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It is a great pity that the Latin language is now considered dead. Through its death, we have lost many of the Latin words, expressions, and maxims that provided us with great wisdom and poetry. Among these is the phrase, “Panem et circenses”, or, in English, “bread and circuses.”
Panem et circenses refers to a society that uses food and mindless entertainment to keep control of its people. Such a culture does not encourage deep thought, nor does it encourage any search for meaningful or consequential in life.
What an excellent way to describe modern society and the culture that it has produced. No longer does our culture celebrate those with intelligence, moral piety, or depth of character. Instead, society has chosen to celebrate exhibitionism and licentiousness as the height of moral fortitude.
And no other family has demonstrated this fact more than the Kardashian-Jenner family. And modern culture has seen fit to reward them handsomely for it! In 2016, Forbes Magazine listed the Kardashian-Jenner family as the highest earning reality TV Stars. As of 2017, Kendall Jenner had a net worth of approximately US$18 million, Kourtney Kardashian had an approximate net worth of US$35 million, Khloe Kardashian had a net worth of US$40 million, Kylie Jenner, only twenty-years-old, had a net worth of US$50 million, Kris Kenner had a net worth of US$60 million, and Kim Kardashian had a net worth of US$175 million (she made $45.5 million in 2016/2017 alone).
But it’s hardly fair to criticise them. They have merely capitalised on the desire many people have to live a life of glamour and luxury. The Kardashians have been able to make tens-of-millions-of-dollars through their various reality TV shows, various business ventures, modelling, product endorsements, clothing lines, and more.
Of course, all this is not to say that the Kardashian-Jenner family is blameless. Years ago, a family as egotistical, petty, and immoral (what is Kim Kardashian, after all, other than a glorified porn star?) as the Kardashian family would have been treated with absolute disdain.
Not today, though. Today, the Kardashians have been able to build their empire, and it is an empire, upon shameless exploitation, self-aggrandisement, and self-promotion. They are able to reach nearly a billion people through social media and have been frequent guests on television talk shows.
What the Kardashian-Jenner phenomenon reveals is just how shallow our society has become. People have come to treat supermodels, reality TV stars, and sport’s stars as though they are royalty. The problem with this is that it encourages people to do whatever they like for a little bit of attention.
What all this boils down to is a loss of virtue. We have replaced the old heroes, the ones who encouraged courage and chivalry, with new Gods that encourage self-centredness and licentiousness. Self-expression is no longer to be expressed through the sweat of one’s brow, the depth of his character, or the faculties of his reason. Instead, it can be gained, quite easily, by posting a selfie on Instagram or Facebook.
St. Augustine defined virtue as ‘ordo amoris’ (yet another beautiful Latin maxim), or ‘order of love.’ It was his belief that every object and entity was accorded the level of love and affection that was appropriate for it to receive.
What we have today is a society that has gotten that order wrong. When people no longer honour Kings, they worship movie stars, musicians, models, reality TV stars, prostitutes, scoundrels, and gangsters instead. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Our society appears to be suffering a terminal decline. At least that’s the conclusion traditionalists and devout Christian believers like myself have been forced to conclude. As the old-world withers and vanishes, a culture of selfishness, moral relativism, and general immorality has been allowed to grow in its place. The culture that produced Vivaldi, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Aristotle has been replaced with one that has as its major ambassadors the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.
The first clue that a monumental change had taken place came in the guise of Princess Diana’s farce of a funeral in 1997. An event that was cynically exploited by politicians and celebrities and recorded for public consumption by round-the-clock news coverage (her funeral would be watched by two-and-a-half-billion people). As Gerry Penny of The Conversation noted, Diana’s death marked the beginning of the ‘mediated death.’ A death that is covered by the mass media in such a way that it attracts as much public attention, and therefore revenue, as possible.
Compared to Princess Diana, Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965 was a spectacle of old world pomp and ceremony. After lying in state for three days, Churchill’s small coffin was carried by horse-drawn carriage along the historic streets of London to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. His procession was accompanied by Battle of Britain aircrews, royal marines, lifeguards, three chiefs of staff, Lord Mountbatten, and his own family. The silence that filled the air was broken only by a funerary march and the occasional honorary gunshot.
Much like Diana’s funeral, tens of thousands of people came to witness Churchill’s funeral. But unlike Diana’s mourners, who did everything they could to draw attention to themselves, Churchill’s mourners were silent and respectful. They realised, unlike Diana’s mourners, that the best way to commemorate a great man was to afford him the respect that his legacy deserved.
Cynics would dismiss Churchill’s funeral as nothing more than a ridiculous display of pomp and ceremony. However, these events serve an important cultural purpose by connecting the individual with his community, his culture, and his heritage. In doing so, they bring about order and harmony.
Winston Churchill was the great Briton of the 20th century. Like Horatio Lord Nelson in the early 19th century, it was Churchill’s leadership that saved Britain from Nazi invasion and it was his strength and resolve that gave ordinary Britons that courage to endure the worst periods of the War.
