So let me begin with an interesting juxtaposition of events. Big Tech has been wading through their crowded base of customers, laying about them with truncheons, telling people who have opinions that differ with @ThePartyLine to, and I quote, “shut up.” In response, quite a horde of conservatives have begun migrating to more free-speech-friendly sites like MeWe, Parler, and Gab. So then Amazon pulled the plug on Parler, which reinforced a certain impression with the hoi polloi, shall we say, an impression best expressed by something like crikey. Those folks who had “eyes in their head” could see that these johnnies are serious about their war on free speech.
And then a clandestine video leaked, and there was Jack Dorsey, the Man in the High Twitter, telling us all that the removal of Donald Trump’s right to tweet was just the beginning. Okay then.
But then, lo. I read this critique of Gab, which interested me greatly because I know and respect Crawford Gribben’s work. And then that made me remember a question I had recently received about what I have written before on religious liberty—my argument being that biblical law provides the only possible foundation for such liberty. I have argued that religious liberty is itself a religious value, and that the religion of secularism is a religion that does not share or respect that value. If religious liberty were an app, secularism is not a platform that supports it. They respect our right to speak our minds in the same way that kidnappers respect their victims’ attempts to make themselves heard outside the car trunk.
So according to biblical law what is the basis of our basic freedoms? The Declaration says that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, those being the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is quite correct, but what are we to say to those who object and say the John Locke is not to be confused with the Creator? We will get to that in just a bit.
The Machiavellian Angle
I am going to get to the biblical case for free speech shortly, but a few other things need to come first. So let me just say at the front end here that there is a simple Machiavellian reason for applauding mass migrations away from the current commies running Big Tech. It is not necessary for someone to first develop a platform that answers all the questions, and anticipates nothing but exquisite solutions for all the problems that a commitment to free speech can create. All that is necessary is for people to flee places where they are less free to say what they think to places where they are more free to say what they think.
That is certainly the case with places like Gab, but is the fact that Andrew Torba of Gab posted a picture of Rousas Rushdoony a looming threat to anybody’s freedom? Not even close. Now it is true that Rushdoony trafficked in absolutes, and he could be pretty grim sometimes. But it is also true, as Francis Schaeffer noted, that if there is no absolute by which to judge society, then society is absolute. Not only is society absolute, but it is arbitrary and absolute. That is the capricious world that Big Tech wants to usher us into, and it is high time for us to kick. Jesus told His followers, when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, to head for the hills. But He didn’t specify which hill. The main point was to get everybody away from here.
I am going to be addressing the ethics of migrating to platforms like Gab, but by this point many conservatives are wondering about the ethics of staying on Facebook, or buying from Amazon, or tweeting anything anywhere. For them, I would refer to this older piece, and urge that close attention be paid to the section there headed “Two Kinds of Boycott.” The kind of boycotts we are talking about in our current situation should be a matter of personal preference and/or tactics, and are not yet any kind of moral necessity. For example, Amazon is most certainly on my list of evildoers, but for the time being I am happy to have them sell my books. The issue is a tactical trade-off. In my judgment, is their cause gaining more or losing more from any of these transactions? And while we are on the subject, I should mention that all the e-books that are currently listed in my Mablog Shop here are also now available in paperback POD from Amazon. This one, for a linked example, but all the titles can be obtained this way. At the same time, with this said, we would be out of our minds if we were not making contingency plans for the next wave of totalitolerance crackdowns.
Publisher or Public Forum?
And another thing needs to be cleared up first. Since Facebook and Google and Twitter are all private companies, is it hypocritical for us to be demanding our free speech rights in their private spaces? After all, we want to defend the right of florists, photographers, and bakers to run their own private businesses as they please, right? It is not at all hypocritical, which this short video will demonstrate for you.
Mablog here is a private blog, and I do not have the protections of Section 230. That means that I am responsible for what I publish here. I am a publisher, not a public forum. Because I am responsible for the tone of this space, it is appropriate for me to monitor the tone of this space. I am not allowed to libel anyone here, which is great. In pursuit of that kind of tone policing, I can remove certain comments for whatever reasons I deem important. I can blacklist trolls, for example.
