Cardinal Ratzinger Debates Atheist Philosopher

(Encounter on Existence of God Draws a Crowd in Rome)

ROME, SEPT. 22, 2000 ( A public debate on the existence of God between Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and an atheist philosopher attracted a packed theater here yesterday.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith squared off against Paolo Flores d'Arcais, philosopher and director of the leftist "MicroMega" magazine. The moderator of the debate was a Jewish journalist, Gad Lerner, director of Italian television channel RAI-Uno.

The debate, in the Quirino Theater, was occasioned by the reissue of a special edition of "MicroMega" dedicated to "Philosophy and Religion," to which the cardinal and Flores d'Arcais contributed. The special issue has already sold 100,000 copies.

Before the debate, a crowd gathered outside the theater, unable to enter because of lack of space. The theater was overcrowded, with people sitting on the floor. The public followed the dialectic duel intently and intermittently applauded each of the speakers during the two-and-a-quarter-hour debate.

Lerner wanted to know if there are clear-cut boundaries between believers and nonbelievers, and if they have anything in common. Partially answering his own question, he said that both speakers shared in common "the rejection of an accommodating religiosity, with a God made to measure, without measuring oneself against the issue of truth, which is so widespread today, as seen in New Age and in a certain idea of Buddhism." Lerner then asked the speakers what caused the need to discuss the topic.

Cardinal Ratzinger replied that "it stems from the fact that we believers think that we have something to say to others. We are convinced that man needs to know God. The truth, which must be known, appeared in Jesus. At this time of crisis, we must not live only toward the self."

In turn, Flores d'Arcais said, "There is great imbalance in a debate of this kind. The believer is interested in converting. The atheist does not have this need." He questioned why an atheist is interested in faith, and responded that "to be an atheist means to maintain that everything is played out here, in this finite existence. Alliances, solidarities, conflicts and clashes are established on this basis. Coexistence based on tolerance is not indifferent to the type of faith.

"If the faith of a Christian is that of the first generations of Christians, faith that is scandal to reason, there is no conflict with the nonbeliever. However, if faith attempts to be the synthesis and fulfillment of reason, which is most characteristic of man, one can understand the temptation to impose itself. Why don't you believers renounce the need to demonstrate the truth, why do you pretend rationality?"

Cardinal Ratzinger responded, saying that "the Christians of the first generations did not believe that faith was absurd. Paul spoke in the Areopagus. Paul preached a faith that is scandal, on one hand, but he was convinced that he wasn't announcing something absurd, but rather a message that could appeal to reason, a religion that is not invented but that is in consonance with our reason. I agree with Flores d'Arcais that this must not be imposed."

Questioned as to whether one can live without faith, Flores d'Arcais replied, "It depends on what is meant by faith. If it is understood as a profound existential passion for certain values that make something sensible of life, no. But if it is understood as a religious belief, yes, one can live without faith."

He continued, "Faith is something more, but also something less. The lucidity of the finite allows one to live the experiences of life with intensity and greater awareness."

As regards the issue of whether believers and nonbelievers share something in common, Cardinal Ratzinger said that "there is a common ground. There can be agreement on values that make life worthwhile: to combat intolerance, fanaticism; be committed to the dignity of man, to liberty and assistance to the needy. It is a ground in which, despite the division, we share a common responsibility. Love against hatred, truth against lies, is innate to man. Awareness of and commitment to human dignity is a hidden presence of a deeper faith, even if it is not defined in theological terms. It is the common root of good against evil."

During a debate on the Enlightenment and laicism, in which the cardinal spoke of tolerance, Flores d'Arcais said: "How much you have allowed yourselves as Church to be contaminated by the secular world! The word tolerance is an Enlightenment word."

Cardinal Ratzinger replied that the word laicism has a meaning in Italy that is different from other countries. He said that "the Christian wanted to be enlightened in a certain sense. It is time to transcend these oppositions.

"The Enlightenment was opposed to Christianity, but there were currents of Christian Enlightenment," the cardinal said. "Christianity should return to its roots. There is opposition only in certain aspects of the Enlightenment. I would not speak of contamination. I think it is positive that these two currents, which were separated, meet and that each one begins to learn from the other." The cardinalís words prompted long applause.As regards the common ground between a believer and an atheist, Flores d'Arcais said, "The common ground is the Gospel and the values of the Gospel. There are two fundamental values: Jesus' phrase: 'let your yes be yes, and your no, be no,' is the idea that all exaggerated diplomacy comes from the devil. The second value is that the sin of sins is privilege, differences of wealth. These two values are often more deeply felt by many who are not believers than by the majority of Christians." Again came much applause from the audience. ZE00092202

From ZENIT News Agency


Homily on Unicity of Christ & Church (Dominus Iesus)