Atheist Looks to Christianity for Hope

Marcello Pera Says It's What Europe Needs

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By Carmen Villa

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Philosopher and writer Marcello Pera says Europe must call itself Christian because it's exactly what can bring the continent together.

Pera, an Italian senator, presented his latest book, "Perché Dobbiamo Dirci Cristiani" (Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians), in Rome on Thursday. More than 300 people were present at the event.

In the book's introduction Pera writes: "My position is that of an atheist and a liberal who asks Christianity about the reason for hope." Benedict XVI, in a letter to Pera, said that the book is "of fundamental importance at this hour in Europe and the world."

Pera was president of the senate from 2001 to 2006. He has written various books, among which is an interpretation of the philosopher of science Karl Popper and an essay on the inductive method of Kant and Hume. In 2004 he published "Senza Radici" (Without Roots) together with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in which the problems afflicting Europe are analyzed.

Pera emphasized at the book launch that his new publication "is not polemics but critique," and he claimed that "European identity does not have a precise connotation, it is a summation that is both multicultural and distinct."

"It is the Christian root that can bring all of this together," he added.

Pera said that recent events have suggested these conclusions: "Fundamentalism, 9/11, problems of integration, public ethical problems and bioethical problems."

The senator said that we must ask ourselves "who we are, what do we believe in, what is my identity, our identity; if I do not ask these questions, I do not know how to defend myself from those who attack me and I do not even know what to teach."

Pera spoke of a recent meeting with Benedict XVI. He said that the Pope did not ask him if he believed in God but: "How do you, an atheist, a liberal, a western European, justify the principles and values that you consider basic to the point of being proud to write your charters? How are you prepared to justify and compare yourself with others?"

The Pontiff continued, according to Pera's account, asking: "What is the terrain upon which I, a believer, and you, an atheist, can meet to safeguard these principles and these values without which you and I know our civilization would not exist?"

Pera noted that Christianity's concept of the human person as created in the image of God is not something found in other cultures, and said that this exists "prior to the state's intervention."

If we prescind from these Christian principles, he warned, we will have destroyed our constitutional heritage.

On a continent with such cultural diversity as Europe, the senator concluded, it is necessary to find a common patrimony that says: "This is Europe."