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Freedom of Speech ≠ Freedom from Criticism:

A commenter on the Chris Hedges Calls for Suppression of "Radical Christian Right" Speech thread writes:

A little time spent at the local Big Box Bookstore showed me that Hedges is part of a larger group of authors. Here are some more titles that one can find simply by walking around in Barnes/Hastings/Borders:

"Religion gone bad: the hidden dangers of the Christian right"

"Piety & politics: the right-wing assault on religious freedom"

"Atheist universe: the thinking person's answer to Christian fundamentalism"

"Thy kingdom come: how the religious right distorts the faith and threatens America"

It appears that demonizing Christians is a well-funded activity, and that Hedges is hardly alone in his efforts. If there were a bunch of books in Big Box stores proclaiming the dangers of Judaism, Islam, or atheism, I'm sure it would be viewed with alarum by the self-appointed defenders of diversity.

But demonization of Christians is no problem, no big deal, no sweat. How very interesting.

Criticism does not equal censorship, and not all criticism is "demonizing." I haven't read the books, but given that the commenter is happy just to note the titles, let me respond to the titles: It's not only the exercise of free speech rights to complain about the perceived hidden dangers of the Christian right, but also — if done right — perfectly proper. Surely there are many things on which reasonable people can disagree with the Christian right, and even see the Christian right as dangerous. Likewise, they can conclude that it "threatens America," which is to say threatens certain values that the writer thinks (controversially, but not implausibly) are central to America as the writer conceives it, or that it jeopardizes "religious freedom." Again, perhaps some particular arguments to this effect may be unsound, unduly harsh, or even "demonizing." But nothing in the titles demonstrates this.

Moreover, two of the titles represent commonplace (albeit blunt) religious disagreement. Of course some people think "the religious right distorts the faith," just as some people think that liberation theology or for that matter Catholicism distorts true Christianity. That has been the substance of legitimate theological debate for centuries. Some of that has indeed reached the level of demonizing, but much is legitimate religious debate that is essential if one believes that the true meaning of the faith is an important theological question.

Likewise, of course atheists are entitled to claim that their position is "the thinking person's answer to Christian fundamentalism," just like much Christian argument claims to be "the thinking person's answer to atheism" or to non-Christian religion. Atheists believe Christianity is just plain wrong, and many see Christian fundamentalism is especially wrong, since fundamentalism tends to make more and more literal claims about supernatural events (something that atheists find particularly implausible) than does less fundamentalist belief. It's perfectly proper for them to argue that thinking people should reject this view. It may be a bit rude, if you interpret the title [plausibly] as suggesting that Christian fundamentalists are less proficient or less committed critical thinkers, but again it's far from Hedges' calls for censorships, or even from "demonizing."

Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from criticism; unfortunately, both many on the left and many of the right often forget that.

ennuipundit (mail) (www):
Eugene Volokh wrote:

Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from criticism; unfortunately, both many on the left and many of the right often forget that.

Precisely! I have grown weary of the incessant warbling of how one's free speech has been violated by the mere act of criticism. If one cannot withstand the scrutiny of a critical assessment of one's thoughts then one ought to reconsider speaking publicly, not because they are denied the right, but because they lack the courage of their convictions necessary to stand in the face of criticism. Free speech means the guy or gal who disagrees with you gets to speak, too. I think the better question is how this self-evident truism is missed by so many. Is it intellectual laziness? Cultural apathy? I wish I understood.
1.31.2007 10:38am
Randy R. (mail):
Well said. It seems like whenever anyone criticises anything, the target claims censorship and all that, and both right and lefters are guilty of that.
1.31.2007 10:42am
Randy R. (mail):
Nonetheless, as a gay man, it DOES distress me to hear the lies that the right wing nut cases tell about us, and that I sometimes see on these boards. It makes me rather angry whenever I hear religion and God invoked to deny me my rights as a citizen and libeled by idiots. I know that the proper answer is MORE speech, at least from me, and I take full advantage of that, as regulars here must know.

One of the benefits of blogs such as these is that people of different viewpoints can discuss things, and we learn from each other. I hope to learn from the rightwingers and I hope they learn from me.
1.31.2007 10:45am
Mr. X (www):
How did the commenter forget, "The God Delusion," by Richard Dawkins in his list of critical books. If you want a anti-religious polemic, it should be pretty high on your list.

Great book, BTW.
1.31.2007 10:47am
Mahlon:
The market is free to suppress speech all it wants. The First Amendment protects against government suppression of speech, not private supression (i.e. through criticism, etc.) Too many people fear that their ideas cannot withstand reasoned scrutiny, and thus attempt to shield them from criticism.

Yes, Randy, I think it is intellectual laziness, if not intellectual dishonesty.
1.31.2007 10:48am
AF:
I don't think the comment you quote confuses freedom of speech and freedom from criticism. It just complains that there are lots of people like Hedges making strong criticisms of Christianity (or the Christian right). I know you think Hedges is also calling for infringing Christians' freedom of speech, but there's no indication the commenter is referring to that.
1.31.2007 10:48am
AntonK (mail):
I agree with Volokh in general, and the commenter in part. The commenter's take on the question of those who are criticizable, and those who are beyond criticism due to diversity ideology is right on point. That, to my mind, is the freedom of speech issue here. Hanging your hat on the freedom from criticism vs. freedom of speech issue is, largely, a red herring.
1.31.2007 10:49am
Abdul (mail):
The argument is not only logically flawed, factually flawed as well.

there were a bunch of books in Big Box stores proclaiming the dangers of Judaism, Islam, or atheism, I'm sure it would be viewed with alarum by the self-appointed defenders of diversity.


