It was not to be. I left D.C. just as Benedict XVI arrived there, and now I'm leaving New York as he begins his visit here. Recently he has said, echoing a theme from The Secular Conscience, “Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted.”
My mind is still racing from yesterday's intensive hour of discussion at the New York Academy of Sciences, where I got some of my most probing questions yet, mostly on the nature of reason and the neurobiology of conscience.
We've often heard about new scientific discoveries confirming ancient religious wisdom. Hearing the Dalai Lama's remarks at his "Seeds of Compassion" event in Seattle last weekend, it struck me that this circling back has come all the way around, and now it is modern religion that is confirming ancient secular wisdom. The Dalai Lama mentioned three paths to compassion and moral development in children: the theistic path of Western religions, the non-theistic religious path of Buddhism, and the "secular, scientific" path. Surrounded by brain researchers and empirical psychologists, he declared this secular way the most promising.
Meanwhile, the pope is emphasizing reason's coequal role in the religious life, and urging Catholics to translate their contributions to public life into a "public theology" accessible to all. That sounds like secularism to me.