And understandably, many Britons felt something approximating a kind of personal gratitude towards him. A gratitude deep enough that when he died many felt it to be their duty to file reverently pass his body lying in state or stand in respectful silence as his funeral procession passed. What Churchill’s state funeral did was give the ordinary person the opportunity to pay their own respects and feel that they had played a part, if only in a minute way, in the celebration of his life.
Winston Churchill’s funeral and Princess Diana’s funeral represent eras that are as foreign to one another as Scotland is to Nepal. While Churchill’s funeral represented heritage and tradition, Princess Diana’s funeral symbolised mass nihilism and self-centredness.
But why has this happened? I believe the answer lies in the dual decline of Western culture and Christianity.
The French philosopher, Chantal Delsol described modern Western culture as being akin to Icarus had he survived the fall. (Icarus, of course, being the figure in Greek mythology whose wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun). Where once it had been strong, resolute, and proud, it has now become weak, dejected, disappointed, and disillusioned. We have lost confidence in our own traditions and ideals.
Of course, the decline of Western culture has a direct correlation with the more consequential decline of Christianity. It is faith that informs culture and creates civilisation, and the faith that has informed the West has been Christianity. It is the moral ideals rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition – that I love my neighbour, that my behaviour in this life will determine my fate in the next, that I should forgive my enemies – that form the axiomatic principles that undergird Western civilisation.
This faith has been replaced by an almost reverent belief in globalism, feminism, environmentalism, diversity, equality, and human rights. Our secularism has made us believe that those who came before us were ignorant, superstitious, and conformist. And what has the result of this loss of mass religiosity been? Mass nihilism and a decline in moral values.
But when faith falls so too does culture and civilisation. If we are to revive our civilisation, we must be prepared to acknowledge that tradition, heritage, and religion are not only integral, but vital.
In 2017, the online video subscription service, Hulu, embarked on the production of Margaret Atwood’s (1939 – ) 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is set in the fictional, totalitarian state of Gilead: a society run by fundamentalist Christians who overthrew the previous secular state and set up a theocracy in its wake. For years, influential thought leaders and other arbiters of popular opinion have espoused the opinion that broader society would greatly benefit from the abolition of Christianity. It is my belief that such an occurrence would have precisely the opposite effect.
No group has criticised Christianity more than the New Atheists. Frequently deriding it as nothing more than “science for stupid people”, prominent New Atheists have ridiculed Christianity and dismissed its positive effects. Atheists and anti-Christians turn Christianity into a straw man by reducing it down to his most basic elements (they are helped, unfortunately, by those fundamentalist Christians who still assert that the earth is literally six-thousand years old). They then use this straw man to discredit the idea of faith. The philosopher, Sam Harris (1967 – ) argued in his book, The End of Faith that religious belief constituted a mental illness. More alarmingly, the British Scientist, Richard Dawkins (1941 – ) took things one step further by claiming that religious instruction constituted a form of child abuse.
The basis for much of Christianity’s negative portrayal finds its roots in the philosophies of the political left. A central tenet of the left-wing worldview is an adherence to secularism, which appears set to replace Christianity as the prevailing cultural belief system. (This is not to be confused with atheism, which denies the existence of a creator). On the one hand, secularism promotes both religious liberty and the separation of church and state (both of which are good things). On the other hand, however, proponents of secularism reject the knowledge and wisdom religious institutions can impart on the world. In a secular society, God can be believed to exist, but not in any sort of a productive way. God is something to be confined the private home or the sanctuary of one’s local Church. God is something to be worshipped behind closed doors where no one can see you.
Of course, anti-Christian rhetoric has been a facet of popular culture since the 1960s. Today, finding a positively-portrayed devout Christian family is about as likely as finding a virgin in the maternity ward. Christians are routinely depicted as stupid, backwards, hateful, and extreme. By contrast, atheists are routinely depicted as witty, intelligent, and tolerant. In short, Atheism is deemed as good and Christianity is deemed as bad. And, of course, this attitude has filled some with a kind of arrogant grandiosity. During an interview in 1966, John Lennon (1940 – 1980) opined: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”
The mainstream media rarely discusses the persecution of Christians. Indeed, prejudice and discrimination against Christianity is treated with a type of permissiveness that prejudice and discrimination against other religions, Islam being a primary example, is not.
Christians are estimated to be the victims of four out of five discriminatory acts around the world, and face persecutions in one-hundred-and-thirty-nine countries. Churches have been firebombed in Nigeria. North Koreans caught with Bibles are summarily shot. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have faced mob violence, forced removals, and, in the wake of the Arab spring, the abduction of their females who are forced to marry Muslim men.
In China, Christian villagers were instructed to remove pictures of Christ, the Crucifix, and Gospel passages by Communist Party officials who wished to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.” According to the South China Morning Post, the purpose behind the drive was the alleviation of poverty. The Chinese Communist Party believed that it was religious faith that was responsible for poverty in the region and wanted the villagers to look to their political leaders for help, rather than a saviour. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Chinese Communist Party looked at their own evil and ineffective political ideology as the true cause of poverty in their country rather than blaming it on religion?). As a result, around six-hundred people in China’s Yugan county – where about ten percent of the population is Christian – removed Christian symbology from their living rooms.
