Wednesday, December 30, 2009


On Christmas eve my thirteen-year-old grandson was breathing down my neck, waiting for me to finish and have the computer to access the web for his games. So I couldn't really give to It's a wonderful life all its due.

I said already that I love old Hollywood movies, because, as the Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell strongly said, America found in them one of her best self expressions, more originally her own than, say, in philosophy or theology, or in political theory, where it stayed pretty much in line with Europe.

Through movies America gave a mythical expression of herself, reaching with success beyond her borders. Nothing of the kind in Europe, where, besides great movies by great directors like Fellini or Bergman, the average production didn't have the same popular mythical appeal. For this was always preferred Hollywood.

Instead of mythical, I could have said archetypical. I won't explain what this means. I will illustrate it.

Little had people to do with the kings, princes and princesses of old fairytales and romances, or for that matter my grandson with the knights and warriors of his games, but it is to these that the imagination resorts. Little had the people of the East Coast to do with the heroes of the prairies that from Nineteenth Century pulp fiction passed into movies, and though John Wayne is there as a sort of American monument. The noble characters and exotic locations serve to remind that there are differences that in everyday life get blurred, which make good guys good and bad guys bad, women beautiful princesses or ugly witches, men brave or vile and cruel, and so on.

Here you have representations of the primary figures – call them archetypes – that make the plot of all possible stories into a myth.

And yet, "I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic," remarked some time ago Ralph Waldo Emerson, apparently speaking for himself, but actually making that "I" of his a spokesman for America, "I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low." If anything, this would mean a preference for ordinary, everyday stories, because – let me say – in themselves mythical. Again Hollywood provided for that.

It was enough, to be quizzical about life, and suggest that one way or another "it is a wonderful life", to tell the plain story of a young man who dreamt of traveling and doing great things… and indeed he did them, but with no need to go very far.

The villain of the movie is the callous capitalist who thinks any enterprise that doesn't give an immediate return in money superfluous. It easily reminds us of today. But the answer given by the movie to such a callousness it isn't to make government surrogate the private lack of concern.

The answer is to recast our lives in the archetype of gift: the sense of gratuitousness immanent to all human intercourse, that makes of any encounter an adventure, in which we put ourselves at stake with no need of going very far from home.

Of course we can measure the give and take, in some of its very conspicuous manifestations, with money, but this cannot replace the mutual concern represented by gift, and the trust – or fides – that comes from it: at the price of facing the hellish wondrousness of how life would have been if we hadn't put our heart in it.

I speak of the archetype represented by the Christmas gift exchange, evoked in the final scene of the movie, when all the good gratuitously done brings its return of equally gratuitous thanks.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Puer Natus Est Nobis!

Best wishes at Christmastide to all our readers from the LD and the HP!

Please pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who was attacked last night while processing at Midnight Mass.

Merry Christmas!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

It is a wonderful life

I forgot, when I mentioned my liking the old Hollywood movies, to name the one most pertinent these days:

It's a wonderful life.

If someone of you has never seen it, should go and buy or rent the DVD to watch it. It is a rare statement on the beauty of life.

Just in case, I summarize the plot.

It starts with a dialogue, high in the sky, between two stars: it is S. Peter telling S. Joseph to send someone to save a man in danger. Here starts the story.

A young man, anywhere in Middle America before WWII, dreams of travelling the world, but, for one reason or another, he never succeeds in doing it. It always happens something keeping him from it. Most of all, his father dies, and he has to stay to run his Savings and Loan firm, which otherwise would have been closed. And so on and so forth. At a certain point, though, something happens that puts the Savings and Loans to which he dedicated his life in sure danger, and he feels desperate. He wants to drown himself in the river, but is saved by a funny little man, who feigns drowning to get his help. But the good deed doesn't help him out of his black mood.

"Better were not to have been born!"

These are (more or less) the words of despair, echoing Job.

Well, tells him the funny little man (actually an angel sent by S. Joseph), if that is what you want, it will be granted to you.

So he is given the chance to see the world as it would have been had he not been born. All the good he had done, would not have been there. I won't stay to tell which.

Rarely I have seen an equally powerful statement on the meaning of life: the more worthy, the more one has given.

It's all about gift-giving. And Christmas.

The whole drama of despair and salvation takes place at Christmas. When it is time of giving thanks. So the movie ends with everybody chipping in to help out of troubles one who so much had helped others.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nostalgia and hope

I have a nice CD with old recordings of Christmas songs by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, that my wife and I are willingly listening to these days.

