Thursday, January 17, 2008

Objecting to the Pope

~from L'Osservatore Romano by Giorgio Israel, translation via Papa Ratzinger Forum

It's surprising that those who chose for a motto the celebrated statement attributed to Voltaire,"I do not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - object to the Pope making a speech at La Sapienza University.

It's even more surprising because Italian universities have always been open to every type of intervention, and it is inexplicable why they would deny this to the Pope and only the Pope. What could have been so serious as to make them cast aside Voltairean tolerance?

Marcello Cini explained it in a letter last November in which he condemned the invitation made by Rector Renato Guarini to Pope Benedict XVI.

What appeared 'dangerous' to him was that the Pope would try to re-propose the dialog between faith and reason, to re-establish the relationship between the Judaeo-Christian and Hellenistic traditions, and not wanting to have science and faith separated by an impenetrable wall.

For Cini, the Pope's program is intolerable because he thinks it really has perverse motives that Benedict XVI supposedly has cultivated since he was 'head of the Holy Office' to make science 'toe the line' and include it in 'the pseudo-rationality of religious dogmas'.

Moreover, according to Cini, he would also produce the nefarious effect of rousing vehement reactions in the Islamic world.[Come on, Prof Cini!~ Why bring in the Muslims? What do they have to do with Galileo?]

But we doubt if Cini would ask any Muslim religious leader to pronounce a mea culpa for the persecution of Averroes before he can set foot on La Sapienza. Instead, he would welcome any Muslim with open arms in the name of dialog and tolerance.

So the opposition to the visit of the Pope is not motivated by the traditional abstract principle of secularity. The opposition is ideological in nature, and targets Benedict XVI specifically, to keep him from talking about science and the relationship between science and faith, not simply to limit him only to speaking about faith.

Even the letter protesting the visit signed by a group of physicists was inspired by an attitude of irritation, if not hostility, to the person of the Pope, whom they present as an obstinate enemy of Galileo.

They accuse him of having said - in a lecture he gave at La Sapienza on February 15, 1990 {cfr J. Ratzinger, Wendezeit für Europa? Diagnosen und Prognosen zur Lage von Kirche und Welt, Einsiedeln-Freiburg, Johannes Verlag, 1991, pp. 59 e 71) - a statement that was actually from the philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend: "In the time of Galileo, the Church was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial of Galileo was reasonable and just."

But none of them bothered to read the lecture in full and carefully. Its theme was the crisis of faith in itself that science has, and he cited as an example the changing of attitudes about the Galileo case.

If Galileo had become - in the 18th century, the century of the Enlightenment - emblematic of the Church's 'medieval obscurantism', the attitude changed in the 20th century when Ernst Bloch, for instance, pointed out that Galileo never showed convincing proof of a heliocentric cosmos, to the statement by Feyerabend - described by Ratzinger in the lecture as 'an agnostic-skeptic philosopher' - and by Carl von Weiszsacker who said there was a straight line from Galileo to the atom bomb.

These citations were not used by the cardinal to seek vindication or to make justifications: "It would be absurd," he said "to construct a hasty apologetics on the basis of these statements. Faith does not grow out of resentment or the rejection of reason."

The citations he made were clearly used as proof of how much "modernity's doubts about itself have now involved even science and technology."

In other words, the 1990 lecture could well be considered - by anyone who reads it with the minimum attention - a defense of Galilean rationality against the skepticism and relativism of post-modern culture.

Moreover, whoever has any minimum acquaintance of recent statements by the Pope on this issue would know that he has spoken admiringly of Galileo's celebrated statement that the language of nature is written in the language of mathematics.

How could it have happened that university professors find themselves in such confusion? Any professor should consider it a professional failing to be an an example of such inattentive, superficial or downright omissive reading which leads to a true and proper misrepresentation, as in this case.

But I am afraid that they are not really interested in intellectual rigor, that the intention was really to take shots at the Pope at any cost.

Nor did it have anything to do with secularity, a concept alien to some of the signatories who have never said a word about Muslim fundamentalism nor about denials that the Holocaust ever took place.

Giuseppe Caldarola rightly said that what emerged here was "a part of secular culture that does not have debating points but demonizes, that cannot argue as authentic seculars can but instead creates monsters."

In any case, we can truly say with him that "the threat against the Pope is a cultural and social tragedy."

L'Osservatore Romano - 16 gennaio 2007

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