I have observed the constant appeal to quash dissent for some time now. It is not limited to my generation, as it affects all age groups. It is this mindset that infers that having any sort of passionate discussion, political, social, or otherwise, is something to be avoided at all costs. It is the idea that any dialogue involving the sharing, defense, or explanation of opinions is reprehensible. It is as if sharing one’s position or outlook is something to be suppressed. It is a curious concern, for diversity in opinions is important and, we are given the right to express ourselves freely in speech in the First Amendment. As Americans, we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and power to elect those we deem fit.
Common explanations as to why debate or discourse should be silenced or reduced is that someone might feel irritated, uncomfortable, or offended. Other rationals as to why dialogue pertaining to any subject (social, politics, relational, philosophical, economics, etc) should end, is that there might be tension, friction, or potentially hostility. ‘Political Correctness’ trumps any further discourse.
These is no reason to evade discussions, especially pertaining to serious matters such as whether to go to war or to remain neutral, whether someone broke the law or is innocent, or whether an act is sinful or not. These are all important issues in which many people will naturally have differing views. This is okay! It is not wrong to get enthusiastic or passionate about one’s convictions. Nor is it sinful to become angry or frustrated with those who do not accept, understand, or respect your beliefs.
Jesus became angry and expressed great emotion in Matthew 21:12-13 when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and animal-sellers. The Word also says Jesus became angry with the Pharisees who refused to answer His questions and “He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5, NKJV). Anger itself is amoral, it is still an emotion until acted upon. It is not sinful until one takes their anger and sins by physically or verbally assaulting someone. This is not to say anger should be sought after or encouraged. We should all seek to be slow to anger, but if we do it is not a sin and is a naturally occurring emotion. The potential for anger or passion to occur in a discussion is no reason to not have discussion at all.
Oral arguments are not limited to the court room, nor should they be. For ”It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it” (Joseph Joubert). How can one protest an injustice if the very thought of getting into a discussion is shunned or feared? As Polish-born British mathematician Jacob Bronowski once said, “Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime.” Should those who heard and saw the genocide of the Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals in the Holocaust refrained from expressing their disgust and outrage, because it might have caused people to become uncomfortable or the discussion heated? Should an exchange of views not take place over whether abortion is moral or not, merely because people have passionate convictions? Should a conversation regarding political matters be concealed, solely because people have differing opinions?
One can hold lengthy and even intense debates on the Xbox versus Playstation rivalry, whether the Whopper is superior to the Big Mac, or who would win in a face-off between Spiderman and Batman, but debates on important issues such as the church’s role in politics, the extent of executive privilege, and the effects of potentially harmful legislation, are shunned? It is mind boggling what people are more interested in talking about. It is also saddening that the American public more than likely can name at least three members of the TV show Jersey Shore than who holds the positions of Secretary of State or the Speaker of the House. Or the release date for Call of Duty: Black Ops II rather than when the elections take place this year.
Democratic hero Hubert Humphrey once said, “Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate.” These types of issues need to be talked about. Debate is nothing to be feared, but something to be encouraged. It creates, if done correctly, an atmosphere of learning, solutions, and understanding. Could it simultaneously create an atmosphere of discord? Potentially, yes; however, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “To sin by silence when they should protest, makes cowards of men.” It is cowardly to avoid a discussion just because it is centered on a potentially divisive or emotional subject in which people hold strong positions. We must be bold and speak out against injustices. Liberal radio commentator Jim Hightower spoke similar truth when he said, “So now is the time, more than ever, for those who truly value all the principles of democracy, especially including dissent, to be the most forceful in speaking up, standing up and speaking out.” If we want to be free, we must be bold. If we want to make a difference, we must speak out.
If we suppress history, we are bound to repeat it. Likewise, if we suppress those who fear repetition of history, we are destined to repeat it. In a recent poll conducted in January 2012 showed that, “more than a fifth of young Germans [did] not know the name of Auschwitz or what happened there. Twenty one per cent of people aged between 18 and 30 quizzed about the most notorious Nazi extermination camp [did] not heard of it.” Similarly, in a Marist poll conducted in 2010 showed that 26% of Americans (1 in 4) did not know which country America declared independence from. A few months ago, a prominent Japanese mayor denied the 1937 Nanjing Massacre where 300,000 people were murdered.
Should these important pieces of history be hidden or not talked about because of their controversial nature? Should illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, abortion, drug usage, or Islamic terrorism, not be discussed because they too are controversial? No. Author Fay Foshell spoke to this very thing when he said,
“Conservative timidity amounts to an acceptance of the premise that ‘fair and balanced’ discussion includes giving the legitimacy of debate to moral outrages that should be repudiated outright. Why accede to a ‘fair and balanced’ debate about partial-birth abortion or sex-select abortion? Tell the supporters of such barbarities that they are moral monsters. Why politely discuss the right to infanticide or the sexual exploitation and/or enslavement of children? Call the persons what they are: murderers and perverts. Why talk over the right or wrong of sucking out the brains of unborn babies during so-called ‘partial birth’ abortions? Tell the doctors performing such ‘operations’ and their supporters that they are the equivalent of Joseph Mengele.
Moral monstrosities are not matters deserving polite talk, but evidence of societal pathologies and deformation of moral character so horrific that they deserve to be scorned, repudiated, and outlawed outright. Why encourage so-called “civil” debate on such issues and thus give some credence to pure evil?”
Be bold. Speak frankly. Always cite your sources.
Veritas vos Liberabit
The Truth Will Set You Free