In moving into the Roman world, the first Christians encountered a secular culture whose social, political and cultural characteristics bore a striking resemblance to the contemporary period. Yet these Christians did not feel constrained to present only those aspects of their message that would be acceptable. For most of its history, the presentation of a Christian message in the “public square” has entailed both theological and philosophical perspectives. Today, Catholics seem “self-limited” by an unspoken demand that they argue solely from philosophical and scientific positions in public debates. This approach often fails to present a distinctively Christian viewpoint. As early as 1946, Henri de Lubac pointed out that this side-lining of the Christian view was not solely the result of secularist agitation. Since the sixteenth century, the generally accepted notion that human reality is composed of two separate dimensions – natural and a supernatural – has given the impression that one can speak of a discrete natural order which is unaffected by grace. While this approach still has its defenders, many Catholic intellectuals have pointed to its shortcomings, both theologically and philosophically. When Catholics confine themselves to naturalistic arguments, they deceive no one. Secularists – who argue from their own perspective of “belief” – are able to accuse their Catholic opponents of having a hidden agenda, and of lacking the courage of their convictions by concealing what really motivates them. Any movement away from this situation is likely to be met with derision. Nevertheless, while neither Christians nor Secularists should impose their political views on others, Catholics should feel free to mount the full range of their arguments in public and should reject the notion that they are bound by rules of engagement set by their intellectual opponents.

About the Author

Gerard O'Shea is Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Family Ministry at the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne.