Pera, “Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians”

Here is a provocative book by former Italian Senator Marcello Pera (who now teaches philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University), Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies (Encounter Books 2011) (first published in Italian by Mondadori in 2008 under the title, Perchè Dobbiamo Dirci Cristiani).  Among other reasons, this is an interesting contribution as a piece of cultural anthropology.  Pera is a non-believer, and yet he argues for the importance and continuing relevance of Christianity as a social and cultural force in Europe.  The language about societal “collapse” was reminiscent (to me) of some of the writing of Sir Patrick Devlin in the famous Hart-Devlin debates.  A nice window on some of the writing in Italy on questions of interest to CLR Forum readers.  The publisher’s description follows.

The intellectual and political elites of the West take for granted that religion, in particular Christianity, is a cultural vestige, a primitive form of knowledge, a consolation for the weak minded, and an obstacle to peaceful coexistence. We are told that politics must take a neutral stance on religious values, and that societies must hold together without any reference to religious bonds. Liberalism is considered to be “free-standing,” and the Western, liberal, open society is taken to be “self-sufficient.”

In Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians, Marcello Pera reveals that not only is this wrong, it is also dangerous. The very ideas on which liberal societies are based and by which they can be justified—the dignity of the human person, the moral priority of the individual, the view that man is a “crooked timber” inclined to prevarication, the limited confidence in the power of the state to render him virtuous—are distinctively Christian or, more precisely, Judeo-Christian ideas. Take them away and the open society will collapse.

Anti-Christian secularism jeopardizes the identity of the West, leaving it with no conscience. The Founding Fathers of America, as well as major European intellectual figures such as Locke, Kant, and Tocqueville, knew how much our civilization depends on Christianity. “The challenges of our particular historical moment,” as Pope Benedict XVI calls them in the preface to the book, can be faced only if we stress the historical and conceptual link between Christianity and a free society.