Popular culture and thought in the West has attempted, with a great deal of success, to paint Christianity as stupid, backwards, dogmatic, and immoral. It is the presence religion that is to blame for holding the human race back. It is religion that is to blame for racism, sexism, and all manner of social injustices. It is religion that is the cause of all wars. So, on and so forth.
I strongly disagree with this argument. Indeed, it is my belief that the abolishment of Christianity from public life would have the effect of increasing intolerance and immorality. Christianity’s abolishment will have precisely this effect because it will abolish those metaphysical doctrines – divine judgement, universal and absolute morality, and the divinity of the human soul – that has made those things possible.
Christianity and Western Civilisation are inextricably linked. In the field of philosophy, virtually all Western thinkers have grappled with the concepts of God, faith, morality, and more. As the writer, Dinesh D’Souza (1961 – ) wrote in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity:
“Christianity is responsible for the way our society is organised and for the way we currently live. So extensive is Christian contribution to our laws, our economics, our politics, our art, our calendar, our holidays, and our moral and cultural priorities that J.M. Robers writes in Triumph of the West: ‘We could none one of us today be what we are if a handful of Jews nearly two thousand years ago had not believed that they had known a great teacher, seen him crucified, died, and buried, and then rise again’.”
The primary contribution of Christianity to Western civilisation has been to act as a stabilising force, providing society with an overarching metaphysical structure as well as rules and guidelines that act as a moral foundation. This shared metaphysical structure and moral foundation, combined with traditions and cultural customs, has the effect of bringing a country, a township, even a school or parish, together.
When Christianity lost its supremacy in society it was replaced by smaller, less transcendent and more ideological, belief systems. Where people had once been unified by a common belief, they have now become more divided along ideological lines. Religious belief has not been replaced by rationalism or logic, as the New Atheists supposed. Rather, people have found outlets for their need to believe in other places: social activism, political ideologies, and so forth.
The most prevalent contribution that Christianity has made to the Western world comes under the guise of human rights. Stories like The Parable of the Good Samaritan have had a remarkable influence on its conception. Human rights stem, in part, from the belief that human beings were created in the image of God and hold a divine place in the cosmos. Christianity has played a positive role in ending numerous brutal and archaic practices, including slavery, human sacrifice, polygamy, and infanticide. Furthermore, it has condemned incest, abortion, adultery, and divorce. (Remarkably, there are some secularists who wish to bring back some of these antiquated practices).
Christianity placed an intrinsic value on human life that had not been present in pre-Christian society. As the American Pastor, Tim Keller (1950 – ) wrote in Reasons for God: “It was extremely common in the Greco-Roman world to throw out new female infants to die from exposure, because of the low status of women in society.” Roman culture was well known for its brutality and callousness. Practices of regicide, gladiatorial combat, infanticide, and crucifixion were all common. Seneca (4BC – AD65), Nero’s (AD37 – AD68) chief advisor, once stated that it was Roman practice to “drown children who, at birth, are weakly and abnormal.”
Christian morality has had a notable effect on our views on human sexuality and has helped to provide women with far greater rights and protections than its pagan predecessors. Christianity helped to end the hypocritical pagan practice of allowing men to have extra-marital affairs and keep mistresses. It formulated rules against the cohabitation of couples prior to marriage, adultery, and divorce. Unlike the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, Christians do not force widows to remarry, and even allowed widows to keep their husband’s estates.
The Christian faith has been instrumental in the enactment and promotion of public works. The instigator of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) championed the idea of compulsory education and state-funded schools. Similarly, the Lutheran layman, Johann Sturm (1507 – 1589) pioneered graded education. Christianity has been the source of numerous social services including health-care, schooling, charity, and so forth. Christianity’s positive belief in charity and compassion has lead to many orphanages, old-age homes, and groups like the Sisters of Charity and Missionaries of the Poor, the YMCA and YWCA, Teen Challenge, the Red Cross, and numerous hospitals and mental health institutions being founded by the faithful.
One of the frequent criticisms levelled at the Christian faith, particularly the Catholic Church, has been that it has stymied scientific and technological development. In truth, Western science and technology have been able to flourish because of the influence of Christianity, not in spite of it. This is because the Christian belief that God created everything lends itself to the idea that everything is worth contemplating. It is certainly true that the Catholic Church has been hostile to those discoveries that do not conform to its doctrine. Galileo, for example, was forced to retract his claim of heliocentrism because it challenged the Church’s doctrine that the earth acted as the centre of the solar system. For the most part, however, Christianity has been largely supportive of scientific endeavour. Christian scientists have included Gregor Mendel (1822 – 1884), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630), Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662), Andre Ampere (1775 – 1836), James Joule (1818 – 1889), Lord Kelvin (1824 – 1907), Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691), George Washington Carver (1860s – 1943), Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895), Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912), Francis Collins (1950 – ), William Phillips (1914 – 1975), and Sir John Houghton (1931 – ), and more.
