Spirituality and the Foundation
of Human Freedom

P. Giuseppe Scattolin

Contribution to OASIS Symposium
Amman – June 23-24, 2008


Preamble: Freedom of Questioning, Freedom of Belief, Freedom of Witness.
1. Freedom of Questioning: Human Being as the Questioning Being
1-1. Human Questioning and Religions
1-2. Questioning: Basic Human Dimension….
1-3. … and Divine Call 

2. Freedom of Belief: Religious Pluralism and God’s Freedom in Self-revelation
2-1. Religious Pluralism and Its Issues
2-2. God’s Freedom in Self-revelation. 

3. Freedom of Witness and Expression. 

Freedom of Questioning, Freedom of Belief, Freedom of Witness.

“No constriction in religion”, says the Koran (2, 256); “Truth will set you free”, says the Gospel (Jo 8, 31). In my view, these two propositions are not contradictory, they are complementary, at least at the level of general religious principles, but not, unfortunately, at the level of general religious praxis. In fact, like it or not, historical praxis of both religions, Christianity and Islam, has been many times (I would add too many times, and perhaps it is still so in some instances) a praxis against the general principle of religious freedom. 


Sufi praticano il dhikr
Sufi praticano il dhikr

The Koranic text underlies what could be defined as the exterior condition of freedom: i.e., no constriction. In it all possible aspects of constriction should be included: physical (use of physical violence), psychological (use of cultural and psychological pressure, e.g., ‘cultural tribalism’, biased and false propaganda, forced indoctrination, etc…), spiritual (dogmatic statements proclaimed and perceived as a threat for the individual who makes a different choice, e.g., threat of hell and Divine punishment, catastrophes, etc., and many other well known forms of sectarian propaganda).
Freedom from exterior constriction should be completed by the interior freedom given by the knowledge of truth. The Gospel saying underlies such interior condition of freedom: the knowledge of truth. Reaching the knowledge of truth makes human being really free, because it realizes his innermost call: human being, in fact, has been created and exists in order to know the truth; without such goal his life becomes meaningless. 

However, there is, in my view, a previous, necessary condition to both positions: human being must enjoy the freedom of searching the truth, of questioning and moving spiritually towards the truth. If truth is imposed, by whatever means, as happened many times in all religions (nobody is here out of the question), human being will loose his freedom of choice, consequently his faith cannot be a true act of faith, since faith by definition must come as an assent done in free choice, not as a choice already chosen and imposed on the person. But, in doing so all religious groups, be it the Christian Church or the Islamic society or others, betray human being in his basic constituent, the freedom of choice. In this way, however, they will betray God, since God has created human being to be free (this is the basic, sound teaching of all religions), and He Himself is the most stern defender and guardian of human freedom. On this basis, one can remark also that any true spiritual experience must be an experience coming from a free choice and a free commitment. Without such freedom there is no true spiritual life. One can easily observe that spiritual persons or mystics in all religions had to face actually a basic struggle or a harsh effort to gain inner freedom. Moreover, those spiritual persons had to counter many times the common mentality or social structures of their own communities, up to martyrdom in many instances. 

On the basis of such considerations, I would like to speak of three basic freedoms that every human being should be granted in all religions and in all societies, so that his religious choice may be really an authentic one and not falsified from its start, and his spiritual life may become a real life and not a mask.
These three basic freedoms are, in my view: freedom of questioning, freedom of belief, freedom of witness. These three freedoms should become a basic topic of inquiry in all serious interreligious dialogue.

