Belief or Nonbelief by Carlo Martini & Unmberto Eco

This was originally published August 2012

What are the dividing lines between Catholic Christians and secularists? Eco (author of Name of the Rose) and Cardinal Martini (in the Catholic corner) discuss four issues: abortion, why women cannot be ordained, hope and the future of mankind and the basis of ethics. Perhaps not the burning issues that many today would think need to be answered, but this book was written in the context of the impending millennium where some predicted this would bring in the end of civilisation as we know it. Today the burning issues would be child abuse, homosexuality, Darwinism or even the environment. Perhaps another age (not too long ago) would have included the just war or nuclear weapons.

The discussion is in the form of correspondence and the reader is left with the impression of two men with deeply held beliefs who are compassionate, sincere and humane. Both represent the good qualities of good men. What divides them, apart from faith in God? This question is of supreme importance, for not only does it address issues of common ground in the public arena but also a much more interesting question – what drives altruism? Why would one human being lay down his/her life for another?

The problem that Eco faces is that he was a Catholic, he grew up in a Catholic community, that he is inheritor of the great panoply of Christian thought and ethics just like most of us from the western European world (including North America and other corners of the English speaking world). We share a common set of values that includes the concept of human dignity. And what are the ultimate values, the values that one would lay down one’s life? There are surely two questions that need to be answered, what constitutes the values of the philosopher’s good life – and the second, why should I sacrifice my life for these values? Eco cannot distance himself sufficiently from his Catholic heritage to answer these questions.

For our society, as inheritors of Western European culture, the ultimate values are arrived at as a dialogue between the Christian tradition and the humanist/secularist challenge. Both challenge and refine each other. This book is one part of that dialogue.

eBook: from BooksOnBoard, publisher SkyHorse Publishing Inc.