Self-censorship in the Christian World

June 23, 2022

A recent report published by a group of Christian institutions seeks to shed light and raise awareness on the deleterious impact of Christian self-censorship in all spheres of Western societies.

The growing attacks on freedom of expression and conscience for Christians in the West have been widely published in recent years. But much less is said about the attitude of Christians themselves in the face of these essential challenges for Christianity.

“The issue of self-censorship in the Christian world is the subject of a recent report produced by the International Institute for Religious Liberty (IIRF), the Observatory of Religious Liberty in Latin America (OLIRE) and the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC Europe).”

The report is titled “Perceptions on Self-Censorship: Confirming and Understanding the ‘Chilling Effect.’” It is based on a field of study encompassing France, Germany, Colombia and Mexico, considered as textbook cases.

Forms of Self-Censorship

The report establishes that self-censorship in the Christian world is a overwhelming reality, but the significant number of successful court cases concerning freedom of speech for Christians does not coincide with an appeasement of secular intolerance, nor with a liberation of speech of Christians.

“According to Madeleine Enzlberger, Executive Director of OIDAC Europe, while the law still defends freedom of speech overall in many Western jurisdictions, the social pressure tends to be much more deterring and oppressive than the legal framework.”

“‘Because of the social climate of intolerance around Christians, they don’t feel allowed to speak freely. It is the basis of the chilling effect,’ she told the National Catholic Register, adding that the choice of a growing number of Christians to keep silent on certain issues in public tends to make religion, and thus the Christian anthropology and values, more and more relegated to the private sphere.”

The forms that self-censorship takes are multiple and often subtle, the report indicates. Most of the time, this mechanism is almost unconscious. None of the interviewees would mention self-censorship to describe their deliberate omissions. Instead, they would describe their attitude as being professional, tactical, politically correct, or simply cautious.

“Many people, especially those employed by Christian churches, said they would make a distinction between the form and content of their public statements, claiming for instance that while their stance on sexual and bioethics issues or on COVID measures hasn’t changed, their wording has changed… but without losing their fundamental beliefs,” said the head of the German study.

Another trend, especially in Germany, is prioritizing the battles. Thus, a person who challenges the established order of secular intolerance on one issue is unlikely to show the same determination on other important issues.

The “chilling effect” mentioned in the report is, according to its authors, necessarily amplified by the so-called cancel culture that has been spreading all across the West in the academic, artistic, political, and media worlds.”

“With the shift of the 'right' for people not to be offended, the risk for people in the media and politics to speak up is just too high,” continues the author for Germany.

“In Germany, there are groups that are being excluded from campuses not because of what they say but just because they may have given a talk to some church that may be identified as conservative. In the same way, if an intellectual or an artist performs in a city, the mayor can be accused of supporting him. You have to be very careful who you’re seen with.”

“While noting that unlike France, there is no laicité (or secularism, a formal policy of separation of religious influence from government policy) in Germany, the author explains that being a very practicing and believing Christian is no longer accepted within society.”

“People are not discriminated against because of belonging to a Church, it is seen as a simple cultural element, but as soon as it is about real faith, if you argue as a believing person, it is identified as right-wing extremism,” continues the German author.

In France, which embodies the most pronounced form of post-modern secularism, a generational gap seems to have developed and continues to grow. Faced with a Catholic hierarchy and an older generation particularly inclined to self-censorship in order not to displease the prevailing anticlerical mentality, a new generation of unapologetic and bolder faithful is emerging in concert with a revival of conservative thought in the country.

“In Mexico and Argentina, one of the notable aspects of the research is that practicing Catholics are more prone to self-censor than Christians of other denominations, especially Evangelical Christians. . . In general, a high level of religious education appears to play an important role in the ability to resist the ‘chilling effect’ in these Latin American countries.”

Raising Awareness

“Education on the one hand, and awareness of self-censorship on the other, are the two main keys to overcoming the chilling effect of secular intolerance, according to the conclusions of the report's authors.”

For almost all respondents in all countries, the mere realization that self-censorship occurs among Christians, especially in countries with advanced secularization, was enough to trigger in them the desire to reflect on its true impact on their lives and the ways to combat it.

The researchers concluded that among the many things that can be done to address this problem, raising awareness among church communities would be the most urgent and effective step to take.

In other words, we must restore to Catholics their pride in belonging to the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only means of salvation. But for that, they also need to be re-taught the dignity of being a member of Christ, the uniqueness of the true Church and the inescapable value of the social kingship of Christ. The dilution of doctrine and faith in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue are primarily responsible for the situation.