Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.


“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”  (Lady Bird Johnson)

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, bring born at the very end of 1959. My young, impressionable mind recalls the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember watching the riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Kent State protest and shooting, the footage of the Vietnam War and the Nixon impeachment on the nightly news.

The world seemed a chaotic place, no less than it does today, on this 4th day of July, 2020.

In the 1960’s, the dissident voice championed First Amendment rights that included the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. I remember that freedom cry as a child superimposed over news footage of a burning US flag. The patriot in my young heart was equally repulsed by the flag burning and impressed of the necessity of the freedom that allowed that flag to burn.

In law school, I learned the nuances of the jurisprudence that grows out of our US Constitution in which the First Amendment is enshrined. The clash of ideas is so sacred in our constitutional framework that it allows even the idea of abolishing that very framework to be heard.

In the 21st Century, many things have changed, while somethings have remained the same. Many of the dissident ideas from the 1960’s have become mainstream, and more “conservative” voices have become dissident. I am no longer repulsed by the burning of the flag (and, perhaps, the point of burning a flag is no longer poignant for the same reason).

The angst of the 1960’s of my youth has been replaced by the angst of the 21st Century of my middle age. The reasons for may angst are much different, yet very much the same at their core. I have grown and changed in my views, but the emotional strain of the human condition remains.

I fear, at times, that the framework that protected the freedom to burn US flags in the 1960’s might, itself, be destroyed in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children, by the fire of ideas that are antithetical to that freedom.

The ideas in colleges and universities around the country that seem to predominate promotes the silencing of dissident voices. Speaker engagements are canceled as the loudest voices want not even a whisper to be heard in opposition. Dissident speakers that are allowed on campus are shouted down.

These social, philosophical and political theories are built on the foundation of the idea that certain voices should be silenced, while other voices should be magnified – a kind of totalitarianism of ideas. This worldview would destroy the marketplace of ideas along with the idea of capitalism from which the idea of a marketplace of ideas is derived.

I am repulsed by this worldview as I was once repulsed by the burning of a US flag. The repulsion stems not from the evils in society this worldview aims to address, as I find some common ground in those concerns. I am concerned that the proposed remedy involves weakening the most fundamental freedom that protects freedom itself – the freedom of ideas and the right to express them.

The idea of “hate speech”, as wholesome and reasonable as it sounds, is inimical to a framework of freedom that protects the clash of ideas. Nowhere is freedom more necessary to be protected, than at the intersection of ideas and the right to express them. One person’s hate speech is another person’s ideas.

If we allow the idea of hate speech into the fabric of First Amendment jurisprudence, we threaten its very foundation. What we characterize as “hate” today is subject to change with changing societal norms tomorrow. No speech is safe from the label of “hate”.

While such a worldview has some appeal, seeking to right real wrongs and has laudable goals, it does so with the threat of  abolition of freedom of speech. Yet, freedom, real freedom, protects these even those ideas that are antithetical to freedom and demands that they be heard.

As repulsed as I was in my naive youth to watch the US flag burn in the streets of America, I understood the importance of allowing that expression to be heard. That I am no longer repulsed by that expression is of no consequence. In fact, freedom of speech is nowhere more vital than the protection of speech that is offensive. Favored speech doesn’t need protection. 

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.

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Focusing on Following Jesus in a Chaotic World

God continues to work out His purpose in history.


There is so much angst in the world today. First the corona virus and now the explosion of racial tensions. The political and worldview polarization we we have experienced in recent years have been magnified as political machines ramp up for another presidential election. It even threatens to pull the church apart.

I have recently written about black lives matter and white privilege from a biblical perspective, in an attempt to redeem those phrases from a biblical point of view.  I realize that those terms are loaded. The Black Lives Matter organization has a specific message and worldview that runs contrary to biblical principles at various points, but I tried to find the kernels of truth in those phrases through a biblical lens.