The forces behind the stratospheric success of Western civilisation has not been its art or music or architecture, but the ideas it has built itself upon. It is notions like the rule of law, property rights, free markets, a preference for reason and logic, and Christian theology that are responsible for making Western society the freest and most prosperous civilisation that has ever existed. It cannot survive with one of its central tenents removed.
Modernity is in trouble. From the menace of migrant crime in Europe to the sexual transgressions rife in modern-day Hollywood, the moral argument for modernity is quickly waning. How did things go so wrong? And how do we fix it? Perhaps a return to traditional values and ideals are in order.
The modern world developed over hundreds of years. The post-medieval period has seen the advent of tolerance as a social and political virtue, the rise of the nation-state, the increased role of science and technology in daily life, the development of representative democracy, the creation of property rights, urbanisation, mass literacy, print media, industrialisation, mercantilism, colonisation, the social sciences, modern psychology, emancipation, romanticism, naturalist approaches to art and culture, and the development of existential philosophy. From the computer to the mobile phone, the motor car to the aeroplane, the marvels of the modern world are all around us.
The modern world has replaced the Aristotelean and faith-based concept of human life that was popular in the Middle Ages with a worldview based on science and reason. Modern intellectualism, therefore, follows the example set forth by Cartesian and Kantian philosophy: mistrusting tradition and finding its roots in science and rationality.
Culturally and intellectually, the 21st century represents the postmodern era. Postmodernism can be difficult to define accurately because the various cultural and social movements that use it as their central philosophy define it for their own purposes. Jean-Franҫois Lyotard (1924 – 1998), who introduced the term in his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition, defined postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives.” Similarly, Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as a philosophical movement in opposition to the philosophical assumptions and values of modern Western philosophy.
Postmodernism came about as a reaction, indeed a rejection, to modernity. With its roots in the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976), Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), and Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), the postmodernist rejects the philosophical theory of Foundationalism – the idea that knowledge is built upon a solid foundation – in favour of large-scale scepticism, subjectivism, and relativism.
The postmodernist likes to see himself as Beowulf fighting Grendel. That is, he likes to see himself as the mythical hero fighting the historical-critical monster. Inspired by doctrines of white privilege and toxic masculinity, and driven by an anti-capitalist (except when it comes to their I-phones), anti-racist (provided the person isn’t white), anti-imperialist (but only European imperialism), and anti-transphobic (because gender is a “social construct”) rhetoric, the post-modernist inspired neo-Marxists and social justice warriors have invaded the modern university and college campus.
Modernity and post-modernism have produced a swathe of existential and moral problems that the Western world has, as of yet, proved unable (or perhaps even unwilling) to solve. To begin, the modern world has abolished the central role that God, nature, and tradition has played in providing life with purpose. In spite of all its cruelty, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920) saw the Middle Ages as a highly humanistic period. Everything was considered to have a divine purpose. Even someone as lowly as a Medieval serf, for example, could feel that he had a role in God’s greater scheme. There was a sense of, as Martin Buber (1878 – 1965) puts it, “I-thou.” Modernity swapped “I-thou” for “I-it”. The human will replaced God as the ultimate arbiter of meaning.
This problem has been further exacerbated by the alienation of the human spirit to nature. Science, for all of its positive qualities, has had the effect of rendering nature meaningless. No longer is a thunderclap the voice of an angry God, nor does a cave contain a goblin or a mountain harbour a giant. Science may be an excellent means for understanding facts, but it is not a substitute for wisdom or tradition when it comes to determining human purpose. No longer does the natural world command the sense of reverential majesty that it once did.
The answer to the problems of the modern, and, by extension, post-modern, world is a revitalisation of the traditional beliefs, values, ideas, customs, and practices that have made the Western world great in the first place. We must reject the destructive ideas espoused by the postmodernists and work to revitalise our traditions. It is high time we started taking some pride in the traditions that have made our civilisation so great.
In 2015, the then-Presidential candidate, Donald Trump (1946 – ) called for a boycott of Starbucks after the famous coffee shop chain failed to include the words “Merry Christmas” on their annual Christmas cups. “Did you read about Starbucks?”, Trump asked a rally in Springfield, Illinois. “No more ‘Merry Christmas’ on Starbucks. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”
Two years later, Donald Trump, now President of the United States, doubled down on his pro-Christmas message. Speaking at a Christian Public Policy conference, the President stated:
“We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct.”
“You got to department stores and they’ll say, ‘Happy New Year’, or they’ll say other things and it’ll be red, they’ll have it painted. But they don’t say it. Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
The sentiment that there is a War on Christmas designed to push the religious holiday out of public consciousness carries a great deal of validity. Since 2000, the Becket Institute has listed the biggest Christmas scrooges in American public life, giving the worst offenders an ‘Ebenezer award.’
In 2000, city manager of Eugene, Oregon, Jim Johnson was given the Ebenezer Award after he issued a five-page memo banning Christmas trees from any “public space” in the city.