What do I want to say with this.

There is a funny mixture of feelings those old recordings arouse in me that make me want to say it. A love for Christmas, when it's time "to glory the new born king" (as the verse of a song says); and a love for America, where I became a man; and, who knows, perhaps a love for old times. When Hollywood made the movies I grew up loving, like the talkies in black and white of the Thirties and Forties.

A teacher of mine, Will Herberg, wrote a book entitled Protestant Catholic and Jew, describing the making of America as a land of immigration. By way of this, America has been able to turn herself mythical: allowing a storytelling drawing its ethos from the biblical story of Exodus, capable of a universal message I learned to appreciate even before my stay in the USA.

That's why those old recordings fill me with a vague sense of nostalgia and hope: that America may keep that mythical sense of herself alive, against the temptation to imitate Europe, where it has been lost.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

O Sapientia!

Holy Church enters the final week of preparation for the feast of Christmas, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord.

She groans in agonized anticipation, She shouts with uncontainable joy, She sighs in exquisite longing.

All the time, She sings.

Today She sings: O Sapientia! quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

Today's antiphon expresses a profound and mysterious truth of faith: Wisdom took on human flesh and dwelt among us. His words were the Word, perfect intelligibility made ours. The lesson teaches more, thoughç every breath He drew, every raised finger, every shift in place, every arched eyebrow, taught as perfectly as the most sublime word. His final breath would break the power of Hell and restore us all to friendship with Heaven.

A power greater, more
beautifully ancient and infinitely more perfect even than the cosmos, He came into His kingdom mute and helpless. Even then, He was teaching us the way of prudence: place yourselves entirely in Mary's care.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mary and the Church

I remember reading many years ago an essay by H. U. von Balthasar (to the judgment of many, including your HP, the main Catholic theologian of the Twentieth Century), entitled "Who is the Church". I was at the beginning of my philosophical and theological studies, and I expected some dissertation on the people in the Church, and what makes them faithful members of it. I tell you my surprise when I found the essay asserting the identification of the "who the church is" in Peter and Mary, in order to discuss the relation between the two.

It is far from our mentality to think of individual persons as representative of a collectivity, but that is the way Christians have been thinking for centuries. In this key, Peter and Mary (as well as the other important persons surrounding Christ in the New testament, like John and Paul), are primary figures of the different components of the Church that sprung from him.

Well, Peter represents the express leading office, liturgical and doctrinal, in the Church; but it is such only in as far as he is at the service of Mary, who represents the spiritual fecundity of the Church. Peter, in his fallibility, is preserved unerring by adhering to Mary.

Without these premises I could not comment on the Magnificat, and how it refers traditional Old Testament warlike images of God assisting his people – as he who "shewed might in his arm", "scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart", "put down the mighty from their seat" and "exalted the humble" – to what happens in a woman's womb.

Not just that woman's womb, whom all generations shall call blessed, but the Church's womb.

It is the divine fecundity of any man and woman in the Church. But carnally it is women who carry any baby by whom the kingdom is to grow.

Here I need another erudite quote to explain what this meant in Christian civilization – what it meant, I say, because now days it is heavily under attack.

The great Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye wrote a book entitled The secular scripture, in which he analyzed the late antiquity novels as expression of popular culture. Their typical plot was the adventures of two lovers, a hero and a heroin both of high birth, severed before they could marry, running in search of each other, falling in the hands of pirates or such like things, until they could finally reunite and be joined in marriage.

I mention it, because of an important observation by Frye. Both lovers were very attentive in preserving their virginity: he from the seduction of some femme fatal, she from the threat of rape by pirates or other nasty men. As always, though, the main emphasis fell on the woman's virginity: it is with her that the loss of it could have the gravest consequences! Frye remarked that by preserving her virginity the heroin differentiated herself from promiscuous little servants, shepherdesses, peasants women. A king's daughter, she had to bear a king's son.

It comes to my mind, on this regard, Elisabeth of Pride and Prejudice, when, in her dialogue with Darcy's aunt, lady Catherine, who wants to keep her from marrying him, retorts: "He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman's daughter."

In Christian marriage, however, with its monogamous requirement, every man and woman is a king (or a gentleman) and a king's (or a gentleman's) daughter. Because they all represent the Church's womb, from which they again give birth to a king.

John Adams understood this: that there are two ways of conceiving democracy, that there are no kings or that everybody is called to be king. He stood for the second, but there is a widespread tendency toward the first. As always, mostly represented in sexual mores.