What is not appropriate is for Big Tech to appropriate to themselves the basic privilege of a publisher and then to claim the basic privilege of a public forum as well. That is what the recording angel would call “not cool.”
Free Speech on a Spectrum
There is another preliminary point as well. There is no such thing as absolute free speech. There will always be restrictions on what you can say, I don’t care who you are, or where you are. There is no such thing as pure anarchy when it comes to how we speak. This means that Gab is not being hypocritical by touting themselves as a free speech site while at the same time excluding porn.
In the (now censored) documentary I was in called Free Speech Apocalypse, you are treated to the spectacle of activists painting bruises on themselves to portray the anticipated “violence” of my words, while their carrying on required me to have police protection. I was able to give my lecture, but only because of a cordon of cops.
The Christian framework for society is one that brings form and freedom together, and allows both to be maximized in a Spirit-given balancing act. Without the pervasive influence of the gospel in society, freedom will collapse into form only, or form will deteriorate into anarchy only and you will have the free speech equivalent of a failed state.
One of the things I learned from Rushdoony is the idea of the inescapable concept—not whether but which. It is not whether we will impose morality, but rather which morality we will impose. As a confessing Christian, it is my desire to impose a Christian morality. This is not to say that this would shut down the nonbeliever’s right to say anything. No.
My point is that the free speech rights of the average nonbeliever would be far more secure in a Christian republic than they currently are in this epistemic fun house of ours. If you want free speech protected, not absolutely, but fairly and generally, in a way consistent with decency and good order, then you should ask the Christians. They know how to do it.
Secular pagans don’t know how to do it, and moreover, have no desire to do it. It is not one of their values.
When it comes to the history of ideas, it is relatively simple to show that religious toleration, which includes tolerating verbal expressions of ideas repugnant to you, is an idea that germinated in Christian soil. In Christian history, we see it as early as Lactantius (an early church father who tutored Constantine’s kids), and it comes to full bloom in the American Bill of Rights. Letting other people express their errors without fear of reprisal is a distinctively Christian ideal.
Now mark this well. I am not saying that it was an ideal that was perfectly realized from the first moment the problem arose in Christian history, which was when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. For example, Augustine decided it was copacetic to use the power of the state to whack Donatists on the head, which admittedly needed whacking, but still, it was far better not done. Religious persecution had been standard operating procedure throughout the ancient world, and it took some time for the yeast of this Christian ideal to work its way through the loaf. But it did do so, and the loaf did rise.
“Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.”
John Milton, Areopagitica
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
John Milton, Areopagitica
In 1689, after James II was forced out in the Bloodless Revolution, and William and Mary installed, a bill of rights guaranteed “freedom of speech in Parliament.” This development happened in an atmosphere that was decidedly Christian.
And the First Amendment was also adopted in the midst of Christian consensus. Yes, there were a handful of Deists at the American Founding, but environment was overwhelmingly Christian. And this amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees four basic freedoms—the freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, unless of course there is a pandemic that virtually everyone survives. Then all bets are off, and the government can pretty much start restricting things as the fit takes them.
Just kidding. That pandemic stuff was not anticipated by the Founders. Neither would they have anticipated our craven acceptance of the most cockamamie reasons for surrendering our freedoms. “You see, the reason we cannot allow you to publish editorials that are critical of our august leaders in Congress is that we are afraid your views might lead to a drastic increase in sickle cell anemia in our African American communities. Which is why your impudent request to publish those editorials has to be seen as profoundly racist.”
But the reason it cannot be racist, to borrow a page from Titania McGrath, is that I identify as a white person of color. And I say such things in order to demonstrate that I am still exercising my freedom of speech, and they haven’t tracked me down yet. Neither have they cracked me down yet.
I intend to continue speaking and writing as a free man because I am a Christian. This is one of the great legacy items of Christendom. Why should we surrender it?
