Skip links

Relearning the Moral Life While Rejecting the Tyranny of the Banal

David Deane is Associate Professor of Theology at the Atlantic School of Theology (Halifax, Nova Scotia). He received his doctorate from Trinity College (University of Dublin) and has taught at Colorado State University. He is the author of Nietzsche and Theology: Nietzschean Thought in Christological Anthropology (Ashgate Publishing, 2007) and, with Sr. Nuala P. Kenny, Still Unhealed: Treating the Pathology in the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis (Novalis, 2019).

His new book, titled The Tyranny of the Banal (Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2023) has been described as “exceptional” by John Milbank, “very valuable” by Stephen Bullivant, and a work that “should be on every seminarian’s moral theology reading list” by Tracey Rowland.

Dr. Deane recently corresponded about his book and some of the serious challenges faced by Catholics in explaining and living the Catholic Faith in a culture so deeply rooted in secular liberalism. He was interviewed by Carl E. Olson.

WWNN: Is it fair to say that your book, in key ways, poses the question: “What if we believed and lived as if the Triune God is really true and truly real?” Or, as you put it: “Reality, for catholic Christians, is God…”

Dr. Deane: I think that’s exactly right. What if we understood that we accept union with (and infusion by) the Triune God in moral moments? We have largely forgotten the ontology of the moral life and, therefore, struggle to see the moral life the way the Fathers and Doctors of the Church did. We’re enduring the Babylonian captivity of our moral imaginations.

In response, the book attempts to show the horrors of the dominant liberal, secular logic, and to remind us of what’s happening ontologically in the moral life. Secular, in my usage, refers to an ontology rather than a model of the state. It refers to a model of the real in which God is ontologically absent. This model must be resisted if we’re to understand the moral life in coherently Catholic ways. This is what the book tries to do.

WWNN: The grave situation and challenge that you outline in the Introduction is very real: that most people, including a large number of Catholics (a majority, in many places), do not find Church teaching about morality to be convincing. You note that there are two general responses to this, and that both are seriously flawed. What are those responses and what are the basic problems with them?

Dr. Deane: The two responses are: (1) too many think Catholic moral positions on contested topics (abortion, sex, etc.) are “outdated” and inherently unconvincing. Most people who think this simply don’t “get” how Catholic moral reasoning functions and have become ideologically secular. And (2) too many people are “white-knuckle” Catholics, clinging to moral positions that they don’t actually understand and, therefore, can’t proclaim.

This is a problem for many reasons, but not least because it fails to respond to what Vatican II established as the primary challenge for Catholics of our age. There are few clearer expressions of what the Second Vatican Council was about than St. John XXIII’s inaugural address. Here he said that the primary challenge for the council and beyond was to “transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion,” but to do so using language, images, and analogies that can reveal its coherence and beauty to people today.

While the first group simply rejects the Council by wanting to change the faith, the second group wants to refuse the Council’s command to make it live in the hearts and minds of people today. Both these responses are contributing to the decline of the faith in the West.

Read more at What We Need Now 

Share with Friends: