by Lois McLatchie
Friday, 1
April 2022
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The Overton window for Christian beliefs is narrowing

In Finland, two people were tried simply for quoting the Bible
by Lois McLatchie
Credit: Getty

In 17th Century Europe, you’d have swung for blaspheming against the dominant church of the day. In 2022, you can now be criminalised for professing the scripture of that same faith.

A Bishop and a parliamentarian have been tried for ‘hate speech’ in Finland, in this case for merely quoting and affirming biblical views. In 2019 MP Päivi Räsänen, grandmother of seven, had sent a tweet, accompanied by a Bible verse, criticising her church for co-sponsoring the Helsinki Pride parade.

Less than 280 characters triggered a life-changing police investigation. Räsänen was charged for the tweet, and also for backing biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality in a radio interview. Her third strike was a pamphlet she had written for her church in 2004 titled, tellingly, ‘Male and Female He Created Them’. Bishop Juhana Pohjola was tried for having published the pamphlet.

Thankfully, the Court in Helsinki struck down the case on Wednesday in a thundering victory for free speech. But for voicing opinions contrary to the orthodoxies of the day, the pair were prosecuted for ‘ethnic agitation’, a charge under the section of ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity’ in the Finnish criminal code. Brought in under a 2011 amendment, the charge bans the ‘[public] expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted’. Maximum penalty — two years imprisonment.

The trial did not just put Christians in the dock, but Christianity itself. The prosecutor quoted heavily from the Bible and grilled both parties on the theology of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. The word “sin”, she claimed — used over 400 times in scripture and central to the Christian concept of forgiveness — could itself be “harmful”. It didn’t matter that Päivi had said publicly that all were sinners, including herself. This was against the principle of “equality”, by the prosecutor’s own measure.

Thankfully, common sense won the day. The pair were acquitted of all charges. In a triumph for religious freedom, the court confirmed unanimously that it wasn’t for them “to interpret biblical concepts”. Recognising that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, it concluded “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression”, and that there had been no such justification.

After all, not one citizen actually spoke at the trial to say that they were offended by the tweet or other material. Even Twitter didn’t take it down. This was simply a matter of the state policing belief. Indeed, current cases on legal dockets across the continent show that the Overton window for Christian beliefs is narrowing across Europe. In Bulgaria, two pastors are embroiled in a case against their government after local authorities circulated a slanderous letter, asking school administrators to warn children against listening to their message.

In Germany, Christian pro-life volunteers were forbidden from carrying out their prayer vigil in their chosen public space. And in the UK, street preachers have faced arrest and detention for sharing their beliefs in the street, including 71-year-old John Sherwood, who was physically pulled from his platform by police for preaching “male and female, he created them”.

Not everybody likes the Bible. But freedom to speak openly means that we will sometimes hear what we disagree with. A free society isn’t always comfortable. But history shows that it’s worth it.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
3 months ago

This story is one of Unherd’s short articles filed under “The Post” but it’s highly significant, imo.
I’ve often seen comments on Unherd to the effect that most people don’t really care about progressivism because they view it as a fad among urban professionals. Ordinary people, so the thinking goes, barely know about it and don’t care about it.
My question is when will ordinary people start to care? Their children are being indoctrinated at school with CRT and a hatred of their own culture; a similar indoctrination is occurring in corporations via HR departments; ordinary people are being prosecuted for stating an opinion contrary to the progressive ideology even if that opinion is a statement of basic Christian teaching. The list goes on.
At what point will ordinary people look up from their pint of beer and notice something is badly amiss?

Alan Groff
Alan Groff
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Ordinary people in America voted for ‘he who must not be named’ – a man who did not share their values and was nothing like them. Like the Athenian statesman, Solon, he was an elite who turned on his own.
For decades, sensible people in Middle America understood that elites looked down on them as technologically backward, politically reactionary, middlebrow, dull, “Deplorables” who clung to their “guns and bibles,” to quote Clinton and Obama, respectively.
It seems they felt something amiss when on January 6, 2021, “Deplorables” stormed the Capitol, killing five and claiming elites were stealing the election, and they were the victims.
Race and gender inclusion in the broader recruitment of elites obscures increasing stratification. Defense of privilege has replaced the goal to raise the general level of competence, energy, and devotion – “virtue” as it was called in an older political tradition that Middle America still clings to.

