The Church and Secularity

The Church and Secularity: Two Stories of Liberal Society

Robert Gascoigne
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Church and Secularity
    Book Description:

    Western liberal societies are characterized by two stories: a positive story of freedom of conscience and the recognition of community and human rights, and a negative story of unrestrained freedom that leads to self-centeredness, vacuity, and the destructive compromise of human values. Can the Catholic Church play a more meaningful role in assisting liberal societies in telling their better story? Australian ethicist Robert Gascoigne thinks it can. In The Church and Secularity he considers the meaning of secularity as a shared space for all citizens and asks how the Church can contribute to a sensitivity to-and respect for-human dignity and human rights. Drawing on Augustine's City of God and Vatican II's Gaudium et spes, Gascoigne interprets the meaning of freedom in liberal societies through the lens of Augustine's "two loves," the love of God and neighbor and the love of self, and reveals how the two are connected to our contemporary experience. The Church and Secularity argues that the Church can serve liberal societies in a positive way and that its own social identity, rooted in Eucharistic communities, must be bound up with the struggle for human rights and resistance to the commodification of the human in all its forms.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-725-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book is concerned with the relationship of the Catholic Church to contemporary liberal societies. It seeks to explore the meaning of secularity as a shared space for all citizens and to ask how the Church can contribute to sensitivity to and respect for human dignity within liberal societies. In particular, it considers the ambivalence of human freedom in those societies and explores how the Church can assist in the expression of freedom as the wellspring of the common good rather than as a self-assertion that degrades communal and social relationships.

    In a liberal society, all individuals are accorded certain...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Two Stories of Liberal Society
    (pp. 7-36)

    A key characteristic of a liberal society is its ambivalence, its propensity to tell two stories. The first of these stories is of individual freedom as the source of creativity and diversity, as the warrant of critical reason to constantly reform social institutions for the sake of the common good; this story proclaims the right of even the most apparently insignificant to make their voices heard in the debates that concern their destiny. The other story is of freedom as a voluntarism that destroys the ethical and cultural substance of tradition, leaving only the emptiness of self-indulgent whim; it is...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Church, Kingdom, and Secularity
    (pp. 37-75)

    I ended the last chapter by arguing that it is part of the Church’s mission in the contemporary world to assist liberal secular societies to tell their “better story.” In this chapter, I would like to consider the implications of this task for the Church itself and its own identity. How can this task of encouraging liberal society’s better story be at the same time an expression of the Church’s own identity? To what extent will the Church find its own concerns within the concerns of the liberal secular world, so that support for the best ideals of liberal modernity...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Virtues of Noninstrumental Relationships
    (pp. 76-111)

    In the previous chapter, I considered the mode of relationship of the Church to liberal society. I now want to return to the question of the character of liberal society, especially its propensity to tell two stories. As I argued at the beginning of chapter one, the difference between these two stories reflects two fundamentally different approaches to the nature of freedom. For one understanding, freedom is the rejection of tradition as inevitably a constraint on self-expression and self-assertion. For the other, tradition can be a resource that informs freedom and gives it content, allowing the development and expression of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Christian Hope and the Eucharist: Witness and Service
    (pp. 112-142)

    In the previous chapter, I reflected on the virtues that enable a realization of the ethically positive potential of liberal societies, and on the ways in which these virtues are definitively embodied in Jesus Christ. The crucial role of these virtues emphasizes the fact that liberal society is an ethical project. Modernity in general is not necessarily an ethical project and may simply be the outcome of a number of “disembedding” social processes, accelerated by the development of technology.¹ Nonetheless, liberal society is a distinctive form of modernity that is based on the dignity of the human person, expressed in...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Two Stories of Liberal Society and Contemporary Catholic Identity
    (pp. 143-168)

    The previous chapters of this book have emphasized how much the Church has to contribute to liberal societies in order to assist them to tell their better story: in chapter two, through a theology of Church, Kingdom, and secularity; in chapter three, through a Christian theology of the virtues of noninstrumental relationships; and in chapter four, through the theology of hope and the Eucharist. In this final chapter I will be considering the effect of the Church’s relationship to the two stories of liberal society on its own life. How does its relationship to liberal society affect the Church’s own...

  10. Index
    (pp. 169-179)