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Religion and Society

Between the East and the West a Mexican Suggestion

Man walks when he has a good idea of where he is going. However where for the Christian, and generally for religious man, the destination is clear the eternal life towards which from this very moment we are walking nobody can dispose a priori of the steps that lead to it. We do not possess the future. For this reason, we abandon ourselves with reasonable faith to God who is its master, adhering, through circumstances and relationships, to His design of good for the whole of mankind. This religious reading of history permits a sober critical capacity in relation to the present and requires a strong sense of the past.

 

Oasis each issue of this review well reminds us that the choice of the title is connected with the famous statement of John Paul II in his address in Damascus at the Omayyade Mosque on 6 May 2001 indicates here a precise pathway. That of an encounter with merciful God, with our brothers and with our sisters within the bond of religion. It will not be useless to remember, as well, that the method with which we want to operate a dialogue to the full in relation to the questions and issues that derive from the process of an unprecedented mixing of peoples, is that of passing humbly through the presence of minorities, who are tested but intensely witness-bearing, made up of our Christian brethren. The effectiveness of this method has already been documented on a number of occasions at the level of its capacity to force we Christians of the West to go beyond the intellectualism that afflicts us endemically, and to provoke our brethren of the East to take on to the full the task of accompanying us to the encounter with religions, and in a particular way with Islam in its various forms.

 

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In the first issue of this review, with a 'bold metaphor' we spoke about the 'inevitable imposition of a kind of hybridisation of civilisations'. And we went on by detailing

 

this hybridisation in a figurative sense as a 'mixing of cultures and spiritual facts that are produced when different cultures enter in contact', concluding, however, that 'we have in common human nature on which is based the family of peoples'. At a distance by now of almost three years since those first statements, it was necessary to explicitly focus in on this interpretative category. We did this during the annual meeting of the scientific committee, an occasion for an assessment, both theoretical and practical, of the objective limits within which to maintain or forgo the thesis of hybridisation; many of the articles that follow are the outcome of this shared work.

 

The choice of the category of hybridisation had in me the character of an intuitive in-ventio which was provoked in me by a question posed by a journalist. It was not born from the study of the literature in the field but rather from my trips in Mexico and in particular from a consideration of the strongly hybridised character of the Mexican people. Recourse to this category also arose from the dissatisfaction that the employment of traditional terms such as identity, dialogue, integration, multiculturality and even interculturality continued to produce in me in the face of the many forms that the process takes.

 

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Historical processes first and foremost belong to the order of events and are thus in the final analysis unpredictable and uncontrollable. However, because of the interaction and duration of the factors that make them up, not only can they be better known about but they can also, within certain limits that definitely cannot be established a priori, be directed. The process of the hybridisation of civilisations and cultures as well, albeit with its tumultuous and often violent realisations, demands to be addressed with this positive critical aptitude. In the final analysis it is based upon a dual firm belief to which we have referred in the past on a number of occasions. First of all, the aspiration to the universality and the constitutive unity of the human heart, which is made for truth. The elementary human experience, which is common to all men of all times and cultures, is the most striking confirmation of this. Each man and each woman, every day, lives by affections, by work and by rest. These are the symbols of a universal dynamic language that never ceases to make the members of the human family brothers. And we well know the reason. This and this is the second belief lies in the fact that a Father opened His home by creating the whole of mankind and, lovingly welcoming us from everywhere, He is taking us to His home with open doors. God guides history with a precise design which the contradictory movements of our freedom and the power of freedom of evil cannot, in the end, resist. He wants all men to be saved, He wants them to be 'sons in the Son'. The human adventure of the freedom of every individual and of every people only demonstrates the profundity of the love of God who chose, in order to communicate Himself, to pass, with the cross of Christ, through finite freedom and constant wandering.

 