Since the late Sixties, promiscuousness seems to have won the day. It has been portrayed as the result of a movement of emancipation, making everybody free in his pursuit, if not precisely of happiness, at least of pleasure. But Frye's remark makes me strongly suspicious that it was rather the opposite, turning all men and women into servants.

That's when we are no longer able to say, with Mary, "he that is mighty, hath done great things to me".


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent and Mary (to be cont’d)

The LD has reminded the meaning of Advent: hopeful expectation of the heavenly King to come, born of an earthly woman to liberate mankind from the power of the diabolon, the divisive one, who holds all men and women in fetters, prisoners of that concern about themselves that makes them incapable of communicating in peace and justice.

In our democratic society we are not used to take this Christian talk of kingship (in spite of the last Sunday before Advent) seriously. The only one to my knowledge who did it was the second President of the USA, John Adams; and he run into trouble because of it, being judged unworthy of a scrap of monument in Washington, he, the son of a yeoman from Massachusetts, over against the great one deserved by the true democrat slaveholder from Virginia.

At best we take this king talk as a kind of metaphor drawn from worldly political reality to express something religious. Even metaphors, however, don't work if we don't grant any reality to the image that is vehicle for us of further meanings. But it is not a metaphor that a young woman gave birth to a child to be named Jesus, later proclaimed the Christ (the anointed one, as ancient Israel's kings were) by people who perceived him as the bearer of reconciliation among men, made participant of the caritas that Deus est.

In short, they perceived in him the beginning of a new kingdom of peace and justice.

The beginning: that is the problem. Therefore the LD rightly reminded that Advent is a time of spiritual warfare: of a resolve toward an always new birth of the king by which the kingdom can grow.

The place where the war is decided is a woman's womb.

Let's read Mary's great hymn of praise in the gospel of s. Luke known a Magnificat (Douay-Rheims translation).

My soul doth magnify the Lord.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;

for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Because he that is mighty,

hath done great things to me;

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is from generation unto generations,

to them that fear him.

He hath shewed might in his arm:

he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,

and hath exalted the humble.

He hath filled the hungry with good things;

and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath received Israel his servant,

being mindful of his mercy:

As he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his seed for ever.



Friday, December 11, 2009

It is Advent again, in case you had not noticed (and you would not have, if all you do is read this blog).

As we approach Gaudete! Sunday, I would like, however belatedly, to get into the spirit of the season.

To that end, i have transcribed the Advent announcement from Vatican Radio, which aired on the evening of Pope Benedict's celebration of the First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent:

Advent is the first of the liturgical seasons: its coming marks the turning of the liturgical year. Advent is a privileged season - a time the Church ahs set aside for prayerful reflection on the truth we know by faith: that Christ, the Glorious King, is coming soon to judge the world.

The Church in Advent waits in joyful hope for the coming of her Savior, and in preparation for that coming, she does penance and makes acts of reparation for past sins.In her official public worship, the Church proclaims Christ the Lord of creation, and implores the protection of His merciful divinity from the insults of the enemy, Satan, the Prince of Darkness, who, sensing that the time of his reign is nearing its end, increases his efforts to ensnare and enslave the children of God.

Advent is a season of war - of spiritual strife between the victorious forces of God, and the defeated though active, not yet fully vanquished forces of the fallen angels.

In this preternatural struggle for the souls of those for whom Christ won His supernatural victory, the People of God in the New Israel that is the Church cry out for deliverance with increasing intensity, and they do so in the voice, and with the prayers of ancient Israel.

The final seven days of Advent hear proclaimed the ancient O! antiphons - the cry of the heart of the People of God: O Wisdom! O Lord and Leader! O Shoot of Jesse! O Key of David! O RIsing Sun! O King! O Emmanuel! (The great spiritual adventure that is Advent begins again this Saturday at Vespers)
If I am not mistaken, the HP is reasonably well-acquainted with the reporter who wrote the text.

Those who heard the piece when it aired noticed the use of the Conditor alme siderum at the beginning, and the Veni, veni Emmanuel at the end.

Two of this Lazy Disciple's favorite hymns.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The surprises of translation

It is always for me a great source of wonderment: how come, being the same books, and with them the same evidence and arguments I rely on in my thinking, available to everybody, others don't seem to take them into account, and, even if they do, they are drawn to very different conclusions?

This means that there is more involved in thinking than sheer inference from evidence, or simply conforming to a "method" qualified as "scientific".

