Recently, I attended a talk about “faith and reason” given by a prominent Maltese theologian (for whom I have the utmost respect). Typical of him, he was excellent in the delivery and technicality of his talk. What I did not like about it though, was the emphasis on “us and them”, believers and non-believers. I was probably the only non-believer in the room and so I felt as if he was speaking about me as the “bad” guy. During the discussion that followed, I was trying hard to articulate how to express myself but by the time I knew what to say, the time was up.
I think that if there is ever going to be a healthy dialogue between religious and non-religious people, we have to focus on what we have in common. And surprisingly, I think there is a fundamental thing which is common: the conviction that thinking is a positive endeavour. I would dare say that unless you focus on the profession of a creed, you would not find much difference in the moral behaviour of believers and non-believers: you will find good believers and good non-believers, and bad believers and bad non-believers.
However, if you split people into those who think and those who don’t think, then it is probably a different story altogether. While this may be a wild claim, to my joy, yesterday I discovered that in 1998 in Boston College, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, has been quoted as saying: “I don’t distinguish between believers and non-believers. I distinguish between people who think and who do not think. I ask all of you to be people who think.”
If all this is true, it seems that there is something more fundamental than believing and not believing; and that is the commitment to search the depths of the mystery of existence – the commitment to ask and think about the most fundamental of questions. This is what I call spirituality; a potential which everyone has but which unfortunately not everyone heeds to its calling. It is this spiritual element which I believe can improve the morality of the world and save us from mediocrity, conformity, etc.
As a consequence, it is in the interest of all humanity to educate and encourage people to ask questions and think about them. I cannot help but imagine what a better world it would be if educators focus on stimulating people to think instead of the preaching of “values”. It is not that values are wrong but that like many other things, people are expected to accept them as given. This attitude is then reflected in our poor scrutiny of our authorities, politicians, structures, circumstances, etc.
If only believers and non-believers alike could join forces and start worshipping questions rather than answers!