Is the gospel only about personal salvation? Or is there more to it?
On this Sunday, Christians celebrate Pentecost. This highlight of the church calendar commemorates the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of prophecy, as recorded in the second chapter of the book of Acts. Jesus had promised His disciples that He would bring this about; He said it would happen upon His ascension into heaven – “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16: 7).
And now, during the Jewish Feast of Weeks when the city was filled with people from all parts of the known world, the time had come, and the Spirit was poured out.
How did this manifest itself? By the disciples communicating directly with all those visitors, speaking in foreign tongues, or, as eyewitnesses put it, “How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2: 8—11).
What is the significance of this? Peter’s explanation speaks for itself. But there is something else, which in our day is of great significance. The very fact that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit manifested itself in, of all things, the proclamation of the mighty works of God in foreign tongues, is not coincidental. It points to the plan for the ages that at this point took a new step forward.
According to the biblical testimony, which stretches back to the very origins of civilization, there was an event which indicates how foreign tongues came into existence in the first place. This is key to understanding the significance of that speech-making in foreign tongues.
The incident to which we refer is the building of the Tower of Babel, which took place at a time when mankind was already unified: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech” (Gen. 11: 1). And people wanted to keep it that way, so, of course, they decided to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” in order to make for themselves “a name,” to keep from being “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (v. 4).
A name for themselves…
In man’s eyes, a necessity; in God’s eyes, not really a good idea. “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (v. 6). The implication is that they will be doing bad things, just like they did before the Flood. God had promised no more floods, so He betook Himself to a different strategy.
For this urge to maintain unity was done by mankind in its own name, to “make a name,” to establish a self-contained kingdom of man which, with its tower reaching to heaven, constituted a challenge and an affront to someone else’s kingdom, namely, God’s.
And so the effort was thwarted. The means to accomplish this was by scattering mankind through the confusion of languages: “let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (v. 7). Mankind dispersed, and stopped building the city. Significantly, the place was Babel, in Hebrew meaning confusion, in Aramaic “gate of God,” a double-entendre of which the Bible is rich; the name would live on as the “code name” for illicit efforts at playing God, as we shall note.
Here is what makes Pentecost so significant. What it means is that the kingdom of God has arrived to achieve the reunification of mankind. What once upon a time was lost in the illicit power grab surrounding the Tower of Babel is now restored – but only on God’s terms. It is through the ministry of Word and Sacrament (Acts 2: 41) that that unity is restored, not through holding high a banner with the word “HUMANITY” inscribed on it.
A name for themselves…
This is the danger of the times we now live in. This urge toward global unification is occurring precisely in the name of humanity, precisely in the way, the Bible warns us, that we should not be pursuing it. There is a struggle going on between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, the Prince of Peace and the Prince of this world. For what did Jesus say on the eve of His crucifixion? “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12: 31—32). It is in Him that men will be drawn together; but that will occur only through the judgment of the world, through the casting out of the ruler of this world.
How will that unification manifest itself? Jesus Himself spoke of it just prior to the crucifixion, in His high-priestly prayer. “Neither pray I for [My disciples] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” This unification is of the Spirit, in the name of Christ, as a testimony to the world.
What about the world itself being unified? The Book of Revelation warns of a renewed attempt to establish this unified world. It will manifest itself as a global kingdom of man. Significantly, the center of this empire, once again, will be Babel – Babylon – “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17: 5), “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (v. 18), whose “merchants were the great men of the earth,” by whose sorceries “were all nations deceived,” in whom was found “the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth” (18: 23—24).
This is globalism, but the wrong kind. The globalism of Pentecost restores unity in in the name of God. The globalism of man asserts unity in the name of man. Choose carefully.
“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24: 14–15).
According to the Roman Catholic church calendar, today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the day on which the church celebrates the sacrament of the Eucharist. In Roman theology, this Eucharist, which to you and I looks like a wafer of bread, is the actual body of Christ, transformed, or in the terminology of the doctors of theology, transubstantiated, into that very thing, that substance.
It was perhaps this doctrine more than any other that precipitated the Reformation of the 16th century. The Lutherans rejected it, substituting for it the doctrine of consubstantiation, in which the body of Christ, while really present, is present alongside the actual bread, while not changing its substance. The Calvinists went farther, rejecting any notion of the physical presence of Christ’s body in or around the bread, instead arguing for its spiritual presence, by means of the work of the Holy Spirit. Finally, Zwinglians, Anabaptists, and kindred groups argued for the pure symbolic nature of the bread as Christ’s body, without any argument in favor of a real presence.
