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The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life Hardcover – March 1, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a dazzling display of erudition, this book presents a cogent argument for secular liberalism. Dacey, a philosopher who teaches at Polytechnic University and the State University of New York at Buffalo, claims that values and ethics—defining what is right and wrong, good and bad—are not the sole domain of theologians. To contribute to our understanding of enlightened secularism, he cites like-minded thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Dewey, Adam Smith, John Rawls, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Plato, John Locke and Baruch Spinoza, among others. Dacey's presentation is especially timely in view of the emphasis by some current presidential candidates on their religious identity. Not since 1960, when John F. Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, argued for church-state separation, has the issue of secularism versus religion been so prominent in a national election. Dacey's analysis helps to put this question into the larger perspective of liberty and conscience. Dacey advocates for democracy over authoritarianism, not hesitating to challenge theocratic Islam, for example, as a new totalitarianism. He calls on secular liberals to stand up for reason and science, the separation of religion and state, freedom of belief, personal autonomy, equality, toleration, and self-criticism. This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for progressive secularism. (Mar.)
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"Austin Dacey's The Secular Conscience is sorely needed at a time when both the religious right and the religious left claim that there can be no public or private morality without religion. With wit and a philosopher's insight, Dacey explains exactly why secular morality, grounded in an ethical approach that relies on reason rather than supernatural faith, is sorely needed in the public square." -- Susan Jacoby, author, The Age of American Unreason and Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

"Dacey seeks nothing less than to interrupt a suicide, and he has written a beautiful primer on how our secular tradition can be rescued from self-defeat. The Secular Conscience reveals how simplistic notions of privacy, tolerance, and freedom keep dangerous ideas sheltered from public debate. This is an extraordinarily useful and lucid book." -- Sam Harris, author of New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

"On almost all the hot-button issues-abortion, embryo-destructive research, same-sex marriage, Darwinism as a comprehensive philosophy, etc.-Dacey is, in my judgment, on the wrong side. But he is right about one very big thing. These contests are not between people who, on the one side, are trying to impose their morality on others, and people who, on the other side, subscribe to a purely procedural and amoral rationality. . . The Secular Conscience was written in order to advance the fortunes of liberal secularism in the public square. On many questions of great public moment, most of us will disagree with Austin Dacey. At the same time, he should be recognized as an ally in his contention that these are moral questions that must be addressed by moral argument." -- Richard John Neuhaus, First Things

"Whenever I watch a riot over cartoons or meet another Muslim dissident forced to write under a pseudonym, I wonder, where are the Western secular liberals? Why do they shrink from defending freedom of conscience for all? Thanks to Austin Dacey, I now have an answer. As his piercing analysis shows, liberals have lost their grip on the real meaning of freedom. Only with a restored commitment to conscience as an objective moral ideal can they face down fundamentalists while constructively engaging with reformers of the faith. The Secular Conscience should be read by every friend of the open society." -- Ibn Warraq, author of Defending the West

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 269 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; y First edition edition (March 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591026040
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591026044
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book has changed the way I talk to people about what was formerly lumped into "religion and politics". When we begin to talk about our individual values and how they might affect or effect the "common good", an intense conversation develops. And without the use of buzzwords, such as "god", "atheist", "democrat", "republican", we realize more clearly who we are personally and as a nation. For me, this is an important book for change at a basic level. By re-forming into today's terms, the great truths of yesteryear, Dacey has done us a real service. However, I gave it a 3 because Dacey's strangely arrogant and dismissive attitude toward those who do not accept GMO, American seed, or indeed, the premise that 'science' will feed the world, was so unlike the remainder of his book that it had to be written with an agenda in mind. The relentless push for control of the world's food supply with a monopoly on seed by Monsanto and others is well-documented so I can only conclude that Dacey is persuaded somehow (by his vegetarianism?) to be less than rigorous in his scholarship in this matter. With that caveat, I am recommending the book to everyone I know.
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Format: Hardcover
Austin Dacey is an American philosopher and a representative at the United Nations of the Center for Inquiry, which promotes the secular, scientific outlook. He is also on the editorial staff of Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry.
In this brilliant and original book, Dacey advocates a public, objective and secular ethics. He argues that matters of conscience are fit subjects for public discussion guided by shared evaluative standards, evidence and experience.

Conscience must be free from coercion, but not free from judgement. Conscience is protected so that we can pursue the vital questions of meaning, truth and value in public dialogue and forums.

But the Roman Catholic Church has decreed, "Freedom of thought or expression ... cannot imply a right to offend the religious sentiments of believers." But this would end freedom of expression, because any criticism of religious doctrines could `offend the religious sentiments of believers'.

The assertion, `I'm right, you're wrong' is not intolerant; it is the nature of thought, as is then moving forward to saying, `and these are the reasons why you should change your mind'. This is not imposing one's opinion on others: persuasion is the opposite of coercion.

To defend one's point of view by saying, "I'm entitled to my opinion" is to refuse debate. The only opinions worth respect are those derived from investigation and debate.

The basis of ethics is independence of mind, with which we can evaluate all ideas and ideologies in the light of reason. Dacey argues that "the secular conscience stands prior to and independent of all religions.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has long bothered me that some people refuse to categorically reject horrors like the Holocaust, because they believe everything is subjective, and all cultures and approaches have their virtues. Common sense indicates there should be some objective perspective that can help us to understand why Holocaust-like atrocities and tyrannical societies and governments are bad. Austin Dacey's powerful "Secular Conscience" explains how such objective standards can be formed. In a stroke of brilliant creativity, he uses the same types of ideas that have helped spearhead open source software approaches to operating systems.

I believe this to be one of the most important books that liberals--and anyone who cares about human rights--could possibly read. If you've wondered how to combat the ultimately pernicious ideas of cultural relativism that can be used to justify virtually any atrocity, this is the book.
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"The Secular Conscience" by Austin Dacey presents a sophisticated meditation on secularism and its importance to us today. Mr. Dacey seeks to shake secular liberalism from its complacency lest the Enlightenment project of an open society becomes run over by fundamentalist Christians and totalitarian Islam. Thanks to Mr. Dacey's elegant, mature and well-informed analysis, we gain the courage we need to assert our right to freedom of conscience and to challenge ideologies of belief in the public sphere.

Mr. Dacey recounts the historical process by which the West broke with the Church and separated religion from government. Today, faith has come to be marketed to believers as their own private property and seeks to avoid accountability in political debate even as it exerts considerable influence over policy. Mr. Dacey submits that secularists must drop their predisposition to moral relativism and demand that Christians justify their positions on issues such as stem cell research and evolution based on reasonable standards of evidence and scientific inquiry.

On the other hand, Mr. Dacey explains that Islam has not undergone a process of separation from the state; the Islamic state is more accurately defined as a political form of religion. Mr. Dacey brings attention to courageous individuals who are challenging the blasphemy laws that preclude the free expression of the individual in Islamic society. The author castigates the Western media, feminists and others for their tolerance of intolerance and failing to recognize the threat that Islamic totalitarianism poses to our values; he goes on to implore us to support the youth in Iran and other Islamic states who yearn for a free, secular future.

Throughout the book, Mr.
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