While I'm not sure about Judaism or atheism, there are quite a few titles in Big Box stores proclaiming the dangers of Islam. Just a few titles:

* Slavery, Terrorism &Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat
* Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the Enlightenment
* Islam's Threat to Women, Christianity, and America

Looks like the the self-appointed defenders of diversity haven't been very efficient.
1.31.2007 10:50am
Colin (mail):
And unless David Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are now out of print, plenty of books criticizing secularism as well. Criticism sells.
1.31.2007 10:54am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

I don't think the comment you quote confuses freedom of speech and freedom from criticism. It just complains that there are lots of people like Hedges making strong criticisms of Christianity (or the Christian right). I know you think Hedges is also calling for infringing Christians' freedom of speech, but there's no indication the commenter is referring to that.


Agreed, reading the actual comment, it doesn't appear that the author was conflating "criticism" with "censorship" at all. S/he was in fact criticizing the critics. In which case that may have been the wrong comment to use as a starting point for this thread since it doesn't in fact seem to illustrate the issue Professor Volokh is addressing.
1.31.2007 11:11am
A.C.:
There are lots of books criticising the political activities of some Jewish people, and a few that seem to criticise the SUPPOSED political beliefs and activities of all Jewish people. But I've never seen a mass-market book that criticised the Jewish faith on theological grounds... not even one written by an advocate of one type of Judaism to criticise the advocates of another. Why is that? I know there is plenty of disagreement within Judaism. Are the debates too esoteric for lay people to follow? Is it considered bad manners to discuss the controversies in mass-market publications? Are all the arguments in Hebrew? Or do publishers just assume no one would be interested?
1.31.2007 11:27am
Waldensian (mail):

some people think that liberation theology or for that matter Catholicism distorts true Christianity. That has been the substance of legitimate theological debate for centuries.

Finally, at long last, the Waldensian world view is recognized as legitimate on the hallowed pages of the VC. :) The fact that I don't actually subscribe to that world view is, of course, immmaterial; it's an ethnic thing.
1.31.2007 11:30am
James Dillon (mail):
A.C.,

I'm not sure if this is quite what you had in mind, but Richard Dawkins has directed a fair amount of criticism toward Jewish theology and practice in The God Delusion and in many of his earlier articles and books (particularly The Devil's Chaplain, the only pre-God Delusion book that criticized religious beliefs other than creationism). But perhaps criticism by an atheist who views all religions are more or less equally irrational is not what you meant by "theological grounds"?
1.31.2007 11:36am
JB:
AC: We don't write books attacking each other. It's too small a market. We just have bitter arguments over bagel brunch.
1.31.2007 11:46am
Moshe (mail):
I agree with those above who defend the comment in question. The commenter was not conflating two issues, but merely noting that Hedges is a very extreme example of a larger movement that demonizes the Christian Right. The existence of this movement may be subject to debate, but the point was not that these books were trying to censor the Christian Right, but that like Hedges, they are demonizing the right.

For Eugene, in his original post, the important issue was the free speech implications of Hedges actions, and so I am guessing that he assumed that the commenter was equating the two. But for many others there may be other important aspects to a story that is posted, and I think that the commenter was just focusing on one of those aspects, that is not really about free speech.
1.31.2007 11:46am
therut:
The problem I have with all the left wing bashing books of the right wing Christian view is our MSM NEVER even hints about the left wing ie. theological liberalism or Liberation Theology basis of political policy being pushed. No question of Separation of Church and STATE issus. When I see the REV. Linn of People for the Separation of Church and State or the blessed ACLU stand up and decry social justice movements as a afront to their idea of SEPARATION then I might listen to them. Until that time they are just another left wing interest front group using their version of the idea of Separation to push their agenda. The truth is a majoity of citizens do not even know about Left wing Christian Theology. Hedges is a supporter of Theological Liberalism. He has a masters in Seminary from Harvard. Needless to say he has his own agenda. Has the NYT ever reported on the cramming down our throats of Theological Liberalism. He acuses the right of doing what he does from the left. Cherry picking scriptures to fit his political world view while not seeing the beam in his own eye. Call him a left wing chrisian zealot or fundamentalist.
1.31.2007 11:52am
Stacy (mail) (www):
I think what the original commenter was conflating were the two potentially different groups of people that a) criticize Christianity and b) play the race card to shut down critics of Islam. Some of them are undoubtedly the same people (I know plenty such) and those are indeed hypocrites. In general though, it's dangerous to assume someone's beliefs based on one statement, especially the title of a book. You need to research all of the person's public positions before making blanket statements.
1.31.2007 11:53am
David Cohen (mail):
Mr. Dillon,

Aside from Spinoza's Theologico-Political treatise considered by many (e.g., Leo Strauss) as the first and most important critique of Jewish theology as such, most of the titles attacking Judaism "theologically" are indeed in Hebrew (unless, you consider Reform or Conservative Judaism a theological attack on traditional Judaism - but I don't want to go there).
One recent book that caused a bit of a stir in Israel a few years ago was Hamoro Shel Mashiach ("The Messiah's Donkey") - as far as I know it was only published in Hebrew and I don't have the ISBN number. It was attached as taking many quotes out of context, but it was quite sharp in many places. Also, as traditional Judaism's theology is very fact specific/dependent (arguably more so than Christianity) you can argue that much of the scholarship and archeology of the near east as well as recent socio-literary analysis of non-Biblical Jewish texts (e.g., the Talmud) also constitute a "theological attack" on traditional Judasim.
1.31.2007 12:39pm
David Cohen (mail):
Mr. Dillon and AC - Apologies - My post was meant as a response to AC, not Mr. Dillon.
1.31.2007 12:41pm
guest (mail):
EV, this is a fatuous post -- contra Hedges, the commenter (as others have noted) is not arguing that critics of Christianity should be silenced. He is simply making the incontrovertible (if inane) observation that there are a lot of critics of Christianity out there and no one seems to care. There's a big leap between that and the line that Hedges was arguing, that the critics' free speech rights should be restricted. (BTW, you're very evenhanded -- we all get it.)
1.31.2007 12:45pm
James Dillon (mail):
David,

