Intelligent moral debate and discussion within the public sphere are becoming endangered. Loud voices, which do not necessarily represent the majority, shout down views incompatible with their own. They do so not with respect or reasoned analysis of a different viewpoint, but with bullying and cries of “hate” or “bigot”.
This trend is making some Christian viewpoints harder to express. Christians do not want to be unfairly labeled with “hate” in a way that cuts down all debate and is simply untrue, especially when they know they genuinely love, respect and wish the best for all people. So they stay quiet.
In a free society, we must be able to tolerate the free discussion of ideas that we do not like. Freedom of speech also means that people cannot be compelled to express a viewpoint they disagree with. People cannot be so insecure that everyone must be forced to accept and affirm their views so that they can feel “accepted” by all. For Christians, society’s desire for so-called niceness and acceptance at all costs often conflicts with truth, love and charity.
In this environment, British Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg comes as a refreshing breath of fresh air. As a countercultural Eurosceptic who unashamedly attends the Tridentine Mass, Rees-Mogg is not your average politician. He and his wife recently had their sixth child, whom they have named (fittingly) Sixtus. Rees-Mogg usually wears a traditional double-breasted suit with tie, his hair neatly trimmed and parted on the left side. Sometimes he wears a black top hat.
He is known for his open support of traditional marriage, his opposition to abortion, and his efforts to aid the Brexit campaign in 2016. He is also a renowned practitioner of the filibuster, often a colourful cultural event that might include the recitation of poetry, English folk tales, English history, or axioms of old English Common Law.
Despite his popularity, Rees-Mogg too faces bullies who seek to silence an opinion which is contrary to their own. They do not engage with a reasoned discussion of the issues raised but merely label him “bigot”. For instance, Suzanne Moore, a Guardian columnist, took issue with Rees-Mogg’s open Catholic views: “As usual, Rees-Mogg’s religious faith is used to excuse his appalling bigotry. He is a Catholic and this kind of fundamentalism is always anti-women, but for some reason we are to respect it. I don’t. It has no place in public life.”
The same has happened in Australia’s debate on same-sex marriage. Reflecting the intuition that many are too afraid to speak up and discuss their views, the tagline of the Australian Coalition for Marriage is “We are the silent majority”. Unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded. For instance, Dr Pansy Lai, a concerned mother who appeared in a Coalition advertisement, was the subject of a petition to the Australian Medical Association to “reconsider” her medical registration, effectively a bid to put her out of a job. Dr Lai also had to call police when she was threatened with being shot “within the week”. Such behaviour is merely oppression in the name of so-called “anti-discrimination” laws.
In another example, the Tasmanian anti-discrimination commission had ruled that the Catholic Church had “a case to answer” for distributing a booklet presenting the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage (the complaint was subsequently withdrawn) and is also now investigating Pastor Campbell Markham for his comments on same-sex marriage.
The implication is again that there is no freedom of discussion or religion when it comes to Catholic teaching on marriage.
Closer to home, politician Simon O’Connor was brave enough to raise the important euthanasia debate during the New Zealand election campaign and was immediately subject to a host of name-calling, with little reasoned debate about the point he was actually trying to make.
Enforced uniformity of opinion and the silencing of religious teaching in the public square is a characteristic of regimes such as the former Soviet Union, where people are in the end treated with no dignity at all and everyone loses. We should be careful of becoming a liberal dictatorship in which jobs and livelihoods can be destroyed for not toeing a liberal “party line”.
We live in a society which calls itself pluralistic, inclusive and tolerant and ostensibly supports freedom of speech, but those values are being eroded. As Rees-Mogg said “It’s all very well to say we live in a multicultural country — until you’re a Christian, until you hold the traditional views of the Catholic Church, and that seems to me to be fundamentally wrong”.
Christians see God’s law as giving true freedom to the individual (James 1:25), and the greater our loyalty to that law, the more we enter into that true freedom. We want true freedom and joy for all; we certainly do not want bigotry or hatred.
Shannon Roberts an Auckland-based Catholic mother of two preschoolers, co-edits the Demography is Destiny blog with her husband Marcus on mercatornet.com