My grandson is almost seven months old. He lives with his mum and dad in Liverpool. On the notice board in my office I have a big photo of him. He’s laughing all over his face… wearing his first Liverpool kit. No wonder he’s happy.

Does dressing him in a Liverpool kit mean that he is being brainwashed or indoctrinated by narrow-minded parents and grandparents? Well, if one line of argument is right, we should probably all be in court for ‘shaping’ the little lad and not allowing him to grow up and make up his own mind.

One of the bizarre things clergy often get told is that parents want their baby baptised, but that they don’t want the child to be brought up in the life of the Church because ‘we want him/her to make his/her own mind up’. Apparently, this applies to religion, but not to any other aspect of a child’s life. So, we can play a particular type of music, provide any nurture framework shaped by any worldview or set of values, dress the kiddies according to our taste and… and pretend that this is all neutral territory and value-free in any ‘indoctrination’ sense. But, when it comes to shaping a child’s world view (which issues in practice and habit), anything is OK provided it isn’t religious.

How have we got to a position where some people think (uncritically assume?) that there is some ‘neutral’ ground – which they occupy – over against the ‘loaded’ ground occupied by, for example, religious people?

There is no neutral, value-free territory. Every child is brought up according to some world view or value framework which is often not argued for.

What has brought this to mind is the rather odd view I heard on the radio this afternoon in the context of the latest fostering controversy. It was to the effect that people are free to believe whatever they want, provided they don’t do anything with it. In other words, ‘belief’ is a private opinion which can only be acted upon if it conforms to someone else’s assumed norms.

So, if you ‘believe’ that living according to the precepts of Jesus Christ is good or essential, you are supposed to keep your ‘belief’ in the realms of opinion. But, if you ‘believe’ that no negative  judgement should ever be made about any other practice or lifestyle, that is a ‘belief’ that can be given free rein. Is that not weird?

This is the real question behind some of the noisy debates occupying both airwaves and the digital world. Who decides what is ‘neutral’? And when did ‘belief’ get reduced to mere private opinion when inconvenient to those who consider themselves to be ‘neutral’?

These aren’t the only questions, but it seems to me that they are the ones most ignored.

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