Now before you read this article, I’d better issue you with a warning. You see, I live in a carefully policed, ideological ‘safe space’. I am not able to tolerate the slightest difference of opinion that gets me upset’.
If you disagree with what I say and write a letter to the editor or post something negative on Facebook, I will explode with a mixture of shock and outrage. I will rush on to Twitter to have you un-friended and reliably inform you that you are suffering from an unpleasant phobia.
Oh yes, I warn you, the stigma will be unbearable! For your disagreement with me is conclusive evidence of your irrational hatred. It is the only explanation for your behaviour.
You will be marginalised, stigmatised and ‘no-platformed’. You will be labelled as a person consumed with prejudice against, er, well me actually. I will then ‘virtue-signal’ how I outed some sad phobic type and return to living peacefully in my safe space, where I can nurture my compassionate, tolerant self, away from all intrusions.
A far-fetched caricature? I wish it was. But ‘safe spaces’, ‘no-platforming’ and ‘virtue-signalling’ are part of the ideological toolkit of many of today’s young and not-so-young people.
Some students and activists live by this playbook of political correctness. Demands are made for students to be insulated on campus from opinions deemed to be offensive hate speech. People expect college authorities to provide ‘safe spaces’, where those whose views are judged to be racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, or against transgender people, are banned.
Petitions are gotten up, hash tags created, speakers barred and lively discussions conducted over social media, diagnosing phobias and unacceptable manifestations of patriarchal privilege.
But there are big losers in this ‘safe spaces’ world. Freedom of speech is the first casualty; it gets replaced with ‘freedom of my speech, but not yours’. Intellectual inquiry is another one to take a big hit; the ‘safe space’ becomes a ‘dead space’, where no intellectual or moral challenge to the received orthodoxy is able to stimulate progress or change.
From the Christian point of view, the ‘safe space’ industry easily becomes a covert way of shutting down the expression of Christian truth. Opposing same-sex marriage and being critical of Islam or macro-evolutionary theory are quite likely to earn you an exclusion order.
For safe spaces are not neutral spaces. They are designed by people who think in a particular way. They may, for example, be atheists and radical feminists, who are in major disagreement with biblical morality and the Bible’s teaching on male headship.
They want a ‘safe space’ from God, the Bible and Bible-believing Christians. In fact, their safe space is a secular version of the monastery. High walls, a cloistered environment, no outside distractions; it is a micro-environment to preserve the faithful and keep them pure in thought and deed.
It is the radical feminist’s nunnery, where the virtuous life of fighting bigotry and combatting hate speech can be pursued, without having to endure the temptations of contact with carriers of dread diseases like patriarchy, Islamophobia and homophobia.
Or, to put it like this, it is another doomed effort to sew fig leaves together and make coverings because the conscience hears God’s voice and is afraid and wants to hide (Genesis 3:7, 10). It is a ‘spiritual’ retreat from a holy and just God with absolute standards.
And the arrogance of it! For when we assert our right to avoid having to listen to our fellow man or God, we declare our absolute moral and intellectual self-sufficiency. We say, ‘We are the people and knowledge dies with us’ (Job 12:2); our every thought is brilliant, our moral compass set due north.
Rather than consider what others are saying, our limitless self-confidence compels us to make it our moral duty not to listen to others. Moreover, it confers on us infallible forensic powers, capable of diagnosing a football team’s worth of phobias in those who disagree with us. It is pride without moderation. Practised to its end, it is the death of mind and soul.
So here are a few suggestions to help us navigate our way through this particular expression of our sad and transient world.
If you are thinking about a choice of university or college, you might just like to know how sympathetic the academic faculty is to the idea of ‘safe spaces’. Indeed, you might like to ask them what are the range of issues supposedly needing ring-fencing. Would creationism be such an issue? Or pro-life? Or objecting to homosexual practice and ‘gay marriage’? You might do a little due diligence on the Student Union body and its track record to date.
Are you aware of the online world that others in your family inhabit? Are they journeying out of Christian convictions into these illusions? Be ready to challenge this and show them a more excellent way; explain that hate, bigotry, and opposition to the pursuit of truth have no place in Christian thinking and living.
Then we need to have confidence to push past the spiritual and intellectual barricades surrounding ‘safe spaces’. All too often, they are feeble excuses to avoid the challenge of inconvenient spiritual and moral truths. But we should love sinners too much to humour them in this.
Their need is not philosophical; it is spiritual. Their ‘safe spaces’ are strongholds, keeping them from the knowledge of God and a relationship with their Maker. But ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Their escape to freedom will need humility and repentance on their part. It will require self-examination, as the Spirit brings conviction of sin (John 16:8), but the gospel will prove their way of escape.
Think of it like this. There are disturbing parallels to a classic, first century AD example of how to get pretty much everything wrong: the inner world of people who pursue safe spaces would have been all-too-familiar to the Pharisees.
Our Lord’s words about the Pharisees were, ‘But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments’ (Matthew 23:5). This was virtue-signalling before the internet age. The Pharisees would have been comfortable demanding ‘no-platforms’ for those who transgressed their hand-picked virtues and publicising the latest ‘outrages’ to gain ‘likes’ from their co-religionists.
If we are looking, with God’s aid, to assist people escape all this, try using the Pharisees as a mirror to our friends’ souls. Apply truth thoughtfully and lovingly, but apply it nonetheless.
Our ultimate message to these aptly named ‘snowflakes’ — melting on impact with an alternative point of view — is that there are no safe spaces from God’s presence. The Day of Judgment will bring a level of scrutiny to thought- and value-systems against which no wall can be built. The imagined moral and intellectual impregnability will be sliced through in an instant.
Much of that outrage will be found to lack any moral basis and instead become prima facie evidence for its own judgment. Virtue-signalling is a fool’s game when those ‘virtues’ are exposed as vices in the sight of a holy God.
How much such people need our prayers! Trapped in their spaces, self-importantly identifying phobias in others, and yet perishing morally and spiritually, while they imagine themselves the wise guardians of virtue.
It is a delusion. It is spiritual self-harm on an epic scale. Do we have a concern for their souls? Will we tell them?
Chris Hand is pastor of Crich Baptist Church, Derbyshire