The Fallacy of Religious Neutrality


Today I’d like to address what I call the fallacy of religious neutrality—the prevailing idea that a person or institution can be religiously neutral or unbiased.  To illustrate this maladroit form of thinking, I wish to direct your attention to a rather disturbing development in the UK.  In a recent court ruling, a Christian couples petition to foster orphaned children was denied simply because of their traditional orthodox Christian views on the family and human sexuality.  Throughout the trial the court maintained that it was religiously neutral; that the issue at hand was purely a question of ethics.  The judge defended his ruling thusly:  “there is no religious discrimination against the Johns [the couple applying to foster] because they were being excluded from fostering due to their moral views on sexual ethics and not their Christian beliefs.”

Let’s take the term ‘religion’ in its broadest and most basic sense:  to mean a particular worldview which governs the way we view and explain reality.  Given this broad definition, it is painfully evident that the court’s claim that its ruling does not constitute religious discrimination is simply a farce.  It’s quite obvious to everyone that the Johns’ religious beliefs do, in fact, govern their moral views on sexual ethics.  Afterall, their personal conviction regarding homosexuality did not develop in a vacuum–they didn’t just wake up one morning and randomly decide that homosexuality was a sin.  On the contrary, their belief stems directly from their faith in the Bible as God’s word.  The court’s embarrassing attempt to deny the obvious suggests one of two things: either they are completely incompetent or they are completely unfair.

Whatever the case, it is important to see that the High Court is not religiously neutral and that it did not make an objective ruling.  In fact, the courts decision is clearly a case of showing favour to one religion over and above another.  The High Court clearly and unashamedly favours Secular Humanism, the religion ardently worshiped and propagated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, over and above orthodox Christianity.  In their statements, the judges betrayed their affections for Secular Humanistic ethics, over Christian ethics, by implying that Christianity is harmful to children.

What is even more upsetting is that Christians are increasingly being persecuted in the UK under the guise of religious neutrality; this case is only the latest in a serious of discriminatory actions the government has taken against orthodox Christians (see the article linked above).  The truth is, however, religious neutrality is impossible.  Everyone maintains basic presuppositions about the nature of reality which govern their thoughts on knowledge, ethics, science, politics, and a host of other disciplines.  Everyone, either consciously or unconsciously, subscribes to some sort of worldview.

Secular Humanism is a particular worldview; it makes certain authoritative claims about the nature of reality, about the nature of human beings, and the nature of ethics; it is a system of thought that one places their faith in, that governs one’s attitudes and guides their thinking.  In the broadest and most basic sense of the term, secular humanism is a religion; or, at least, it provides the same explanations about the ‘big questions‘ in life that all religions do.  Hence, when UK courts and lawmakers discriminate against orthodox Christians they are not being objective, fair, or religiously neutral; they are simply promoting secular humanism over and above Christianity.

If the real battle is between two competing religious systems, then there are several important questions that the people of Britain need to start asking themselves: (1) which religion holds correct beliefs about the nature of reality?  (2) which religion supports a coherent system of ethics?  (3) which religion coherently maintains the dignity and value of human life?  (4) which religion supports the claim that human beings are culpable for their actions and that there are objective moral values?  (5) which religion provides an accurate picture of justice?  (6) which religion allows for true religious toleration?  (7) which religion is more conducive to a tyrannical government?  There are, indeed, even more questions that one could ask; but these, I think, are some of the more important ones.

When all is said and done, the notion of religious neutrality is a farce; such a thing does not exist.  One worldview will inevitably reign supreme.  The question we should be asking ourselves is which one should reign supreme?