So. The Structure of the Argument
So then here comes the nub of the issue, and it was actually pinpointed in the summary statement of Gribben’s article. To help you ponder, take a gander.
If Gab’s ideal of freedom is defined by Christian Reconstructionists and fascist philosophers, then free speech will be the means, rather than the end, of the reconstruction of social media.
This take is comparable to what President Erdogan of Turkey once said about democracy—it is like a street car, which you ride until you want to get off. The fear here is that “free speech” is what ideologues will use in order to reconstruct social media, but this will simply be a tactical move. There is no real commitment to free speech as “an end” in itself. The promise of free speech is simply a lure, used to get a following, and then the real values come out.
Mark the phrase: “free speech will be the means, rather than the end.” Given what I have said already, I would want to modify this. Rather say that free speech will be the fruit, rather than the end. In other words, in a theonomic world, the standards of behavior will be set by God’s law, and free speech will be valued to the extent that it fits within the framework of that law. But the history of it shows that it will in fact be valued that way. The right to free speech grew and flourished in societies that took the Bible seriously, which is to say, it grew and flourished in societies that today’s anemic and enervated Christian thought leaders would castigate as theonomic.
This means, according to my argument, that theonomic societies can bequeath free speech to modern pansy-ass Christians, but those pansy-ass Christians will do nothing to protect and maintain that right. Okay, they might do something. They might whine a little bit.
Here is a brief historical timeline for you to keep in mind: Christian world > post-Christian world > anti-Christian world.
In the post-Christian secular world, free speech was not the fruit of the standard, but became (idolatrously) part of their standard. But when a post-Christian secular world has been around for a while, as ours has been, it became an anti-Christian secular world. And in this anti-Christian secular world, free speech is no longer the end, but rather comes to an end. It is not a desired but unattainable ideal. Rather, it is no longer desired at all.
The reason why the post-Christian secularists could applaud free speech and the anti-Christian secularists cannot is the same reason why the prodigal son could buy free beer for all the ladies. He was using his father’s money.
Post-Christian secularists were using Christian capital. As the saying goes, the post-Christian secularists were born on third and thought they had hit a triple. Christians invented the idea of religious toleration and free speech, and when the swanky thought leaders of the Enlightenment kicked away all that transcendental grounding, they thought (for a time) that it was “self-evident” that free speech was important.
A classic example of this post-Christian commitment is illustrated well with Voltaire’s famous comment: “Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” But today the downstream heirs of Voltaire are urging us to remember that they detest what we write, and hope that we come to a better frame of mind by the time we have graduated from the Sunny Uplands Reeducation Camp. And they would cheerfully send us off to the camps after they have pulled down a statue of Voltaire, yet another dead white guy.
Hold! Stay your hand! Unhook that cable! He was a dead white guy of color.
In the classical liberal order, there was an arbitrary desire to hang the rights of man on a great big invisible sky hook. But whenever you bolt this sky hook into the azure blue, it does not much matter how many extra Kantian bolts you use—the thing simply will not stay up there. As Richard Weaver pointed out so astutely in Ideas Have Consequences, there can be no true liberty that is not grounded in transcendentals.
It has not ever happened. It cannot happen now. It will never happen in the future. Secular society come to fruition is the sworn enemy of freedom and liberty.
If man is not created in the image of God, then he is simply so much protoplasm. And “so much protoplasm,” the end result of so many million years of blind evolution, is not possessed of any rights whatever. We are endowed with our rights by a Creator. If no Creator, then no rights. Put another way, Darwin hates you.
Ideas have consequences, and C.S. Lewis was right to tag Rousseau as the father of the totalitarians. The honchos of Big Tech are materialist secularists, and to expect their worldview to generate rights for the average guy is like expecting them to stand in a bucket and then to carry themselves upstairs.
Theonomy & Free Speech
So then. We have seen that consistent secularism cannot justify protecting free speech as a consistent value. It does not flow from their premises. If you begin with autonomous man as the starting point of your reasoning, you cannot get to the freedom of individual men and women as your conclusion. As Samuel Rutherford would have put it, were he here, “It followeth no way.”
