Riots in Turkey, Ravi Zacharias, and Freedom

“What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind” – Ravi Zacharias

I caught a few minutes of a talk by Ravi Zacharias yesterday on my way to church. In it, he talked about a conversation he was having in Jerusalem with an Islamic Imam. At one point the Imam put forward that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, at which Zacharias protested. His response was this: “take your foot off the necks of the people, and see how well your ideas flourish.” Brilliant. (I know, I’m way out on a limb by contending Zacharias said something brilliant.)

I think the response has merit in religion as well as public policy. Zacharias’ point, from a religious standpoint, is that a person’s “conversion” is only of value if it is a free choice. Men will do many things under threat of punishment. When a man chooses a religion under such a scenario, it is reasonable to question the veracity.

The message to the theocrats is clear too. In Christianity, the only morality, the only conversion that is meaningful is the one that is chosen freely. The best one can hope to achieve by public policy is an environment where people are free to choose the good.

I think there is a broader sense to the public policy point though. Leaving religion aside for a moment, I have argued in times past (here for example) that if your ideas can only survive in the absence of alternatives, then they are not good ideas. If the only way your philosophy carries the day is to suppress all counter-positions, then we can hardly distinguish between your ideas and fascist tyranny.

Of course I usually argue this in regards to liberalism, where policies continually fail until they can be instituted at a national level (no alternatives within America). If they can only be applied at state and local levels, the system crumbles, because the hard-working people flee (and hard-working people are an absolute necessity for success).

Speaking of – the last week has brought some broad-sweeping protests in Turkey, the crossroads of Islam and democracy, the place where the religious and public-policy aspects of the argument come together. Who knows exactly what is going on there, but reporting here contends that it all began with some “environmental protestors” who were forcefully ejected from the square. At this offense, a broader coalition came out of the woodworks to protest the suppression of freedom. The riots are in their third day, and the riot police are apparently struggling to deal with the conflict. Is Turkey a free democracy or not?

Time will tell, but  I suspect things will settle down after the protestors have made their point. Now, if this translates into an election loss for Edrogan, we will see more clearly (i.e., if he loses and holds on to power, then we have our answer).

If your ideas only survive by removal of opposition, they are not good ideas. If free people freely choose something else, then you haven’t made a winning argument (or the outcomes of your policies have proven them failures). And we, the Christians, have to believe enough in our faith, in our religion, in our ideas, that our political motivations are to make people free to choose – and nothing more.

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2 Responses to Riots in Turkey, Ravi Zacharias, and Freedom

  1. “… If your ideas can only survive in the absence of alternatives, then they are not good ideas… If your ideas only survive by removal of opposition, they are not good ideas.”

    Hmmm. This may be nit-picking, I’m not sure. I *think* I understand your meaning of “absence of alternatives” and “removal of opposition” to be similar to Zacharias’ statement; that is, if a state actively oppresses expression of any alternative ideas, then the “popularity” of the only remaining idea is not an argument in its favor. I completely agree.

    However, Sherlock Holmes had a point: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” That is, if we are talking about the discredit or contradiction of alternatives by weight of evidence, so that only one or a few remaining ideas survive that same scrutiny, then those remaining ideas are not “bad” ideas. That uniformly applied scrutiny, the rejection of ideas that fail to hold up under that scrutiny, and the continued attack/refinement of the remaining surviving ideas… that is science.

    • nomasir says:

      In general I would mean something closer to the first, but I will say that oppression of the expression of alternatives takes on more forms that simply the state. After all, the state is the people, and the people may put down expression of alternatives in various ways that are not always state-organized. Of course, I would much rather suffer “ridicule” than “death” (but this is not always the case – if one considers for instance Brad Pitt’s Achilles in “Troy” who would rather suffer glorious death and be remembered through the ages). So, I don’t really mean to trample on the ability of the people to freely scorn ideas they find scornful, whether by weight of evidence (preferable) or popularity (high-school-ish).

      I suppose my meaning is probably more along the lines of “name calling”. That is, once you’ve taken to name calling, you’ve lost the argument. Once your response to contention is to label the other a heretic (or zealot, as the case may be) then you’ve left off arguing well. That’s not to say we must continue in debate that generates, as you put it a few weeks back “heat but not light” (just as the Lord warned not to cast pearls before swine). I merely mean that if the only argument we have left is to destroy the other, then we haven’t much of an argument at all.

      By the same token, if a philosophy (or religion) can only respond to opposition with violence or force, then it is a clear indication that it has no good alternative left to promote itself, and if it allowed freedom of choice it would likely wither. I suppose this is true in both cases where the philosophy itself is based on weakness and fraud (as I believe is the case with liberal ideologies) or because the followers have grown lazy in their thinking, unwilling to allow “iron to sharpen iron” (as we have certainly seen in times past with Christian presentations on various themes).

      I recognize here that there is a legitimate religious/political counterargument that I reject on a fundamental basis. That is, one might argue “the people are ignorant and base, and if left free will tend only to a negative outcome – and must therefore be given guidance [“shackled”?] in order to survive.” This is the “Loki” argument, if you will. It may actually be right in some sense. It is certainly consistent with the Christian narrative to hold that people are fallen, broken, and tend toward the bad. I reject it based on the premise that it is better to have people freely choose bad than unfreely be made “good” – but that is based on a fundamental belief in human equality before God, that may not be shared by all and can hardly be “proven” in any scientific sense.

      To the point on science I will simply add that many ideas currently held up as valid were once “poo-pooed” by the scientific community. They had to survive scrutiny, perhaps a lot of it, before the community recognized their legitimacy. So then, when we talk about ideas that have not “survived the same scrutiny” we may either mean that they cannot survive the same scrutiny, or they have not YET survived the same scrutiny. In either case, the Al Gore notion of “the debate is settled” is hardly ever legitimate. (But “the debate is somewhat stable and you’ve not yet shown enough evidence to dislodge the prevailing theory” is probably fine.)

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