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Religion and Society

Necessary Conflict

Author: S. Belardinelli

 

 

Title: Contro la paura. L'occidente, le radici cristiane e la sfida

 

 

Publisher: Liberal Edizioni, Rome 2005

 

 

In this volume Sergio Belardinelli, Professor of Cultural Policies and Political Sociology at the University of Bologna, reflects upon some of the most urgent problems that Western societies are called to address today, such as the relationship between religions and civilisation, the cultural dynamics of the processes of globalisation, multiculturalism, and the religious roots of the Western ethos. In an appendix are printed interviews conducted by Belardinalli himself with the Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Scola; the Archbishop of Vienna, Cristopher Schönborn; the Archbishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen; and the Bishop of Tunis, Fouad Twal, all of whom are bishops responsible for dioceses that are especially significant from both a historical and a symbolic point of view.

 

 

The title of this work summarises the approach that constitutes the theme running through the reflections presented in the volume, an approach that is not seduced by facile irenics but at the same time does not surrender to a paralysing Cassandraism. In the view of those who are most pessimistic, the West, the victim of internal problems and external threats, is going through an irreversible crisis that is leading it to a final eclipse. In order to tackle the many challenges that the West is called upon to address, and in order to overcome the fears that may be provoked at the present time, the Christian roots that have shaped the West should not be seen as an irritating legacy or as an archaeological relic or as a flag flying over an abandoned fortress. For Belardinelli, a forceful and vigorous return to that great heritage constitutes the only real antidote to the loss of direction that now seems to besiege life in our societies.

 

 

Two chapters in this volume are especially significant: 'The Religion of the Epoch of Globalisation' and 'The Enigma of the Other'. These chapters offer valuable points of departure for the provision of a theoretical grounding to the concept of cultural encounter. Although the thesis of the 'clash of civilisations' is not sufficient to describe the situations of conflict that are widespread today on a global scale, we nonetheless should recognise that serious intercultural dialogue necessarily implies a certain level of conflict. Encounter between cultures cannot take on the traits of assimilation or an inevitable clash (the absolutisation of the communal dimension) but at the same time it cannot have the character of a sort of disenchanted indifference (the absolutisation of the universalistic dimension).

 

 

Disorientation does not produce openness. Instead, it can produce fear and an inability to understand who the other person is, and can also prepare the ground for closure and intolerance. The thesis that holds that 'all cultures are at a level of substantial equivalence' and 'only one culture has universal value' are the opposite faces of the same coin that can move in one direction or the other in a much more sudden way than one could imagine. Men by their nature carry within them an inextinguishable need for meanings and certainties, and our history shows that even in moments of the greatest anomie and apathy these needs continue to glow beneath the embers, ready to burst into flame in the most unpredictable ways. To conclude: the fundamental thesis of this volume is that 'in encounter with the other we can discover not only our limits but also the treasures that are hidden in our culture, about which we have ceased to think or perhaps never thought about before' (p. 34).

 

 

Trusting in this belief, the present, as emerges from the interviews that round off the volume, can be seen as a moment when the (albeit grave) preoccupations about the destiny of mankind cannot obfuscate the hope that the West will be able to rediscover its deepest soul, a soul able to give meaning to personal existence and to the relationships with others. This is a need, and today more than ever before, that can also become a virtue.

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