I assumed in my reply that A.C. was looking for something a bit more recent than Spinoza, and I'm not sure that the "recent socio-literary analysis" you refer to would qualify as a "mass-market book." The Hebrew book you refer to probably qualifies, though A.C. would be in a better position to address that than I am, and perhaps it answers his question as to whether most of the literature he was referring to is not widely known to English speakers because it is available primarily in Hebrew.
1.31.2007 12:46pm
Elliot Reed:
Stacy - very few of us on the left criticize Christianity per se (unless they're people like Dawkins who simply hate all forms of religion). Lots of us (not me though) are Christians ourselves. The criticisms you hear are usually aimed at conservative Protestant evangelicalism, sometimes with conservative Catholicism thrown in. Those criticisms aren't aimed at "Christians" generally unless you subscribe to the conservative evangelicals' view that conservative evangelicals are the only real Christians. That view's gotten remarkable currency in elite right-wing circles (probably because a lot of elite right-wingers are theologically ignorant secularists), but it's wrong.
1.31.2007 12:50pm
ScurvyOaks (mail):
EV,

Well said. I'll take the liberty of largely recycling a comment I made deep on the orginal comment thread re Hedges. The unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940), one of the Jehovah's Witnesses evangelism cases, is worth reading, especially the following:

"In the realm of religious faith, and in that of political belief, sharp differences arise. In both fields the tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor. To persuade others to his own point of view, the pleader, as we know, at times, resorts to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But the people of this nation have ordained in the light of history, that, in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are, in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy.

The essential characteristic of these liberties is, that under their shield many types of life, character, opinion and belief can develop unmolested and unobstructed."

There's a lot of needless whining from both right and left about the "excesses and abuses." I sure put Hedges in that category. I recommend thicker hides all around.
1.31.2007 12:56pm
Lively:
Elliot Reed

Those criticisms aren't aimed at "Christians" generally unless you subscribe to the conservative evangelicals' view that conservative evangelicals are the only real Christians. That view's gotten remarkable currency in elite right-wing circles (probably because a lot of elite right-wingers are theologically ignorant secularists), but it's wrong.

Why does it matter to atheists if evangelical Christians say evangelicals are the only true Christians? Or why does the secular world hate to be "judged?"

Islam says I am an infidel and will burn in hell for it. However, I don't care what Islam says because I think their entire belief system is based upon myths/fairy tales.
1.31.2007 1:03pm
ray_g:
IMO most folks who seem to equate freedom of speech with freedom from criticism know perfectly well what they are doing. The "I'm free to say that" statement is an attempt to trump your opponent, sort of like invoking "the children".

Another error that I think needs a little more attention is this idea that freedom of speech equals freedom of consequences of that speech. As a hypothetical, lets say a mediocre female singing group says something stupid or unpopular on stage, and so folks stop buying their albums or going to their concerts. They cry about suppression of speech. Wrong, your speech is being responded to by more speech, in the form of where people choose to spend their money. (/sarcasm/ Sorry, I forgot, money doesn't equal speech. /sarcasm/).
1.31.2007 1:05pm
CJColucci:
Islam says I am an infidel and will burn in hell for it. However, I don't care what Islam says because I think their entire belief system is based upon myths/fairy tales.
I suspect that the real reason you don't care is that you live in a country where Islam has next to no influence, even when it is not demonized. The atheist critics of Christianity, at least all the ones I know about, live in countries where Christianity has a very powerful and, in their view, malign, influence.
1.31.2007 1:15pm
Steve:
Note also the dishonest conflation of criticism of the Christian Right with criticism of Christianity in general.
1.31.2007 1:23pm
Elliot Reed:
Why does it matter to atheists if evangelical Christians say evangelicals are the only true Christians? Or why does the secular world hate to be "judged?"

Islam says I am an infidel and will burn in hell for it. However, I don't care what Islam says because I think their entire belief system is based upon myths/fairy tales.
Wow, this is a remarkably silly position. As a liberal gay atheist, I think evangelical Christians' "entire belief system is based upon myths/fairy tales," but that doesn't mean I have no interest in knowing what it is they actually do believe. If I care about the truth as such (which I do) then my interest in the truth supports knowing what they actually believe rather than some fantasy version of what they believe. Conservative evangelical Christians also tend to be political opponents, so misunderstanding their beliefs may lead me to systematically misunderstand their objectives and make incorrect predictions about their future actions. Understanding what they believe may also help me find grounds for compromise or even alliance on some particular issue, which I would miss if I didn't know what they were really after.

If I misunderstand their position I may also fail to see, or fail to understand, their differences of opinion among themselves. Those differences of opinion might be useful to me and I'll just miss them if I assume that all of them agree on every point. You appear to be doing this with Islam; do all Muslims believe everyone who doesn't share their religion is going to hell? All 1.4 billion of them?
1.31.2007 1:38pm
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
Probably the best-known contemporary attack on traditional Judaism from a militantly secular standpoint is Israel Shahak's Jewish History, Jewish Religion. I haven't read the book, but my understanding is that it's sloppy, riddled with errors, and driven by almost ludicrous personal animus. Shahak was an anti-Zionist on the Israeli Left; although I don't think he could plausibly be called an anti-Semite himself, the book was seized upon by anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying groups as fodder for their cause.

I hate to demean the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by even mentioning it in the same post as such a book. In any case, calling it a critique of Jewish theology is a bit like calling Aristotle's Politics "a critique of Plato". True, but there's so much more.
1.31.2007 1:40pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
IMO most folks who seem to equate freedom of speech with freedom from criticism know perfectly well what they are doing. The "I'm free to say that" statement is an attempt to trump your opponent, sort of like invoking "the children".


