"If you have the freedom to express your opinion, then you have the freedom to offend" was an opinion very freely expressed by a British comedian interviewed on BBC local radio. He was responding to the international controversy over cartoons that offended many Muslims around the world, provoking hostile reactions, which were also very freely expressed.
As a wholehearted believer in the importance of freedom of expression, my initial reaction to the comedian and aggressive demonstrators here in Britain was, "Free expression? Yes, but wait!"
Don't we also have the choice not to offend or react? To me, the question is: Shouldn't we each stand for an even profounder freedom of expression in relation to all our actions - the freedom to express ourselves with wisdom, compassion, and respect?
I would describe this as standing for the freedom to express our inherent Godliness as the children of the all-wise divine Mind - whether we call the Creator God or Allah, or indeed even if we just believe in standing for a "truth" that we believe in.
To stand not only for our right to say what we say, but for our ability to do so wisely, compassionately, and respectfully is not throwing the right to freedom of expression out the window, but tempering the implementation of it with wisdom and love. This, in turn, benefits alike both the expresser and any subjects of that expression, as well as the wider community.
On many occasions I have found my initial thoughts about a situation egging me on to speak or take actions without measuring these words and actions against the greater guideposts of wisdom, compassion, and respect for others. Without fail, I have regretted speaking my mind under the influence of such impulses. By contrast, when I have paused to listen for the inner spiritual voice of wisdom, compassion, and respect and obeyed its guidance, positive results have followed.
This honing of motives and deeds is God's guiding vision that takes into account the wider view of one's neighbor's needs, and thus leads to actions which defuse, rather than exacerbate, polarization.
As the offending cartoons have been published more widely, and as reaction has grown fiercer, resulting in several deaths, it is clear that polarization urgently needs to be defused. As I have continued in my prayers - as I know many Christians, Muslims, and others around the world are doing - I have dug deep for a healing idea.
Doing so, I have glimpsed another dimension to the subject of freedom of expression that I hadn't considered in this way before.
Beyond the hard-fought for, hard-won, and historically invaluable freedom to choose the words we speak and the thoughts, opinions, and ideas they convey, and beyond the spiritual freedom of every one of us to temper our implementation of that right with the expression of wisdom, compassion, respect, and other good qualities, is an even higher freedom: the freedom God has to express Himself for the perfect harmony of His creation.
In the human view of things, a clash of cultures seems inevitable. Seen in the light of God's eternal right to create and sustain the unity of creation, however, what must emerge dominant in humanity is neither a single prevailing culture nor a clash of divided cultures, but a universal culture dominated by the constructive and all-blessing ideas emanating from one and all.
These ideas are pouring forth from God through the boundless avenues of His creation, and are the inevitable outcome of spiritual love. As Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, wrote: "We see eye to eye and know as we are known, reciprocate kindness and work wisely, in proportion as we love" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 117).