1. Freedom of Questioning:
Human Being as the Questioning Being

1-1. Human Questioning and Religions

The first freedom every human being as such should enjoy is the freedom of questioning. This is a basic starting point since human being shows to be in his very essence a questioning being: such character is inbred in his ontological constitution. If he looses such freedom, he will loose (or made loose) himself, i.e., his own ‘self’, becoming radically de-humanized. It is very interesting to remark that in its famous Document on interreligious dialogue, Nostra Aetate (1965), the Second Vatican Council affirms that religions are to be considered answers to fundamental questions that ‘deeply disturb the human heart’, questions that concern the meaning of human existence, as such. It says:
Humans expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in past times, deeply stir the human hearts: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible Mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?” (Nostra aetate No. 1)

These should be considered just some fundamental points or instances of that incessant questioning and radical problematics that cut across all human existence, constituting, one can say, the very fabric of human being, as such (qua talis). In fact, a human being who would cease to be able of such questioning, would cease to be ‘human’, since only in answering to such questions human being will find the deep and true meaning of his existence. And this is also the basic experience of mystics. Their inner spiritual life was the fruit of a radical questioning, going beyond the common, superficial mentality and interests of people, since they were looking for the deepest meaning of their faith. One should say that such human questioning is already a basic common ground for us humans from which deep encounters and interreligious dialogue should start.

1-2. Questioning: Basic Human Dimension….

Human being is the being that questions. He questions firstly about the meaning of his life, but through it his questioning expands toward the meaning of Being in general. These two questions, about himself and about Being, are strictly correlated. In fact, there is no true answer to one of them without answering to the other. This fact has been largely expounded in modern philosophical and theological thinking.1

One can say that the human being, differently from all other beings (those inferior to him, as animals, and those superior to him, as the angels), is the being ‘that questions, that asks questions’. He does not only exists, but he asks the meaning of his existence. He is the being that always after each answer poses ever more questions: he is the ‘questioning’ being, par excellence. He moves on in a perpetual questioning, in a never-ending search for meaning of his own existence as well as of that of the beings around him. However, one should add, he will be so as long as he will continue to be ‘human’… One day, perhaps, – who knows? – he could cease to be ‘human’… One day, perhaps, the growing technocratic tyranny will reduce him to a simple tool of producing and consuming, without any horizon left beyond the manipulatable world of the technical. Then, perhaps, the aphorism I have being repeating many a time, will come true: “Human being has created the machine, and has turned into its image and likeness”. Then, the human being will cease to be ‘human’ to become – who knows? – perhaps a perfect robot that works, produces and consumes inside a perfect robotized system. Will this be the last destiny of humankind, as far as it appears to our perceptible human horizon? These are ominous questions that heavily weight on our human future.

It is in the light of such reflections that there is, in my view, an urgent need of taking up again the Council statements on ‘human questioning’, as the fundamental and founding existential horizon of religious belief and religions, and also of true human identity. Without such basic freedom, human being will be reduced to a sub-human or a non-human sort of being. This should become an important topic of interreligious dialogue..

1-3. … and Divine Call

Moreover, such human questioning, if thoroughly examined, shows to be, in the end, a Divine call, inscribed and imprinted in the inmost core of the human heart. It is the first sign of God’s presence in human conscience, and thus the first revelation and call of God to humans. The human being asks questions because he feels himself questioned by his own existential Ground, that is God. The human being feels that he is ‘responsible’ and must answer for his existence, because his existence is not ‘his’, but it has been given to him as a vocation, a duty, finally, a ‘responsibility’. Reaching down to the roots of such questioning, the human being becomes aware (even if not always in a clear, explicit way) of the presence of Someone who questions him, and this Someone questions him because it is He who have given him the gift of existing: a free gift, yes, but, at the same time, also an earnest duty and an unavoidable responsibility. The human being becomes all the more aware that he has to exist and has to fulfill his existence, and he is responsible for it. He experiences that he is the ever ‘questioning being’, ‘the being in perpetual search for the meaning of his existence’, the homo viator, i.e., the ‘pilgrim human’, always on a journey towards the full and final Truth. This idea is found in many legends and myths across human cultures (see the epic of Gilgamesh in the Babylonian myths), that show that questionning is a universal, radical ontological trait of human constitution as such. The experience of human being as homo viator is also found at the core of all mystical paths. Mystics are those people for whom God’s presence in human heart, as the One who is always calling them and posing ever new questions, has become a living experience. For this, they have embarked on the perilous, but fascinating journey towards Him.