I agree that responding to criticism by invoking the First Amendment when the criticism doesn't focus on your right to say something but rather the content of what you said or the beliefs behind it is a rather dishonest tactic. I think the problem a lot of us have with this post is that Professor Volokh seems to have taken someone who was critical of books written attacking Christianity and conflated/confused it with arguments equating criticism with censorship even though the comment in question did not make any such comparison.

There might in fact be real world examples of people on the political Right doing just that but this doesn't appear to be one of them.
1.31.2007 1:42pm
chris s (mail):
OK, CJ, I will bite. in what nations does Christianity have a powerful and malign influence, and how is this influence shown? surely the fact that some people have religious objections to say abortion does not reach this level.

I agree with Hedges that Christian dominionists or whatever they are called would be a scary bunch if they got power. but as they have as much chance of that as wiccans do, I don't understand his panic (except perhaps as transference of unPC worries re Islam onto a more acceptable target).
1.31.2007 1:47pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Note also the dishonest conflation of criticism of the Christian Right with criticism of Christianity in general.


Not really, usually the sort of morons who throw around phrases like "Christian Right" turn out to have a beef with Christianity in general but like to hide behind phrases like "Christian Right" for cover.
1.31.2007 1:48pm
Virginia Postrel (www):
If there's a valid complaint here, it's in Hedges's conflation of theocratic Reconstructionist Christians like Rushdoony with run-of-the-mill evangelical conservatives whose political agenda would, at its most extreme, restore the status quo circa 1945. He's free to do that, of course, but it's hard to take someone seriously who is that dishonest or ill-informed. (I say this as someone who is neither a Christian nor a social conservative.) On the right to criticize, I highly recommend Jonathan Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors. As for mass-market books that attack Judaism theologically, the shelves are full of them; they're called "Christian literature." They just don't persuade many Jews.
1.31.2007 1:52pm
JosephSlater (mail):
No comment yet on the "demonizing Christians is a well-funded activity" in the comment EV quoted? Can I write a grant to get money from these evil secular rich folks?
1.31.2007 1:55pm
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
chris s wrote:
OK, CJ, I will bite. in what nations does Christianity have a powerful and malign influence, and how is this influence shown?


Uganda immediately comes to mind. The League of Polish Families, which is part of Poland's current governing coalition, is also pretty scary.
1.31.2007 1:57pm
Virginia Postrel (www):
Speaking of Reconstructionists (of a very different flavor): The most brilliant and influential critique of traditional and Reform Judaism is Mordecai Kaplan's Judaism as a Civilization, which, alas, is anything but mass market. Although written in English, it reads as though translated from the German.
1.31.2007 1:57pm
byomtov (mail):
Hedges was calling for suppression certain views, and the commenter says:

Hedges is part of a larger group of authors.

and

Hedges is hardly alone in his efforts.

So I don't think it is unreasonable to conclude that the commenter sees the books in question as calls for censorship.
1.31.2007 2:08pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
Elliot Reed: "Stacy - very few of us on the left criticize Christianity per se (unless they're people like Dawkins who simply hate all forms of religion). Lots of us (not me though) are Christians ourselves. The criticisms you hear are usually aimed at conservative Protestant evangelicalism, sometimes with conservative Catholicism thrown in. Those criticisms aren't aimed at "Christians" generally unless you subscribe to the conservative evangelicals' view that conservative evangelicals are the only real Christians. That view's gotten remarkable currency in elite right-wing circles (probably because a lot of elite right-wingers are theologically ignorant secularists), but it's wrong."

I fully agree that there's a difference between "Christians" and the "Christian right", and further that most critics of Christianity are really criticizing the Christian right as you and I would refer to it. I'm not sure where that fits into my analysis though. There are also many non-"Islamist" muslims, arguably a majority of the total, and it goes without saying (or should) that critics of Islam aren't referring to that group when they talk about evil terrorists.

My points, which may not have been clear, were:

a.) It seems to me that the commenter was conflating, not criticism and censorship, but rather the authors of the books s/he listed and people who denounce critics of Islam as bigots.

b.) The above is tempting but dangerous, because the two groups may or may not be the same, or even able to be in a room with each other.

In hindsight I probably muddied the waters by throwing in the comment that I personally know several people who are both outspoken anti-Christians and given to seeing any critic of Islam or most other religions as a bigot. I do know quite a few such people, but still don't assume anyone who expresses the one viewpoint also holds the other.
1.31.2007 2:10pm
byomtov (mail):
in what nations does Christianity have a powerful and malign influence, and how is this influence shown?

Well, the Christian Right (sorry, Thorley, but it's real, your opinions notwithstanding) certainly has a malign influence on the teaching of science in the public schools.
1.31.2007 2:13pm
Hattio (mail):
I know next to nothing about Jewish theology, but I would bet there are many book titles out there discussing (and attacking) one version of theology or another. My father is a pentecostal preacher and a book has recently come out "attacking" or discussing one of their central beliefs. Why haven't most people heard of it? Because, even among Pentecostals, its a minority of people who are really interested in the theological debates. I'm sure the books are out there discussing and attacking the Jewish faith. But, unless you special order them, you ain't finding them at Borders.
1.31.2007 2:15pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Byomtov said what I was just about to say. The whole point of my original post was to fault Hedges for calling for speech suppression. Several commenters then argued that Hedges was an anomaly -- obviously, an anomaly in calling for speech suppression, and not an anomaly in condemning parts of the Christian Right (since lots of people have done so, and are well known to have done so).

The commenter then responded (in a comment posted before the one I noted) by stressing Hedges' calls for censorship:
Hedges is not "just one guy", he's someone with a serious position at The Nation Institute. He's someone who The Nation apparently regards as significant, someone NPR went to the trouble to interview. Pointing out this fact doesn't impute his views to anyone else, but dismissing him as "one guy" when he's part of a larger leftwing institution is disingenuous.