Last edited 2 months ago by Alan Groff
DA Johnson
DA Johnson
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Groff

Please correct your statement that 5 people were “killed” in the Capitol riot. Only one person was “killed”–Ashli Babbit, one of the protesters and an Air Force veteran, was shot by a DC police officer as she climbed through a broken window into the Capitol. Another rioter, Rosanne Boyland, was accidentally crushed to death in a stampede of people. Three other people, including one officer, died of natural causes. And after the riot, four police officers committed suicide, although, according to the New York Times, “police agencies have not classified the four total suicides as “line of duty” deaths”, so it is unclear if these suicides are connected to the riots. For more information, please see the NYT article:
These Are the People Who Died in Connection With the Capitol Riot – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 months ago
Reply to  DA Johnson

Exactly. You beat me to this punch.

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
2 months ago
Reply to  DA Johnson

It is also worth a mention that many of those who simply walked through the door of the Capitol building and who committed absolutely no violent or destructive action are still in jail now, without even having a date set for their trial. Fifteen months in jail, several in solitary confinement, uncharged, but apparently guilty only of a trespass offence.
Interesting also that one of the “ringleaders” turned out to be a petty criminal who had a long association with the police as an informant / agent provocateur.
American “Justice” at its finest.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Brumby

The whole thing was orchestrated by the FBI, the enforcement arm of the deep state.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  DA Johnson

Do not look to the left for factual honesty. Everything that advances their narrative is what they consider fact. The so-called “fact-checkers” you hears and read about are unemployed journalists.

Warren T
Warren T
2 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Very important point!!

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Critical Theory developed by Frankfurt School theoreticians (Herbert Marcuse et al.) in the 1930s sought to “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” (sounds familiar in our 21st Century?) and was strongly influenced by Marx’s commitment to social revolution, who stated: “… philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” [Wikipedia].
This philosophy filtered into universities in the USA and UK when some of its creators fled the Nazi régime and obtained academic positions there. The seeds of their philosophy, thus planted, germinated in the Western academe and grew steadily over the decades following WW2, eventually capturing and dominating social sciences and the humanities and ultimately every academic area. The ‘March Through the Institutions’ was inexorable, relentless; emerging in the 1950s, then blooming in the radicalism of the 1960s. Like rank weeds that choke the untended garden, cultural marxist teaching came to dominate academic perspectives, comprehensively entangling and capturing young undergraduate minds in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Graduates from these programmes have now ‘come of age’ in the public, corporate and political sectors, indoctrinated in cultural marxism ideology (an iteration of Critical Theory – just consider Critical Race Theory, for example), and who now occupy positions of influence at every level as they mature into senior and top management roles. The tsunami of change they have unleashed over the past five or so years has permeated every nook and cranny of our existence and revolutionised the body politic. A Critical Theory worldview now prevails across the so-called Western democracies and is consolidating rapidly.
The fact is that most ordinary people know only too well that something is badly amiss, but are powerless to stop or change it as the democratic framework that existed to address extremism in the past is being dismantled – the erosion, if not elimination, of free speech is perhaps the most obvious aspect of this process. The Era of Democracy is over – we have yet to accept that as fact. We are churning in the turbulence of profound change that will create a world utterly unlike that which has shaped us (i.e. Western civilisation and culture) over millennia, generally for the better, from ancient Greece to the recent centuries that followed Luther’s Reformation, which ushered in our modern democratic model. I do not believe the intersectional worldview will be a better one than that which it has destroyed in the West. The irony is that its proponents appear not to understand the notion: ‘the revolution eats its children’!

Last edited 2 months ago by Julian Pellatt
Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

A landmark of absurdity was laid down when a black woman nominated for the Supreme Court said she didn’t know what a woman was as she wasn’t a biologist.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

I need to point out that the word ‘n**i’ as appears in the second paragraph is not part of my original post, which used a word to describe a German political party that came to power in the 1930s. I make a point, in my above post, that the erosion, if not elimination, of freedom of speech is a hallmark of the onslaught against democracy.
My use of this term was purely academic, and in no way can be construed as promoting or condoning the ‘n**i’ belief system in any way.
Uherd has proved my point – what ridiculous censorship! I expect better from this publication. Grow up!
Quod erat demonstrandum!

