Il cristianesimo, religione della secolarità?
by Carmelo Dotolo

1. By way of introducing this theme I would like first of all to say that the question before us is undoubtedly a delicate and complex one: how is it possible to correlate religious experience and secularity? Is there not perhaps an opposition between these two different visions of life and the world? At the same time, we cannot but be aware of the difficulty involved in providing precise meanings to the terms in question, that is to say the definition of religion and the meaning of secularity and secularization. Nonetheless, it seems to me that religious experience and secularity have much more in common between them than what appears. Religious experience has its locus in that in-depth perception man has of truth and the sense of his being and existing, of his accomplishments and the global destiny of his history. A perception of being in the world and in history that holds a meaning, a truth that does not limit itself to what can be readily intuited, but urges man, in taking care of himself, the world and others, to set off, to go out, called by the Mystery that sustains the reality. In the original context of religious experience, man does not fancy knowledge as mere control of what is different, whose outcome could consist as much in the magical manipulation of such knowledge as in the declaration of its irrelevance to his existence. Rather, religious experience enables an open   relationship that gives rise to a different way of living, since it places man at the very heart of reality, at a point of observation from which things themselves appear as    j being sustained by perspectives other than the simple human logic. Religion, thus,  gets involved in the wonderful, progressive dialogue between those questions and answers that gives flavour to the day-to-day life, in that project of salvation inscribed in the heart of every human being, which finds its initial formulation in the questions of 'whys'. We read in the Vatican Council II document, Nostra aetate, no.l: "Men ~i expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human  condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is morally good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?" Are these not also perhaps the questions that cultures and philosophies grapple with?

To what has been said, we may add a note of historical character. Generally, to Christianity is attributed the image of a religion of secularization and secularity, with a threefold underlining: (1) Secularity is a historical development drawing inspiration from Christian Biblical reflection; above all because the Biblical revelation understands God and man as subjects of a partnership, characterized by the freedom of encounter and dialogue. (2) Secularization/secularity is a cultural and anthropological phenomenon triggering a change in religious experience and its function in relation to shaping the world and history. (3) Secularity proclaims the freedom and responsibility of man who, according to the plan of the creation, is called to take upon himself the responsibility of his choices. In this sense, secularity appears as universal cipher of human existence. These presuppositions lead to the conclusion that secularization/secularity represents a hermeneutical principle for interpreting and understanding the meaning of Christian religion.

The outline presented above is to some extent corroborated by a recent work by the distinguished scholar of dialogue between Christians and Hindus, Raymond Panikkar, La realtà cosmoteandrica. Dio-uomo-mondo (Cosmotheandric Reality: God-Man-World), Milano 2004. Here the author emphasizes the need to distinguish between secularization, secularism and secularity for understanding the religious experience in life and in culture. The three terms — God-Man-World -- are not equivalent, but they express different interpretative modalities with regard to the meaning of religion. For this reason, a distinction becomes necessary, which the author himself subdivides in the following manner.

a) Secularization is the process whereby some areas of society and culture become
divested of influence by religious symbols and institutions. Such a process appears
to marginalize the importance of religious experience, which has to remain a private
and individual affair, while stressing at the same time its importance in the search for
meaning from the part of individuals. What is decisive is the fact that religion should
not become a hindrance to the free expressions and emancipation of a culture and
society. These demands have given rise to a particular situation on the one hand and
this is the thesis of much of the sociology of religion : religiosity seems irrelevant to
the social spheres and cultural decisions especially of Europe and North America, as
is shown also by the growth of religious indifference; on the other hand, one notices a
strong revival in the demand for religion, its functional deployment for the well-
being of man, to such a degree that an author like P. Berger would speak of a "de-
secularization", meaning to say a public rehabilitation of religious experience.

b) Secularism appears, instead, as an ideology that underpins the merely empirical
character of everything that exists, as it leaves no scope for transcendence which is
considered simply as an illusion created by the mind. The supernatural or the super-
rational world is anything but real; because this world only is real. Saeculum is all
that really there is. It is not just accidental that secularism has been one of the obvious
motivating force behind a philosophical trend that is intent on proclaiming the
uselessness and the inexistency of the divine, and confining everything to man. It is the human being, according to philosopher L. Feuerbach, the beginning, the centre and the end of religion. There is no need to postulate beyond so as to satisfy the human need to provide meaning to his life and search for happiness. The divine or the chance and fortune come to the same and change little in relation to the fact of the transitoriness of life, which is meant to end with death. What is important is to be able to go through the happenings of life with dignity and equilibrium. In the final analysis, one can live well even without the hypothesis of the existence of a God.

c) Secularity represents the view that the world and life belong to the ultimate sphere of reality; that they represent, in other words, a stage subordinate to Being. "Secularity", writes Panikkar, "is neither dualistic nor monistic, but implies a vision of the real that is advaita or non-dualistic, which insists upon the ultimate importance of the secular dimension of reality, often forgotten by many a religion" (p. 131). One of the decisive consequences is the constitutive relationship between God and the world, in the sense that God is for the world just as the world is of God and for God. In this perspective, Secularity represents a relative novelty in the life of man and his culture. It manifests a particular experience of time, of interrelations, of ethics. To deny to secularity its real and structural character means to degrade life to a simple game deprived of dignity or importance. At the same time, the reduction of all reality solely to secular dimension carries the danger of suffocating life, depriving it of its feature of freedom and openness to the absolute. Is it not perhaps because of our inability to work out a synthesis between the sacred and the secular that we have the crisis that is taking hold of our present-day history, above all in the form of fundamendalisms which put forward anew a dualism in life and culture?

In any case, even though secularity is a fundamentally Western phenomenon, today it appears more than ever as a transcultural fact peculiar to our age. Panikkar observes that "a special mention is deserved by the modern Indian use of the word 'secular', which has found its way into its Constitution. By 'secular State' is meant a State that is neither a 'theocracy' nor an atheistic State, but a government that is tolerant of every religion and is respectful of the freedom of cult without favouring any one religious institution over another" (pp. 131-132).

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