In 2011, the Ebenezer Award was given to the United States Post Office after they enforced a policy preventing people from singing Christmas carols on Government property. This decision stands in direct contradiction to Benjamin Franklin’s (1706 – 1790) (their founder) commandment to “always live jollily; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas.”
In 2014, the City of Sioux Falls was given the Ebenezer Award after they threatened to repaint and censor snowploughs that featured artwork celebrating the religious nature of Christmas.
In 2015, the Ebenezer Award was given to the Department of Veteran Affairs after they banned their employees at their Salem, Virginia facility from saying ‘Merry Christmas.’
The problem is not unique to the United States, either. During an interview with 2GB Radio, Peter Dutton (1970 – ), Australia’s minister for immigration and border protection, became incensed after a caller informed him that there had not been any Christmas carols in a performance at his grandchild’s school. The caller informed Dutton that the school in question, Kerdon State High School, had replaced the lyric “we wish you a Merry Christmas” with “we wish you a happy holiday.” Dutton replied: “You make my blood boil with these stories. It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”
I believe that the drive to remove the more traditional and religious aspects from holidays like Christmas and Easter is indicative of a larger attempt to abolish the influence of Christianity on society and culture.
The problem with this, needless to say, is that it is akin to chopping down a tree and still wishing to enjoy its fruits. It is not possible to enjoy the fruits of Western culture and civilisation when its ideological origins and overarching philosophical-cum-theological structures have been removed. Christianity and Western civilisation are inextricably linked. The poet, T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) wrote in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1943) that “to our Christian heritage we owe many things besides religious faith. Through it we trace the evolution of our arts, through it we have a conception of Roman Law which has done so much to shape the Western world, through it we have our conception of private and public morality.”
The War on Christmas is an attack on the very fabric of Western Civilisation. Christmas symbolises the central axiom our culture was built on: that the Universe was constructed to have a natural and moral order. The War on Christmas is not merely an attack of Judeo-Christian belief, nor is it merely an attack on Western culture, it is an attack upon truth itself. And the truth cannot prosper while those who believe it are unwilling to defend it.
There has been an alarming trend in modern culture: numerous political and social activist groups have been attempting to use the pernicious and false doctrines of political correctness, tolerance, and diversity to silence those they disagree with. Many of these groups have sought the passage of so-called “hate speech” laws designed to silence voices of dissent.
At public colleges and universities, places where free speech and open debate should be actively encouraged, measures – including protests, disruption, and, in some cases, outright violence – taken to suppress voices of dissent has become tantamount to Government censorship. This censorship prevents students from inviting the speakers they wish to hear and debate speech they disagree with. Eva Fourakis, the editor-in-chief of The Williams Record (the student newspaper of Williams College) wrote an editorial, later recanted, commenting that “some speech is too harmful to invite to campus.” The editorial went on to say: “students should not face restrictions in terms of the speakers they bring to campus, provided of course that these speakers do not participate in legally recognised forms of hate speech.”
The University of California, Berkeley, is famous for sparking the free speech movement of the 1960s. Today, however, it has become a haven for radical, anti-free speech Neo-Marxists and social justice warriors. Not only have many Republican students had their personal property destroyed, but numerous conservative speakers have had their talks disturbed, and, in some cases, halted altogether. In February, Antifa – so-called anti-fascists – set fires and vandalised building during a speech by the controversial journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos (1984 – ). In April, threats of violence aimed at members of the Young Americas Foundation forced political commentator, Ann Coulter (1961 – ), to cancel her speech. A speech by David Horowitz (1939 – ), founder and president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was cancelled after organisers discovered that the event would take place during normal class times (for safety, or so they claimed). Finally, the conservative journalist, Ben Shapiro (1984 – ), was forced to spend US$600,000 on security for his speech at UC Berkeley. These events show that those who wish to use disruption, vilification, threats, and outright violence to silence others can be, and often are, successful in doing so.
Like most the principles of classical liberalism, free speech developed through centuries of political, legal, and philosophical progress. And like many Western ideas, its development can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. During his trial in Athens in 399BC, Socrates (470BC – 399BC) expressed the belief that the ability to speak was man’s most divine gift. “If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind”, Socrates stated, “I should say to you, ‘Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”
Sixteen hundred years later, in 1215, the Magna Carta became the founding document of English liberty. In 1516, Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) wrote in the Education of a Christian Prince that “in a free state, tongues too should be free.” In 1633, the astronomist Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Catholic Church for refusing to retract his claim of a heliocentric solar system. In 1644, the poet, John Milton (1608 – 1674), author of Paradise Lost, warned in Areopagictica that “he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.” Following the usurpation of King James II (1633 – 1701) by William III (1650 – 1702) and Mary II (1662 – 1694) in 1688, the English Parliament passed the English Bill of Rights which guaranteed free elections, regular parliaments, and freedom of speech in Parliament.
