[BASILICA DI SAN FRANCESCO, ASSISI] Speaking to some 300 representatives of the world's major religions gathered in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Pope Benedict XVI this morning expressed shame for the complicity of faith in violence and praised agnostics and other "searchers" for helping to purify faith. The speech is here.
Marking the 25th anniversary of the first interreligious gathering in the home town of St Francis called by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict sought to engage western secularism on one of its most favoured terrains. He said the post-Enlightenment critique of religion as a cause of violence was valid when "religion really does motivate violence", and that the "reckless brutality" of religiously-motivated terrorism "should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons".
He repeated the emphatic declaration of Assisi I in 1986 that religiously-inspired violence was the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction. But he was also careful to acknowledge the point that the question of whether there is a "common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all" was unsettled, and that answering that question was one of the tasks of interreligious dialogue.
He then went on to consider a second kind of violence, one brought about by the denial of God.
As well as the horrors of "state-inspired atheism", he said the denial of God brought about "the decline of man and humanity". The worship of money and power had become a kind of "counter-religion" in which only personal advantage mattered. Such a conception, he said, leads necessarily to force being taken for granted, as a result of which "peace is destroyed and man destroys himself in this peace vacuum". The denial of God, he said, "corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence".
He also acknowledged the growth of agnosticism, which rejects the "false certainty" of militant atheism and does not give up on the possibility of truth and the possibility of living by it.
Such agnostics, he said, "challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others".
The Catholic Church, he concluded, "will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world.