In conclusion, one must stress that affirming, protecting, but fostering the freedom of ‘human questioning’ is essential to any religion that wants to be an authentic answer, i.e., done in full awareness and free choice, to the Divine call, in the end to God who from inside their heart is calling humans to answer to Him in complete freedom.
One can say that in principle all religions agree on this point. In practice, however, there are many shortcomings in this respect in the history of all religions and religious traditions. This is true also for our two religions here: Christianity and Islam. Nobody is innocent in history. The actual history of us all shows that freedom of questioning and research has not been always protected and defended. On the contrary, we all have to recognize that many a time we have betrayed the very essence of human being. But in this way, we have betrayed God, the source and the protector of human freedom. An open acknowledgment and a courageous sharing on this point will help us all to overcome our historical shortcomings, freeing our conscience from a lot of ambiguity, if not hypocrisy, that often lingers on in our religious talks, especially when we put ourselves in the position of accusing the others without any kind of self-accuse, self-confession and self-purification.

2. Freedom of Belief:
Religious Pluralism and God’s Freedom in Self-revelation

2-1. Religious Pluralism and Its Issues

It is a fact beyond discussion that in human history we do not find ‘the Religion’, i.e., an absolutely clear, evident, unique Religion, recognized and practiced by all, but rather ‘many religions’. Humankind has found itself from its very beginning thrown into an existential situation marked by a plurality of religions, and not by only one, evident for all. Hence, religious pluralism appears to be a historical fact, and historical facts or ‘historical data’ cannot be ignored, if we want to face human history as it is, not as we would like it to be. The latter would betray a basic childish attitude. On the contrary, historical facts are there as if to challenge the openness of our understanding of historical reality. Thus, we have to take history into account as it is without escapism, looking for a meaning of it as it is, relating it in the end to the unique Lord of history: God. This is the first challenge religious pluralism poses to all believers of all religions.

Moreover, the historical fact of religious pluralism becomes all the more problematic precisely for those who, such as Christians, Muslims and others, believe that there is an ‘absolute revelation’ in human history, a revelation that is not just a casual, and, in the end, contingent accumulation of human religious beliefs, but a precise indication on human destiny coming from its First Origin and Absolute Ground: God Himself. This is extremely important. Religion, in fact, does not simply touch the periphery of human being, as is the case of other domains of his being, such as politics, economy, art, etc., where multiplicity of opinions is not only desirable, but necessary. Religion, as we have seen, reaches down to the fundamental core of human existence, where the definitive meaning of human being is in question, and so his salvation or damnation. Religion comes in at the level where the human being is called to take a stand in front of the Absolute, and, therefore, to take an absolute position in front of his own existence. For this reason, religious pluralism has always posed, and continues posing grave questions to all, but in particular to those who care about religion as an imperative indication on the ultimate destiny of humankind in general, and so of every single human being in particular.

Under the urge (more or less conscious) of such an issue, throughout human history there have been several attempts to unify the ‘religious fact’, finding a meaning for a history that, at first sight, seems to be quite fragmented, contradictory, even illogical. Different stands can be found in this perspective.

First of all, there is a negative stand, found in many fundamentalist and extremist religious movements (and also in some trends inside the official religions). These people look at ‘religious pluralism’ as a pure negative, almost demoniac, phenomenon, product of human wickedness and hubris. Such stand can easily lead to Manichean vision of history, seen as a play between two opposing gods: that of good and that of evil. And to the latter is usually given a lot of power over the concrete history of humankind. Such vision, however, has been basically rejected by both Christianity and Islam, because it denies that God is the unique Lord of history, in its totality and particularity.