In 1789, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, an important document of the French revolution, provided for freedom of speech (needless to say, Robespierre and company were not very good at actually promoting this ideal). That same year, the philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) famously wrote: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” Over in the United States, in 1791, the first amendment of the US Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble:
ARTICLE [I] (AMENDMENT 1 – FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND RELIGION)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
During the 19th century, the British philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) argued for toleration and individuality in his 1859 essay, On Liberty. “If any opinion is compelled to silence”, Mill warned, “that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to presume our own infallibility.” Mill believed that all doctrines, no matter how immoral or offensive, ought to be given public exposure. He stated in On Liberty:
“If the argument of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”
Elsewhere in On Liberty, Mill warned that the suppression of one voice was as immoral as the suppression of all voices:
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Centuries later, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accepted unilaterally by the United Nations, urged member states to promote civil, human, economic, social, and political rights – including freedom of expression and religion.
Within the American Justice System, numerous Supreme Court cases have created judicial protections for freedom of speech. In the case of the Nationalist Socialist Party of America v. Village of Stoke (1977), the Supreme Court upheld the right of neo-Nazis to march through a village with a large Jewish population and wear Nazi insignia. The Justices found that the promotion of religious hatred was not a sufficient reason to restrict free speech.
In the city of St. Paul during the early 1990s, a white teenager was arrested under the “Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance” after he burnt a cross made of a broken chair (cross-burning is commonly used by the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate African Americans) in the front yard of an African American family. The Court ruled that the city’s Ordinance was unconstitutional. Justice Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016), noted that the purpose of restricting fighting words was to prevent civil unrest, not to ban the content or message of the speaker’s words. Scalia wrote in the case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992):
“The ordinance applies only to ‘fighting words’ that insult, or provoke violence, ‘on the basis of race, colour, creed, religion or gender.’ Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics. Those who wish to use ‘fighting words’ in connection with other ideas—to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality—are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.”
In the Matal v. Tam case (2017), the Supreme Court found that a provision within the Lanham Act prohibiting the registration of trademarks that disparaged persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols violated the First Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito (1950 – ) opined:
“[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy (1936 – ) opined:
“A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”
In recent years, numerous calls to ban speech have been justified on the basis that it is “hateful.” Much of this has come from the political left who (in what one may cynically regard as having more to do with silencing voices of dissent than with protecting vulnerable groups) argue that restrictions on hate speech must occur if minorities are to be given equal status with everyone else.
That certain types of speech can be offensive, and that some of that speech may be aimed at certain groups of people, is undeniable. Hate speech has even been criticised for undermining democracy! In an article, Alexander Tsesis, Professor of Law at Loyola University, wrote: “hate speech is a threatening form of communication that is contrary to democratic principles.” Some have even argued that hate speech violates the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law:
Article XIV (AMENDMENT 14 – RIGHTS GUARANTEED: PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES OF CITIZENSHIP, DUE PROCESS, AND EQUAL PROTECTION)
1: All persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
That there is a historical basis for restricting hate speech is undeniable. Slavery, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust, among other atrocities, were all proceeded by violent and hateful rhetoric. (Indeed, incitement to genocide is considered a serious war crime and a serious crime against humanity under international law.) Genocide is almost always preceded by hate speech. However, what proponents of hate speech laws fail to realise is that the countries that perpetrated these atrocities did not extend the freedom to speak to the groups that they were targeting. Joseph Goebbels (1897 – 1945), the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, for example, had such an iron grip on Germany’s media that any voice contradicting the Nazi’s anti-Semitic propaganda had no opportunity to be heard.
But who, exactly, supports hate speech laws? Analysis of survey data taken from Pew Research Center and YouGov reveals that it is primarily non-white, millennial democrats. In terms of age, the Pew Research Centre found that forty-percent of millennials supported Government censorship of hate speech, compared to twenty-seven percent of gen x-ers, twenty-four percent of baby-boomers, and only twelve percent of the silent generation.
In terms of race, research by YouGov reveals that sixty-two percent of African Americans support Government censorship of hate speech, followed by fifty percent of Hispanics, and thirty-six percent of White Americans.
In terms of political affiliation, research from YouGov taken in 2015 found that fifty-one percent of Democrats supported restrictions on hate speech, compared to thirty-seven percent of Republicans, and only thirty-five percent of independents.
The primary issue with hate speech is that determining what it does and does not constitute is very difficult. (The cynic may argue, fairly, that hate speech begins when the speaker expresses a view or states a fact or expresses an opinion that another person does not want others to hear.) As Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) pointed out, the central problem with hate speech is that someone has to decide what it does and does not constitute.
The second issue with hate speech laws is that they can easily be used by one group to silence another. Often this kind of censorship is aimed at particular groups of individuals purely for ideological and/or political purposes, often with the justification that such actions increase the freedom and equality of the people the advocates claim to represent.
In Canada, Bill C-16 has sought to outlaw “hate propaganda” aimed at members of the community distinguishable by their gender identity or expression. The Bill originated with a policy paper by the Ontario Human Rights Commission which sought to determine what constituted discrimination against gender identity and expression. This included “refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun.” Supporters of Bill C-16 see it as an important step towards the creation of legal protections for historically marginalised groups. Detractors, however, have expressed concern that the Bill creates a precedence for Government mandated speech.
