Novak (novak) wrote,
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Theology Notebook

The theological event of the year here at Marquette--the Pere Marquette lecture--was this past Sunday (yeah, I'm behind here) and this year's Lecturer was Boston College's Lisa Sowle Cahill. I've known the name for ten years, as what little formal ethics training I've had came from one of her grad students, Maura Ryan, who teaches at Notre Dame. This was my first time meeting her.

I'm no ethicist, but I enjoyed the lecture, which was on "Bioethics and the Common Good." Essentially, the idea was that she wants to integrate these two modes of thought more thoroughly than has been the case thus far, wondering whether a bioethics of the common good can make a difference in the world. Given the principles of Catholic Social Justice teaching, it seemed kind of like a no-brainer, but I gather that this has just not been the way bioethics has developed, particularly, I suppose, as the field really got started with the debate over "informed consent," which is more an individual matter. She noted that kind of difference in the emerging bioethics of Asia and Africa, where health care decisions are more often made on the family level, whereas in the U.S. it is more commonly individual decision and need that is primary. That's perhaps more a luxury that's possible in the U.S. with its wealth of medical resources, although her discussion of the common good had to note that the exclusion of 40 million people from health insurance--and thereby much of health care--is now a major political issue. But global inequities of health care resources are even more pronounced.

She was also making a point that the principle of subsidiarity should be added to common good thinking, but I'm having trouble remembering exactly how that would make an impact.... Drat my memory. But her challenge at the end was basically the same challenge that democracy as a whole is having to put to the electorate of the U.S.: she insisted that the biggest enemy of religious ethics today is not secularism, liberalism, conservatism, etc., but rather is apathy, that we can actually make a difference. Political self-interest, or realpolitik seems to overwhelm the potential of our small effort, but that effort is a part of the wider, international power of the Church. That's where, ultimately, the sound of our voice will be heard: in the Church's coming to speak on the matter.

Anyway, it was all much more substantive than I'm recalling here, about moving past proportionalist thinking and all sorts of methodological business like that, but I'd have to dig in the printed lecture for that. We had a pleasant dinner afterward with her and about fifteen grad students. I made a few comments, but mostly tried to stay out of the way and let the students who knew the field ask the questions, but she was chatty and entertaining when we talked on our own, and encouraging about my interest in developing a more positive theology of the laity.
Tags: ethical, marquette, père marquette lecture, theological methodology, theological notebook
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