This controversy still determines divisions between the various “denominations” of the Christian church. But it should never have come to this. No, things should never have gotten this far – because they rest on a profound misconception regarding the character of the sacrament known variously as the Eucharist, Holy Supper, the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. Indeed, the focus on the nature or substance of the bread as used in this sacrament completely misses the point as to what the sacrament is actually about.
Let me explain. And get straight to the point. Where in the Bible does the nature of the bread (and wine, which, while also part of this story, will be left out of the discussion to avoid redundancy) get discussed? The focus has been on Christ’s words of institution on the night He was betrayed: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26: 26). And the debate then centers on the meaning of the word “is.” Does “is” mean that the bread in some way actually becomes the body? Luther thought so. This was for him beyond question.
But what a diversion that is. With regard to this celebration, this Last Supper of the Lord, the composition of the bread is not the point at all.
When Paul quotes these words of Christ, he follows them up with the words, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11: 27–29).
What is Paul getting at?
First, participation in the Lord’s Supper needs to be worthy participation (“whosoever shall eat this bread… unworthily…”). Unworthy participation means participation without proper evaluation of its meaning. The Greek is derivative of anaxios, failure to attach the proper value to the sacrament, which is the Lord’s body.
To avoid this, secondly, the participant needs to “examine himself.” The Greek root is dokimázō, “test and approve,” thus inward examination to discern whether or not one actually is participating worthily or unworthily, whether or not one is attaching the proper value to the Lord’s body.
Thirdly, to participate unworthily is, in Paul’s words, “not discerning the Lord’s body.” Discern: from diakrinō, thorough investigation by means of which the matter at hand is brought to full awareness.
What this means is that the Lord’s Supper is no game, no passive habit, no mere tradition. It demands total awareness of what it is about, with severe sanctions attached for those who participate without the requisite self-investigation, proof, valuation of what is going on with it. “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself…. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (verses 29, 30). Physical, debilitating judgement is the consequence where this warning is not heeded. There are physical sanctions attached, just like there were in the Old Covenant. In this regard, nothing has changed.
And is the point in Paul’s admonitions the makeup of the elements? Was Paul saying that we needed to have the proper doctrine of the bread when we participate? The theologians would almost have us think so. But when we look at the context of this passage, we see something entirely different. Not discerning the Lord’s body has nothing to do with the wrong doctrine regarding the substance of the bread; it is the failure to realize that partaking of the bread makes the participant one body with all the other partakers of the bread. The body is not the bread, it is the partakers of the bread. Not discerning the body has to do, not with the elements, but with the participants.
What is it that upset Paul so much with the Corinthians’ version of Holy Supper? Some of the wealthier participants were setting up shop, having a grand old time with an extensive meal, while others, not so wealthy, not so upstanding, were being shunted off into a corner, forced to watch with hungry eyes. Paul is livid, and understandably so. “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?” (vv. 20–22).
The rich were despising the poor. They were dividing the body (v. 18). This is what it meant to eat and drink unworthily, to not discern the Lord’s body. It is that they did not discern that they were one body with those despised, or at any rate neglected, have-nots.
Therefore this is what it means not to discern the body. Luther said something similar about the church: “Denn wir, die zusammen kommen, machen und nehmen uns einen sonderlichen Raum und geben dem Haus nach dem Haufen einen Namen.” Which is to say, we who come together form and take for ourselves a special space and give the house a name according to the people gathered there. The church is not the building; the church is the people gathered in the building. By the same token, the bread is not the body of Christ according to His literal flesh, it is His body according to His bride, those with whom He has become one flesh, for the church is both body and bride. His body is His people. To divide His people, for one member of the body to diminish and denigrate another member, is to cause Him pain and to instigate His righteous anger.
Therefore, “my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another” (v. 33), which is to say, wait for one another, give each other room, give each other time, make room for one another in your hearts. This is discerning the body: “But speaking the truth in love, … grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4: 15–16). It is a joint venture in which every part needs every other part, every member needs every other member. That is what it means to discern the Lord’s body. And that is what the sacrament is all about.
Celebrate Corpus Christi? Fine, but don’t celebrate the
elements, celebrate the members of the body the elements bring together in
unity, “that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as
thou hast loved me” (John 17: 23).
 Geist aus Luther’s Schriften: oder Concordanz der Ansichten und Urtheile des grossen Reformators über die wichtigsten Gegenstände des Glaubens, der Wissenschaft und des Lebens, Volume 3 (Darmstadt: K. W. Leske, 1830), p. 47.
 “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church “ (Ephesians 5: 31–32).