The Canadian clinical psychologist and cultural critic, Professor Jordan Peterson (1962 – ), first came to public attention when he posted a series of YouTube videos warning of the dangers of political correctness and criticising Bill C-16. In his videos, Professor Peterson warned that the law could be used to police speech and compel individuals to use ‘transgender pronouns’ (these are terms like ‘ze’ and ‘zer’, among others). For his trouble, Peterson has been accused of violence by a fellow panellist on the Agenda with Steve Palkin, received two warning letters from the University of Toronto in 2016, and was denied a social research grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Europe has been experiencing similar attempts to silence speech. A law passed in the Bundestag this year will force social media companies operating in Germany to delete racist or slanderous comments and posts within twenty-four hours or face a fine of up to €50 million if they fail to do so. Additionally, numerous public figures have found themselves charged with hate speech crimes for merely pointing out the relationship between the large influx of non-European migrants and high crime rates, particularly in terms of rape and terrorism. One politician in Sweden was prosecuted for daring to post immigrant crime statistics on Facebook.
In Great Britain, British Freedom of Information documents reveal that around twenty-thousand adults and two-thousand children had been investigated by the police for comments that made online. In politics, British MP, Paul Weston (1965 – ), found himself arrested after he quoted a passage on Islam written by Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965). In Scotland, a man was charged under the 2003 Communication’s Act with the improper use of electronic communications after he filmed his dog making a Hitler salute.
In Australia, Herald Sun columnist, Andrew Bolt (1959 – ), was found to have contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act after he published articles accusing fair-skinned Aborigines of using their racial status for personal advantages. The law firm, Holding Redlich, speaking for a group of Aboriginal persons, demanded that the Herald Sun retract two Andrew Bolt articles, written in April and August of 2009, and restrain Bolt from writing similar articles in the future. Joel Zyngier, who acted for the group pro-bono, told Melbourne’s The Age:
“We see it as clarifying the issue of identity—who gets to say who is and who is not Aboriginal. Essentially, the articles by Bolt have challenged people’s identity. He’s basically arguing that the people he identified are white people pretending they’re black so they can access public benefits.”
Judge Morcedai Bromberg (1959 – ) found that the people targeted by Bolt’s articles were reasonably likely to have been “offended, insulted, humiliated, or intimidated.”
We need speech to be as free as possible because it is that which allows us to exchange and critique information. It through free speech that we are able to keep our politicians and public officials in check, that we are able to critique public policy, and that we are able to disseminate information. As the Canadian cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker (1954 – ), observed: “free speech is the only way to acquire knowledge about the world.” Measures taken to restrict free speech, whether it be the criminalization of hate speech or any other, is a complete contradiction of the principles that free Western democracies are founded upon.
Everyone versed in culture and politics understands the truth in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s (1792 – 1822) argument that creators of culture are the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Our view of the world is derived from our religious beliefs, the stories we read as children, the movies we watched, the cultural customs we become accustomed to, and so forth. It is not that culture constructs the physical edifices of civilisation per say, but that culture forms the values and philosophies upon which civilisation is founded.
In the west, the prevailing cultural narrative champions wholesome virtues: kindness, compassion, love, fair-play, and so forth, as being the only way to achieve prosperity and success. The individual must avoid combat with others, and be polite, civil, pleasant, and diplomatic to all. To be seen using aggression or wanting power leads to social isolation. This has certainly been the message in culture. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the title character is a corrupt, twisted, and Machiavellian prince who schemes his way into power. By contrast, the future Henry VII is seen to be fair and humane. By the end of the play, Richard dies hated even by members of his own family, whereas Henry is celebrated as a noble hero.
This worldview bears little resemblance to reality:
“The manner in which we live, and that in which we ought to live, are things so wide asunder, that he who quits the one to betake himself with the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself; since anyone who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything, must be ruined among so many who are not good. It is essential for a prince who wishes to maintain his position, to have learned how to be other than good, and to use or not to use his goodness as necessity requires.” (Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532, Chapter 15, page 114)
Bubbling just below the surface are the real, amoral virtues which foster prosperity and success. In Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) puts forth the following proposition:
“Suppose nothing is given as ‘real’ except our world of desires and passions, and we could not get down, or up, to any other ‘reality’ besides the reality of our drives.” (Beyond Good and Evil, page 59).
Maybe we aren’t as driven by morality and Godliness as we like to think we are. Maybe we are driven by lust for power, material wealth, and sex. (This, of course, brings forth the possibility that the purpose of wholesomeness is to temper our real desires).
Even though we loathe having to admit it, all of us want power. Power gives us greater control and makes us feel more secure. But since it is socially unacceptable to be seen wanting power we are forced to rely on subtlety. We are forced to become honest on the one hand, and duplicitous on the other, congenial yet cunning, democratic yet devious.
In chapter twenty-one of the Prince, Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) wrote: “Nothing makes a prince so well thought of as to undertake great enterprises and give striking proofs of his capacity.” Our civilisation was built through ambitious and power-hungry individuals. Not by the wholesome virtues presented to us.
