Saving the "secular": The public vocation of moral theology

Journal of Religious Ethics 37 (1):159-178 (2009)
The London suicide bombings of July 7, 2005 were partly the revolt of moral earnestness against a liberal society that, enchanted by the fantasy of rationalist anthropology, surrenders its passionate members to a degrading consumerism. The "humane" liberalism variously espoused by Jürgen Habermas, John Rawls, and Jeffrey Stout offers a dignifying alternative; but it is fragile, and each of its proponents looks for allies among certain kinds of religious believer. Stanley Hauerwas, however, counsels Christians against cooperation. On the one hand, he is right to resist, insofar as liberalism illiberally excludes theology from public discourse. On the other hand, not all humane liberalism does this: Stout's, for example, is genuinely polyglot, requiring not a common secularist language but a common ethic of communicating. Such a liberal ethic and its attendant anthropology merit the support of Christians: there may be more to be said about the Kingdom of God than respect, tolerance, and fairness, but there will not be less. The Christian has good theological reasons to expect some concord with other inhabitants of secular space. Ethical distinctiveness is no measure of theological integrity; and neither theology ( pace Barth) nor biblical narrative ( pace Richard Hays) should be expected to do all of the ethical running. If Christians are to be thorough in their moral theology and intelligible in their public statements, then they must borrow non-theological material, formulate abstract concepts, and engage in casuistical analysis. Nevertheless, if an anxious insistence on distinctiveness is a mistake, concern for theological integrity is not. When the moral theologian borrows ethical material from elsewhere, he should integrate it into a theological vision structured by the Christian salvation-historical narrative, which will sometimes modify the meaning of what is incorporated. So in affirming humane, polyglot liberalism, the moral theologian will at the same time make salutary qualifications. One of these is the assertion of the need of liberal institutions to own and promote their moral and anthropological commitments. In such a confessionally liberal society, universities in general, and the Arts and Humanities in particular, would recover their vocation to form citizens in communicative virtues and to offer them a dignifying, morally serious vision of human being that could save future generations from a degrading consumerism on the one hand and violent over-reaction on the other.
Keywords university  secularity  casuistry  public reason  Christian narrative  liberalism  moral theology
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9795.2008.00378.x
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 19,981
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
John Rawls (1999). The Law of Peoples. Harvard University Press.
Peter Singer (1993). Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press.
John Rawls (1993). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.
J. Rawls (1995). Political Liberalism. Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

30 ( #128,456 of 1,792,848 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

4 ( #207,535 of 1,792,848 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.