This state of things calls us to the responsibility of the hard work of reading historic circumstances. A reading that can never avoid self-exposition witness. Religions and cultures, in their insuperable polarity of the universal and the particular, are within this unitary design. Indeed, they exalt it in the interplay of differences which through the power of the Trinitarian event exist, ultimately, solely in unity. Unity, and thus universality, is the alpha and the omega of history because it does not fear difference, given that it lives in a perfect and non-contradictory way in the same supreme foundation (the Trinity). From where and why in the final analysis does a religion arise if not from the humble recognition that the mystery of God goes beyond all human understanding? 'Si comprehendis, non est Deus (Augustine). 'Incomprehensibile incomprehensibiliter comprehenditur' (The in-comprehensible [the foundation] becomes understood in-comprehensibly: a formulation taken from a passage of De Trinitate of St. Augustine, echoed by Anselm in his Monologion and by St. Thomas in Summa). This is the way in which the mystery of God attracts us to It as is demonstrated, in a freely-given and splendid way, by the wonders of Christian Revelation. This takes place at the level of personal intelligence but what applies to personal intelligence, which is anyway an 'incarnated' intelligence and solidarity-inspired in relation to the whole of humanity, takes place also for cultures and religions, which in essential terms are nothing but a personal and communitarian expression of the self-awareness of a specific people. Thus God after a fashion gives Himself to men, all of whom are marked by an inextirpable religious sense. He gives Himself fully in Jesus Christ, His living and personal Revelation. He, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, comes 'for all men of good will , in whose heart grace works invisibly' [GS 22]. This means that Christian Revelation is by its nature meta-cultural As Fides et ratio states in sections 70-72, it can be received in every form of culture and specifically for this reason it cannot be reduced to any specific culture. The Revelation of the One and Triune God is revelation of the Ineffable, it is like the burning bush of Moses that is never consumed, to which one cannot draw near in a direct way without covering one's face, without taking off one's shoes. Cultures and religions are like the veil and the shoes of the history of mankind. Nothing more and nothing less. Something that historically cannot be renounced but which is never absolutely definitive. This vision, emphasised authoritatively in Fides et ratio, is extraordinarily important because it is doubly liberating. On the one hand, it makes us understand that the conversatus est cum hominibus of God in Jesus Christ proclaims the infinite mercy of the Absolute in relation to our contingency. This is embraced to the point of the lowest and most secondary cultural and religious expressions of the customs and life of a people, and sent on into eternity. On the other hand, the otherness in which mystery maintains itself opens up to the human experience the critical capacity for purification and possible detachment from cultures and religions, according to the insuperable methodological principle enunciated by Paul: 'test everything; hold fast what is good' [I Th 5:21]. The proclaiming of the love-logos in John, the incarnated Son of God, Jesus Christ, very God and very man, allows those who adhere to this in the faith to appreciate to the full cultures and religions specifically, also, by forgoing what shows itself to be perishable.

 

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These notations appear at first sight to be more referable to the category of interculturality than to that of hybridisation. At first sight the category of interculturality seems to allow the more effective construction of a shared area of recognition, beyond the trenches of identity but also behind chaotic hybridisations and dangerous forms of syncretism. Personally, however, I take the liberty of laying stress on a certain preference being given to the category of hybridisation. All the more because, given that it is unthinkable to attribute the description of the process of the mixing of men and peoples to a single category, it is inevitable that the privilege given to one will involve the need to have continual recourse to all those others that can be brought into play so as to be more effectively aware of the process in the attempt to direct it. In this sense no category, even that of hybridisation, can become 'the' method by which to address the phenomenon of mixing. It would be grave were we to transfer it from the level of a description of facts to the level of prescriptive direction. And all the more because, like every category, it is heavily prejudged not only biologically but also ideologically.

 

However, if well maintained within the limits imposed by the specification 'hybridisation of civilisations and cultures', it seems to me that despite the risks to which it is exposed it is a category that we should privilege. And to which, after a certain fashion, we should subordinate the others (interculturality, integration, dialogue, etc.) and not vice versa, The reason for this preference of mine comes from the extremely realistic character, which is sanguine so to speak, that the term 'hybridisation' expresses. This makes it more capable of reading the historical process underway while leaving it open to necessary rigorous delimitations, something which, for that matter, would be required all the other categories as well. Indeed, in this sense I take the liberty of adding that, while returning often over recent years to this subject, albeit, obviously, not in a rigorously academic way, I have been convinced that even the metaphorical use of this category must be attenuated and that connection with the nexus with its biological genesis must not be lost. Must Christianity I return here to the example of Mexico perhaps fear the fusion of races and peoples that has taken place through the generation of people by parents from different peoples? With all the pain that this involves, does this fact not conserve an echo of that breaking down of the wall that separates so as to make 'us both one' to which the Letter to the Ephesians [cf. Eph. 2:14] refers?

 

Does not the given fact of hybridisation, which implies a recognition of the fact that history is inevitably a place of encounter that often, however, passes by way of clashes, and the fact that peace, which should always be pursued, is given to us, as Paul says, 'if possible' [cf. Rm 12:18], tell us that only God is the lord of the future?

 

Without falling into examples of facile Irenism or ingenuous forms of optimism about a process that calls us to think anew about our cultural and also juridical instruments (passing, to take up the phrase of Prof Cesare Mirabelli, 'from a hybridisation of laws to a law of hybridisation'), we can, however, be certain that this, at the level of facts, is the road that is outlined before us today. A road that has perhaps not been thought of, one that is certainly difficult, but which we have already begun to walk down. It is of no use, therefore, to tarry in the illusory trenches of an identity, understood as closure, forgetting that the danger for the West lies, rather, in becoming increasingly, as the poet Eliot said brilliantly, 'straw men'.

 

 

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