Is there such a thing as a neutral space? And if there is, does creating one lead to greater social cohesion? These questions raised their heads yet again this week, as opponents to religion in general and faith schools in particular continued with their rhetoric of hate.
The question is relevant, because society is increasingly buying into the concept of neutral public space as being fair and reasonable. Some Christians, too, find the argument seductive, or at least so powerful in its presentation that they feel obliged to remain silent about their faith. So, is it possible to have a neutral worldview? The answer, of course, is no, because we all believe some things, and in doing so we necessarily reject other things. I believe in a living God. It necessarily follows that I reject atheist and agnostic worldviews. That doesn’t mean that I reject the people who hold those views. I merely cannot believe in diametrically opposed belief systems. It’s perfectly possible to reject a view, without disrespecting the person who owns it.
This becomes something of a Catch 22 discussion. If you think, as many antagonists to my faith appear to, that I disrespect people who hold views that differ from my own, then you are yourselves disrespecting me in rejecting my beliefs. Humanists and secularists might argue that theirs is the only reasonable worldview, but humanism and secularism are belief systems just like any other. Why should their moral values and codes for life dictate public conversations for everyone? The point of a pluralist society is exactly that – plurality.
If nothing else, the fact that a staggering 84% of the world’s population admits to some kind of religious or spiritual belief is proof that humanity is keen to search for meaning outside of itself. What motivates us to believe in something bigger than ourselves? On the weight of numbers alone, religion and spirituality are entitled to a significant place in the public arena. To go further, it suggests a moral imperative for its inclusion in our education provision. If it’s that important to so many people, then children and young people should be allowed to make up their own minds about what they believe. Removing religion from public spaces denies them the opportunity to do so. That is more far more akin to indoctrination into a worldview than encouraging them to explore what other people believe as part of their own path of discovery about who they are, why they’re here and how they want to live as individuals in relationship with their fellow human beings.
After his conversion, the apostle Paul lived only to talk about God. But even though he took every opportunity to debate, discuss and persuade, he also wrote: ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18). It’s a good platform from which to talk and from which to disagree well. So, instead of neutral public spaces dominated by identity politics, let’s develop free, open public spaces where we can each debate and discuss without fear of the sneering ridicule that dominates so much current rhetoric.