“Religion Belongs to the Nature of Man,” headlined the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano on August 9, 2017, which published a reflection of French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue.
For the Cardinal, to “exclude religion from reason is equivalent to amputating man created in the image of God,” and he reminds that “there can’t be disagreement between faith and reason,” echoing ideas of Benedict XVI’s address at Regensburg in September 2006.
“We should be proud of our faith, because it offers a future to humanity,” explains Cardinal Tauran, thus situating the inter-religious dialogue, which “always begins with the profession of one’s own faith, always avoiding syncretism.” “Christianity is not a thought but a fact: God became man.” The dialogue “in truth” is to “promote a world where justice and peace dwell.”
A Violent and Precarious World
The Cardinal from Bordeaux begins with the constant that “we live in a violent world that divides and kills. A precarious world: anything can happen, suffice it to think of the danger that terrorism represents. It’s difficult to foresee what the evolution of the 21st century will be. Many political leaders are looking for ideas and many of our companions in humanity wonder if there is a control room. One wonders if the States will be up to the measure of guaranteeing the security of societies and the safeguarding of Creation.”
Therefore, Cardinal Tauran asks the question: “In this world, can one believe in God? Can one believe in man?” And he answers: “We are in a full paradox.”
And the Cardinal explains: “This world of technology, which only sees the power of what is useful, is also a world in which cultural and religious pluralism, the privatization of religion, the lack of transmission of values and models have made the ‘sacred’ and a certain transcendence come under the spotlights.”
He also notes that “if religious practice, at least in Western societies, is in decline, there is no doubt that one understands increasingly better that one can’t understand today’s world by disregarding religions.”
A Vision Open to Dialogue
Cardinal Tauran describes the position of Christians in this context. “Christians belong to this world, this world that God loves, in which God has planted them and in which they must flower. They recognize themselves first of all as creatures and hence dependents of Another, a creature called to see God, visions of man and of the world that can lead to confrontation and dialogue.”
However, this century calls attention also to genuine existential questions. “By reason of the precariousness that troubles our life – suffice it to think of the current wars, great and small, of pollution, of the financial crisis, after the failure of the great economic systems of the last century –, the men and women of this generation are asking themselves again the questions on the meaning of life and death. Many young people are perplexed in face of the excesses that the present wonderful scientific conquests can engender, if they are badly controlled and badly oriented. We have perhaps realized that the human person is the sole creature that queries and questions himself. It is the conscience – in as much as faculty of reflection on its own destiny, on the meaning of life and of death—which distinguishes man from the vegetable and animal kingdoms.
It’s the reason why Cardinal Tauran says that “religion isn’t a particular moment of history”; “it belongs to the nature of man, a man for whom the three fundamental questions of Emmanuel Kant are always valid. “What can I know? What can I do? In what can I hope?” It is interesting to recall that the “Nostra Aetate” Declaration of Vatican II on the inter-religious dialogue already stressed this situation in its Preamble: “Men expect from the different religions the answer to the enigmas hidden in the human condition, which, yesterday as today, agitate profoundly the human heart. What is man? What is the meaning and end of life? What is good and what is sin? What is the origin and end of suffering? What is the way to arrive at true happiness? Death? [. . .].”
Faith and Reason
For Cardinal Tauran, in fact, to “exclude religion from reason is equivalent to amputating man created in the image of God.” Faith is the fact of believing in God, of believing a dogma with profound adherence of the spirit and the heart, which engenders certitude. Reason, on the other hand, is the faculty of thinking and of judging reality well. To put these two words in relation – reason and faith – could be interpreted as an agreement between them or as an opposition.”
The Cardinal reminds that human knowledge has “two possible sources”: reason and faith, but these are “two distinct realities.” By his intelligence, man is capable of knowing God in as much as Creator (Constitution Dei Filius), whereas faith provides another way of knowing, namely, it receives a revelation. It’s God who reveals Himself, and not man who seeks God. See why Christianity isn’t a religion, but a revelation. Hence faith is a source of knowledge, but in another way. Although it must be situated above reason, there cannot be disagreement between faith and reason because it is the same God that reveals His mysteries and communicates faith, and He also diffuses the light of reason in the human spirit”
Cardinal Tauran refutes the assertion that would put faith and reason in opposition. “We would say that faith, which is at the same time an encounter and a message meets man who is naturally “capable of God.” However, it’s necessary to avoid two excesses: the first is fideism, which characterizes a religion founded on emotions; the second, rationalism, which affirms that only rational and demonstrable scientific realities are credible.”
“We can say that God is not the result of an equation, because in this case we would be constrained to believe, and that He’s not irrational: He is trans-rational and, I would say even more, coherent. Newman wrote: “A thousand difficulties do not make a doubt.” And Pascal stressed: “God gave man enough light to believe in Him and enough darkness not to be constrained to believe. See the problem of man’s freedom before God,” summarized Cardinal Tauran.
So he analyzed the detachment operated by a world dominated by technology. “The world of technology in which we live, has detached man from his spiritual dimension. Man feels powerful, and he even works to self-create himself. Efficiency and profit have replaced the quest for truth. Separated from Christianity, science becomes a mortal gift because it can be used for ends that don’t coincide with the true service od humanity.”
A Future for Humanity
“We should be proud of our faith, because it gives a future to humanity. We, Christians, we have been loved and forgiven and we cannot keep for ourselves that light which illumines us. We have the duty to take it to all and, in particular, to people that live without hope. Therefore, we must be prepared spiritually and it’s the second exigency that I see; to be able to give a reason for our faith. After the first, which is: to find the pride of being Christians, to receive the grandeur of the mystery,” insists the Cardinal.
It is in this framework that Cardinal Tauran situates the inter-religious dialogue, which is the mission at the heart of the Church. “In the pluralists societies in which we live, the inter-religious dialogue imposes itself as a necessity. It begins always with the profession of one’s own faith, avoiding all syncretism. That implies that we are in possession of a religious culture that enables us to dialogue in truth. We must go beyond the catechism of our childhood. When we speak with great prepared and cultivated leaders of human societies, it is surprising to see to what point they are ignorant of the religious point of view and often have a vision of the faith that is still infantile.”
Foundation of Culture
Cardinal Tauran pointed out a third exigency: “To live the Church as communion,” and he explained: “The scandals, the treason of Christians can never hide the strength of charity. Suffice it to think of the admirable work carried out by Sisters in countries of the Third World. It’s not the moment to lament put to give oneself to the mission. We must not impose but propose God in whom we believe, who has gratified us with two magnificent gifts: an intelligence to understand and a heart to love. We must not think that God is not interested in the men of today. One cannot avoid Jesus Christ. One encounters Christ thanks to the Church. The search for God and the willingness to listen to him remain still today the foundation of a veritable and authentic culture.”
Finally, Cardinal Tauran returned to the future of humanity, to ask: “What will our contribution be to tomorrow’s world? Will we be inspirers or simple accompaniers?” “It’s difficult to answer,” he said, before expressing his conviction: “Christianity, which has never been as universal as it is today, will be able to make globalization profitable – which in itself is a positive thing—to offer through original words and initiatives the novelty and singularity of Christianity. Christianity isn’t a thought but a fact. God became man. The Church will continue to make the “distracted” man of this century reflect on himself, on his vocation, on the necessity to promote a world where justice and peace dwell. We have a role to play. I am thinking in particular of young people, who too often are “heirs without inheritance” and “builders without models.” We, Christians, will do that, with the Church and in the Church.”