Recently Senator Marcello Pera wrote a new book entitled "Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians." Marcello is of a particular new breed of atheists who believe that Christianity must be retained as a cultural phenomenon if society is to survive. Kind of the polar opposite of the Dawkins type. They almost conjure up spectres of Hume with his radical epistemology and his conservative cultural leanings. What is interesting about this new book is that Benedict XVI wrote the foreword. I have inserted it below. I find it very interesting and would welcome explanatory comments.
Dear Senator Pera:Recently I was able to read your new book Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians. It was for me a fascinating experience. With a stupendous knowledge of the sources and a cogent logic, you analyze the essence of liberalism beginning with its foundations, demonstrating its roots in the Christian image of God that belongs to the essence of liberalism: the relationship with God of which man is the image, and from which we have received the gift of liberty. With incontestable logic, you show that liberalism loses its basis and destroys itself if it abandons this foundation.No less impressive are your analyses of liberty and of ‘multi-culturalism,’ in which you illustrate the self-contradictory nature of this concept and hence its political and cultural impossibility. Of fundamental importance is your analysis of what Europe can be, and of a European constitution in which Europe does not transform itself into a cosmopolitan reality, but rather finds its identity in its Christian-liberal foundation.Particularly meaningful for me too is your analysis of interreligious and intercultural dialogue. You explain with great clarity that an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible, while you urge intercultural dialogue that develops the cultural consequences of the religious option which lies beneath. While a true dialogue is not possible about this basic option without putting one’s own faith into parentheses, it’s important in public exchange to explore the cultural consequences of these religious options. Here, dialogue and mutual correction and enrichment are both possible and necessary.With regard to the importance of all this for the contemporary crisis in ethics, I find what you say about the trajectory of liberal ethics important. You demonstrate that liberalism – without ceasing to be liberalism, but, on the contrary, in order to be faithful to itself – can link itself to a doctrine of the good, in particular that of Christianity, which is in fact genetically linked to liberalism. You thereby offer a true contribution to overcoming the crisis.With its sober rationality, its ample philosophical information and the force of its argument, the present book, in my opinion, is of fundamental importance in this hour for Europe and for the world. I hope that it finds a large audience, and that it can give to political debate, beyond the most urgent problems, that depth without which we cannot overcome the challenge of our historical moment.With gratitude for your work, I heartily offer God’s blessings.
I suppose two points jump out at me. First, Benedict's well known idea that interreligious dialogue is not possible since it implies a logical contradiction. Rather, what we can engage in is intercultural dialogue between those cultures informed by specific religions. I suppose his claim is essentially that dialogue is a product of reason. Therefore, it can confer regarding things discernible by the human senses and knowable by the mind through a process of logic or study. Faith however is a gift of something not ultimately rational and so is not per se dialogical. There can be no dialogue about first principles of revealed religion. Those must be bracketed if any real dialogue is to take place.
Second, one particular line piqued my curiosity: "You demonstrate that liberalism – without ceasing to be liberalism, but, on the contrary, in order to be faithful to itself – can link itself to a doctrine of the good, in particular that of Christianity, which is in fact genetically linked to liberalism. You thereby offer a true contribution to overcoming the crisis." I am skeptical that liberalism can link itself to a doctrine of the good. MacIntyre has famously argued similarly, that implicit in liberalism is the rejection of any single doctrine of the good. John Paul II made a point of attempting to find a compromise between Rights language and the language of liberalism and the Church's history of Natural Law thinking. Though there is a genetic link there, it is not hard to argue that the differences are greater than the similarities, and so liberalism as a totality should be dropped all together. That is not very feasible though I guess. Which is what Benedict seems to think too. It seems that the new Benedict prophesied at the end of "After Virtue" is not intending to after all lead us out into the desert, but rather to re-evangelize the culture that is in place, which is precisely liberalism. Revitalizing its religious roots and making those its foundations would be his idea. But I'm skeptical. Can liberalism link itself to a single doctrine of the good and still be liberalism? I need some proof.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