people’s very real rights to grant and deny the use of their personal space.

Dominionism and Its Hatred of Human Rights.

Having been a forced-birther myself at the time that these half-baked ideas were first getting popular, I can easily see how toxic Christians have applied the same illogical thinking to the misunderstandings of other great American rights.

Well, world rights, I reckon. It’s not just American, of course. The idea of free speech is recognized by a great many countries (though very few theocracies, helLO Christian Right Dominionists! Tell us again, would you, how wonderful a Christian theocracy would be and how you’d do it just right?).

As this link demonstrates, freedom of speech is understood to have three components: the right to seek information, the right to learn information, and the right to share that information. Amusingly, as I look over that short list, I notice right away (did you?) that the Christians bellowing the loudest about “free speech” are the ones most interested in limiting these rights for others, all while painting themselves as the oppressed and marginalized minority.

Whoever started that catchphrase did a good job. It immediately became the rallying cry for toxic Christians of all stripes. But they cried wolf–and in an obviously, patently self-serving way as that. Such Christians demean the very real persecution and suppression that people experience all over the world in theocracies and dictatorships. In addition, they alienate non-Christians all the faster.

Win/win!

Overriding Consent: That’s So Fundagelical!

Worse yet is the fact that Christians make these false claims in order to excuse and cover up Christian attempts to strip freedoms and rights from other people. They ultimately wish to push themselves back into dominance. We rightly label this behavior as abusive and controlling.

Let’s be clear here: what these Christians are really saying, when they claim that they have some inalienable right to treat unconsenting people like they do, is that their religion requires them to behave in controlling and abusive ways. Worse still, they tell us that Christianity requires them to override other people’s consent.

They all act like the goal here in having this “religious freedom” is to “save the lost.” They pretend that they’re working to increase what they call “the kingdom.” But their real goal is far more nefarious. They seek to enshrine their religious privilege into law before it is too late. If they can’t make that goal happen soon, then their religion will dwindle to irrelevance.

Unfortunately, they years ago lost the cultural powers they used to possess. Those powers were all that allowed them to force others to comply with their demands. Without them, they can’t convert anybody.

And now they think they’ve found the magic incantation that will achieve their real goals. A pity for them–and a good thing for the rest of us–they’re flat wrong.

Freeze Peaches CYOA!

Christians can’t use freedom of speech as a magic shield that protects them from all criticism and resistance. They can’t force non-Christians to comply with their desires. Nor can they compel people to stand there and listen to them.

I really believe that’s what drives toxic Christians craziest–that not only are people laughing at them, not only are people challenging them, but most of us don’t really care what they do or don’t like or want anymore.

They dearly remember a distant time in the past when everybody bowed to their ideas and cared what they had to say. According to this revised history, then those meaniepie atheists and feminists took it all away from them. That’s what this “religious freedom” twaddle is about. They want to grab back what they feel has been stolen from them.

So without further ado, here is the Captain Cassidy Choose Your Own Adventure: Freeze Peach (say the phrase quickly and you’ll know what it means). Did you ever play one of these? Many kids in the 1980s loved these books. I had almost every one of them. My sister got into the TSR D&D-style CYOA books, but I was a purist. I still have a couple around here somewhere.

They’re very easy to do. You read an entry to the end, where it offers you a choice or two or three options. Decide what you’d do in that situation out of those options, and follow the italicized instructions they give for that action. You keep going like that till you reach an ending. Have fun!

Turn the Page.

1. Does what you said fall under the category of libel/slander, threats, or other specifically-illegal stuff like hate speech?
If you’re not abusing anybody at all or breaking laws, continue to page 2. If you just want to spew hate speech and threats at marginalized groups without worrying about social repercussions, go to page 8.

2. Are you just upset that someone is challenging what you said?
If you’re upset that someone is disagreeing with you, go to page 9. If that’s not the problem, go to page 3.

3. Is what you said either demonstrably incorrect, clearly a personal opinion, or an otherwise unsupported claim?
If yes, go to page 10. If no, go to page 4.

4. Is the big problem here that you just don’t want to follow the same exact rules everybody else has to follow? You don’t like being told to behave respectfully and courteously while you are on another person’s site or in another person’s space?
If you’re sure that you’re following the same rules everybody else is following, go to page 5. If you just want more rights than everybody else gets and you throw tantrums when asked to behave yourself, go to page 11.

5. Is a government or government agent involved here?
If yes, go to page 6. If you’re talking to another private citizen, go to page 11.

6. Is this government or government agent threatening sanctions against you for saying or writing things that aren’t hate speech and aren’t overt threats against anybody, or otherwise not enforcing laws that should protect you as you speak out or seek information?
If yes, go to page 7. If no, go to page 11.

Don’t Peek.

7. Congratulations! Well, if that’s the right word, anyway, because you might possibly be dealing with an issue of free speech.
By all means carry on. You are perfectly within your rights to demand an investigation of this matter with the proper authorities. Someone may be infringing on your rights as a citizen of a secular country that values free speech. The End.

8. This is not a free speech issue.
It’s actually you wanting to abuse people and get away with it. In 50 years you are going to be the laughingstock of this country. Until then, no, you do not get to abuse people in the name of your religion. (PS: Nobody but you is fooled by your desire to hate on people no matter how fervently you call it “love“.) The End.

9. This is not a free speech issue.
Free speech does not give you the right to be uncontested or unchallenged in whatever you say. If you’re going to say it out loud or write it in a space that others can see and access, then other people are allowed to criticize it and assess it. (And by the way, nobody but you is fooled by your attempt to weasel out of the consequences of your speech.) The End.

10. This probably isn’t a free speech issue, but it might be depending on other factors.
It’s totally your right to hold sincerely-held belief that is simply objectively wrong. This is America. Americans can be just as uneducated, ignorant, misinformed, and deceived as they want to be. That said, you can’t force others to give you a platform or listen to you. But guess what? It’s not illegal to be willfully ignorant as long as you’re not breaking any laws. It is still your right to lie, deceive others, or to discuss unpopular opinions. So this is not the end. You may continue to page 4. Hopefully, you will remember that everybody around you is similarly allowed to hold their own opinions and decide to listen or not to whatever you have to say.

11. This is not a free speech issue.
You’re just misusing big words you don’t understand. Privately-held blogs are not a government. Businesses are not a government. Comment threads are not a government. Being banned from a website does not curtail your ability to get your own damned site, blog, or soapbox, from which you can say whatever you want (barring hate speech and other specifically prohibited forms of verbal and written abuse, but hopefully nobody needed to clarify that point). Having to follow the same rules everybody else follows is not a violation of your right to free speech. (Also, nobody but you is fooled by your blatant attempt to force unconsenting people to interact with you. Stop trying to force your religious views down unwilling people’s throats.) The End.

A Backfiring Strategy.

All kidding aside, though, this weirdness Christians pull around free speech is, ultimately, going to backfire. In fact, it will backfire on them in the worst way possible.

Their crying wolf looks like one of those stopgap measures that seems like it’s going to work great at first. But then people look back and wonder what they were even thinking.

It’s going to be awesome when toxic Christians discover that those who live by the false-persecution fantasy, fail by the false-persecution fantasy. The laws that protect my rights are the same laws that will protect Christians in the years to come. They won’t like realizing that they are no longer a tyrannical majority.

The laws that protect me now will protect them as well. That protection will start mattering in way fewer years than they’d like to contemplate, and in way greater ways than they’d like to consider today.


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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