On the other side, many religions have tried to reduce religious pluralism to their own terms, affirming that all religions express in the end only one truth (evidently matching with one’s own belief), even if such a truth has been expressed in different terms and concepts, according to the various cultures in which it has grown. Thus, Hinduism speaks of the ‘perennial religion’ (santana dharma), present in all religions, but coinciding in the end with the core of Hinduism itself. While Buddhism talks about ‘Buddhity’, as a fundamental reality existing in all human beings, at least in latent state, that should come to light, to full awareness. Islam on it side holds on the idea of the ‘natural religion’ (dîn al-fitra), as the original, pure religion (coinciding, of course, with Koranic monotheism), before any subsequent corruption of it in the human history. Many Sufis, such as al-Hallj (d. 309/922) and Ibn ‘Arabî (d. 638/1240), have developed the thought of ‘unity of religions’ (wahdat al-adyn), meaning that all religions express, in the end, a unique fundamental message: the Unity of God, of which Islam evidently is the clearest and definitive formulation. Also some Fathers of the Church, such as St. Justin (d. ca. 163) and St. Augustine (d. 430), considered Christianity as the ‘original, natural religion’, before being corrupted in many superstitions, and so on. From here, one can see that the pretension of being the ‘absolute religion’ in human history is not a typical feature of Christianity, as many quite superficially still think. Such a claim, on the contrary, appears to be a common character of all great world religions.

In any case, religious pluralism remains a serious challenge for all, and first of all for those who care about religion and strive to reach a real comprehension of the religious history of humankind, without discount or reduction. All attempts of reducing such phenomenon either to only a negative reality or to a minimal denominator common to all have proved to be highly unsatisfactory. In fact, making all religions collapse into the vague idea of a “Divine Indistinct” or an “Indistinct Divine”, only increases confusion, and does not give any acceptable rational account of religious pluralism.

On the Christian side, theology begins now to take into more serious consideration the historical fact of religious pluralism as a ‘positive, providential will’ of God for humankind. Christian theology, though keeping to the centrality of Christ, feels that it cannot ignore the massive historical presence of other religions. The two sides of the question, Christ’s absolute centrality and universal salvation, must be affirmed together in Christian theology, and cannot be denied or watered down in an amorphous, reductive religious pluralism, as it appears in some common and superficial sayings, such as: ‘all religions are equal!’. The same question concerns all religions, and each of them should give a reasonable answer to it. Identity and otherness are not necessarily contradictory; on the contrary, they should reinforce and complement each other. In this way, religious pluralism should not be seen as contrary to one’s identity. Besides, one should also remark that religious pluralism is a basic guarantee for religious freedom, i.e., the answer to God’s call in true freedom of choice, without compulsion or constriction. A religion that tries to eliminate religious pluralism, imposing (usually by some forms of constraint) only one religious view to its community, would exclude in the end a true freedom of choice. But, in this way, it would exclude also a true act faith, and, in the end, it would deny itself, because true religion cannot exist without true freedom of faith and belief. Practical consequences of such reality should be taken into serious consideration and discussed openly by all partners of interreligious dialogue, overcoming atavist fears and taboos. In our present predicament, this holds true for both Christianity and Islam, in whose concrete history, as said above, a lot of compulsion has been exerted on their communities. It should be noted that prophets in all religions, and so also in Biblical and Koranic stories, came up into a world contrary to their message. They had to fight against opponents and managed to convert people not by imposition and force, but by calling to conviction and truth, through their personal witness. Freedom is the basis of all true prophetical preaching. This essential principle should be re-affirmed and put into practice by all, avoiding any kind of ‘religious’ tribalism.

One should also add that we enter into dialogue because we are different. It would seem a truism, but very often we forget the fact that true dialogue supposes partners that are really different, and not homologous associates from the start. All attempts to set up an interreligious dialogue by playing down differences among religions have ended to a superficial and generic concordism with no solid theoretical ground and no significant practical results. Otherness and identity do not necessarily exclude each other; neither do they necessarily cancel each other. On the contrary, they should call for and strengthen each other. Self-comprehension is not obliterated, but amplified through openness to the other, the different. This can be proved by the concrete praxis of interreligious dialogue.