After the Swiss referendum that turned down the building of minarets, I read an interview to a Jesuit father, expressing his disapproval. "Who is afraid of people praying?", he provocatively asked.

"Well, nobody", is the simple answer, "as long as what they do is simply praying."

What else can it be? I could be asked in return.

My readings about Islam give a clear answer: a way of marking a territory as one's own. They say that setting up a mosque, possibly with a minaret and a muezzin calling to prayer from it, is for self-conscious Muslims a way to reclaim that place as dar al Islam, territory of Islam.

Hence the wonderment a spoke about. Didn't that Jesuit read the same things I did? Yes, and probably more. So, why does he brand as fear of diversity the wariness before Muslim immigration and the consequent proliferation of mosques? Couldn't it be the expression by a people of a right concern for their future freedom?

And though, that Jesuit father doesn't think so. Why? I ask myself.

Because, he says, praying is a religious matter, and claiming a territory a political and diplomatic one. And, he claims, they are separate matters, not to be mingled, as it would be the case if we were to ask Islamic countries for reciprocity: to have them allow us to build our churches while we allow them to build their mosques, with or without minarets.

I can't enter into the motivations of his wanting to think so. But I can question his distinction of politics and religion, deep down in its ground.

I do it by asking him for an effort at reciprocity: in translation.

Before people to whom we want grant the right to pray because it is a religious matter, the first thing to do is to look in their language, whether there is in it a word that translates our religion: not the Latin word, but the word as it is currently used, meaning something that stands by itself.

If not, we should beware.

We should beware them, but not just them, also the saying that what they do is just praying.

The lack of translation word by word should work reciprocally, with a feedback on our conceptual distinctions, making us realize that what we call "religion" and "politics", or for that matter "culture" (with all that falls into it), variously overlap in one or more words of the languages in which we would have liked to translate them.

This means that they are abstract words, that don't name anything existing separately, but only aspects of the same thing: what we do when in action and/or speech we define our world.

In any case, we advance a claim to know (let's call it "science"), and that our knowledge is the right reading of how things human and divine are (let's call it "religion"), and that in this reading we should find the bond that ties us together (let's call it "politics"). In any case, I repeat, whatever the way (let's call it "culture") in which we do it.

To keep acritically these distinctions, is a way to hide the issues involved in the process of communication, at all levels, among people, moved, it might be, by the most sincere will to dialogue, with no other result, though, than exempting oneself from taking note of the dangers present in that process.

All said, my wonderment doesn't really go away. It stays, before what appears a self-inflicted blindness, due to a will to dialogue that doesn't want to notice how it runs against its desires. Addressing people on the basis of distinctions that they don't make – like when one qualifies as their "religion" what for them is just the way things are – means not to take them seriously. And to anger them more.


Friday, December 04, 2009

On War, and Words, and Wars of Words, cont'd

The conversation into which I interjected myself has continued fruitfully in the combox below the post by which I accomplished my interjection.

Indeed, my absence this weekend has allowed the HP to elaborate the main thrust of the argument clearly and succinctly.

I would like to elaborate on the points he has raised, taking as my starting point his invocation of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I am fairly certain the HP, in invoking the Angelic Doctor, had in mind the following text from the opening paragraphs of the Summa contra gentes:

To proceed against individual errors, however, is a difficult business, and this for two reasons. In the first place, it is difficult because the sacrilegious remarks of individual men who have erred are not so well known to us so that we may use what they say as the basis of proceeding to a refutation of their errors. This is, indeed, the method that the ancient Doctors of the Church used in the refutation of the errors of the Gentiles. For they could know the positions taken by the Gentiles since they themselves had been Gentiles, or at least had lived among the Gentiles and had been instructed in their teaching. In the second place, it is difficult because some of them, such as the Mohammedans and the pagans, do not agree with us in accepting the authority of any Scripture, by which they may be convinced of their error. Thus, against the Jews we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while against heretics we are able to argue by means of the New Testament. But the Muslims and the pagans accept neither the one nor the other. We must, therefore, have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent. However, it is true, in divine matters the natural reason has its failings. SCG I.2.iii (quoting from the Pegis translation of Book I, available in its entirety here)
The reason for which the Old and New Testaments are useless for the purposes of proving the erroneous nature of pagan theology, should be clear: the OT and NT are not their sacred texts - which is to say they are not recognized as authoritative. An appeal to their contents canot, therefore, serve as proof of a disputed question.