Like it or not, he's calling for a segment of the polity to be silenced. Like it or not, he's a leftist. Like it or not, leftism for over 100 years has demonstrated a tendency to silence its enemies "by any means necessary"... Sure, leftists look back today at these things for the most part with distaste, but the fact remains that for three generations, American leftists have flirted with totalitarianism over and over and over again, and not just overseas, you may recall the Weathermen to pick one example....

You can't wish away this history. So when an American leftist talks about silencing American Christian people, it's going to call to mind the Soviet silencing of Russian Christians, the Chinese treatment of Christians, and so forth. You may not like it, I'm sure it strikes you as unfair, but the complicity of the American left in oppression of religious people by other Leftists has too long of a history to simply dismiss out of hand, if you are actually debating in good faith....

If some writer at the Hoover Institution put out a book claiming that atheists were a danger to the republic, and it was high time that the were silenced, I daresay there would be a huge outcry about it, and the Northern California ACLU would make a public statement rather quickly. The fact that there is no such outcry from the NYCLU that I can find is interesting. The fact that liberals and leftists, who are so quick to find bigotry and danger in the writings of their opponents, are dismissive of this book and idea as the notion of "just one guy" is also interesting.
Given all this, I took the commenter's statement that "A little time spent at the local Big Box Bookstore showed me that Hedges is part of a larger group of authors" as a suggestion that those authors were like Hedges in the way that appeared relevant to the thread, and to the commenter's earlier comment -- he is part of a larger group of authors that would actually forcibly suppress some speech, and not just of a larger group of authors that simply criticize that speech. That strikes me as a sensible inference.
1.31.2007 2:16pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Great post by Volokh and comments by Postrel.

Though, I think we could draw a continuum of the "Christian right." There are mainstream evangelical Republicans like Ralph Reed "whose political agenda would, at its most extreme, restore the status quo circa 1945." Then there is Rushdoony et al. who would, in their first best world, execute homosexuals, adulterers, recalcitrant children and those who openly worship false Gods. Yet, there is also an in between position -- still active within Republican politics, to the right of Reed but the left of Rushdoony.

D. James Kennedy and David Barton are probably the main players here and may serve as a bridge between Reconstructionism (most of whom vote for the so-called "Constitution Party") and mainstream evangelical Republicans. I know from what I've read from Hedges, he spends a lot of time on Kennedy and his "Center for Reclaiming America for Christ" which is a "Dominist" group. If Hedges conflates Rushdoony with standard evangelical Christians, it would be by over-focusing on these transitional figures.
1.31.2007 2:20pm
Elliot Reed:
Well, the Christian Right (sorry, Thorley, but it's real, your opinions notwithstanding) certainly has a malign influence on the teaching of science in the public schools.
Indeed. They also have a malign influence on the teaching of science in private schools, and on sex education in either context. "Abstinence-based" sex education is either worthless or malign, but that doesn't keep them from pushing it.

And let's not forget the Christian Right's efforts to stop the HPV vaccine because girls who have sex deserve cancer.
1.31.2007 2:35pm
Steve:
Not really, usually the sort of morons who throw around phrases like "Christian Right" turn out to have a beef with Christianity in general but like to hide behind phrases like "Christian Right" for cover.

I understand how people can feel that terms like "theocrat" are over the top, but wow, it never occurred to me that any reasonably well-informed person could deny the existence of a Christian Right.
1.31.2007 2:51pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Given all this, I took the commenter's statement that "A little time spent at the local Big Box Bookstore showed me that Hedges is part of a larger group of authors" as a suggestion that those authors were like Hedges in the way that appeared relevant to the thread, and to the commenter's earlier comment -- he is part of a larger group of authors that would actually forcibly suppress some speech, and not just of a larger group of authors that simply criticize that speech. That strikes me as a sensible inference.


No it really isn't. The first post was in response to the claim that Hedges was simply "just one guy" and JAV made the argument that Hedges was an influential member of a leftist organization and sought out for interviews on NPR and it was wrong to dismiss it as merely being "just one guy." To illustrate that point, he gave a hypothetical example of someone from the Hoover Institute calling for the silencing of atheists as a danger to the Republic and whether people would so readily dismiss it as being just one guy. JAV also specifically said in that post that pointing out Hedge's views and apparent influence does not "impute his views [on suppressing speech] to anyone else." He asked in that case what the ACLU had to say about what was clearly a call for suppressing speech.

In his second (and subsequent) posts, JAV responded to a different issue that had also been raised in the thread -- namely the demonization of people based on their religious beliefs and there he pointed out that Hedges was but one of many authors who did this. Nowhere in that post did he raise the topic of speech suppression and the hypothetical he raised was that of books "proclaiming the dangers of Judaism, Islam, or atheism" it would be met with an entirely different reaction by the "self-appointed defenders of diversity" as opposed to asking "where's the ACLU?"

So no, given that he clearly addressed two separate topics in two separate posts in a thread that addressed multiple topics and the author was careful to separate the two in his posts, it is not a "sensible inference" to conflate the two for him in order to illustrate a point about people who conflate "criticism" with "censorship."
1.31.2007 3:13pm
CJColucci:
OK, CJ, I will bite. in what nations does Christianity have a powerful and malign influence, and how is this influence shown? surely the fact that some people have religious objections to say abortion does not reach this level.

Just about any Western nation qualifies as one in which Christianity has a "powerful" influence. As for that influence being "malign," I reported that as the view of the authors in question. I believe that accurately states their view of the matter. I did not express one of my own. Maybe some other time.
1.31.2007 3:36pm
Centrist:
Can anyone verify that any or all of the referenced books are calling for speech suppression?
1.31.2007 4:02pm
BobNSF (mail):
I thought it might help to provide an example of true demonization to help some distinguish it from criticism.