This is our weekly theological article.
The Canadian clinical psychologist, philosopher, and academic, Jordan B. Peterson (1962 – ) has released a 12-part lecture series designed to evaluate the psychological and cultural significance of the Bible. As he explains on his website:
“The Bible is a series of books written, edited and assembled over thousands of years. It contains the most influential stories of mankind. Knowledge of those stories is essential to a deep understanding of Western culture, which is in turn vital to proper psychological health (as human beings are cultural animals) and societal stability. These stories are neither history, as we commonly conceive it, nor empirical science. Instead, they are investigations into the structure of Being itself and calls to action within that Being. They have deep psychological significance.”
Be warned, these are long lectures, ranging from two-hours-and-twenty-eight minutes to two-hours-and-forty-minutes. Furthermore, much of the subject matter is very deep and complex. However, it is a lecture series that boasts a wealth of practical wisdom and will greatly enlighten the viewer on the cultural and theological heritage of Western civilisation.
You can find the full lecture series here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL22J3VaeABQD_IZs7y60I3lUrrFTzkpat
This week for our cultural article, we will be examining Rembrandt’s (1606 – 1669) 1642 painting, “The Night Watch.”
“The Night Watch” represents a style of painting that was unique to Holland and the northern Netherlands during the 17th century: the Schuttersstuk. Furthermore, Rembrandt’s rendition is, in and of itself, a highly original rendition in that it does not rely upon the typical rows of figures common to the style. Instead, Rembrandt’s painting featured animated subjects engaged in the various duties and responsibilities of the Civic Guard.
Painted using oils on a 142.9 by 172.0-inch canvas, “The Night Watch” is Rembrandt’s largest painting. Despite its title, the painting is actually set during the day. The reason the painting’s background looks so dark is that the varnish Rembrandt used darkened over the years. It was restored to its original glory in the 1940s, but the name “The Night Watch” stuck. On a side note, it is interesting to observe Rembrandt’s well-known use of the technique ‘chiaroscuror’ (Italian for ‘light-dark’) which uses light and dark to create dramatic contrasts and a sense of three-dimensionality.
Painted during the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt was commissioned to create the painting by the Kloveniersdolen – the guild hall of the Amsterdam Civic Guard Company of Musketeers. In the Netherlands, Civic Guardsmen were tasked with the defence of their cities, the maintenance of law and order, firefighting, and forming a strong presence during festivities and parades for visiting royalty. Each company of Civic Guardsmen had its own guild hall decorated, according to tradition, with group portraits of distinguished members. These portraits were designed to evoke a sense of affinity between the members of the company and asserted their power and status within the cities they protected.
The focus on rights and privileges has become a major characteristic of our modern culture. This focus has manifested itself in a variety of ways. One of these has been the focus upon the denial rights of the so-called underprivileged and oppressed – these namely being women (who, for some reason, are considered a minority), homosexuals, transgendered peoples, non-whites, non-Christians, and more. This focus on rights and privileges has perverted and corrupted all aspects of social and cultural life, including marriage.
For centuries, numerous political philosophers have seen the organisation of sex and reproduction as being vital to the health of a society. The most obvious form of this organisation could be found in marriage: an institution used by society to regulate family life, sex, and reproduction. The American political scientist, James Q. Wilson (1931 – 2012), said in his book, the Marriage Problem (2002): “Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, do not solve.”
Wilson observed in his book, the Moral Sense (1993):
“In virtually every society, the family is defined by marriage; that is, by a publicly announced contract that makes legitimate the sexual union of a man and a woman. Even in societies where men and women have relatively unrestricted sexual access to one another beginning at an early age, marriage is still the basis for family formation. It is desired by the partners and expected by society. Marriage, in short, is not simply a way of legitimizing sex, and so it cannot be dispensed with just because sexual activity need not be made legitimate. Marriage exists because people must take responsibilities for child care and assume economic obligations. Marriage, and thus the family that it defines, is a commitment.”
Christianity sees marriage as a covenant based on duty and commitment, not one based purely on feelings. Christian marriage is based on agape: the sacrificial love for another person. It is a love that is genuine, that endures through both good times and bad, that is not diminished by time or circumstance, that has a spiritual dimension, and is based on words and actions. This is a compassionate love, not a romantic one.
Marriages work when husbands and wives contribute equally to its health and vitality. Suffice to say, both husband and wife have duties and responsibilities in this regard. The first duty of the individual, then, is to psychologically separate themselves from their parents and siblings and form a new identity as husband or wife. (It is important to note here that this does not mean alienating or abandoning one’s birth family). After this, husbands and wives are duty-bound to love, honour, and trust each other. They should avoid any activity that may cause reasonable suspicion our jealousy so they may live in peace and harmony with each other. Finally, they ought to treat each other with reverence and respect: tolerating each other’s imperfections and being kind and charitable with one another.
The modern obsession with rights and privileges has created an imbalance. This imbalance can only be redressed by asserting the importance of individual responsibility. One of the central places this can occur is through the focus on the obligations and responsibilities of spouses within the confines of marriage.