2-2. God’s Freedom in Self-revelation

In the reflection on religious pluralism, another important question comes to the fore, which could be designated as ‘God’s freedom in His revelation’. This question too is often forgotten by our usual discourse on God, done as if we have already solved in our terms the Absolute Mystery which is God. One should start by stressing that God, the Absolute, is and always remains free to reveal Himself in the way, in the place and time and to whom He chooses, without any precondition on the part of his creatures, in our instance, of us humans.

In fact, the Absolute, who is the ultimate aspiration of the human heart, cannot possibly be a product of human being himself. That would amount to an idol, and so a deep and radical deception about the very nature of human identity. The Absolute, the final goal of the human pilgrimage, reveals ultimately to be what is the most indispensable and necessary to the human being, so that this cannot have any meaning without Him. But, at the same time, He shows to be the most independent reality from human being, and can only be received as a free gift and grace, far from any human reach or manipulation. The Absolute remains always sovereignly free of disposing of Himself: He communicates Himself in the way He wants, without any previous condition imposed upon Him by anybody. This is the very heart of all mystical experience, a point on which one can find interesting consonances and accords among the various mystical traditions, the Abrahamic in particular: Jewish, Christian and Islamic.

But here, a very fundamental question arises that concerns all religious traditions. Must the Absolute necessarily remain only a far remote horizon, as an asymptotic goal, towards which the human being projects his existence without receiving any answer? Must the Absolute necessarily continue to be, as it were, closed up as if prisoner of his own transcendence? Can He not make Himself present in human history and reveal Himself explicitly to the human pilgrim? Who can dare put previous conditions to the being and acting of the Absolute, fixing for Him what He can or cannot do? The journey towards Him, if it is an authentic quest of Him, cannot be done but in a humble waiting of His possible advent even into human history, if this is His will. The Absolute is always free of disposing of Himself, without any condition. Only an unconditioned openness to and waiting for Him on the part of the humans can be considered the sole pre-requisite the Absolute himself has put in the human heart, so that He can reveal Himself and give Himself to him, as He freely chooses. This is well expressed in the famous words of St. Augustine: “You have made us for You, [o Lord], and our heart will always be restless till it finds its rest in You” (Confessions 1, 1). And this is also the fundamental experience of mystics of all religions.

Thus, the basic question all religious traditions have to face, the Abrahamic in particular, may be formulated in the following terms. Must God, the ultimate Mystery towards which the human being is oriented, necessarily remain closed up in his transcendence, as if into a limit insurmountable even to Himself? Or, is He not free and powerful enough to give to his creatures not only some gifts and qualities (a fact that Islamic tradition as well as other mystical traditions admit without difficulty), but of communicating ‘Him-Self’, say, ‘His very Self’ to his creatures, going beyond any presumed limit fixed by His transcendence? Different answers are found in world religions to such question, and a deep exchange on such level would be of most utility and interest for all. Christian faith, on the basis of the revelation coming from God himself as absolute and unconditioned love, “God is love” (1 Jn 4, 8.16), has given a positive answer to this question. In such vision, the reality of ‘being-God’ does not mean in the first His isolation in a transcendent and absolute unity, unapproachable to his creatures. Being-God means here in the first His transcendent power of communicating Him-self, precisely ‘His very Self’, outside Himself, in a free, surely, but also absolute and total Self-communication. And this can happen because God is together absolute Power and absolute Love.

Christian faith sees that creation is actually a first step of God’s Self-communication, called ‘exterior’ to God, i.e., outside Himself. However, such an exterior Self-communication has its root and its source in the interior Self-communication of God of Himself to Himself. God, in fact, in His essence is essential Communion, because in Himself He is the eternal Love, the eternal Lover and the eternal Beloved. This is the essence of the Trinitarian mystery. And it is precisely because He is Love that He creates, and is and remains free and powerful to communicate not only ‘some things or qualities’, but Him-self, His very Self, outside Himself, to his creatures, that remain always free to accept or not such Divine Self-communication. In Christian vision, this Divine Reality is the first and ultimate root of the ‘divinization’ (theiôsis) of the human being, a thought summarized by the Fathers of the Church in the well-known theologoumenon: “God has become human being so that the human being might become God’, not by right, of course, but by grace; and this because God wanted to freely communicate his Divine life to human being.