Moscow bans 'satanic' gay parade


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6310883.stm

And, for those who don't trust the BBC, here's FoxNews' version:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,248130,00.html

Both note the vigorous support of prominent religious leaders.
1.31.2007 4:22pm
BobNSF (mail):
Colin:

And unless David Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are now out of print, plenty of books criticizing secularism as well. Criticism sells.


I wish true, thinking criticism sold. What sells is rage and hyperbole.
1.31.2007 4:26pm
BobNSF (mail):
Virginia Postrel:

If there's a valid complaint here, it's in Hedges's conflation of theocratic Reconstructionist Christians like Rushdoony with run-of-the-mill evangelical conservatives whose political agenda would, at its most extreme, restore the status quo circa 1945.


1945 vs. 1495 (or whatever Rushdoony's "perfect year" might have been).. . as a gay man, I have to say neither is very appealing.
1.31.2007 4:32pm
Loki13 (mail):

Criticism sells.


Harold Bloom will be so happy! Oh... oh... that's not the type of criticism you meant. Never mind then.
1.31.2007 4:32pm
Bored Lawyer:

Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from criticism


Perhaps this is a bit off topic, but the above observation, while true, is a bit too binary to reflect reality. There is a spectrum between government censorship on the one hand and respectful criticism on the other. In between reactions can include contempt, unpopularity, social disdain and even social ostracism.

True, from a legal point of view, the question is indeed binary: is a reaction to speech "State Action" (or "Government Action") or is it not. So long as there is not State Action, then there is technically no First Amendment violation -- even if the person faces complete social ostracism. As Hubert Humphrey once said, the First Amendment guarantees the right to speak, it does not guarantee an audience.

That said, however, one would think that generally a free society ought to encourage or at least tolerate a multiplicity of viewpoints. Social ostracism should be reserved for the extreme cases -- the KKK ideologies and their ilk.

At times, moral posturing and social ostracism are used to "silence" what are in reality reasonable or at least debatable points of view. Although such silencing is not techincally censorship (because there is no State Action) it can be just as potent as censorship. Overuse of moral posturing and social ostracism can lead to stifling of free discussion which, we are told by First Amendment theorists, is "valuable" to the functioning of a free society.

It follows that in some situations, it is not completely a non sequitur for someone being criticized to cite his/her freedom of speech rights. If the criticism appeals to moral/social ostracism (e.g. "that position is racist/anti-semitic") then it is legitimate for the person being criticized to reference "Free Speech" -- not the legal technicality contained in the First Amendment, but the broader social commitment to a free and open discussion of the issues.

(Of course this is easier said than done. Sometimes a crackpot is really a crackpot and a racist is really a racist.)
1.31.2007 4:43pm
BobNSF (mail):
chris s:

OK, CJ, I will bite. in what nations does Christianity have a powerful and malign influence, and how is this influence shown?


How about Nigeria, where the Anglican Archbishop to whom some "convervative" US congregations are now swearing allegiance fully supports the proposed law to prevent gay people from even sitting down to dinner together?


Here's a link about the law (5 years in jail for saying anything pro-gay).

And another about the archbishop.
1.31.2007 4:44pm
chris s (mail):
OK, so we've got Uganda, Nigeria, an annoying political party in Poland, and beighted folks in the US who believe in creationism and abstinence. of course I don't agree with the Nigerian bishop on gays, and don't believe in creationism. but come on, this is thin gruel. the patchiness of this list proves people like Rushdoony are so far out on the fringes that only the paranoid focus on them.

and Bob, I would bet you those US congregations are associating with the African churches not because they want to imprison gays, but because they don't want adulterers like the Rev Robinson in their pulpits. there's a wide gulf between the two.
1.31.2007 5:18pm
ScurvyOaks (mail):
BobNSF:

"I wish true, thinking criticism sold. What sells is rage and hyperbole."

I agree -- see, e.g., Sam Harris, the Ann Coulter of his viewpoint.
1.31.2007 5:29pm
James Dillon (mail):
Oops. Apparently I haven't mastered HTML tags yet. Sorry.
1.31.2007 5:46pm
KAM (mail):
Elliot Reed, your reference to "the Christian Right's efforts to stop the HPV vaccine because girls who have sex deserve cancer" is slanderous.

Evidence or retraction, pal. Which will it be? I defy you to find any such position by even a marginal group of the Christian right.
1.31.2007 6:03pm
chris s (mail):
James, people can believe something yet not really put a lot of thought or energy into it. I'd be concerned if that 54% (assuming it's an accurate #) was dead set on reworking public school curriculums nationwide to put Genesis in science class. Absent that, so what? Lots of folks believe in UFOs, and as long as they aren't pushing to spend tax money on landing strips for them it doesn't affect us. (also, while I think creationism is bunk, I don't think advocacy of it is anywhere close to backing executions of gays, which Hedges claims Rushdoony et al support.)

as far as Robinson goes, I'm sure the fact that he is gay played a predominant role. But the other circs didn't help. The larger point is that opposition to openly gay bishops does not equal support for jailing gays.

