By Bernardo Cervellera
On the first day of the Oasis Centre's annual conference, participants hear that secularism and the 'crisis of man'-that of an inward-looking man, stalked by radical environmentalism, man as an animal, a 'monkey'-appear to be at an end. Islamic parties brought to the fore by the Arab spring are failing. As new religious experiences emerge in the Arab world, states try to bring under their bureaucratic control. But, as Benedict XVI put it, faith and reason must engage in dialogue. In Najaf (Iraq), a Council for dialogue between religions has been set up for the purpose of promoting basic universal human rights and full citizenship for all of the country's religious communities.
Milan (AsiaNews) - Ca'Granda, once one of Milan's oldest Church-run hospitals, home since 1958 of the city's Università degli Studi, and scene in 1968 of students' protests and after that of Italy's terrorist wave, was the setting for the 10th annual meeting of the Oasis Centre's Scientific Committee, today and tomorrow. This year's topic was 'On a tightrope: Christians and Muslims between Secularism and Ideology'.
Participants focused on the long process of secularisation that began with the rise of humanism during the Italian Renaissance, which spread across Europe, and continued with the increasing marginalisation of the religious aspect in social, political and economic life.
As its range extended to the rest of the world through a global technocracy based on science and finance, secularisation came into contact and clashed with the cultures of the Middle East, North Africa and the Far East. Whilst subordinating and transforming them, it also provoked resistance, both peaceful and violent (fundamentalism), both in Europe and in other parts of the world.
Humanism "Gone Bad"
All those who spoke today agree to this historical analysis. Above all, they agree on something that is rare to see so succinctly expressed, namely, that death has come to secularism, not God.
Card Angelo Scola, Oasis Centre's president and archbishop of Milan, stressed, following Popes Benedict XVI and Francis that the economic crisis in the West and most of the planet "is a human crisis; that man is in crisis."
Even the Marxists' old impulses towards "social rights" have been watered down and incorporated into the "bourgeois freedoms" that Karl Marx criticised since "the individual [is] inward looking".
Rémi Brague, former professor of history at the Sorbonne who currently teaches at the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich (Germany), gave a timely analysis of the way in which humanism, which began as mankind's emancipation through the elimination of God turned, little by little into a form of "anti-humanism", a "battered humanism" that is no longer able to justify human rights, say no to torture or show respect for the nations of the world.
Man, who was supposed to rule nature, now is branded as "its deadliest species" to be annihilated by an exasperated environmentalism. Man, who once rose above all other elements in creation, today is reduced to "a species that is not much different from the others" because "he shares 95 of monkeys' DNA. Man, who once rose "without looking above himself", now has no reason to live because he can no longer answer the question about the meaning of life. "Now we have plenty of wealth, but we do not know if it is good that somebody should benefit from it."
Traditionalism and the Arab Spring
In his address, Prof Francis Francesco Botturi, professor of Moral Philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan, said, "Atheism is, contrary to what it intended, a powerful factor in nihilism." The contemporary world, he added, presents a "vast emptiness in universality (in terms of meaning, values, forms of life, i.e. shared existence."
Yet, a religious revival of sort is underway in number of places, too often in partial forms through subjective values within a secularised mode, or as a form of religiosity that is detached from the Church, or through the reassertion of traditionalism or fundamentalism.
For Botturi, it is important to think about Christianity "after secularisation" so that through their contributions Christians and Muslims are not reduced to "passive receptors or adversaries" of modernity.
The religious revival is also underway in the countries affected by the Arab Spring, where new forms of religious expressions have emerged. Olivier Roy, of the European University of Florence, mentioned a few: Sufi movements, fatwa on-line, Muslim communities seeking autonomy from the state. In his view, during the Arab spring, the Islamic political parties that emerged showed themselves unable to guarantee co-existence. Equally, states tried to use religion in society by means of controls and their bureaucracies.
The Cardinal and the Shia
The end of an era, that of secularism, Christians and Muslims have a heavy task ahead of them. Card Scola tried to outline it by citing Benedict XVI from an interview the pope gave during his visit to Fatima in 2010. "In these centuries of a dialectic between enlightenment, secularism and faith, there were always individuals who sought to build bridges and create a dialogue, but unfortunately the prevailing tendency was one of opposition and mutual exclusion. [. . .] In the multicultural situation in which we all find ourselves, we see that if European culture were merely rationalist, it would lack a transcendent religious dimension [. . .]." The "task and mission of Europe is to create this dialogue, to integrate faith and modern rationality in a single anthropological vision which approaches the human being as a whole and thus also makes human cultures communicable."
Another speaker, Sayyid Jawad al-Khoei, focused on the efforts within Iraq's Shia Islam to promote pluralism and religious freedom for everyone in a country marked by years of war and sectarian killings.
Director of a foundation based in Najaf, the Shia holy city in Iraq, and a student of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who in recent years has defended steadfastly the presence of Christians in Iraq, Jawad al-Khoei strongly condemned violence justified on religious grounds, which he blames on Wahhabism and 'Takfirism.' However, he also called on the Western world not lump everything together and blames violence on Islam as a whole.
The Council for inter-religious dialogue is one of the results of his efforts, a body that includes the highest representatives of all Iraqi communities. Their shared basis are universal human rights and absolute equality in citizenship.
One of al-Khoei's preferred quotes from the Ulema in Najaf impressed conference participants, whereby, "it is better to have a just ruler who is a non-Muslim than an unjust ruler who is a Muslim". Indeed, justice, he went on to say, is something that has been with man "since creation". Therefore, it is not the product of the Islamic or Christian faith, but it is a kind of" 'natural law' all men.