I’ve written several pieces on the trouble in which theological bioethics finds itself. Its marginalization from mainstream academic, clinical, and public discussions has led to a host of disturbing developments. The most recent example was a consensus statement on conscience in health care signed by many of the leading international voices in bioethics.
In a piece I did for Religion News Service, I note that the signatories have lost touch with the kind of critical stance toward the dominant culture necessary to understand why conscientious objection is so important to protect. This critical stance, of course, is precisely what most theological approaches bring to the bioethics table. Claimed by a very different tradition than the one which currently dominates our academic, clinical, and broader political cultures, our approach is better able to see and call out injustices–especially when they are widely practiced and accepted.
In the September issue of Harper’s, Allan Jacobs mourns the loss of Christian intellectuals from the public sphere of the developed West. Jacobs sees that blame for this development belongs in several different places, but a big part of the story is that theologians have largely chosen to speak in places where they feel safe and/or where they can be fully or mostly understood.
In the process we’ve ceded the more public spaces to traditions which have largely lost their critical stance toward the dominant culture. And advocates of those traditions largely find theologically-based critiques of their positions–in the increasingly rare instances where they are forced to confront them–to be unworthy even of serious engagement.
This is just one of many reasons it is so important for theologians to recover our courage and confidence when it comes to speaking critically and publicly with regard to the traditions which dominate our academic, clinical, and broader political cultures.
In order to develop a “critical stance toward the dominant culture”, which I agree is a truly useful service, one must first develop a critical stance towards one’s own culture. Challenging only the other fellow’s worldview is not reason, but merely ideology.
Any top down authoritarian system of thought, whether religious or secular, will always be at a great disadvantage in the realm of critical analysis debate, because it will lack the credibility that is earned when one values the processes of reason over one’s own conclusions.