Bernard V. BRADY. Be Good & Do Good: Thinking through Moral Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014. pp.197. $30.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-099-0. Reviewed by Marie CONN, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA 19118
The aim of this book, according to Brady, “is to reflect on, in a simple and direct way, the fundamentals of moral theology. (1) Brady does this by focusing on biblical material and by an emphasis on experience. An early reader, Jennifer Beste, calls Brady’s book “a brilliant roadmap for conceptualizing the myriad facets of moral theology.” (Back cover) She goes on to say that the book “is a gentle but unequivocal call to take charge of our own moral identity and development.” I agree.
In his first chapter, Brady introduces four forms of moral discourse, viz., narrative (speaker as storyteller); prophetic (speaker as preacher); ethics (speaker as voice of reason); and policy (speaker as lawyer). Then he takes each form and, using examples from scripture and other sources, he derives implications for moral theology. He then suggests that the form we are most comfortable with helps us find our “moral voice,” which in turn is a key to our moral identity. (37)
Chapter two presents an extended examination of the various kinds of freedom and then connects these to morality, here understood as “a set of expectations about behavior and character for persons.” (52) The third chapter takes on the structure of morality. This structure, according to Brady, includes ideas about God, or theology; about humanity, or anthropology; about expectations of behavior or character, or morality; and about appropriation, or personal choices. (75) His schema implies that the first two precede morality, while the fourth flows from it. Much of the chapter unpacks the biblical image of the Kingdom of God, and expands on love as it relates to moral discernment.
Chapter four looks at moral decisions about particular actions, beginning with an explanation of the “three-font principle,” viz., action, intention, and circumstances. (116-117) Brady uses narrative examples to illustrate this principle. There are lengthy sections on “intrinsically evil” actions (not all moral theologians accept this notion), and on the tradition principle of the double effect.
In my own classes on morality, I find it both challenging and critically important to grapple with the concept of conscience. Brady takes this on in chapter five. He suggests that people experience conscience in four ways, as a place, as a process, as a source of feeling, and as an impulse of voice. (149-150) He emphasizes the double responsibility of both forming and then following our conscience. He also speaks briefly about the connection of conscience and community.
All in all, I strongly recommend Brady's book, particularly for undergraduate courses. I suspect that, used well, the book will open the door to meaningful discussions and will help the students to understand and grapple with their own moral identity.