Volume 22, Fall 2002
Robert P. Jones
Cultural Bias and Liberal Neutrality
Reconsidering the Relationship between Religion and Liberalism through the Lens of the Physician-Assisted Suicide Debate
Liberals often view religion chiefly as "a problem" for democratic discourse in modern pluralistic societies and propose an allegedly neutral solution in the form of philosophical distinctions between "the right" and "the good" or populist invocations of a "right to choose." Drawing on cultural theory and ethnographic research among activists in the Oregon debates over the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, I demonstrate that liberal "neutrality" harbors its own cultural bias, flattens the complexity of public debates, and undermines liberalism's own commitments to equality. I conclude that the praiseworthy liberal goal of impartiality in policy decisions would best be met not by the inaccessible norm of neutrality but by a norm of inclusivity, which intentionally solicits multiple cultural perspectives.