Last edited 2 months ago by Julian Pellatt
J Bryant
J Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

A very thoughtful and reasoned summary of our current situation. Sadly, I’m tending toward your conclusion that
The fact is that most ordinary people know only too well that something is badly amiss, but are powerless to stop or change it as the democratic framework that existed to address extremism in the past is being dismantled – the erosion, if not elimination, of free speech is perhaps the most obvious aspect of this process.
I look on Unherd and elsewhere for articles describing strategies for reclaiming our culture, but I rarely find them. There’s no shortage of excellent articles describing the problem but little attempt to address it. I have the strong suspicion that our leading commentators, such as Douglas Murray and Victor Davis Hansen, recognize we’re past the point of no return. Cultural history is the best they can offer.
The only question now is what will the world look like when the progressives have their way throughout the western world?

Peter LR
Peter LR
3 months ago

I don’t think the Overton window is closing amongst ordinary people who prefer to judge by character and actions (such as foodbanks) rather than metropolitan virtue stances. Elite arrogance thinks it can dismantle the foundations of Western society which were built on Christian ethics (see Tom Holland’s book Dominion) and still have a stable social structure. That’s quite a gamble. One wonders why they take exception to the bible but give the Koran a free pass. Would they dare to arrest Islamic street preachers?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Holland’s book makes it quite clear that the greatest disaster in human history was the triumph of Christianity.
Had the wonderful Emperor Julian* lived to say seventy, we would never have heard about such arrant tosh.

(* Vilified by christians as the Apostate!)

Come on Nazarenes, you can do better than that! Only 19 ‘thumbs down’, truly pathetic is it not?

Last edited 2 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I see a lot of downvotes on this post. I do not have an opinion whether the statement makes sense or not but I would like to point out that it was the rise of Christianism in Europe (16th century…) that stopped much of the peaceful living together of Muslim, Christian, Judaean and other religions in the south of Europe (and north and east of Africa under mostly ‘Muslim’ rulers). The nastiness of the Christian invaders of the Americas may well have to do with the Christian invaders considering the local population to me Muslim like ….. history is not always what we think it is….

Warren T
Warren T
2 months ago

History is not always what we think“…. especially if we erase it completely?
I guess you also believe the Crusades were merely a land grab by the wicked Christians against the helpless Muslims? And Churchill’s characterization of them was completely racist?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren T

Certainly a land grab by Christians, better categorised as greedy rather than wicked.
Off course Churchill was a racist! Born in 1874 it would have been very odd if he hadn’t been, don’t you think?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 months ago

May I ask, is English not your native tongue?
The word “Christianism “ is for example, rather unusual to say the very least.
However what you say is correct. Monotheism of any kind is a an absolute curse.
Thus did the Ancient World rejoice in a polytheistic culture that produced virtually everything of any real value in this life.

Last edited 2 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Warren T
Warren T
2 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

It’s difficult to understand or comprehend the magnitude of ignorance required to make that statement. As if all the people on earth held hands while living in the Garden of Eden before Christianity came forth?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren T

Would you care to explain? Your second sentence is incomprehensible.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Dominion is an excellent book. ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Self’ by Carl Trueman is also very good.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Not if they wanted to go on living. Islam is both murderous and unforgiving.

Simon South
Simon South
3 months ago

“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” John 15:21.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Simon South

“B0ll0cks, I’ve missed the 2 o clock to Kings Cross”

Billy 14:10

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The God Squad didn’t like that one clearly

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Learn the rules of grammar, dunce.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Enlighten me, what didn’t you like about it?

Last edited 2 months ago by Billy Bob
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
3 months ago

A sea-faring forebear of mine, working the boats, was given a Bible as a gift to take to the high seas, in 1903. He was lost at sea, not long, it is thought, after rounding the Cape Horn. His Bible was somehow returned to his family, with the inscription inside to him. So it is said. But I have that Bible now. But what am I telling you this for? Nobody may be interested. Barely a soul might. But essentially nobody. Not now nor way back when. “Say a few words” you heard in the old movies. But now? It’s no words at all. They might, if spoken, cast one into the doldrums of society if there is no better charge against them than that they are considered so uncool. That’s a kind of litmus test, I guess. Better to be hip. Like lay all your secular thoughts at the altar of Notre Dame cathedral should it ever catch fire. That’s what happened in 2019: when the cathedral was damaged, the media pumped out so much bilge about it, you may as well have thought the cathedral was from another chamber of Tutankhamen’s treasures that got stupidly, stupidly damaged, in its excavation. In other words, there was not a sausage ever on the spiritual or Christian aspect of the place. The response to the fire at that place of worship, which featured in the opening scene of the first episode of Clarke’s Civilisation groundbreaker of a doc back in ‘69, was very revealing about the complete illiteracy of today’s youthful movers and shakers in politics, the media and increasingly everywhere else.

