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Uomini e profeti

“But do you believe in God?” was for a long time the question I feared most, because on the one hand I was aware that one had to answer YES, and on the other hand it would have seemed more sincere to me to say I DON’T KNOW, I AM CONFUSED, as I lacked the courage to even conceive of a flat NO. The community of Christians at that time coincided more or less with the community of humans in my small village, and even with all my doubts and tendency towards social isolation, I did not feel like excluding myself from the community of humans.

“Believing in God” for Italians has never in fact meant “Believing in God”, but it has meant and means what the context suggests from time to time: it can be a way of asking if we belong to the human race, or if we belong to the Italian ethnic group, or more simply if we are good. But it can also mean the opposite: for the Marxists of the last century, believing in God meant being a slave to hypocritical clerical power and Christian Democrat corruption.

For me at the time, however, the lie lay not in saying I believe in God, but in showing confidence in something whose very meaning I was unaware of. As I grew up, I found various ways to free myself from the moral blackmail contained in the hateful question, I learned answers such as “I don’t believe in God, I believe in human beings”, or “I have a very personal idea of God”, or “There doesn’t have to be a Creator at the origin of the universe, everything can be self-created, or it can always have existed”. As I grew up and went to live in Bologna, I discovered that atheism had become the best way to be accepted and respected by friends. The other religions worked too, more or less all of them, whereas Catholicism when you are a university student can be a sign of stupidity or embarrassing political acquaintances.

Many years after all this, no one now seems interested in whether I believe in God or not: the topic has simply lost importance, as if it only concerned children and young people, even though apparently it should be the other way around. But it is right, because as we become adults, the question of existence is increasingly shown in all its superficiality, leaving room for the even more complex question of who or what God is. And how to define him.

In the opening of his book On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer quotes the oath formula of the ancient Pythagoreans, which speaks of the “…quatern in our spirit, it which is the source and root of the eternal flow of creation”.

Here then is something that makes me feel closer to giving my authentic answer: if as God we mean “an eternal, uncreated, unique divine being, who exists before all time and has created all that is visible and invisible”, I believe that God cannot be anything other than an idea, and it is not by chance that the word principle in Italian means both “idea” and beginning. It was Leibniz who first defined the principle of sufficient reason, later revised by Schopenhauer, and this principle is the best definition of God I have found: an uncreated law that underlies every created thing and every transformation of it.

And if God were really an idea, as I believe, would that make him any less real? I don’t think so. It’s like asking whether the iPhone is more real or the mind that invented it. One is concrete, the other is (or rather was) abstract, but that idea would still have existed without the concrete realisation of the iPhone, while the iPhone would not have existed without its idea.

I almost always feel annoyed listening to talk about God or religion, on the radio or on television or among people chatting. But it’s not that I don’t like the subject, on the contrary, perhaps it is so important and serious that it cannot be trivialised. The only exception is a Radio3 programme that airs on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. called Men and Prophets, where guests from all walks of life are invited to explore some spiritual and general topics. It is very easy for me to think that all religions deserve equal respect, but it is only when I listen to Men and Prophets that I find this attitude of universal respect. Of course you can listen to it on podcast.

On 13 October 2018, they talked about Oscar Romero, in anticipation of the imminent canonisation of the Salvadoran bishop who was killed in 1980 on the church altar, while doing mass, by a military junta hitman. The order came from Roberto d’Abuisson, leader of the right-wing Arena party, for whom Romero’s stance on behalf of the poor and oppressed represented an unforgivable challenge: the monsignor had told plantation owners that they should pay more for seasonal workers who did not even have a roof over their heads.

Romero has gone down in history as “the martyr of the Council” and of the left-wing Catholicism brought to the fore by John XXIII and relaunched today by Pope Francis.

In our current era there is a great paradox: the Church is tolerant and progressive, while Western democracies are xenophobic and fascist.

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