Recently, Cardinal Ratzinger and the President of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera–one a believer and the other a non-believing liberal–expressed, each from his own point of view, their concern at the grave moment we are living. What is at stake, they both agree, is the destiny of a civilization that is founded on the acknowledgment of the infinite value of the person. Though falling short a thousand times, the European, Western civilization has kept faith with this ideal for centuries, taking great steps forward in development, freedom and tolerance, in the name of this ideal. Now all this has been brought to into crisis by internal and external factors.
The dignity of the person is the first-fruit of Christ’s work. He was the first to acknowledge that an infected person has the same value as a king, a slave as a freeman, a man as a woman. It was He who assigned to history a positive meaning, and He Himself was the start of it.
This is why the crisis we are living calls Christians, in particular, to be aware of what we are called to at this stage of history.
In a letter we publish in this month’s Traces, David Jones, a Captain in the United States Army in charge of training recruits, asks himself how one can cope “in the Hell of war,” and writes, “Christ doesn’t promise that it was to be easy, without pain or great sacrifice.” And slightly before this he commented, “Christ is Risen! I have done nothing... This New Civilization of Love happens by living this charism in the midst of the chaos, confusion and bloodshed of this world, right here, right now.”
In recent weeks, thanks to the great power of the media and the use of images, we have all, in a sense, been taken to the front line, where we can almost touch the horror, and where the question “Why?” springs to everyone’s heart. “Just this week alone, I was notified of the death of one of my recruits. I had to arrange details for the casualty notification team to inform the family and then deal with his grieving mother. It’s so easy to slip into nothingness…”
Planted like an event which seems not to merit attention in a world in flames–today like two thousand years ago–, the Resurrection throws out its challenge: “The victory is the victory of Easter and of immortality. Thus, the victory of Easter is the Christian people. This is Christ’s victory over all the ‘victory’ of nothingness,” Fr Giussani recalled at the recent Fraternity Spiritual Exercises of CL.
Major Jones writes that he has those words in his heart and that he is living their meaning in the “here and now” of his Christian vocation in the army, because hope is not nourished by great words, nor by utopias, but by new signs of a changed world, where everything is embraced and everything is for the good. This is not a victory possible for man; it is God who, as Péguy wrote, has “put Himself out” for us.
For some time now, an anti-Christian controversy has been back in action. On a number of occasions, and in relation to different facts, philosophers, journalists and so-called mâitres a penser have accused the religious sense of being the direct or indirect cause of all kinds of ills. They link social, scientific and even political backwardness, whether in individuals or peoples, with the persistence of a strong religious spirit. In short, religiosity is against progress.
There is nothing new in this. Some of the philosophies, and even the powers strongest today, were founded with an identity opposed to the religious fact, finding, as it were, their raison d’être in that aversion.
In many cases, the arguments used are shoddy, based either on ignorance or on bad faith. It has been a while since historical studies have thrown clearer light on many issues, revealing, for example, how the Medieval period, which many still stubbornly call the “Dark Ages,” was a time of great inventions, rich in important advances and discoveries in all fields.
But those controversialists are less interested in history or in facts than in opinions, and how to manipulate them in order to win a consensus. It was Nietzsche who said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”
There are two things to be learned from this revival.
The first is that the true opposition, as in the Bible, is not between religious and antireligious people, but between religious people and idolaters. It is surprising to note that many of these thinkers are just as furious with religion as they are ready to set up, for themselves and for others, a sort of idol in which to believe and to which to give homage.
For some, it is still the Jacobin “Goddess Reason,”–in other words, the tool that calculates what can be measured and maneuvered and which presumes, step by step, to possess every phenomenon, censuring whatever escapes. Moreover, this idol can coincide with many things: people end up believing that the absolute value is politics, or organization, or welfare, to the point of making an idol of “health,” sacrificing time and money to it, or of “fame,” as the remedy for the boredom of a meaningless life. There are even those who make an idol of the affirmation of life as a purely organic phenomenon.
The other element that stands out is that these controversies conceal the real target, which is precisely the Church, since many other religious expressions are applauded (perhaps in the name of so-called multiculturalism). The recent European Constitution is an eloquent example of this anti-Catholic attitude. Let us not, however, forget that denial of the Mystery that gives infinite value to the person leaves man at the mercy of power.
The Christian event, as great modern geniuses from Rimbaud to Dostoevsky perceived, is the only fact able to dispute every complacency and every power attained. For Christianity is not a religion, a discourse that has few or many points of contact with every other discourse, but the presence in history of a God who proposes His victory as the only one possible over life and death, as possible relationship with destiny. You can tackle this proposal seriously only if you are in love with the truth more than with yourself or, in other words, if you have a simple heart and you are more ready to acknowledge the positivity of a presence than to take refuge in bitter, mistaken, and empty polemics.