I'm with people here who think Rushdoony and his like are hateful, bizarre, etc. (who isn't? a few thousand guys in compounds?) But I see no sign they have any meaningful influence, and agree with Ms Postrel that it is lame and dishonest to try to blur the line b/w what those people apparently believe, and what traditional but not hateful conservative Christians (or Jews or Muslims) believe. To think Hedges or anyone else would want to gut the First Amendment to silence such a small and ignored voice is baffling, and kind of pathetic. show some faith in your nation and your countrymen.
1.31.2007 6:16pm
Dick Schweitzer (mail):
Why oh Why must we always have these designations of "Right," usually cf. to the misnomer "Liberal," rather than using "Left or Leftists?" Is "Right" now a pejorative in such critiques?
1.31.2007 7:09pm
Loki13 (mail):
Dick,

I have long been a fan of categorizing the divide that grips America in new terms. I think 'port' and 'starboard' would be preferable. There would be several advantages of this over the current 'left' v 'right':

1. A posh war is one that the liberals get us into, and the conservatives would try to take us out of. Think Bosnia. Iraq, conversely, could be a SOPHomoric war. (the starboards got us into it, and the port will take us out)

2. Use of nautical analogies could spread. Instead of wingnuts and kossacks and redstaters, maybe we could have spinnakers and docksiders!

3. Finally, and most importantly, it seems that few americans can even remember the difference between port and starboard at this point. I think the first step towards reconciliation would be to forget our differences.
1.31.2007 7:16pm
byomtov (mail):
I'd be concerned if that 54% (assuming it's an accurate #) was dead set on reworking public school curriculums nationwide to put Genesis in science class.

But the question was to identify a malign influence. The fact is that many conservative Christians do want some sort of religious creation story taught in the schools, or presented as a scientific alternative. Whether it's 54% of the public is not relevant to the question.
1.31.2007 7:17pm
James Dillon (mail):

The larger point is that opposition to openly gay bishops does not equal support for jailing gays.


No, it certainly doesn't, but surely enthusiastic support for Bishop Akinola-- and the dissident Episcopalians have certainly shown that; see again the New Yorker article I cited earlier-- can fairly be read to imply approval of his social views?
1.31.2007 7:28pm
ScurvyOaks (mail):
James,

I'd like to answer your question directly and personally: No!

I'm a Reformed Episcopalian. I enthusiastically agree with Bp. Akinola's theological views and his criticisms of the Episcopal Church. I disagree heartily with his support for the anti-gay law in Nigeria; his view on this disappoints me a great deal. And I think I'm the rule, not the exception, among theologically conservative American Anglicans.
1.31.2007 8:20pm
Elliot Reed:
Elliot Reed, your reference to "the Christian Right's efforts to stop the HPV vaccine because girls who have sex deserve cancer" is slanderous.
Yes, what they said was that they concerned that vaccinating people for a sexually transmitted virus might give the girls the impression that it's OK to have nonmarital sex. The sheer absurdity of this position (how many girls know you can get cancer by having sex? more or less zero. so knowing that you're safe from sex-induced cancer makes no difference) makes it quite clear that what they meant is that sluts deserve to be punished.
1.31.2007 8:58pm
Aleks:
Re: Both note the vigorous support of prominent religious leaders.

The hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church is rather like the Restoration Bourbons: they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing, and I sometimes suspect Alexei and his yes-men would be happier if the Communists had never lost power (and happier still to have a good old fashioned despotic tsar).
1.31.2007 9:43pm
James Dillon (mail):

James,

I'd like to answer your question directly and personally: No!

I'm a Reformed Episcopalian. I enthusiastically agree with Bp. Akinola's theological views and his criticisms of the Episcopal Church. I disagree heartily with his support for the anti-gay law in Nigeria; his view on this disappoints me a great deal. And I think I'm the rule, not the exception, among theologically conservative American Anglicans.

Nothing like direct and personal testimony to illuminate the flaws in one's assumptions. Thanks for enlightening me; I'm glad to hear that your view is the majority one.
1.31.2007 10:07pm
therut:
I look forward to the day Vouchers for Education become wide spread. That is the only way and I think a proper way to stop one of the culture wars. That is the war that parents want their RIGHT back to send their children to a school of their choice. But then Sen. Schumer was on C-SPAN selling his new book and he said he wants to "Voluntarily NATIONALIZE Schools". That is frightening. Sounds like Chavez. Of coarse the bribe is MONEY. I could not believe what I heard. I expect many will sell their freedom for gold. An old story that keeps getting read over and over but never learned.
1.31.2007 10:15pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
I don't see why any leftists should be allowed to call for an end to free speech. Someone needs to shut them up.

We can tolerate many things, but we can't tolerate intolerance, and we shouldn't extend free speech rights to those who want to take free speech away. They need to be silenced.
1.31.2007 10:25pm
BobNSF (mail):

there's a wide gulf between the two.


Yes, and there were other options for America's conservative Episcopalians available besides siding with one of the Christian world's most vehement homophobes.

The challenge was to provide examples of countries where Christianity has a malign influence. You seem to belittle the examples. There are many more countries in Africa going the same way Nigeria is going. Some are Christian, some are Muslim (Nigeria, sadly, shares "conservative" versions of both).

I have to point out that the same religion, Anglicanism, has had what I see as a very beneficial influence in another African country, South Africa. Besides pushing for an end to aparteid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of Akinola's strongest critics.
1.31.2007 10:55pm
BobNSF (mail):
chris s:

and Bob, I would bet you those US congregations are associating with the African churches not because they want to imprison gays, but because they don't want adulterers like the Rev Robinson in their pulpits. there's a wide gulf between the two.


"Adulterer"? Let's be clear. He and his wife divorced. He had remained faithful to his wife during their marriage. He did not meet his current, male partner until long after he had divorced. Some of his homophobic critics call divorcing one's wife and then finding someone else "adultery". Would they have supported him if he had married the man? (which wasn't an option and still isn't -- I don't think they live in Mass.) By that standard, Robinson would hardly be the only "adulterous" bishop in the world.
1.31.2007 11:11pm
chris s (mail):
Bob, I don't mean to belittle the examples. I agree it is troublesome when Christianity is the impetus behind impose illiberal policies anywhere in the world. But I think the few examples underscore the fact that it is not a powerful and malign influence in all Western nations, as posited earlier. I also think, as noted earlier, that conflating things like opposition to evolution and longing for a murderous theocracy is silly and hysterical.

as for Africa, the New Yorker piece someone linked to earlier offers some explanation for the conservatism and even ugliness of the church's views on homosexuality there. it's worth a read.