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19: 7–9).
Denominationalism defines the modern church. By denominationalism is meant the social existence of the church as a congeries of groupings (congregations) invested by private law with a certain degree of collective or “moral” personality, grouped together voluntarily in associations of greater or lesser geographic extent, whereby these associations are separated the one from the other by statements of faith and church orders.
This is a situation we take for granted, not having known anything else. It is thus for the most part an unexamined state. Yet it involves far-reaching consequences.
What denominationalism has done is divide the church into mostly competing factions, in terms of differences in the detail of their confessions. Because of these differences, churches split into like-minded associations (denominations). These can be viewed as pillars – a sort of “vertical” segregation. And these denominations in the nature of the case are loose associations of effectively independent individual congregations. This is “horizontal” segregation. The upshot is congregationalism: denominationalism establishes congregationalism as the mode of existence of the modern church.
These two dimensions of ecclesiastical segregation have fractured the force of the church in society. The effect and influence of the church is restricted to that which these segregated congregations can muster. And that not being very much in the great scheme of things, the collective force of the church in society is little more than a scattershot of pinpricks, like an infantry battle line firing uncoordinated salvoes of pellets from bb guns.
So these congregations, conscious of the lack of influence outward, turn inward. And the church becomes a collection of pietistic cells of retreat safely ensconced behind the congregational walls, whereby “building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4: 12) becomes programs of congregational expansion. The congregation is everything; the denomination exists, of course, but it is a means to the congregational end; consciousness of a collective body of Christ greater than congregations per se is obfuscated if not lost entirely. And social action is severely restricted by the awareness of how little this or that congregation can accomplish; and besides, there are charitable organizations that “take care of that kind of thing,” not to mention the welfare state’s vaunted “safety net.”
But this is not the whole story. Unity there will be, by hook or by crook. And the vehicle to achieve collective action on the part of churches, or at least church members, is political action. To some extent this compensates for the dispersion on the ecclesiastical front. It can be argued that this has been the method for American Christians since the breakup of the established churches in the various states making up the Union. It is part and parcel of the Enlightenment agenda, according to which religion divides while the generally human (the correlate of which is a universal natural religion) unites. In this state of affairs, we do not have to agree on doctrine or dogma – a form of civil religion serves the purpose well enough to uphold the ethical claims of Christianity, enabling Christians of all stripes to cooperate with regard to temporalities while leaving to one side those pesky spiritualities.
Such an agenda seemed to serve the purpose well enough in the past, when the ethical systems of Christians and non-Christians lined up more or less the one with the other, but increasingly and distressingly, the divergence between the two has become painfully evident. The result has been the celebrated culture wars. But not to worry – political action could be harnessed for phase two of “unified Christianity” with the rise of the “Christian Right,” the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and whatever other organized form it might take. The latest iteration is probably the Tea Party. While these efforts might not enjoy the support of every Christian – usually, the more educated if not more left-leaning believer rather looks askance at them, if not with outright abhorrence – they do harness a great deal of grass-roots, salt-of-the-earth, common-ordinary-everyday Christians to the cause, the kind of person that, if truth be told, made America great.
What has been the result? For one thing, because churchgoers have found their locus of unity in politics, they have become more adept at speaking the language of Locke and Rousseau than at speaking the language of Canaan. We talk a lot about our rights – freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion – and very little about God’s claims on society and mankind. And in the meantime, putting all our eggs into the political basket turns the church into a vehicle of politics and political agendas. When it doesn’t turn the preacher into a surrogate politician, it imports into the church the spirit of party, the spirit of interests, and the (surreptitious) willingness of leaders of these movements to acquiesce in a spirit of compromise on issues over which at bottom there can be no compromise, regarding which the Word of God and the law of God speak clearly and unequivocally, and woe betide the nation that sets that Word and that law aside.
But the political process so subverts our way of thinking that we begin to think that it must prevail over those eternal verities, that there can indeed be a round of horse-trading of absolute truths, that the alternative – a higher law above the political process – is too horrifying to contemplate, especially when it means giving up our notions of civil (least-common-denominator) religion, the gentleman’s agreement that no longer carries the force it once did.
But what is the alternative? Are Christians simply to renounce the political process, democratic institutions, the gentleman’s agreement to agree to disagree, and be satisfied with nothing less than a theocratic state along the lines of (mutatis mutandis!) an “Islamic Republic of Iran” or some such-like barbarity?
