The Ahmadiyya Muslim community of Calgary each year holds an interreligious dialogue in Cochrane with speakers from various religious perspectives all speaking on the same topic. In light of various world events, and especially in light of the Islamic extremists actions in murdering several Charlie Hebdojournalists in Paris for their “blasphemy” against the prophet Muhammad, this year’s dialogue was organized with the topic “Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Sanctities.” The dialogue, with presenters from Islam, Baha’ism, Native Aboriginal Spirituality, and Christianity, was held on April 9, 2015, at the Cochrane Ranchehouse Theatre. I was privileged to be asked to present the “Christian perspective” to the topic. This series is what I presented that evening.
Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Sanctities: A Christian Response (Part 2)
(7th Annual World Religions Conference, Cochrane, Alberta)
The subject of “Freedom of Expression” is both precious and vital to Christian belief. Let me explain why, first beginning with an illustration.
A privilege that each of the 50 United States has is to erect two statues of its greatest sons and daughters in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. As a testimony in bronze, these figurines bear witness to the great contributions to humanity by two of its citizens. In 2014 the state of Iowa unveiled its statue of a man that few may know by name but the contribution of his life’s work has probably saved the lives of more people in all of world history – Norman Borlaug, known as “the Father of the Green Revolution.”
Borlaug’s efforts as a cellular biologist doubled the world’s food production and helped prevent famine around the globe. The problem was the standard kind of wheat grown around the world took too long to grow, was far too susceptible to disease and bugs, and its stalks were not strong enough to support the full heads of wheat when matured. Far too much of the wheat crop was lost to drought, disease, pests, and weather. Borlaug developed a high-yielding variety of “dwarf wheat” for Mexico then later India and Pakistan which more than doubled its yield. Virtually every country has benefitted from his contributions. Since then others have taken his ideas and applied them to rice and corn with similar results. In 1970 Borlaug was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in battling world hunger and malnutrition. He is known as “the Man Who Saved a Billion Lives.”
The purpose of my talk is not about ending world hunger (as important as that subject may be) or the ethics of GMOs, for I could also speak of the history of medicine with names such as: Joseph Lister, the pioneer of sterile and antiseptic surgery, who discovered how infections spread in hospitals because of dirty instruments; of Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin which paved the way for the use of antibiotics; of Edward Jenner, the discoverer of the smallpox vaccine; or Jonas Salk the developer of the polio vaccine, … The list could go on and on.
No, I mention these names for us to imagine for a moment some person or group of people, some power or authority structure, some political or religious group who would seek to prevent its people of learning of these “cures,” these discoveries, these answers that would save their lives. Here is a new strain of wheat that could mean that our country can now feed its entire population and no one within our borders would ever starve again – but somebody deliberately prevented that word from getting out. Here is a vaccine that could eradicate smallpox, but some authority structure did not allow its people to have access to it. Millions continued to die for needless causes. We would call that immoral, maniacal, unjust, and downright criminal, if not homicidal or even genocidal.
This illustrates why the topic we discuss this evening “Freedom of Expression,” is so important to Christians. The Christian message can be summed up with one word – gospel. It is an Old English term simply meaning “good news.” The Christian New Testament begins with four books which tell the story of Jesus called “gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) – each focusing their message on the events that almost all Christians celebrated this past weekend, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The “gospel,” simply stated is that the Saviour that everyone needs has come into the world, and He provides salvation for all, specifically, all who would receive it.”
There is an element of personal response that is necessary for the individual – called “faith” or “belief.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:9-13)
“ Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)