“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”—George Orwell
There is a tension today between political correctness and freedom of expression that makes honest conversation nearly impossible.
There is a thin line between the two and very few can walk that line for too long before falling on one side or the other, resulting in very little we can say without being trolled on Twitter, condemned by the masses, banned by the cultural police or exiled by ruling authorities.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Seth Rogen made an interesting comment about Christians, on whether they will be offended by anything in his upcoming Christmas film, The Night Before.
He said, “You can make fun of Christians, they’re cool. Christians have their own s*** to deal with, they’re not worried about us. So on the scale of controversial waters one could possibly navigate, this movie was very low on that list, I would say. If anything, we may offend Jews because we made a Christmas movie.”
There is something quite reassuring about Seth Rogen’s confidence that Christians can take humour in their stride.
It gives me hope to find that people still think of Christians as tolerant, despite the raving lunatics who want to start social media campaigns over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, to which late night TV host Stephen Colbert had a fitting response.
The Brooding Shadow of Suspicion
Being a Christian in urban India has not been difficult but it has not been comfortable.
As a college student, I sat in classes on English literature with professors who raised questions like, “If God is so forgiving, why didn’t He just forgive Adam and Eve? Why did He throw them out of the garden?”
When I heard the question, I had mixed feelings. I was happy to hear the Bible being discussed in the classroom, outside the church, but I felt exposed as a Christian—vulnerable, unprepared and conflicted about answering a person who was clearly in the position of power.
I worked up the courage to fumble through a short response, of which the only thing I remember is, “He did forgive them.”
It was an unsophisticated response that questioned her assumptions but I had also outed myself as a Christian. As an introvert, the social inconvenience of believing in the Bible was amplified.
Apart from such mild inconveniences and some stray thoughtless comments about Christianity from people who’ve just discovered Nietzsche, I have largely had meaningful, respectful and satisfying conversations with friends with other world-views.
Being a Christian in urban India has not been externally challenging as much as it has been inwardly complicated. There are times when political forces conspire to create the perception of legitimate fears.
When I finished writing my first book—a family memoir and an introduction to Christianity in equal measure—I imagined frightful scenarios of the book falling into the “wrong hands”, being misunderstood, misrepresented, banned and condemned, until I was forced into exile in a nation I cannot name.
Such delusions of grandeur and wild imaginations may seem needless and vain to the reader, but they are common to writers, artists and poets. They are probably best understood by anyone who holds a contrarian view of reality—believing with conviction what most people regard with suspicion.
Christianity’s Great Offence
Christianity is naturally offensive.
Jesus was as offensive to His first listeners as He is to people today. He was religiously subversive to the Jewish temple, culturally subversive to the Greek intellectual elite and politically subversive to the Roman empire; not to mention relationally subversive to the personal freedom of people to do as they please with their lives.
Nothing has changed since then. No question of Jesus can be answered by an impartial mind. He is naturally subversive to our vested interests in what we believe.
If we were judges in a court of law, we would have to recuse ourselves from the case of Christ because we are invested in the outcome, one way or another. Ultimately, everyone who considers Christ runs the risk of leaving something treasured behind—religiously, culturally, politically or personally.
Christianity’s Great Strength
The good news of Jesus is good news for all people, especially its critics.
While Christianity, like truth, is innately offensive and while many Christians feel threatened as a minority, there are some things we should be able to say to the critics of Christianity.
We are not easily offended.
To anyone whose eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we know well what it is to be loved when we were enemies who were offensive to Someone.
To be loved by Him when we were His enemies gives us the moral impulse, courage and power to be patient in the face of ridicule, calm in the face of anger and gracious in the face of hostility.
It gives us the pre-mediated decision to choose forgiveness when anger wants our attention, submit to peace when bitterness demands our loyalty and seek reconciliation when revenge claws at our convictions.
We believe in a just society more than a Christian city.
To anyone whose hearts are shaped by Jesus, the one who calls us by His love not His power, we know well what it means to value the God-given freedom for people to choose what they believe.
No love can be coerced, no worship can be legislated and no conversion can be forced.
A Christianized city will create freedom for all religions to choose their worship. But it will equally expect the city to honour its constitutional freedom to share its hope with anyone who will listen.
More than that, it will go beyond the constitution to share its hope as Christ compels us to do it—with gentleness and respect.
In this age of outrage, intolerance and political correctness, I think it’s important for Christians to be able to say to our critics, “We may not like what you say about us. We may not like the way you say it. But however it makes us feel to hear what you say, whenever you hear what we say it should never make you feel threatened. It should make you feel free.”