Claire D
Claire D
2 months ago

Clarke’s Civilisation series is available on BBC iplayer at the moment for about another two weeks. I’m watching it for the first time, I was too young in 1969. What a tour de force, wonderful.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

but you have to use the BBC iplayer

Claire D
Claire D
2 months ago

Yes, that is a snag if you’ve washed your hands of the BBC. I’m still with it – no idea why, until something like this comes along.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Agreed, excellent as far as it went, but nothing on the far greater achievements of the Classical World.
However no surprise really as Clark was no Classicist.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
3 months ago

Another example of the foundational and inherent thuggishness of the left. “Hate speech” is a kind of soft Nuremburg law. Of course, it might help the situation if the mainstream churches — looking at you, Rome — stopped trying to be “relevant” to a barbarous culture which hates Christianity, remembered Christ came not with peace but a sword, and actually stood out against the Gramscian garbage who abuse their offices on a daily basis to harass Christians, whom they consider soft targets.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 months ago

I realise that in the US most evangelical Christians are on the right. That is not true in England. I know Christians at Reform churches who are on the lleft and neither thuggish nor barbarous.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
3 months ago

It’s as if in today’s world, many intelligent people don’t know of or don’t care how their most recent forebears lived, thought and believed.

Would Abba’s 1977 song, One Man, One Woman, be considered by much youth today as so last millennium? As too old-fashioned biblical, like?

Claire D
Claire D
2 months ago

It’s postmodernism and Marxism I think, and feminism, people have been brainwashed into thinking the past is not to be trusted, the arts are ruthlessy pulled apart as political displays of power and oppression. Aesthetics seem to have become obsolete.
Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Snow Queen, and the splinters of broken mirror that enter people’s hearts and eyes to distort the truth and uglify everything, springs to mind.

Last edited 2 months ago by Claire D
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Claire, your reference to The Snow Queen made perfect sense to me, even though I would never have made that connection on my own. I think what you are describing has to do with ‘problematization’: the uglification of natural human bonds.

Claire D
Claire D
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I had to look that one up, I’m a simple woman, but yes it seems like it. I spurn it – utterly.

Last edited 2 months ago by Claire D
LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 months ago

Jesus’ counsel for such times as this was: Love your enemies, and pray for those who “despitefully use you”.
I’m thinking that that the “despitefully use you” component would also apply to those who despitefully abuse you. Jesus carried this whole love-based Christian worldview to the most extreme applications, even those in which we are persecuted as He was.
And in so doing, our Christ-witnessing Light shines ever more brightly as the times become dark and darker.
It’s not about our rights. It’s about His salvation, which was achieved only by his ultimate sacrifice of death by crucifixion. Even so, that criminal execution enabled the greatest event in all history: Resurrection.
In that pan-historic scenario, there is no way Christians can be defeated. Even if we lose the Christian battles, we will win the (spiritual) war.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 months ago

Perhaps the parents of the children now being taught to hold their inherited culture in contempt, do not care about it either so neither know nor care what’s going on. Meanwhile the zealots, who have occupied the professional and social spaces once peopled by clerics and lovers of poetry, music and literature, know exactly what they’re doing.

Jasmine Birtles
Jasmine Birtles
2 months ago

There really seems to be a concerted attack on religion now in the West, in particular against the Christian Church (including all denominations).
As a former UnHerd article put it, ‘they will miss us when we’re gone’. The secularist extremists have no idea of the truths they are trying to silence and of the harm they are doing to the generations yet unborn which will have to discover these truths again for themselves one day.
It’s fascinating, too, to see all the worst aspects of religious history expressed by those who seem to hate every form of religion. The trials mentioned above include echoes of the terrible witch and heresy trials set up by churches over the years, although thankfully (currently) the death penalty doesn’t hang over the accused. Give it time though…

Warren T
Warren T
2 months ago

They hate every form of religion with the exception of their form of religion.

