In a speech to the House of Commons last week Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, warned that Britain could become less diverse rather than more because once common opinions today are deemed “unacceptable.”
He likened this new form of moral censorship to the opposite but equally restrictive attitudes of previous generations. His speech struck a chord with my own experience.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have been part of a radio debate about a new or controversial medical ethical issue and had words thrown at me (dismissively) such as: ‘your Christian beliefs’ or ‘you are part of a religious organisation’ or ‘in your religion…’.
Labeling someone as ‘religious’ may of course be accurate, but more often than not this use of labelling is a lazy way of attempting to undermine the worth of an argument without actually dealing with the substance of it. In my experience, the ‘label and dismiss line’ is almost always used instead of directly countering the point I have made, or to pre-emptively undermine anything I might go on to say.
In the twenty or so years in which I have been involved in writing and speaking on ethical issues in the public square, I have rarely argued from explicit Christian presuppositions when presenting ethical analyses of the issues under discussion.
There are always plenty of ways to build a case, more often than not centering on the health and welfare of babies, children or adults. And it is generally more useful to build from common ground when debating with those who do not share the Christian beliefs.
Part of the problem lies with those who cannot tolerate religious views and beliefs when such views challenge a politically correct stance (ironically, these are usually the ones who claim to be the most tolerant). Thus they try to suppress the voices and views of those perceived as being faith-based by labelling them (dismissively).
All too often, the self-labelled most tolerant members of society, arguing for freedom of speech, are the ones trying to dismiss the expression of certain, non-politically correct, views – the views they do not agree with!
However if the views of people from faith backgrounds are being dismissed on the basis of a lack of neutrality, then adherents of other belief systems – atheism, secularism etc – should be dealt with likewise, and have similar labels and words (dismissively) thrown at them. After all, atheists and secularist start from a set of beliefs too.
But that is neither likely, and it is certainly not desirable.
Instead, let’s all be heard equally, and be honest that we ALL believe something. Each one of us holds to a particular worldview (a set of presuppositions about life, the universe and everything), which shapes our beliefs and ethics accordingly. None of us is truly neutral.
Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, secularist…all of us have a right to be heard equally and respectfully in our democratic public forum and all ideas and arguments considered on their merits.
Having said that, I am very happy to state that my views are informed by my Christian faith, in the same way that all readers of this blog will be informed in their views and values by their own worldview and belief system, whatever they are. Neutrality is a myth. Let’s have some honesty in that.