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Religion and Society

Where is the contemporary world going?

An English journalist, expert on world news, reads and reviews the last issue of Oasis.

The two great tensions of our times are those between Christianity and secularism and Christianity and Islam.



No organization has done more to resolve these tensions into dialogue than the Venice–based Oasis Foundation, founded by Cardinal Angelo Scola in 2004. Its biannual journal Oasis, the latest edition of which, dated December 2013, has just been translated into English, is a treasure house of information and high-level intellectual challenge.



The mainly continental (as distinct from Anglo-Saxon) perspective of the contributors will provide a refreshing change of viewpoint for many wrestling with these issues in December’s publication entitled “Religions on a tightrope between secularism and ideology” Mauro Magatti, a sociology professor based in Canterbury but with a distinctly European background and outlook, remarks on the “shallowness” and “thinness” of the contemporary secularized culture, in which the individual must “be himself and, at the same time, be open to all possibilities; he must choose and, at the same time, not believe in anything”. In these circumstances transcendence can now become a “a depth … a call to superabundance”.



Henri Hude, professor of moral philosophy in Paris, remarks that while liberalism is “dominating the entire planet”, it is also “losing its efficiency and dignity at the same time”. The Left has turned into the opposite of what it was: “Political correctness declares ‘thinking is prohibited’.”



In the “Manif pour tous” protests in which millions demonstrated against the Socialist Government’s imposition of gay marriage legislation, Hude finds, through these “Watchmen”, potential for “a substantive freedom and rebirth”.



In a whole range of articles, including a perceptive introductory one from Cardinal Scola himself, the limits of an atheistic humanism that excludes God from reality are explored with a trenchant and piercing insight that exposes the manifold deficiencies of contemporary culture, while at the same time finding rays of light and reasons for hope.



A series of articles on Islam, meanwhile, examines how far Islamist attempts to integrate the political and religious sphere can work in practice, as well as exploring attempts in the Muslim world to keep the two separate.



Olivier Roy, professor of Mediterranean studies in Florence, argues persuasively that Islamists attempting to deal with the realities of political power guided entirely by their religious faith are bound to fail, because Islam has nothing to say on so many of the day-to-day political questions that inevitably arise.



Jawad Mohammed Taqi al-Khoei, Director of the Al-Khoei Foundation in the “capital of the Shias”, Najaf in Iraq, examines the attempt to “surround blind violence with tolerance”, in the framework of a civic state.



Hassan Rachik asks how successful has been the Moroccan attempt to integrate Islam into the political sphere in a way that undermines its totalitarian vision.



Tewfik Aclimandos, a specialist in contemporary Egypt, analyses the Muslim brotherhood’s foreign policy failures after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and concludes that “the Brotherhood’s strategy carried within it the seeds of a resounding failure”.



Hakan Yavuz of the University of Utah writes on Turkey’s “return to God” while the Iranian-Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo offers a sophisticated and highly informative account of the distinctive form of secularism that pervades much of Iran.



Archbishop John Onaiyekan whose flock has to endure the unrelenting horrors of Islamist terrorism, describes the challenge of seeking common ground where Christians and Muslims live together.



Philosophical anchors to this material are provided by extracts from Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei, and from then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s seminal “Introduction to Christianity”. Pope Francis talks of believing as seeing, and shows how faith is tied to sight, in that seeing can be believing, but also in the way that faith leads to deeper vision.



The man who was to become Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Fastened to the cross – with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss. The situation of the contemporary believer could hardly be more accurately and impressively described.”



An extract from the work of Muhammad Iqbal, a poet and thinker of British India who influenced the founders of Paskistan, argues that Islam must do more than accommodate to modernity: it must engage in a work of “reconstruction” of its religious thought.



In a series of interviews that still speak powerfully to a drifting international diplomacy, Maria Laura Conte talks to refugees from the hell that is Syria today, as well as to exiles who talk of their still burning hopes for the future, and the way in which minorities may yet be protected.



And there is still more: a deeply moving article on the self-giiving sacrifice of the Tibhirine monks in Algeria in 1996, by Sr M Augusta Tescari; a fascinating piece by Suleiman Ali Mourad on the origins of jihadi fanaticism; and a 1,700th anniversary commemoration by Francesco Braschi of the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313, whose implications for Church-state relations still reverberate today.



A piece by Paola Bernardini on the differences between Catholics and Muslims on the morality of abortion and the purported “holy alliance” between the faiths will strip away the preconceptions of many.



Book and film reviews and some photo-reportage of the destruction of Syria complete the volume.



This is an indispensable work for all concerned with these issues. And that means, for all those who are concerned with the direction of the contemporary world.