8. Broadening Reason
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C H A P T E R 8 Broadening Reason In his historic lecture at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI challenged all of us to a “broadening of our concept of reason and its application.”1 Is this broadening of reason possible? On what conditions? The Scope of the Question A sincere and honest approach to this challenge thrown down by the pope must, first of all, not make us ignore the objective difficulties in which we find ourselves immersed historically. Each person, whose reason originally takes the form of “unexhausted openness” before the “unexhausted call of the real,”2 as the boundless curiosity of children testifies, comes into the world within the historical context of a people.3 And every people possesses a culture, that is, a way of looking at and conceiving reality, of relating to it. As Romano Guardini 101 acutely observed, culture is “all that man creates and is in his living encounter with the reality that surrounds him.”4 So, every new member of a people is introduced into reality by means of the culture of her people, her tradition, and she is historically defined by it. Is it possible for a person necessarily marked by her own culture to broaden reason so as to enter into relationship with other people who are likewise marked by their cultures? No one can fail to see the importance of this question for our present-day situation. The context in which we find ourselves is clearly marked by the possibility of large-scale migrations and encounters between different peoples, in an undoubtedly new situation for the history of humankind . The difficulty in answering this challenge is visible in the fact that it seems that there are no solutions other than, on one hand, the clash between cultures and civilizations, with the risk of exploding into violence, and, on the other hand, the indifference expressed in multiculturalism. But there is a fact that sets another possibility before our eyes. The Cultural Value of a Friendship Two people, a professor and a student, Wael Farouq and Paolo, meet because Paolo wants to study Arabic. They belong to two different worlds—one is a Muslim, the other a Catholic. They are both inevitably conditioned by their respective settings. But something unexpected happens: they become friends. This event forces each of them to try to understand the other, to open up his reason beyond the extent to which he had formerly looked at the other until that moment . It is friendship as a real fact that forces the two of them to broaden their reason, because each one wants to identify with his friend, to learn the other’s way of perceiving, to discover the other beyond all stereotypes. It seems a tiny, a minute experience compared with all the problems of today’s world, but the fact that two people belonging to such foreign worlds meet and become friends, and that this is the beginning of a journey that leads to mutual knowledge thanks to their readiness to broaden their reason, is not simply a private issue, however edifying. It has an importance much wider than 102 An Event of Rebirth the perimeter of the relationship between the two. Their experience constitutes something truly new in a cultural context that hovers between clash and indifference. But before deepening the cultural importance of their personal relationship, let’s stop a moment to take the fact in. What enables us to be friends even though we are historically determined by different traditions and cultures? It is a presence in each of us—whatever latitude of the planet we are born at—of the same elementary experience, a “complex of original needs and ‘evidences .’ So original are these needs or these ‘evidences’ that everything that man does or says depends upon them.”5 We can identify this structural human identity with the biblical term “heart.” “The need for truth, for love, for justice, for happiness—these questions make up the human heart, make up the essence of reason, that is, of the awareness a person has of reality in the whole of its factors.”6 Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger indicated this essence common to all human beings as the radical condition necessary to make encounter and friendship possible between persons, cultures, and traditions . He stated in 2003: “A meeting of cultures is possible because man, in all the variety of his history and of his social structures and customs, is a single...