Why secularism is synonymous with Christianity

Salvatore VecaWe have already dealt with the last book of intolerant philosopher Paolo Flores d’Arcais, editor-in-chief of “Micromega“, entitled “La democrazia ha bisogno di Dio? Falso! [“Does democracy need God? False!”] (Yale University Press, 2013). It argues that “every public role of religion should be radically and systematically denied in democracy, because any public role threats and undermines some essential elements of the democratic system“.

Only atheists can participate in public life because “democracy is atheist, inescapably“, says Flores d’Arcais. Believers, if they want to participate as well, must accept “the golden exile in the private sphere” of God. The author has the stated aim to refute the position of famous German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, for whom, on the other hand, democracy needs a religious assumption. However, reading the words of Salvatore Veca, philosopher, university professor and deputy director of the IUSS – School for Advanced Studies of Pavia, it seems that he didn’t reach his purpose at all.

As for the question about the choice between those who appreciate the role of religion in the public space, such as Jürgen Habermas, and those who identify democracy with atheism, such as Paolo Flores d’Arcais, professor Veca is clear: “If the public space means the agora, a social context where you take sides, try to convert the others and evaluate alternative proposals, Habermas is right. Here faiths have full citizenship: everyone must be taken seriously and no must not be forced to withdraw their loyalties. After all, democratic freedom was born when, after the tragedy of religious wars, all the people were given the right to worship God as they pleased. But this entails precisely the secular state, the prohibition to use coercive power to promote a single creed“.

Salvatore Veca has just published the book “Un’idea di laicità” [“An idea of secularism”] (Mulino2013) and in an interview on “Avvenire he explained: “Contrary to what is usually thought, religious freedom does not come from the set of political rights, rather it generates and establishes them, thanks to a variety of historical and conceptual reasons”. Religions can either limit themselves to mutual indifference, or have the “attitude that is testified by Francis in his own words and actions: not indifference, rather an attention, a curiosity towards the other that becomes openness, passion, willingness to learn. Always in the context of secularism and never giving up one’s beliefs“.

Secularism“, continued the philosopher, “as it is understood in its actual meaning, belongs to Christianity in an essential and constitutive way. To realize them you can listen to the experience of many pastors and priests, who are close to the people in their tragedies and deepest needs. It is just the example provided by Francis: do not explain to the others the demonstration of the reasons why it is legitimate or sensible to believe, but show that there is a life that is spent and lived, in practice, on the reasons of faith”. “The insistence of Pope Francis on the truth”, he concluded, ”lived as a relationship and not imposed as an abstraction, leads to this horizon of seriousness, as well as conceptual precision. In fact, this is exactly Francis’ style, the secularist style.

The editorial staff, translation by Vito

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