The Girl Guides in the UK have changed their promise. No longer will the girl guides pledge to "love my God" but instead they will promise "to be true to myself and develop my beliefs."
This got me to thinking about the way one branch of liberalism may have developed over time. There is a certain logic to the change to the Girl Guide promise. There are now more people without religious belief in the UK. Therefore, the promise to "love my God" might have seemed to exclude these people. The new pledge "to be true to myself and develop my beliefs" would still allow Christians to follow Christianity but it would include atheists as well.
At the surface level, therefore, the pledge seems to be neutral and to allow for a variety of beliefs. It doesn't immediately seem to do harm.
But it does do harm. If we try to incorporate every possible belief or lifestyle by retreating to a position of being "true to myself and developing my beliefs" then we are establishing as the default public position a relativism and an individualism.
We are establishing relativism because the pledge to be "true to myself and develop my beliefs" sends the message that something is true only relative to myself and my own subjective beliefs. And we are retreating to an individualism in the sense that we are no longer recognising a shared belief within a community, but only an individual one.
But it is difficult for a community to operate without some sort of shared value system and so what is then left to liberalism is to make the commitment to being inclusive the focus of a communal, and publicly enforced, morality.
Furthermore, what is clearly lost within this kind of liberal value system is a commitment to shared objective goods and truths within a community. How might people feel compensated for this loss? By focusing on the freedom to make up our own individual goods. So a certain concept of freedom will then be emphasised.
It is said by some that liberalism developed from the attempt to deal with religious diversity in the wake of the Reformation and the various wars of religion. It is possible that the starting point was the well-intentioned one that I have described, but that the logic of the falsely "neutral" position it involved then went on to do great damage to Western societies.
So how then should a diversity of opinion or belief be dealt with in society? If we learn our lesson we would have to say that the relativism and individualism of the "neutrality" position should be the least favoured option. Other options:
i) The atheists are allowed to simply opt out of reciting that part of the pledge.
ii) That part of the promise is dropped and the focus is on other goods that are shared by theists and atheists alike.
iii) A separate group of guides is set up for those parents who wish to avoid the promise to God.
These are only suggestions, but I make them to show that it's not necessary to deal with a diversity of belief by turning to a principle that is perhaps intended to be neutral, but which in reality is anything but neutral and which instead strongly preferences a view of the world which is relativistic and individualistic and which leads ultimately to the intolerant enforcement of tolerance and to a dissolving view of freedom based on the idea of the self-defining individual.