The Old and New Testaments are similarly useless for the purposes of theological disputation with Muslims. The reason for this is the supersessionist presupposition of Islam: the Qur'an is God's final reveleation, and it replaces His earlier revelations. Importantly, the principle is applied to interpretation of the Qur'an itself, as well - later verses (surrahs) control earlier ones, so the question of a surrah's composition (the question as to when a verse was "handed down" to use the Muslims' own technical terminology) becomes essential (and we will see why this matters later on, when we consider a specific case).

If, therefore, we are to convince a Muslim interlocutor of the truth of Christianity, we have no choice but to begin by proving that the Qur'an is not plausible as the definitive statement of God's revelation to humanity, and so on the grounds that it directly and irreconcilably contradicts at least one of the ultimate truths, which human beings may know by the working of reason without an appeal to the authority of the data of faith.

On this reading, the science of philosophy provides the only space for dialogue among Christians and Muslims.

That Christians can practice philosophy without compromising their faith commitments is a long-established fact in the Catholic tradition.

Muslims, however, are necessarily embarrassed by philosophical dialogue, and so for two reasons, one "doctrinal" and the other historical, though closely and perceptably linked to the doctrinal reason.

Basically, one becomes a Muslim by making an act of islam - of submission - to the will of the One God. The will of the One God is manifest in al-Qur'an, literally the prounouncement, or promulgation (or declamation or recitation) of God's prophet, a merchant named Muhammad.

According to this al-Qur'an, this pronouncement, God is perfectly One, absolutely transcendent, and utterly ineffable. Even His one-ness is known only and entirely through submission to His manifest will. To make any attempt to penetrate, by means of human reason, the inner life of the Divine, were to risk impiety.

The end of philosophy is precisely the knoweldge of God.

So, the Muslim finds himself under a sort of crisis whenever he attempts to think God's thoughts, as it were.

This, on its own, were not enough to exclude the Muslims from philosophy a priori. Indeed, there were, during the first few centuries of Islamic ascendancy, thriving schools of speculative theology, and the thought of the principal exponents of those schools greatly influenced Western intellectual history.

The problem is, the schools were suppressed, and most of the teachers executed, banished, forced to recant or otherwise silenced - and this was not an accident.

The Arabic word for speculative conversation is kalaam, which ideally renders the Greek dia-logos, from which we have the English, "dialogue". The question in the first few Islamic centuries was which would be the chief science: would it be kalaam, or rather the positive legal science known as Shari'a, roughly, "the way" or "the path"? The Muslim world, through its leaders, opted for that, which is admittedly the more internally coherent alternative: the primacy of positive legal science.

Now the problem comes fully into view: speculative reason cannot submit to positive law, and remain properly speculative. To insist on the primacy of positive legal science entails not merely the demotion of speculative reason, but the dismissal of speculation as basically irrelevant to the human community.

Said shortly, the current state of Islamic self-understanding is such that dialogue among speculative thinkers is not so much impossible, as it is irrelevant.

What must be found is a way to enter conversation with Muslim legal scholars, who alone speak authoritatively within their communities.

More on this next time...


Thursday, December 03, 2009

On War, and Words, and Wars of Words

The discussion being conducted by my friend and mentor, the HP, with our dear reader, Maria, has ssen so many important issues raised, and so many good points made on all sides of them, that I am almost embarrassed when I attempt to enter the discussion.

There are two points that bear further consideration, to be sure:

The first is the question whether there can be a permanent relationship between Islam and Christianity that is not essentially that of war.

I answer this question with the learning of my Medieval masters, who tell me that the proper answer to complex questions is usually: sic et non, "yes and no".

Maria's close ties to a Muslim family are more than a powerful argument: their existence constitutes that absolute and tyrannical bane of all argument, however powerful, however eloquently couched; those ties are a fact, against which no mere argument may resist.

The fact, however, proves only that people who profess and practice Islam and people who profess and practice Christianity are capable of friendship.

What is at stake in the question, however, is something different: the question is, in essence, whether there exist the intellectual prequisites for dia-logos among Christians and Muslims.

In an earlier post, I dealt with a similar question, from the side of peace: I asked whether Islam is a religion of peace, and answered that the question is unanswerable, insofar as the question is so poorly formulated, with such naivete, as to be useless for the purposes of critical discourse.

Without re-hashing that issue, I can say that peace and war are technical terms in the juridical lexicon, they refer to states of affairs obtaining among human societies, or within a given human society.