Perish the thought. In these discussions, one ought to keep in mind that it is Western Christian civilization that voluntarily introduced the institutions of modern democracy, and voluntarily yielded so much of its prerogative to the forces of secularism. To repeat, this was done voluntarily, albeit with a lack of knowledge. For it has opened the floodgates to forces of intolerance that should never have been given that opportunity. But that doesn’t mean that democracy cannot be recovered such that these abuses can be remedied.
Be that as it may, the political process is not the be all and end all of a polity. We have made it such. In so doing, we have subjected everything of absolute value to the horse-trading of a game of interests and the spirit of faction. We have to draw a line in the sand and call out to the political process, “thus far and no farther.”
In the past we have done this through the institutions of private law: property, contract, family, private association. But increasingly through the instrumentality of legislation, these bulwarks have been undercut when not overthrown by the seemingly invincible advance of a political agenda embracing and regulating every area of life.
Perhaps we need to start with the church, and try to reverse the fateful descent into denominationalism that has led, among other things, to the politicization of Christianity. But where to begin?
Actually, there is a book which addresses this very issue. Not in so many words, for it was written for another time and another ecclesiastical condition; but the author, in attempting to make sense of where the church in his country had gone off the tracks, and how she might get back on the right track, was so kind as to expound universal principles that might serve to restore to the church an understanding of who she is and what she is and what she should be about. And in the process, recover a notion and, slowly but surely, a reality of a unified church, a church that, as the Dutch expression concisely puts it, “makes a fist” and so brings to bear the claims of God on the polity and the nation.
The author’s name was Philippus Hoedemaker (pronounced WHO-duh-mah-ker; translated, it means “hatter”), and his book was entitled The Church and Modern Constitutional Law. Actually, the subject was broader than the title would indicate. It is the idea of the church per se, and in consequence, it draws inferences regarding her place in terms of law and constitution. But that is quite enough to provide a not-inconsequential shove in the right direction.
Hoedemaker’s purpose was to address the condition of the Dutch national church in 1904. What has that to do with us? Quite a bit, as it turns out. For when Hoedemaker put his finger on what ailed that church, it turns out that that ailment was denominationalism. In other words, despite the status of the official Dutch Reformed (known as the “Hervormde”) church as the established, national church, the church arrangement (since the restoration of the monarchy in 1815) was a form of denominationalism by which the church was splintered into individual congregations and kept from any functional cooperation or more general assembling. This was effected by establishing a board arrangement atop the church, a bureaucracy exercising control over the church in the interest of the government, which as it turned out, was nothing other than to curtail the church’s influence in society. This arrangement was anathema to Hoedemaker, and it precipitated his thorough examination of the church “according to divine right,” as he put it, whereby he unearthed the principles of the church so as to determine whether this board arrangement could even remotely be considered biblical (it couldn’t), and if not, what the biblical arrangement might well be. Hence, this exploration of the church according to divine law is an exploration of the biblical bases and principles of the church.
It would be going too far afield to unfold Hoedemaker’s arguments in all their range and depth. But to our point – the locus of unity – Hoedemaker’s argument is compelling. As if by a prophetic vision, he argued that the Reformed church needed to recover the power of association, not as private individuals forming private clubs, but as congregrations retaining their integrity and represented by means of their own office-holders at more extensive levels of assembly, so harnessing the power of individual congregations into unified wholes acting collectively as with one mind. For the church never was and never is simply the local congregation; she is the body of Christ in her collective entirety as well.
The effect on society at large of such an expressed unity would be enormous in and of itself. Or, to cite Hoedemaker’s analogy:
If we compare the confession of the [unified] church to a building placed in the middle of a park, and the legislator to a landscaper who has been called to lay out that park entirely independently, it speaks for itself that the location of the house, when the architect takes it into account, determines the location of garden paths and ﬂower beds. Still, it cannot be said that the architect has lost his independence. He is only taking existing data into account.
Indeed. Facts on the ground must be taken into account, and even the most blasé and pragmatic politician will be moved by them. It works for the homosexual movement, which exercises an influence belying the number of actual homosexuals; why shouldn’t it work for a church restored to her birthright and confident in her mission?
Given the historical background of the Dutch Reformed church, Hoedemaker’s ideal would have been to restore her Presbyterian form under the Three Formulae of Unity. A fine ideal for the Netherlands, but even then not to be reached without the consent of the congregations, and Hoedemaker realized that, given the range of doctrinal discrepancy then obtaining in the “Hervormde” church, such an ideal would be one to strive for over a period of years, and one not to be obtained by imposition. The example of the Scottish Presbyterians in the English Civil War is not one he would imitate.