We run a risk in the church of getting off the narrow path of following Jesus by aligning ourselves too closely with a particular political platform, secular philosophy or other way of viewing the world that is not gospel focused. We also run a risk of falling off the narrow path the other way, by  reacting in opposition to everything a particular political platform, philosophy or worldview stands, just because some of it (or even most of it) is contrary to “off”.

Truth is truth, and truth is objective. No one person or particular view is apt to be absolutely true, because we are flawed beings with limited perspective. The likelihood of one person, one church, one theology being absolutely true in every detail is not likely.

At the same time, truth is truth. It is objective, and people can see it. That means that even people who may not acknowledge the truth of the gospel may, nevertheless, accurately see some aspect of the truth.

It’s like science, the facts and evidence must be interpreted. We are all looking at the same facts and evidence, but we do not all interpret it the same way. Still, the facts and evidence are the same. We continually discover new facts and evidence that alters our interpretations of the facts and evidence we previously knew, and we sometimes discover that what we thought we knew is not accurate.

God, of course, never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our perspective, knowledge and understanding, however, is finite and limited, and that requires we adopt a posture of humility in our understanding.

God’s Word doesn’t change, but our perspective of it changes. Think of the radical change of perspective Jesus introduced to the descendants of Abraham! God became man, came to His own people, and they didn’t even recognize Him!

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The Story of the Napalm Girl and the Healing Power of Jesus

Kim Phuc saw another plane coming in low, fast and loud. She saw the bombs drop, and she froze….


Kim Phuc is “the girl in the picture”, maybe the most iconic picture of the Vietnam War, and one of the most memorable wartime photos ever taken. She is the girl in the picture running from a napalm bomb that dropped on her village.

Kim grew up in a happy family that was well off and lived in a village that was far from the war, but the war came to them. The villagers had taken refuge in the local temple, as the South Vietnamese took up guard to protect them.

One day, however, planes flew overhead. The first plane dropped a marker at the temple. The soldiers, knowing what that meant, screamed for everyone to run. As Kim reached the exit of the temple, she saw another plane coming in low, fast and loud. She saw the bombs drop, and she froze.

Before she knew what was happening, she was surrounded by flames. When she saw her arm on fire, she ran in the panic and fear until she couldn’t run anymore.

When she stopped running, a soldier gave her water. She cried, “Too hot! Too hot!”, and the soldier poured water on her, thinking it would ease her pain. The water reacted with the napalm, though, and intensified the pain. She passed out. She suffered 3rd degree burns over a third of her body

The photographer who took the photo dropped his camera and took her to the hospital. They didn’t have enough room for her because of the number of patients that needed help. There wasn’t hope for her, so they moved her to a morgue. Her mother and brother found her and carried her back to the hospital. Her father arrived, and she was transferred to a burn clinic in Saigon.

Every morning the nurse took her to the “burn bath” to soften her dead skin to be removed. She cried through the excruciatingly painful process until she passed out. She had 18 surgeries, and almost a dozen laser treatments. She spent years in pain, physical and emotional, despairing that she would never live a without the physical and emotional scars she carried.

Her father spent all his waking hours tending to her with a broken heart. She was in so much pain, they prayed that she would die, fearing that something would happen to them, that would leave her alone.

She lived of course, but she was ashamed of her scars. Friends stopped wanting to be with her. Her family loved her, but she became very lonely. She was no longer the beautiful young girl she once was. She thought she was ugly.

She also lived with trauma and nightmares from her experience. She was filled with bitterness, hatred and anger. She kept asking, “Why me?!” She despaired of life. She felt like death would give her an end to the suffering and pain that she lived with.

The war continued for three years after the event that left Kim scarred for life. War continued around her village, and her family lost everything they had. When the Americans withdrew, leaving the North Vietnamese in control, her parents and family were broken up. The suffering continued.