It is interesting to note that similar reflections may be found in many other religious traditions, even in those far from the Abrahamitic ones. In the Buddhist tradition of Amida Buddha, for instance, contrary to the traditional idea centered on only the Divine transcendence, the idea of the ‘trans-descendence’ of Amida Buddha is underlined, because Amida Buddha gratuitously communicates Himself to his faithful bestowing on them salvation, as absolutely free gift of his love and mercy for them.
Here too, fathoming the deep Mystery of God, a vast space is open to dialogue and exchange for a mutual comprehension among different religious traditions. Such Mystery has been experienced and perceived in many religious traditions, in their mystical currents in particular, as a Mystery of absolute love, a Mystery not only transcendent, but also trans-descendent, because He wanted to be known by his creatures and to communicate Himself to them in the most inconceivable way, up to the point of giving his very ‘Self’ and inner Communion to them. Besides, God’s freedom in giving Himself must always be affirmed together with human freedom of accepting His gift or not. In fact, the event of God’s self-revelation implies always the encounter of two freedoms: that of God and that of humans. In the end, God’s self-revelation appears always a profound mystery only God can know and judge, with no interference on the part of humans or human institutions.

Here lays also the drama of all mystical experience. Mystics, in fact, who have undergone a true encounter with God, the Absolute, have experienced that all human limits in which our common existence is bound, i.e., the limits of space and time, have been in some way overcome. At that level happens the encounter with the Absolute Reality, a Reality that cannot become possession or dominion of anybody, nor can it be constricted into a particular milieu or culture. At the level of mystical experience ‘only the Spirit is the law’, says St. John of the Cross (d. 1591), and human being is ‘adorned with the Divine Attributes’, say Muslim Sufis, becoming the servant-Lord (‘abd rabbnî), according to a famous expression of Ibn ‘Arabî.

In the end, one must also add that leading a human being to the ‘face to face’ encounter with the Absolute Mystery means helping him achieving his deepest vocation and identity. This is the fundamental task of all religious traditions, and especially of their mystical paths. Human and Divine freedoms should be here absolutely granted and protected. This point, too, should become a most important and vast field open to encounter, dialogue and cooperation at all levels. Here, freedom must be granted to all, freedom of believing on the part of humans, but also freedom of revelation on the part of God. Only in such mysterious encounter between God’s absolute love and power with human freedom can true faith, and inside it true mystical experience take place. From this point of view, true mystics have always been upholders of freedom, freedom from the limits of an exterior, purely juridical interpretation of Divine revelation, freedom from the ‘idols of the tribe’ (Francis Bacon, d. 1626), i.e., the common places of popular mentality. Mystic is one who dared dive into the Divine Mystery finding in it his deepest identity, and the ultimate meaning of all. At this point, we can understand better the meaning of Christ’s words: “Truth will set you free”, (Jo 8, 31), and the importance of the Koranic declaration: “No constriction in religion” (2, 256). As said above, these two statements are strictly correlated and complementary, therefore they should be scrupulously put into practice by the believers of Abrahamic traditions, first, and then by those of other religious traditions too. But, one should frankly ask, has been our practice in the past, and is it now in the present, really coherent with such basic statements on human freedom of belief? This is a very important question to be faced by all, openly and without escapism, making, if required, the necessary correction of one’s own praxis. And this too in an essential point of interreligious dialogue.

3. Freedom of Witness and Expression

From the above considerations, some important conclusions may be drawn.
It has been pointed out that the act of faith, which is the very core of all religions, is the meeting event of two freedoms: human’s and God’s. Both freedoms must be taken into consideration and protected in all religions, if a religion intends to be so, i.e., a path leading to God, and not a human ideology or a human system aiming at imposing itself on people by constriction, as it has been the case many a time in history.

