Individual radicalization and religious extremism today present a clear and present danger both to individuals and to the core freedoms upon which civilization is built.
The content of speech is not what should determine if it can be allowed by any society. Speech should be free, period.
Speech is a medium for communication and it is the most powerful agent for change that the world has ever known.
And not getting offended is actually not a right that should be protected.
Curtailing speech is one of the first indications of many a failing civilization. Whether it is speaking out against leaders, policies, or positions — free discourse is still the best way to resolve our differences.
To take just one example that is close to my heart. As I look back through the history of Christianity it is clear that the best times have been when the religious discourse was about the actual content of theology, life, and religious practice with believers honestly coming together in pursuit of a better understanding and closer walk with Jesus Christ.
On the other hand the dark and disturbing periods of corruption, violence, and worse are marked by rigorous attempts by the institutions, states, and leaders of the time to control speech, thought, observation, and practice so as to empower their own material wealth and political power.
What is truly tragic is that in terms of total years spent, the majority of the time we have shared as a church since the resurrection of the Christ has been one long series of relative states of shade and darkness when it comes to the freedom of the individual believer to read and interpret the scriptures without constraint and pursue an individual and unmediated relationship with their creator and savior without someone else attempting to impose their personal will and political goals onto them under the guise of some assertion of religious dogma.
What is encouraging is that starting with the Lutheran reformation, when the sacraments and the scriptures were returned to the individual believer, and then really expanding into more and more common practice in the last two centuries with the establishment of the church in the new world, where the church was freed from its connection to the political aspirations of the civil state for the first time since Constantine, Christianity is coming into its own as a voice for freedom and salvation not just for the individuals who walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, but also for the civilizations they participate in.
People will tell you that anything taken to an extreme is a bad thing, and maybe there is something to that position. After all, a lot of the violence, hatred, and power struggles in the last couple of millennia were driven by supposedly Christian folks who took their beliefs to disturbing extremes.
Now, just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean that they are, but setting that aside for a moment to take a closer look at the root cause of the challenges facing the world today, consider this — is extreme joy a bad thing? What about extreme happiness? Is it a bad thing to be extremely successful? Would you turn down the opportunity to live in a time of extreme prosperity? Wouldn’t you like to be extremely satisfied? What about extremely healthy? Wouldn’t it be good to be extremely intimate with your loved ones and extremely close to God? To have extreme peace deep in your soul that couldn’t be compromised by the hustle and bustle of daily life? Wouldn’t you consider yourself lucky to be extremely content and extremely fulfilled? And certainly it is a good thing to be extremely blessed.
Here is what I am getting at. If there are those in this world who are radicalizing hatred, violence, chaos, terror, and darkness. Maybe it is time that we as believers take more of a stand for the light.
It can seem daunting to stand for joy in a time of fear, health in a time of death, peace in a time of hatred, freedom in a time of hurt, prosperity in a time of terror, intimacy in a time of violence, conversation in a time of chaos, or light when everything around you is darkness.
But no matter their dogmas or traditions, it is time that the religions of the world realize that the goal is not control, political power, or material wealth. The goal of all religions should be the hearts and minds of the people alive on this planet right now. And the only way to actually win hearts and minds is through conversation in a context of freedom.
If a religion requires that it not be questioned, not be considered, not be reflected upon, not be challenged, not be offended, and not be accepted freely without any threat of compulsion or coercion, then it is not connecting its believers to the actual facts that define the reality we all live in and observe every day because it is requiring the exercise of power to attract and contain its adherents rather than aspiring to and inspiring actual faith in the people who accept it.
As a Christian I know this because my church has done all of these negative things in its history. I mean, we didn’t call them the dark ages for no good reason!
Here’s the point. The world will be a better place when hope, inspiration, encouragement, and a future replace despair, isolation, violence, and control.
God is calling you to be a messenger of health, peace, joy, fulfillment, happiness, blessing, abundance, prosperity, intimacy, freedom, satisfaction, opportunity, success, and salvation.
It is time that we defanged the cobra of radicalization and extremism with radical generosity, extreme love, and a clear vision of the abundant blessings which God has planned for every human being He creates.
Let’s take the conversation back from the voices of terror and hatred. Let’s use the freedom that we enjoy in Christ to radically change the world we live in to bring a new age of extreme joy, peace, health, happiness, blessing, abundance, prosperity, intimacy, opportunity, success, and salvation for all people.