Tag Archives: Obama

On Liberty and dissenting voices

John Stuart Mill’s timeless essay On Liberty contains the following stirring sentence: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” This was the basis of Mill’s argument about the importance of liberty or freedom.

While I do not believe that freedom is a right or should be our ultimate goal, I do believe that it is this view of liberty – and especially of freedom of speech – that has done much to bring about a generally better world.

Less often cited from Mill is another passage: “However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may be to admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”

One of the major problems of evangelicalism these days is that most evangelical leaders believe that they have arrived at a set of truths that are without error. There is an important distinction that they fail to make. Our faith is based on a set of truths that are without error (God’s Word and God’s Himself). But to claim that our understanding and knowledge of God (and His Word) is faultless is clearly wrong (and contrary to Scripture itself, as it happens). If, therefore, we know that our understanding of God is flawed, we MUST open ourselves to the type of “freedom of speech” that Mill was encouraging.

Yet so many evangelicals shut this type of discussion down, and shout down anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. Such a shame, really, since what they end up with is exactly as Mill envisaged: a dead dogma.

How to talk when we don’t agree – an object lesson from President Obama

Originally published on 20 May 2009

Last week, President Obama spoke at the graduation ceremony of Notre Dame university. This was made controversial by the 24 hour media, as they pointed out that Obama is “pro choice” and Notre Dame is Catholic, opposing abortion. I don’t want to deal with that particular issue in this blog. But I do want to say that I think the President hit exactly the right note in HOW he dealt with the issue.

He did not sweep it under the carpet. He did not step down from his own position. But he did show how we can still talk, even when we don’t agree. He showed that there is a way to engage in which we honour all viewpoints, and work towards outcomes that make sense for everyone.

You can read a transcript here. And you can watch it on YouTube, starting here.

In Part 1 on YouTube, notice how he deals with the hecklers (and notice how none of the students heckled!!). The best bit about faith and love is in Part 3.

Continue reading How to talk when we don’t agree – an object lesson from President Obama