Beware of restricting the truth
James Knight is concerned about a conference in Scotland last week where permission to contribute to the debate was determined by skin colour. He shares his concerns with us here.
This week the University of Edinburgh, pictured above, has been criticised for hosting an “anti-racism” event in which white people were due to be banned from asking questions. The conference was organised by the Resisting Whiteness group, which opposes racism and describes itself as a QTPOC (queer and trans people of colour) organisation. There were two “safe spaces” at the event - and for one of which, white people will be barred from entering. The report said, "the safe places are meant for those who feel “overwhelmed, overstimulated or uncomfortable”. Their aim was to “amplify the voices of people of colour" by not be giving the microphone to white people during the Q&As.
This is disturbing on several levels, especially for Christians - and sadly seems to reflect the snowflake culture of offence, safe spaces and restrictions of free speech we are living in. Christianity involves a relationship with God, and that relationship is nested in truth - and truth is more easily discovered when it is unimpeded by overbearing restrictions.
I think the concept of safe spaces is a dubious one - there are not really any safe spaces, at least not at the intellectual level in universities. A place of sanctuary is a viable safe haven, such as for groups of addicts or women recovering from domestic abuse, but there are no real safe spaces in terms of intellectual ideas.
I don't just mean because they stifle thought and erode free expression - I mean because the people within the walls of their self-constricted safe spaces are never really protected from what lurks beneath the sub-ducts of their psyche and their despair at being incarcerated in such a constricting mental prison. The walls they have erected to protect them from the outside are full of cracks into which those outside things leak anyway - you are never safe from the dangers of retarding truth, nor from the loss of the liberation gained from discovery and from the exploration of ideas. People who like the sound of intellectual safe spaces should be very careful what they wish for - it's going to feel like hell in the end.
Similarly, the principal wisdom about free speech is that it must apply equally to all, not just when it feels convenient - it's the very least humans deserve. A society that puts people in gilded cages and encourages them to lock the door from the inside is not only fostering an environment that suppresses speech, it is fostering an environment that suppresses thought as well, because we do lots of our best thinking from talking and sharing ideas and hearing feedback. A society that makes people craven about speech makes people craven about ideas, because it keeps a lot of our best stuff locked away in the safe space of our cranium - unexpressed, and therefore unfulfilled.
If we see what scripture says about truth, we'll see why freedom is a natural concomitant with truth. The gospel of John contains several verses about the power of truth - perhaps most germane is John 8:32 where Jesus tells us that through Him, we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. In John 14:6 Jesus identifies as being the truth, He says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Truth, we discover, isn't just something God helps us find (although it is that too), it is instantiated in the person of Christ Himself. It is Christ Himself who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Consequently, Christians ought to be wary of safe spaces and restrictions of freedom of speech, not just because of the thoughts and ideas they suppress, but also because our self-appointed thought police are unworthy masters.
As CS. Lewis famously said: “Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
The above image is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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