The Challenge of Freedom. Impossible to Avoid

“Even if salvation does not come, I want to be worthy of it in every moment”
(F. Kafka)

We offer as the editorial of the first issue of Traces for 2002 the written text sent by Pierluigi Battista, editorialist for the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa, for the presentation of Fr Giussani’s book At the Origin of the Christian Claim, published in Italy by Rizzoli. Turin, December 18, 2001. For us, every beginning is defined by the renewal of the inexorable claim that the Christian event has introduced into the world as the watershed of time. A challenge launched to free men, in the today of history

With Fr Luigi Giussani’s book, it is not a matter of discussing only the content, but also and above all the extraordinarily rigorous manner of arguing of a Christian who puts the reader in front of a choice of freedom, right in front of the essential question that sweeps along and torments mankind for two thousand years now: “Is it true that God intervened?” And again: “Is it true that it happened, or not?”

Giussani puts his interlocutor in a condition that allows no escape nor any form of moral and conceptual sloppiness: “Certain calls, because of their radical nature, when a man has heard them, if he acts like a man, cannot be eliminated or censured. Man is compelled to say ‘yes,’ or else ‘no.’” This is a dramatic alternative, which Fr Giussani formulates by echoing a formula from Kierkegaard: “The truth is that the Christian imperative, ‘you must,’ has been completely forgotten. The fact that Christianity has been announced to you means that ‘you must’ take a position in front of Christ. He, or the fact that He exists, or the fact that He existed is the decision of your whole life.”

A “modern-day European” like me (and like Giussani describes in the book, following Dostoevsky’s lead, with justifiable severity) remains simply daunted in the face of the radical nature of questions like this. A man like me who finds it hard to have certainties, who tends to take problems apart under the lens of rational investigation, who is burdened by the existential complications of modern doubt, feels however that at the summit of these questions is a challenge, a pressing appeal that he not wander off the path, that the policy of avoidance and the rhetoric of indifference not be rewarded.

Giussani does not compel us to believe. He does not force on us an absurd, binding, and paradoxical “You must believe you believe.” But he appeals to the freedom of each of us to avoid turning our gaze somewhere else and dodging the essentiality of the prime issues. “Freedom,” to be precise. Freedom from the sirens and the moral blackmail of modern utopianism, which claims to replace religion simply by putting itself in religion’s place and taking upon itself a mission to remake society and mankind that leads straight to the hell of despotism and unlimited power over individuals and the collectivity. Freedom as a reversal of the claim to act “as though God did not exist.” That is too easy. The true challenge for those who do not believe is instead “to act as if God existed:” to demand from oneself and others a seriousness and rigorousness that are the opposite of superficiality and of unreservedly handing oneself over to the “secular world,” as the Jesuits would have said when the Jesuits were, Jesuitically, real Jesuits.

Freedom as challenge: this is Fr Giussani’s message that a modern-day tormented European cannot pretend not to hear, maybe so as to refuse it and not fall in with its imperatives, but being able to say he has not hidden his conscience in a niche protected by the measureless arrogance of disbelief.