Alan Groff
Alan Groff
2 months ago

Hypothesis:
Science versus religion is a red herring. The debate is religion versus “religion.” The cultural war is a religious cold war.
Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel aimed to reestablish the authority and ideals of the Catholic Church on secular grounds through power. Increasingly, their experiment to recreate “religion” looks successful as Marcuse and Foucault’s investment in the ‘how’ question of power has paid off.
Let us avoid this state-established “religion” with its medievally narrow Overton window.
As Voltaire observed, if there is only one religion, we’re in danger of tyranny; if there were two, we would cut each other’s throats; but there are thirty, and we live happily together in peace.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 months ago

Jesus of Nazareth was an apocolyptic teacher and prophet who taught that the corrupt world was coming to its end imminently, and that salvation was only for those who forsook their attachments to worldly matters and concentrated only on obedience to Yahweh. The rules he laid out were an extended and more spiritual application of existing Jewish Law. He had no interest in the establishment of a wider ‘Christian’ society beyond his disciples and followers, biding them only to carry his message as widely as they could within the time available. Nor did he have anything to say about the future governance or conduct of society since, in his view, there would be none. Instead all would be destroyed and replaced by God’s kingdom on earth. Being within the Overton window therefore is an impossibility for ‘Christianity’ as Christ specifically explained in Matthew 10:22 and elsewhere. Further, in as far as ‘Christianity’ is within the window it is not Christianity but heresy.

Last edited 2 months ago by Martin Smith
Oliver McCarthy
Oliver McCarthy
2 months ago

Hmmm! I’ll believe it when I see it (pace Niemöller, et al.).
We’ve been being told there’s a war coming in the West, against Christianity and “free speech” in general, for a generation now, going back at least to the prosecution of pastor Åke Green in Sweden in 2005.
But every time the hotheads on the Far Left think they’ve got their man bang to rights (including Cardinal Pell in Australia) they find their case has fallen to pieces in their hands.
It’s not impossible that western governments may one day take a decisive step towards persecuting Christians for their beliefs. But that’s a legal Rubicon they’re not close to crossing yet.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 months ago

It should be of no account if what is said is in the Bible, or any other religious text. Nor if it’s a ‘cherished belief’. Plenty of these are hate speech, or offensive, and many are explicitly threatening. What matters is what the words are; if they would be regarded as hate speech outside a religious context, or if the subject and object were reversed, then hate speech they are. The ‘god’ of the OT was a seriously unpleasant and cruel character; he underwent a massive change of heart between the OT and NT, so even he recognised that. So should his followers.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

You have a very postmodern view of the Old Testament, one that fails to take into the account the kind of world which existed back then: incest, child sacrifice, funeral sacrifices, the worship of rocks, trees, and animals, were all pretty common back then. Was the OT G-d cruel? Perhaps, but He created the blueprint for a society that helped His people survive and thrive in such dark and unenlightened times. They still exist today four thousand years later despite numerous attempts to eradicate them.
The difference between the OT and the NT is that the OT was designed with societies in mind, the NT is for how individuals should interact within those societies.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 months ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

I think one can find all sorts of apparently cruel things in the OT, which includes a considerable variety of sources.
However, if one reads the Ten Commandments, and bears in mind that they were written ~ 3,500 years ago, long before the widely accepted idea of right and wrong today, I would suggest that it varies little from the message within the NT.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
3 months ago

Scouring Europe to find half a dozen outliers?

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
3 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Try praying outside an abortion clinic and see what happens.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
3 months ago

Pray elsewhere then? Prayer is either spiritual and a true objective fact in which case your god will hear you or you’re there to make a self indulgent scene. If your beliefs are true it doesn’t matter where you pray does it? Or you don’t really believe in prayer or you don’t believe other people are allowed to have their own views and moral beliefs. Please explain.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
3 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

It’s a form of speech. Either it’s free or it isn’t. If it isn’t, don’t peddle some line like you represent some advanced form of social evolution because you’re shutting selected groups up. People have been doing that since the Stone Age, they were just more honest about it.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
3 months ago

So let’s see. Bit of a paradox here. You’re complaining about your rights because you want to stop others having rights because you think you are absolutely right because of divine right. Oh dear.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 months ago

You are right that people have been trying to silence those who believe in the God of the Bible since the prophets were writing. I think people are very honest about that today; for example Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens in the UK.