Very shortly, I will be receiving a real honor, but also one that comes with a major challenge attached.
On November 29, I am speaking at a major conference in Assisi, in Italy. The conference, Custodire l’umanità, is ambitious in its goals, discussing the crisis of meaning in the contemporary West, together with the economic crisis, but framed in terms of fundamental social values. Parallel to the familiar theme of secularization, conference organizers counterpose the idea of the new humanism as developed by the Roman Catholic Church, the cultivation of new values rooted in spirituality. They quote the remark of Pope Benedict XVI that “the social question has become a radically anthropological question.” Our crisis is a spiritual crisis.
So I am honored to be invited, to stand in the company of very distinguished speakers, but at the same time, I am daunted by the scope of the project. Preparing my address has been a mind-stretching process, and what I have put together is an agenda, rather than a specific paper.
My title is Faiths at War. I touch on modern religious-based conflicts, chiefly that between Islam and the West, and suggest how contemporary social and demographic trends might reduce extremism and violence. The other side of that story, though, is the growth of secularism and radical individualism, the decline of those spiritual values so necessary for the full realization of human potential. The beneficiary is, ultimately, an ever more powerful secular state, which makes more and more demands on its citizens, and at its worst becomes a monstrous burden.
Religions of all shades therefore face the need to define and defend human values, with the kind of humanism I described earlier as a valuable model. The world’s future conflicts might pose religions against secularism, rather than pitting faiths against each other.
Because it is too lengthy for a blog post, I have posted it separately at my website.