God has the perfect solution for false speech and its consequences.
Published on: 04-29-2021
The pillar of any great society is freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Not all religion is good, and not all speech is praiseworthy. But the moment we decide to censure religious or political views that are different from our own, we go down a dangerous path. Freedom of speech protects all speech. That we may not share someone else’s perspective is beside the point.
True: If someone chooses to use their freedom of speech to say racist, bigoted, and harmful things, they need to understand that there may be consequences. Their employer may choose to fire them. They may be flagged by Twitter or Facebook and not be able to continue to post hateful things. That is not arbitrary censure; that is consequence.
LIMITS TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH
There are important limits to free speech. People who lie about others can be taken to court for either libel (if published) or slander (if spoken). If it can be demonstrated that speech has a direct correlation to violence, it can and should be prosecuted. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.
Children should be taught from the earliest age that they cannot use their words to bully others. If they do not learn this lesson at home or in school, they will learn that their employer has every right to fire them for abusive speech. It is impossible and perhaps even unwise, however, to try to search out and stop every bully. The best antidote for bad speech is good speech.
In the age of social media, good speech is often drowned out by hate speech and conspiracy theories. But we must not give up on the belief that the best speech and ideas will win out. This freedom continues to be the path to a more perfect union. By protecting the speech we hate, we protect the speech we love.
In our interactions with social media, we should remember that it is best to moderate ourselves and to be committed to treating each other with respect within our differences.
Two things can help us in this regard. First, we could intentionally engage the humanity of others and treat people online as if they are friends, not trolls. Second, we could be curious about opinions different from our own. We would do well to try to understand differing views in the best light possible. We could make space to allow people to hold different views. This is a confident and healthy pluralism.
GOD’S SOLUTION TO FALSE SPEECH
In his commentary on Revelation, Sigve Tonstad says, “The Bible begins with a case of ‘false speech’ (Gen. 3:1). It ends with a sustained showdown with the ancient serpent, also described as the deceiver of the whole world (Rev. 12:9).”* God could have silenced Satan immediately, but He chose not to. He does not silence false speech by force; instead, He reveals His character. God’s remedy for “false speech” is “more speech.” God counteracts falsehood with revelation.
When the Bible speaks about the power of words, it gives sound advice. Consider the wisdom of the apostle Paul: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:31, 32, NIV).
The best speech is redemptive. Instead of trying to silence people, it includes as many as possible under the banner of love. *Sigve Tonstad, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019).