America is in danger of sinking into Europeanstyle radical secularism and of suffering from increasingly acrimonious culture wars, according to a prominent Italian philosopher and author.
Mu-cello Pera. who in 2004 cowrote Without Roots with the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told Vatican Notebook last week that he is not at all encouraged by the direction the United States is going. "I'm concerned about Americans," he said. "It seems to me America is turning more European, more secular, at least if you look at the intellectual and political elite -not the ordinary people, fortunately, who are the strength of the United States."
Pera believes strongly in the
importance of shoring up Europe's Christian heritage and culture, despite being an atheist. In a book he published last month entitled Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians, he argued that Europe must recognise its Christian roots if it is to be truly united. Pope Benedict XVI said the book's message was "of fundamental importance at this hour in Europe and the world".
Last week, at a conference on religious freedom organised by the US embassy to the Holy See, Pera's attentions were on America and, in particular, those in the media, universities, and "probably the Obama administration" who are ensuring that "America is turning European". Over the next few years he said he was expecting "more fighting, more quarrels, more culture wars".
And he added that these would "not just be between different denominations and religions, but between believers and agnostics, and non-believers".
Pera, who is also an Italian senator, was also sceptical about President Obama's rhetoric about being a uniter not a divider. "That was a dream," he said. "In order for that to be materialised you need to make choices, and as far as I understand it, Obama is not making unifying choices." Still, he detects signs of hope amid the increasing secularism in the West. "1 am starting to see something new, especially due to this Pope and the previous one — a new sort of resurgence," he said.
His latest book points to how that resurgence can be achieved. "If we [Europeans] want to keep our liberal societies; if we want to have political unification, to have a political European identity, and if we want to save our public ethics, then we must call ourselves Christian," he said. His new book, he added, tries to show how the "fathers of liberty" were all nourished by the Christian faith.
The atheist bus threatened to arrive in Italy but, unlike in Britain, it's come under so much attack that the idea has been scrapped. First, a group of drivers in Genoa, where the bus campaign was to run, refused to drive them on grounds of conscience. Then a publicity agency said the ads couldn't be used because they violated the advertising code.
The Italian Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics suspects that pressure by local politicians and the local Church undermined the project. But, with the zeal of missionaries, they want to take their apostolate elsewhere. Apparently they are looking at public transport in other cities to spread their creed. Perhaps they could put Pem's words on the side of the bus as well.