The Vietnamese government discovered that Kim was the girl in the picture. Kim wanted to be a doctor. She enrolled in medical school, but the Vietnamese government found her. They took her away from school, and they began to use her as a propaganda tool.

At age 19, with her dreams and aspirations snuffed out, she was at the lowest point in her life. The questions intensified. Why me?!! Why did I have to be burned and suffer? “Why didn’t I die?” What is the purpose of it all?

“Deep down in my heart,” she said, “I was seeking.”

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The Martyrdom of the Apostles


Sean McDowell did his doctoral dissertation on the fate of the Apostles of Jesus. Legend has it that they all died as martyrs, except for the Apostle John, because they witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus and were willing to attest to it with their own deaths. But is that really true? That is the question Sean McDowell set out to answer with scholarly research and analysis.

It’s a common understanding. It’s been my understanding, more or less, going back many years, though we may not have hard historical evidence to support what happened to all the Apostles. Peter and Paul are pretty well known and attested. They died martyrs’ deaths, but what about the others?

Sean McDowell recently did a short video inspired by the results of his study that was the subject of his doctoral dissertation, A Historical Evaluation of the Evidence for the Death of the Apostles As Martyrs for Their Faith, and the book, The Fate of the Apostles. While his study reveals a high degree of uncertainty about the martyrdom of many of the apostles, we have a great of certainty about at least two of them, and of other eyewitnesses of the death of Jesus. From these facts, McDowell raises five key points.

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The Remarkable Consequence of Ritual Cleansing

Ritual Baths along Way of the Patriarchs or Way of the Fathers. The name is used in biblical narratives that it was frequently traveled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Samaria, Israel

I am reading through the Bible again this year, but I am reading it in chronological order using the You Version Bible app.  I am not sure how old I was when I realized that the books of the Old Testament are not in chronological order and that events in one book overlap events in other books. But that isn’t the point of this blog piece.

I am in Leviticus right now. The struggle is real! So many laws! So many times the text goes over the same things, or so it seems, but I am trying to maintain focus, and I am asking the Spirit for help in understanding what is going on, what God is saying, what He is foreshadowing, etc.

The last couple of days I have been reading the instructions for all the various types of offerings (animal sacrifices if we want to be blunt), and I have just gotten into laws for ceremonial cleansing for various “leprosies” and other “unclean” conditions. It can seem so mundane, archaic, maybe even naive and unenlightened to a modern mind.

For instance, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that all kinds of skin conditions were labeled leprosy. When we read in the English Standard Version about leprosy in houses, we realize that it’s probably talking about mold. (Some translations call it mold in fact.) The vocabulary and understanding of the Bronze Age mind was limited. It’s no wonder the Richard Dawkins of the world, reading these passages with a 21st Century mind, scoff at first blush.

But, underneath that temptation to scoff is a heavy dose of pride and lack of appreciation for what God is doing in the information and instruction that He was inspiring Moses to write in these passages. God was speaking to them in their language and according to their understanding to set the stage for a global plan that would be unveiled over many centuries and millennia that, even now in the 21st Century, is unfolding and being revealed.

Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to the Old Testament Scriptures.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or all the insights, though I am reminded of the words of Jesus to the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)  For the scoffer, Jesus might have said, “You don’t study the Scriptures because you think that they are mythical superstition that has no life. Those Scriptures testify about me, and you refuse to come to me to have life!”

Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to the Old Testament Scriptures. But, I still struggle sometimes to find the relevance, significance or meaning in some of these passages. I’ll be honest. I am sure I’m not alone.

One thought comes back to me today as was I reading about the ceremonial cleansing rituals. A thought that goes back many years, but with a new twist today. It has occurred to me before that many of the cleansing laws, laws about what animals they can eat and not eat, and so on, acted like in place of our modern knowledge of germs, disease and other health dangers that the people in that time simply didn’t know. I have long been struck by that thought, but I had never made the additional connection that strikes me with significance today.

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