I almost began by writing that I’m sick of politically tinged topics and wish to dedicate a column to something spiritual… but this one lands me right to the heart of free speech. Everything, alas, has grown political.
In my nightly meditation (it’s my variety of prayer), I pass a “station” where I ask myself if I have “reached out” that day, because I’m convinced that exchange of some sort has to be an essential part of why we’re here. We are not finished products. We cannot allow ourselves to be deposited in a curio cabinet (or deposit ourselves there), safe from dust and errant missiles. That doesn’t mean that we have a holy obligation to throw our elbows about and shout around the water cooler; it simply means that we must find a way to register our “take” on the truth as events unfold around us in this accelerated, hyper-active, overly medicated e-world of our creation. Not to speak up in some manner, unfortunately (for the meditative, to whom silence is golden), is these days equivalent to nodding quiet assent to the slanders and inanities that build a dizzy momentum on Twitter, Facebook, and the rest. “Pushback” is required.
And it was ever so, to be honest. Monastic seclusion is beneficial only to the extent that it allows the hermit to reflect. As soon as it favors a suspension of thought and a mind-numbed retreat into daily routine, it shuts down the individual’s opportunity to grow further. A cow is not the ultimate sage.
I write this as someone with very strong tendencies to flee to an island and sink the skiff that brought me there. That’s why I have to hold myself to an accounting every evening. Exchange is required, not just (or even primarily) for the benefit of one’s “benighted” neighbors: it prods one’s soul, as well, into probing questions deeper and framing answers better.
Hence my quoting the word “benighted” above—for we must not think of our intellectual participation as gracing the world with prophetic revelations or as hammering sinners for not falling in with the onward march of Christian (or socialist, or utopian) soldiers. An exchange not only runs in two directions: it also, in a truly Christian context, must accept limitation and fallibility. Beings such as we cannot fully grasp ultimate truth, let alone express it. Though I may be closer to the mark than you, and though I may know well that you won’t accept my correction—however modestly offered—I still need the “exercise in futility” involved in making my case to you so that I may better guard against any straying off target from my side. When I’m enhancing a digital photo, I always overshoot the point where the lighting or coloring is just right; for how will I know where “just right” is if I haven’t veered into “too much”?
Not that I deliberately go too far in my speech or writing… but I will never “nail” the full truth; and without the evidence of a day’s slight (or gaping) misses, how will I restrain myself from the pride of feeling that I—in my superior silence—understand everything while the others are mere puny mortals?
There, in a nutshell, lies the spiritual necessity of exchange. And there, as well, lies the wickedness of shutting down exchanges in the interest of “what’s right”. So you know exactly what’s right, do you? How generous of God, to loan you His eyes and sit you upon His throne! But, of course, the people who would shut down such discussion do not regard their perspective as on loan. In a post-religious world, their vision has become the new god—and they are all his prophets.