Faith must be a free choice on the part of human being in the vital field of religious life. Religious life, in fact, does not touch just the peripheral sphere of human existence, but its very core, because it touches the ultimate meaning of human existence, where human being makes his ultimate choice in front of the Absolute, God, and therefore his ‘absolute’ choice. Therefore, faith, in order to be a free choice, must be based on a true freedom of questioning and research, even of doubting, changing and choosing again one’s own stand on the part of human being. Without such premise, faith will not be a free, but a compulsory act. In this way, however, it will contradicts its very core, nullifying the very heart of religion, acting against God, the source and protector of human freedom. And in this way, it will also go against the basic tenets of religious freedom.

On the other side, as it has been shown above, religion comes as a revelation of God, who always remains the Absolute Freedom, always free of disposing of Himself without any pre-condition on the part of his creatures, and the human being in them. God is and remains free of revealing Himself in the way, place and time, and to whom He chooses, free to give not only things, but even Himself, His very Self, transcending His own transcendence, which cannot be for Him a unsurpassable limit, in a trans-descendent act of coming down to us, His creatures. Such Divine Freedom too should be taken as an important point of interreligious dialogue.
Consequently, from such premises, one must conclude that a human being who has experimented in freedom the free gift of God, His pure grace, the absolute gift of His Presence, but the gift of His own Self, such a human being finds himself charged with a mission on God’s side. Hence, he must be free to witness such an event that happened to him, passing it over to other human beings in free encounter and dialogue. In fact, as said above, leading a human being to the ‘face to face’ encounter with the Absolute Mystery means helping him achieving his deepest vocation and identity. Consequently, nobody should prevent anybody else from such a mission and such a gift. It should be noted also that freedom of witness must be carefully distinguished from freedom of propaganda and proselytism which implies many times subtle means of persuasion and pressure, but not of free conviction, as happens in the stifling commercial propaganda that is conditioning our daily life. Thus, freedom of witness must be granted to everybody. Actually, this has been in the end the experience of the prophets in all religions who stand up against the world surrounding them.

In conclusion, freedom of religion for all and each human being, in all times and space, should be a basic reality to be upheld and fostered, protected and defended by all. Such freedom is not only a mere human right, but is a Divine disposition, even a Divine Reality, since God is the Absolute Freedom, and He is the source and foundation of human freedom. A religion that does not care about human freedom will contradict itself, will be in the end a non-religion, perhaps because it has become just a ‘tribal religion’, closed in the limits of its tribe of adepts, or a human ideology, trying to conquer people by imposing on to them its vision, or just a human system of power, in which religion is used as instrumentum imperii, i.e., a means for dominion, playing the role of ‘spiritual support’ of it. In any case, such a religion has betrayed the true meaning and real mission of its being ‘religion’, and consequently it has also betrayed its origin and founder: God, the Absolute, who is the first ground of human freedom.

I think that these are important issues every religion should face, and they should be taken very earnestly by all, in our predicament by Christianity and Islam in particular, becoming a basic agenda for interreligious dialogue and exchange, self-exam and proposal.

P. Giuseppe Scattolin



(1) I refer here particularly to the vision of Karl Rahner (m. 1984), one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the XXth century and also one of the main contributors to the Second Vatican Council. In my view, he managed to assume the questioning of modern thinking in a positive theological approach, offering a convincing synthesis of theological reflection and philosophical questioning; see Karl Rahner, Spirit in the World, (German or. Geist in Welt, ed. by Johannes Baptist Metz, Münich, Kösel Verlag, 1957), Engl. trans. by William Dych, London, Sheed and Ward, 1998 (1st Engl. ed. 1968), in particular pp. 57-65; id., Hearers of the Word, (German or. Hörer des Wortes, ed. by Johannes Baptist Metz, Münich, Kösel Verlag, 1963), Engl. transl. by Ronald Walls, London, Sheed and Ward, 1969.

Articoli correlati