I thought Robinson had admitted to cheating on his wife. If I am mistaken, then I apologize for calling him an adulterer.
2.1.2007 9:56am
Randy R. (mail):
Robinson remains on good terms with his wife, and she fully supported him in his quest to become a bishop, and has stood beside him when the conservatives began their scandalous attack on him. This would hardly be the actions of a woman cheated upon.

Sure, the Espiscopalians keep saying that they don't agree that gays should be jailed for having dinner in a restaurant, but the Bishop in Nigeria doesn't see it that way. He sees it as support for all his views regarding homosexuality. And by aligning themselves with his church and giving their money to him, they strenghten his position. How can it be otherwise? Furthermore, they have not passed any resolution condemning his support for these draconian laws.

They may say one thing, but their actions speak much louder than any words: They left the mainstream Espicople church primarily to join and support one of the most homophobic churches in the world. I believe that at some point in the future, they will realize the bargain that they got into, and these type of people usually are or will become nut cases, and will spout off on many other issues, such as women's rights, polygamy (which is actually common in many African societies), and many other social issues.
2.1.2007 11:28am
ScurvyOaks (mail):
James,

Thanks for the gracious reply. I do think (and I sure hope!) my view is the majority one.
2.1.2007 12:05pm
LilyBart:
Yes, what they said was that they concerned that vaccinating people for a sexually transmitted virus might give the girls the impression that it's OK to have nonmarital sex. The sheer absurdity of this position (how many girls know you can get cancer by having sex? more or less zero. so knowing that you're safe from sex-induced cancer makes no difference) makes it quite clear that what they meant is that sluts deserve to be punished.

This does sound silly, but the main objection I have heard from my Christian friends (and one that I share), is a concern that the Government would force parents to innoculate their daughters as a condition of enrollment in a Government School. You must remember that the media will always report what is provocative as a way to sell papers and ad time, even if it is based on the feelings or desires of the fringe groups. So, if people are basing their grave concerns about the Christinan Rights' influence on society on what is reported in the media, it is likely that these "concerned people" are really uninformed as to what the majority of the "Christan Right" are really wanting or thinking.
2.1.2007 12:19pm
Randy R. (mail):
" but the main objection I have heard from my Christian friends (and one that I share), is a concern that the Government would force parents to innoculate their daughters as a condition of enrollment in a Government School. "

If that's their main concern, then they should state that. However, this is what they actually said: "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful," Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told the British magazine New Scientist, "because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."
2.1.2007 5:09pm
LilyBart:
Not sure about the Family Research Council. They don't speak for me or my friends. Again, you are quoting what the Media chooses to report, not necessarily what mainstream Christian's think about the pending legislation to impose government force on parents to require medical treatment for a problem that is not generally considered a public health risk (Colorado is currently considering such legislation). I have yet to hear any of my Christian friends or acquaintances express concern that such a vaccine would cause their daughters to become promiscuous.

I think what was at issue here is Mr. Hedges' tendency to paint Christians (only the extreme ones? How does he define this?) as dangerous and in need of societal control. My point was that Mr. Hedges and others may base their fear of Christians on media comments and reports - which may not reflect what the general Christian society thinks or wants. You prove my point, I think, assuming that the Family Research Council speaks for Christians. The Family Research Council speaks for themselves, I believe.

By the way, I have been a mainstream, Bible believing, Evangelical Christian for over 25 years. Most of the time when I hear media reports about what Christians think and are saying, I wonder who in the world they are talking about. Nobody I know.

The media like to report provocative things. That is what they do. It generates income for them. Don't let this cause you to begin to develop a bias against people you don't know well.
2.1.2007 6:21pm
Randy R. (mail):
Oh I agree with you Lilybart. And I don't suppose to presume that the media accurately quotes you, me or anyone else all the time. And I certainly don't believe that the FRC speaks for all Christians.

But the original point was whether THEY were against the vaccinations because they would encourage sexual activity of young women. Clearly, that was the position of the FRC.

Of course, that's doesn't mean it was your position, or that of your friends.
2.2.2007 12:17am
Lily Bart:
Of course, that's doesn't mean it was your position, or that of your friends

Or the position of anyone other than the FRC, or perhaps just a few people at the FRC.

I think the critisim leveled at Christians in these anti-Christian scare books is based on taking comments from the few (like the vaccine comments of the FRC) and projecting them on the whole group.
2.2.2007 9:53am
ScurvyOaks (mail):
"Most of the time when I hear media reports about what Christians think and are saying, I wonder who in the world they are talking about. Nobody I know."

I agree, LilyBart. That's been my experience as well.
2.2.2007 11:21am
michael (mail) (www):
Well, Professor V, thanks for the Friday evening entertainment. At the risk of being obscure, but considering your lineage, it does seem a Russian or Chekhovian one. The 'bored lawyer' is anything but and with Virginia Postrel we all are honored. The sad, pitiful and laughable thing about Hedges, for me, is found in his narcissism and in the clue left by Orianni Fellaci, a "Christian atheist." Is he looking at the world political scene and seeing that jihadists would silence him, kill him and thinking, to extrapolate Paul in the recent Gospel, I Corinthians 13, "When I was a Christian, I talked as a child, thought as a child, reasoned as a child, but becoming a Progressive, I know partially. So faith, hope, love remain but the greatest of these is loving me and my moral refinement"? And the fact that the jihadists may have an inkling of diversity classes and still don't love him is evidence that the, non-atheist, Christians must be suppressed so that the jihadists are not so easily confused and may be convinced by his true glory with no further ado.
2.3.2007 12:51am