This passage from Benedict’s address at Westminster (read the whole address here) summarizes perfectly my view of the role of religion in the public square (and generally the relationship between faith and reason). And it is this view that I think secularists need to engage as they try to cleanse the public square of religion.
The central question at issue, then, is this: Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?
The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation.
According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.
This ‘corrective’ role of religion vis-a-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves.
And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process.
Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person.
Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century.
This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.
I just cannot find anything wrong with this.