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Secular Conscience

Many months ago Peter Steinfels's "Beliefs" column (NYT, 2008-05-24 [1]) concluded with part of a John Stuart Mill comment from On Liberty which in full reads:

... However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.

Steinfels quotes Mill in the course of reviewing a book by Austin Dacey called The Secular Conscience. It's about the need to wrestle with tough moral and ethical issues in society. Some examples mentioned: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, and Islamic fundamentalism. Dacey doesn't disagree with current mainstream positions on these topics. But he thinks the topics should be open to criticism—not sidestepped by saying that "moral judgments" are personal and subjective, not to be analyzed or criticized in public debate. He argues in favor of a "moral vision" for modern Western political systems: "Secular values can turn a society inside out. In Post-Christian Europe, entire nations have been plunged into endemic health, skyrocketing education, and hopelessly low rates of violent crime."

From the little I've read about Dacey I can't claim to properly understand his positions, but they sound important, provocative, perhaps even entertaining. Add another book to my too-long to-read list ...

(cf. Cardinal Newman (2001-10-04), Tolerance and Pacifism (2001-10-08), DogTicket (2006-06-13), Worth of a State (2008-04-02), Buddhism Without Beliefs (2008-10-31), Atheist Spirituality (2009-01-29), ...) - ^z - 2009-02-17