While Pope Francis appeals to fraternal humanism, the world seems to be going in the opposite direction, towards wars among brothers, faiths, nations, wars of blood and humanity. Violence grows. Every day, the news reports about children who kill their parents, parents who kill their children, boyfriends and husbands who kill – body and soul – women they claim to love. There are people who murder the honor and dignity of other people, with insults, slander, libel, humiliation, calumny, defamation, injustice, and oppression. There are people who sow terror and shed blood in the name of God, while waters turn red, washing up dead bodies on our shores, where in the morning the sun shines again, but not for everyone.
Selfishness, indifference, and insensitivity reign in human relations. Pleasure and power are the dominant selection and action criteria. Societies in the East and in the West seem to have got stuck on their path of civilization progress in love and peace, and to have regressed to a wild age of human coexistence, the behavior of “the jungle”, where every man is a wolf for the other, homo hominis lupus, according to the old expression used in pre-Christian age by the Latin playwright Plautus, then resumed in the modern age by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Is this really the case? Where are we going? And what can we hope for? We talked with Paola Ricci Sindoni, Professor of Moral Philosophy and Religions at the University of Messina, former National President of the Association “Scienza & Vita”, during its last three years. The researcher gives a sound slap to the hardened secularists. Without God, she says, there can be no moral consensus.
Professor Ricci Sindoni, violence seems to increase, against whoever seems to be an enemy or an obstacle to our freedom, against those who are weak or of a different skin color, sexual orientation, or social status. What is going on?
“There are cultural patterns that are setting down at present, founding shared moral values. Respect for each other, attention towards the other, ability to relate to each other. The common ethos, the common ethical ground that curbs personal and social conflicts, is disappearing. The clash is happening in the physiology of interpersonal relationships, and sometimes even on a personal level, but it must be controlled and rationalized in order to maintain the equilibrium, otherwise it degenerates into a social pathology. When there are no background values, prevails the law of the strongest and egocentric instances. Thus, the other person, as an autonomous subject, like us, becomes an object, the target of our impulses, be they positive or negative.”
“No man is born for himself and lives for himself; we all live in God,” Father Vinicio Albanesi said during the homily for the funeral mass of Emmanuel, the Nigerian young man killed in Italy. Are these the basic principles of ethics: responsibility towards each other and faith in the judgment of God?
“I would say yes. Until secular ethics does not show its effectiveness for peace and social welfare, becoming able to gain universal consensus, it seems likely that, without a reference outside ourselves and outside the unique interiority in a personal and transcendent God, everything crumbles. Who else sets the value of a person? Pascal said: ‘Why should the place in the sun be for the others and not mine?’ Only those who have a genuine relationship with the Other know how to relate to the others, as people, not as tools for self-satisfaction. As Pope Francis says, the other, or the others, is either your neighbor, a brother in humanity, or is the enemy to be killed who threatens our freedom, habits, and interests.”
Has the so-called “social pact”, based on the usefulness of the law to guarantee peaceful coexistence, failed?
“Without a strong foundation, the social contract does not hold water. It does not suffice to carry out a peacemaking action among people. The common ground for universal ethics is crumbling. The Enlightenment has freed ethics from the relationship with religion, basing it on autonomous reason. Yet, autonomous ethics degenerates into tyranny. We need an objective criterion, a strong foundation. Only heteronomous ethics can work, whose point of reference is outside itself, founded on otherworldly Justice and conception of good and bad.”
There is a relationship between the ethical crisis of society and the political crisis? Has the common ethos, i.e., a socially shared opinion about what is good and what is evil, failed?
“Of course. The political environment is power; the framework of ethics is responsibility. But power is a form of responsibility, it should not be demonized in itself. It may serve the good. If you lose this fundamental aim of politics, the horizon of the common good, then power becomes domination and abuse, it lends itself to abuse. If the ethics scenario is disrupted, it is obvious that there is no longer sense of responsibility in politics”.
What was the impact of de-Christianization of the West in this process of ethical, social, and anthropological drift? Can we hope in a trend reversal?
“Its impact has been huge. But there are positive signs of a U-turn. At the end of the nineteenth century and in the seventies of the last century, social scientists decreed the end of religion, and the success of the secular society. Secularization seemed accomplished, faith seemed to be relegated to a private dimension. Instead, there are signs that religion is readmitted into the public sphere, to social life. The seminars of the Catholic Church were reopened because of the growing number of vocations, lay associations, such as the Renewal in the Spirit, are living a new turmoil and have recovered strength. Therefore, faith and religion cannot be explained only by historical and sociological categories. Sure, it takes time. We are on the long wave of secularization. But the signs of trend reversal generate optimism. Especially thanks to the charismatic figure of Pope Francis.
Pope Francis said that Luther’s reformist demands were correct, whereas its schismatic outcome was not. This Pontiff seems on the way to make the prophecies about the great unity of the Christian churches true. Is that so?
“Of course, this is the way, already well mapped out by the previous popes. The peace process through asking forgiveness for past mistakes, for the massacres of indigenous people, towards the Jews considered to be the killers of Christ for a long time, for the Inquisition, began with John Paul II. This movement towards introducing corrections in the interpretation of past events is a way to get closer to other religions. But this unifying trend concerns primarily the Christian church. John Paul II said that it is ‘a scandal’ that Christians are all the same and still so different. The first step towards the Orthodox Church. Benedict XVI had begun this journey. Papa Francesco continues on along the same line. The unity of Christians would be a bulwark against the dangerous imperialism of the Islamic State and against the various religious fanaticisms”.
Should we interpret the new rules for the admission of divorced persons to the sacraments in the same light? To shorten the gap with the Orthodox Church?
“We have to work on two different levels to reach unity. The first one is theological, of doctrinal elaboration. The Catholic Church must first investigate the interpretation of the Petrine primacy. The second one is pastoral, that is, one needs to identify the points of contact, without debasing their doctrinal system, but also without fear of moving forward. There is a difficult work of weaving to be done. For example, on the issue of celibacy. A historically introduced discipline, on which there may be an opening, just suggested, or strengthened, towards inter-religious encounter. It is a tradition of the Catholic Church, which was introduced in the course of history, which is very dear to some Catholics. But history keeps walking.”