We have also seen that the value placed on freedom of speech was a value that was assigned to it in a Christian era. Christians who believed the Bible were the ones who pioneered the idea that those who were in error should be accommodated. That accommodation is not infinitely elastic (it cannot be, and never is), but it was true accommodation, and it was kept in working order so long as Christ and His Word were honored. Get out a map of the world, and put an x on every country that has a heritage of the kind of freedoms tagged in the First Amendment. When you are done, get a different color of highlighter and put an x on every country that has a heritage connected to the Protestant Reformation. You will then notice that you are putting x’s on top of x’s. This is not a fluke.
But a nagging question still remains for some. Were those Christians who developed the idea of free speech being fully scriptural? We can certainly find this commitment in historical theology, but can it be derived from exegetical theology, from biblical theology? And this is particularly a pointed question if, as Gribben pointed out, we are willing to quote good old Rushdoony. This is because Rushdoony was a man who was willing to whittle his theonomic stick until it had a pointed jabby end. And then he would walk up to the classical liberal order in order to poke it. He would then want to ask some follow up questions.
A Brief Biblical Case for Free Speech
For the sake of space and time, I am going to leave out of this discussion the important question of what constitutes a just war, what is the distinction between a sin and a crime, what a capital crime would be in a biblical republic, and so on. Assuming an ongoing successful fulfillment of the Great Commission, these are not academic questions. They will have to be addressed and answered at some point.
It was the great virtue of the reconstructionists that they raised such questions without flinching. I want to maintain that they were right to raise them, and that they were right to point to the necessity of an explicitly biblical standard and foundation for civil law. This was the point where they were essentially correct, and this is also the point that freaked everybody out. And then their opponents would scramble to find angular Old Testament laws that would embarrass the heck out of modern sophisticated Christians (Dt. 21:18-21), and the reconstructionists would just swallow the reductio and say something like, “Yeah. What about it?”
And then the sophisticates would gesture toward the audience, and plaintively ask “who around here wants to execute rebellious teens?” Well . . . how about Jesus?
“And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say . . . ”
Mark 7:9–11a (KJV)
And so here let me say that two things are crucial. The first is that Christians who believe the Bible must acknowledge that the death and resurrection of Jesus transformed our applications of biblical law. That is the first thing. It is crucial. But the second is that our understanding of this will never be advanced by denying the essential goodness of the Old Testament law, dead teens and all, slavery and all, stoning for adultery and all.
And so while I may differ with the recons about certain modern applications of biblical law, these are exegetical differences. I do not differ with them about the need to restore the Bible as the quarry from which to obtain the needed stone for our foundations of social order. When it comes to that point, I would simply want to say—”Rushdoony, now more than ever.”
“If the foundations be destroyed, What can the righteous do?”
Psalm 11:3 (KJV)
What about now? Where did free speech go? As we disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20), our weapons for doing so are Word and water, bread and wine. These are the instruments we are to use in order to make the obedience of the nations complete. These are our assigned weapons in the gospel era.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”
2 Cor. 10:3-5 (KJV)
We can see how the apostle Paul pursued this in his own ministry.
“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures”
Acts 17:2 (KJV)
Reasoning with people who were disobeying the First Table of the Law? Yes, exactly.
“And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”
Acts 24:25 (KJV)
I could go on and on about the glory of this, but I don’t want to wear you all out. So the concluding point is that if the weapons of our warfare are mighty, as Paul says above, and they are mighty enough to conquer the nations of men, then it follows that they are mighty enough to sustain the subsequent discipleship. If the power of the gospel can bring the nations to baptism, then the authority of the gospel, taught with authority and not like the scribes, is powerful enough to teach them the way of obedience.
And so what is free speech? It is not a means toward theocratic tyranny. Neither is it a secular end in itself. No. It is gospel fruit, and Jesus is the Lord of it.