“The spirit of forgiveness” can be a fertile ground for the fruitful “contamination” between the Catholic and secular realms, as “authentic forgiveness encompasses the qualifying dimension of othernness, which doesn’t exclude a disenchanted understanding of the conflicting aspects.” Philosopher Giacomo Marramao, Professor of Theoretical philosophy and Political philosophy at Roma Tre University, drew an outline of the three years of Francis’ pontificate from the secular perspective “on the borderline with religion”, which is crossed when “ethics extend beyond the realm of ethics.” The ambitious goal: “a universalism of differences”, which, starting from the above-mentioned “contamination”, will ensure the continuity of the human race.
Professor, why is the theme of forgiveness considered an area of interest for secular philosophical thought?
In contemporary international philosophical thought – even before the papacy of Francis, who has given extraordinary momentum to this theme, especially with the indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy – the theme of forgiveness is of fundamental import. For example, