01-01-2006 - Traces, n.1
Secularity or Secularism

If You Do Away with the Church
You Do Away with Yourself

by Luca Pesenti

What use is the Church to the world? One could answer, “To mollify the consciences of Christians.” In that case, the only thing to do is to relegate the Church to the private sphere, confine it within the sacred walls, limit it to whispered prayers. “Not to be seen in public.” No crucifixes are to be hung on the walls, no manger scenes allowed in the schools, no talk of Mary on primetime television, no appeals to consciences on morally sensitive issues. If the Church is there at all, it is not relevant. However, one could give a different answer. The Church serves to safeguard the “I,” to reconnect the heart of all men to the origin of things, to keep desire awake, to show where true Beauty lies. If you destroy the Church, you destroy yourself, too.

Openness to the infinite
According to Giorgio Vittadini, the Church focuses continually on “the problem of the relationship between heart and reason, putting back into reality that aspect of openness to the infinite which seems to be the point without which all problems are tackled by leaving one aspect aside.” We just need to look at how the problem of social crisis is being tackled these days. On one side is the State, on the other, the market. “All you need to do is to oil the wheels and the problems are solved!” But this is only an illusion, and the facts make it clear. Vittadini goes on, “Neither the cult of the State in politics, nor the cult of liberalism as regards the market, focus on the real problem of man’s knowledge in relationship with reality; as if things could be solved in terms of mechanisms, ignoring man as the subject of the relationship with things. So politics is reduced to the problem of coalitions and alternating governments; medicine is reduced to the problem of mechanisms for safeguarding life; the meaning of life is reduced to pure psychology; human relations are reduced to sociology in which what is specific to man vanishes; welfare is reduced to economic mechanisms in which the subject vanishes. What is lacking is the freedom of the ‘I,’ that is to say, its capacity to connect with reality, recuperating that creative drive that is able to solve problems in unforeseen ways.”

Cultural novelty
So this is how to answer the question we began with. The Church brings up the theme of man’s openness to the infinite. There are many examples. Vittadini lists a few: “The battle in defense of human life that focused on the issue of man as a unique and unrepeatable subject; the issue of man as the subject in economy capable of generating new initiatives thanks to his creative intelligence and imagination; the issue of the man who must always be observed in the ambit of his constitutive relationships; and the political question of concentrating on content rather than on party loyalties or moral behavior.” It is a Church capable of generating cultural novelty, setting off from the almost banal evidence–unfortunately all too often denied in history–that if the subject does not change, if it is not educated continually, it will never be able to change the structure of society. This is why the change of the “I,” its education, is not merely a private concern, but a central factor for change in history. Vittadini observes bitterly, “Looking back, the failures of the utopias should have made things clear, yet it seems that the change of the ‘I’ is still a problem that has no impact on history.”

Examples that can be generalized
So there is great need for a Church able to dialogue on the major issues and to give concrete examples of what it affirms. Vittadini concludes with a methodological challenge: “If it is true that discourses and moral appeals are not enough, it is also true that the facts have to be read as examples that can be generalized, because the experience of our friend Rose in Kampala (Uganda), of AVSI in Salvador de Bahia (Brazil), of Michelin’s concept of a firm, are universal witnesses of a new way of tackling all problems.” If it wasn’t for the Church, nothing so human would exist.