Show list of the lessons
In addition to the examples of the cashier and the girlfriend, we can also recall that of the novel: also a novel is written with a practical purpose; its author does not write it so that the grammatical analysis is done on it, or so that the reader wonders if that novel exists or not; the author wrote it to produce in the reader’s intelligence an experience of reading, aimed at involving him in a global manner, thus also affecting his feelings, his emotions. Cashier, girlfriend and novel belong to the same third language, because all three of them aim directly at the experience, rather than at formulating definitions or criticisms.
The three languages I referred to, metaphysical, anti-metaphysical and practical, are three perspectives, three points of view on reality, three ways of dealing with reflection or life itself; within them they can further subdivide into other perspectives, for example into perspectives of believers and perspectives of non-believers or atheists.
We can notice that practical language can also be expressed in terms identical to metaphysics, with the sole difference that it does not intend to establish universal laws, but recognizes that it is a perspective. In practical language, for example, we can easily say that a chair exists, but who makes this statement from a practical point of view does not intend to establish a universal truth, a philosophical principle; he means that that chair exists only to the extent that this statement serves him for practical purposes; for the rest, he is ready to admit doubt. Since therefore it is easy to confuse those who make statements for practical use with those who instead intend to place them as absolute truths, when we listen to a person we must refer to the context of the whole discourse that that person does, it is not enough to hear a single affirmation.
The prospects are like rooms; there is no being outside all the rooms, in a universal perspective. Every statement that is pronounced in this world is interpreted within a perspective. There are no statements that can be put out of any perspective, that is absolute or superior to the others. Each of us represents a different perspective. Instead, the dictator considers his own perspective as universal.
A deadly defect of journalists is to say first the sentence pronounced and then the author of the sentence: this way they weaken the critical capacity of the listener preventing him from immediately placing the sentence in its context.
Different perspectives also coexist in the same person, based on different moments, moods, health, and even at the same time. In each of us different perspectives coexist in continual evolution, which uninterruptedly dialogue or contradict each other.
In order for making possible dialogue with another person it is necessary trying to welcome into us, at least temporarily, his own perspective. I cannot understand the thoughts of a thief if I never felt the desire to take possession of something. A husband cannot appreciate the beauty of another woman except by placing himself, at least to some extent, in the view of those who look at that woman with appreciation of her beauty; this way, however, we could say that, at least to some extent, that husband is cheating on his wife. Actually we can say that it is not betrayal, because in practice we all know that life is like this, feeling emotions and interests of all kinds within us; a different thing is then cultivating them specifically. Therefore, a boyfriend, at the height of his falling in love with his girlfriend, could say that all the other girls are nothing compared to his one; then he could come to his senses, look at things while considering other’s points of view, and he will be able to tell others: excuse me, I spoke for a moment from the intimacy of my falling in love, but I realize that for each of you as well his one is the most beautiful. At this point the girlfriend could also say to him: I suspect that you, by welcoming in yourself the understanding for the sympathy of others towards their girls, host this sympathy towards the others a little too much in you; that is, the girl could also begin to feel a little cheated on.
The same situation is created with regard to the relationship between a believer and his religion, compared to other religions. In this case, religion takes the place of his own girl, other religions take the place of other girls. God could complain to the believer that he, out of a desire for openness, a desire to put himself in others’ shoes, is hosting the attachment to other religions a little too much in himself. God could complain about feeling cheated on by those who try to understand other religions.
Actually things are not like this, because this contamination with the desire of the other woman or of the other religion already takes place without us realizing it; it is practical experience that makes us understand that such contamination has nothing to worry about.
If instead it is considered from a theoretical point of view, it can also be interpreted as a betrayal of one’s religion. This kind of exclusively theoretical consideration, without paying attention to what actually happens in practice, led Pope Ratzinger to conclude that dialogue with religions, strictly speaking, is impossible; he wrote it in 2008, on the occasion of a review of a book by Marcello Pera:
Dear Senator Pera, recently I was able to read your new book Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians. It was for me a fascinating experience. With a stupendous knowledge of the sources and a cogent logic, you analyze the essence of liberalism beginning with its foundations, demonstrating its roots in the Christian image of God that belongs to the essence of liberalism: the relationship with God of which man is the image, and from which we have received the gift of liberty. With incontestable logic, you show that liberalism loses its basis and destroys itself if it abandons this foundation. No less impressive are your analyses of liberty and of multi-culturalism, in which you illustrate the self-contradictory nature of this concept and hence its political and cultural impossibility. Of fundamental importance is your analysis of what Europe can be, and of a European constitution in which Europe does not transform itself into a cosmopolitan reality, but rather finds its identity in its Christian-liberal foundation. Particularly meaningful for me too is your analysis of interreligious and intercultural dialogue. You explain with great clarity that an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible, while you urge intercultural dialogue that develops the cultural consequences of the religious option which lies beneath. While a true dialogue is not possible about this basic option without putting one’s own faith into parentheses, it’s important in public exchange to explore the cultural consequences of these religious options. Here, dialogue and mutual correction and enrichment are both possible and necessary. With regard to the importance of all this for the contemporary crisis in ethics, I find what you say about the trajectory of liberal ethics important. You demonstrate that liberalism, without ceasing to be liberalism, but, on the contrary, in order to be faithful to itself, can link itself to a doctrine of the good, in particular that of Christianity, which is in fact genetically linked to liberalism. You thereby offer a true contribution to overcoming the crisis. With its sober rationality, its ample philosophical information and the force of its argument, the present book, in my opinion, is of fundamental importance in this hour for Europe and for the world. I hope that it finds a large audience, and that it can give to political debate, beyond the most urgent problems, that depth without which we cannot overcome the challenge of our historical moment. With gratitude for your work, I heartily offer God’s blessings.
Benedict XVI, 23 November 2008
Along the same lines the Pope had already expressed himself in 2000, in the Dominus Iesus declaration.
After what we have said, we can realize that Christianity, despite making use of absolute languages, cannot help but confront itself with other perspectives, which are also able to relativize it. Each prospect is in contact with all the others and cannot avoid being influenced by them; in other words, the whole world is connected. If we don’t accept to host extraneous perspectives in ourselves, we only make dialogue between deaf, in which everyone tries only to incorporate the other’s perspective into his own. For example, one can tell me: in order to speak you use the principle of non-contradiction, which is objective; and I answer him: but the principle of non-contradiction is conditioned by our brain; and he tells me: you, to be able to answer, have right now used the principle of non-contradiction … and so on endlessly. Or if I said to a Muslim: you are a quasi-Christian; and he to me: you are a quasi-Muslim. In other words, there is no perspective able to impose itself and convince dialectically all the others who think differently.