I came across this bloke and his work through a review in Zenit by Fr John Flynn of Dacey’s book “Secular Conscience: Why Belief belongs in Public Life”, who freely admitted that “Dacey is no apologist for religion”, but goes on to say:
In fact, what he advocates is a return to secular liberalism, but not in the form it has adopted in recent times. Secular liberalism went off the tracks, he maintains, in insisting so much on the idea that religion, ethics and values are only private matters.
This has come about because secularism equated the private conscience with the concepts of personal and subjective, thus placing them out of bounds of a serious evaluation. If conscience is thus beyond criticism it cannot be subject to public scrutiny.
So Fr Flynn recommends the book. And so does Fr Richard John Neuhaus (I hope you are all praying for him at the moment as he deals with his cancer diagnosis), despite the fact that
it is published by Prometheus Press, the source of a seemingly endless flood of secular humanist and anti-religious propaganda… [and] endorsed by the notorious Peter Singer, Princeton’s contribution to helping us make our peace with infanticide and other enormities, and also by Sam Harris, the slash and burn author of The End of Faith.
He writes of “The Secular Conscience:
On almost all the hot-button issues—abortion, embryo-destructive research, same-sex marriage, Darwinism as a comprehensive philosophy, etc.—Dacey is, in my judgment, on the wrong side. But he is right about one very big thing. These contests are not between people who, on the one side, are trying to impose their morality on others, and people who, on the other side, subscribe to a purely procedural and amoral rationality. Over the years, some of us have been trying to elicit from our opponents the recognition that they, too, are making moral arguments and hoping that their moral vision will prevail. But in the world of secular liberalism, morality is the motive that dare not speak its name. Austin Dacey strongly agrees.
And if you want to see what the other side has to say of the book, well, it seems they like it too (see the review in the New Humanist here).
Given the story about the Humanist Society getting approval for “religious” education in our schools, the reaction to Dacey’s proposal for a more public discussion of morality, ethics and conscience seems to say that there is something here we can all agree upon. Our society works best when it allows all its members to freely and openly discuss issues of faith, conscience and belief. It is simply out of order to cry “foul” when someone speaks from a position of religious conviction. Everyone speaks from some perspective, and the perspective of the secular humanist is no less a moral or a faith perspective than that of the Christian or the Muslim or the Maptocostal Angloholic.
But (some readers of this blog will say) what of the duty of society to acknowledge the true religion?
Well, that is our mission. “Our mission” as in “The Church’s mission”. It is not the duty of the state to teach or impose religion upon society, it is the duty of the Church to transform society by the proclamation of the Gospel. We do not aim to Christianise the State – we aim to Christianise our society and culture by evangelisation. The former is illegitimate. To attempt the latter is our right and our duty.
Of course, every one else who holds another point of view has an equal right to promote their point of view as their conscience requires. It is in such a situation that the Church can truly flourish – IF she is prepared to fight the battle!
CCC 854 By her very mission, “the Church … travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot with the world: she is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God” [GS 40#2].
At the end of his review article, Fr Flynn gave some useful and recent Papa BXVI quotations in this regard:
“Every milieu, circumstance and activity in which we engage that can become resplendent with the unity of faith and life is entrusted to the responsibility of lay faithful, moved by the desire to communicate the gift of encounter with Christ and the certainty of the human person’s dignity.” (Nov. 15 speech to participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity)
“The Holy See seeks to engage the world in dialogue so as to promote the universal values that flow from human dignity and advance mankind on the road to communion with God and one another… Indeed, we may say that the distinction between religion and politics is a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions.” (Oct. 27 address to the new ambassador of the Philippines to the Holy See)
“[We must] become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of consciences and the contribution which it can bring to — among other things — the creation of a basic ethical consensus within society.” (Sept. 12 at the Elysée Palace on meeting with authorities of France)