When there is the tendency toward violence, and the general absence of faith (again, in the Roman juridical sense of fides - though Christianity has introduced a measure of faith among civilized peoples, which not even war may suspend or abrogate), then there is war. Among different peoples, the Greeks called this condition polemos. When the condition obtained within a given political society, they called it stasis.

Now, on these bases, we may proceed to consider whether any other condition than polemos is possible among Muslims and Christians.

I purpose to offer considerations in this regard at my earliest convenience.

Now, to air.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The war post-war

I have been asked an intriguing question: whether we are headed toward something that could be called a "post-war" era.

Well, in a way yes, in the same way in which we speak of a "post-modern" era: it's matter after all of the same "post-".

I beware of this "post-" jargon, that with theological overtones takes something as point of reference for a before and after; but it is true that our idea of "war" is modern, and as such no longer apt for thinking the wars of today.

In 1625 Hugo Grotius wrote his De jure belli ac pacis, usually described as the first treatise of "international law". What it deals with is the constitution of States and the relation among them. The treatment is general, but actually it concerns Europe, after that the unitary sense of a res publica Christiana had dissolved into a mosaic of self enclosed territorial realities, singularly defining a certain status rei publicae (hence, in short, status, "state"). War was then defined as the open conflict among the States of which Europe was made, and had to be regulated by international law, that a 20th century author could therefore call the "European public law".

One thing was in fact the war on the European territory, and another that on the open see beyond a certain meridian on the Atlantic ocean, and on the oversee lands. Let's think of all the sagas of corsairs and pirates.

With the expanding European hegemonic power, all the different political realities throughout the world came to be seen as "States", to which international law extended. But in this way international law, and with it the law of war, came to lose the cogency it had until it had been mainly an European affair. It held, more or less, through the two world wars, slowly losing afterwards any meaning. A decisive turning point, however, was the Iranian blitz at the American embassy in Teheran, and the inadequate reaction of President Carter.

According to international law, it was a deliberate act of war, and the lack of reaction from Carter was like a sanction of the end of that law.

And still, we keep on thinking of war in terms of an almost defunct international law, not wanting to realize in public debate that it doesn't fit today's world reality.

That's why we are uncertain in our judgments about war: much of what we actually see happening resembles rather to what happened beyond the famous meridian I spoke about.

This means that the definition of war was inadequate since the very beginning. It didn't take into account what happened beyond the borders of Europe, or inside the borders of the European States.

Originally the main European States were dynastic realities. Slowly grew out of them the idea that triumphed in the 19th Century of the "nation-state": i.e. the idea that States should coincide with a people, defined by a common sense of belonging, living on a certain territory.

Here the real trouble started: due to the difficulty to circumscribe the territory of a people, and, most of all, of identifying a people. A hard enterprise even in Europe, it is resulted impossible for the new States formed after the dissolution of empires that followed the two world wars.

In America as well as in Europe today we tend to think that what makes the people of a State is simply the fact of being born or naturalized in its territory. So we have abandoned the old idea that what makes a people is that combination of shared language, tradition, religion that we call "culture".

We have declared ourselves "multicultural". Which can only mean two things: either that we simply declare ourselves nonexistent as people; or rather that the tolerant relativizing of all traditions and religions is the only culture.

When this is the case, we have a hard time to understand that for other peoples this might not be so, and that in the name of their tradition and religion they are ready to wage war. So, when they are not people territorially circumscribed by a State, we don't know what to think anymore. So much more, when we are dealing with individuals who came legally into our country, or were even born in it, who burst into shooting, put bombs, or throw airplanes against towers.

In the face of terrorism, therefore, some of us tend to negate that they are dealing with acts of war. Especially when those acts appear due to "religious" reasons. That's because the monoculture of multiculturalism has declared that "religions" are all equally good. If this is the case with the present administration, not even the previous one escaped from some ambiguity when Bush spoke of "war on terror", with an hesitation to make clear who the enemy was that perhaps contributed to the final disaffection of the American people.

Some, by negating "religious wars", tend to embrace a pacifism that wants to negate any war. Being for them an axiom that no one can wage war for "religious" reasons, then war should be only due to the economic imperialism of the USA. And even murderous tyrants as Saddam Hussein end by appearing to them as victims of an unlawful (according to a doubtful international law) invasion; so that Al Qaedists appear to them as resistants.

Bull shit.

Intellectual confusion.

To make some clarity in our public debates, we need then to redefine what war is. And, to avoid war of words, we need to rethink what religion is.