The Myth of Religious Neutrality an Essay on the Hidden Roles of Religious Belief in Theories

By Jackson, Charles | Mankind Quarterly, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

The Myth of Religious Neutrality an Essay on the Hidden Roles of Religious Belief in Theories


Jackson, Charles, Mankind Quarterly


The Myth of Religious Neutrality An Essay on the Hidden Roles of Religious Belief in Theories Roy A Clouser University of Notre Dame Press, Revised Edition, 2005

In his Politics (Bk. 1, Ch. 1), Aristotle took the view that the state was the most all-encompassing of authorities. In his day, the Greek state was a kinship group, comprising a number of related families, and the fundamental religious basis of the state was a religion of the common hearth.1 What he said then made sense, but modern states no longer represent a closely intertwined network embracing kinship, religion and political organization into a single homogeneous whole. However, Roy Clouser looks at the more chaotic modern world, and still sees religion as the most powerful entity because it underlies so many aspects of human thought and behavior. Even scientific thought, he claims, and certainly social philosophy, can be markedly influenced by the religious beliefs that people acquire in infancy and which influence the course of their whole lives.

In the Afterword with which he concludes his book, he sums up his thesis in the following words:

In the introduction I claimed that a religious belief plays a role in human life analogous to the role played in the earth's geography by its great tectonic plates. The intervening chapters have now presented reasons for believing this is true for the theories by which we interpret ourselves and our world. We have seen that, at bottom, theories are driven and regulated by whatever idea of divinity has gripped the hearts of their advocates. In that sense a theory is every bit as much an expression of religion as worship is, even though it is a different type of expression.

It is easy to see how in the history of Europe, from the collapse of the ancient world until at least the nineteenth century, and in many other parts of today's world, notably the Middle East, disparate religions have played a major part in provoking devastating warfare - so fundamental is the role of religion in any society that does not rate objective inquiry high on its list of imperatives. Even in our modern world, Clouser is able to show how academic inquiry can still be influenced by religious beliefs. Scholars who construct hypotheses can only construct them on the basis of knowledge they have already acquired; and this means that - particularly in the "soft" realm of "social science" - entire lives can be devoted to research into preconceived notions supported by strong emotional drives that are not easily abandoned.

As a professor at an eminent Catholic university, Clouser proudly confesses his own commitment to a belief in a monotheistic God, and to a scheme of religious thought that was once claimed to have been acquired by man through divine revelation.

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