But are his recommendations only to be attained by pursuing the expansion of Presbyterianism? I think not. And in fact, church tradition offers an alternative approach: quite simply, that of conciliarism. As with the condition of the church in the 14th and 15th centuries, it is the struggle for the locus of unity that impels us to seek to reestablish that unity in the face of disintegration. Then, it was the failure of the papacy to unite the church; today, it is the failure of the churches themselves to attain any unity at all.
But what of the various councils of churches such that litter the ecclesiastical landscape today? One need only examine the agendas put forward by such councils to see that they function exactly the way Hoedemaker’s bête noir, the board arrangement, did: they simply attempt to harness churches to the fashionable political agenda of the day while suppressing the preaching of the Word in its purity. There is nothing of the gospel of Christ in them, and certainly nothing of the law of Christ; just the latest iteration of the religion of humanity on display, in the name of Christ.
No, we should have in mind something entirely different: 1) the unity we seek should be geographic unity; 2) the unity we seek should be comprehensive, including all churches confessing Christ, not just our own denomination; 3) the unity we seek should be grounded in the confession of faith shared by the church in all places and at all times, the truly ecumenical church; 4) in terms of doctrinal specifics, the unity we seek should have as its goal (as opposed to starting point) a broad Augustinian synthesis.
As Hoedemaker argues, we do not create the church, nor is she brought into being by us; she is already there, invisible; only she becomes ever more visible the more we give shape to her, the more we establish the offices, the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and the exercise of discipline in conformity thereby, at the congregational level; and broad assemblies of office-holders expressive of the body of Christ at all levels.
Would such Augustinian ecumenism do away with denominations per se? I do not see why that should be the case. Congregations can form part of greater unions in terms of doctrinal specifics. But that should not be the only form of unity. There is much more that the various church traditions share than that they differ on. Conciliar movements in the past have foundered on the quixotic quest to achieve doctrinal conformity. But that need not hinder a compound form of unity whereby the denomination forms one axis, but the parish another, the region or state or province another, the nation another. These councils should be a part of church life, manned by officers of the churches in representative fashion, and charged with arranging joint affairs, and making known the claims of God to society at large.
This includes the classic expression of prophetic judgment on the nation, in the tradition of the prophets of old; but it also should include a joint diaconal effort along the lines of Thomas Chalmers’ efforts in early 19th century Glasgow. A true diaconal work shared in by all the churches in a local community, a joint effort that has the potential of doing a lot more good for the brokenness of concrete families and neighborhoods than impersonal public welfare ever could. A regulated parish system – well, why not? What’s stopping us?
In these ways a territorial church system might be organized giving expression to the church as body of Christ. So might Hoedemaker’s vision become attainable for the modern church. And so might we become more faithful to our calling as members of one body.
 The defining characteristic of such a natural religion is that it deprecates “organized” religion, in other words, the church.
 p. 171.
 The section “Surgery, Hygiene, and Therapy” (pp. 134ff.) examines this question in detail.
(originally posted on the Calvinist International, January 16, 2015)
The terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo bring into sharp relief a major contradiction in the intellectual framework of modern democracy. In fact, it highlights a fault line. Freedom of speech is one of the supposedly unshakeable pillars of liberal social order. But the way liberals have dealt with the issue brings into question whether it is a pillar or a facade.
Of course there were the massive demonstrations in favor of Charlie Hebdo, the cries of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, the self-identification with Charlie Hebdo (“Je suis…”). The Parisian march of unity comprised a million-plus souls, and that was not the only such demonstration. More than forty world leaders participated in the Parisian rally, including both Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Other voices were to be heard, though. There were those who refused the identification “Je ne suis pas… “), citing e.g. the cartoons blaspheming the Trinity, promoting racism, and the like. In their minds, freedom of speech is not an absolute value but one that must be balanced with other freedoms. But this then begs the question of the standard to which appeal must be made in order to strike such a balance. It stands to reason that any norm that is to balance freedom of speech with the right to a good name, the rights of religion, and the like, must stand over the various freedoms and rights that are to be balanced against each other.
This is an issue of long-standing debate. One thing all participants in that debate agree upon: these things are not deserving of death, as it were, and they certainly do not permit any group’s taking the law into their own hands to mete out justice in terms of their own lights. Which, in a nutshell, is what Islamic terrorists do.
Freedom of speech is problematic. But not for real liberals. For them, freedom of speech is an absolute value, a categorical imperative. A liberal is one who announces without qualms, “je suis Charlie Hebdo,” who says, while I adamantly oppose what you say, I adamantly support your right to say it…. [continued here].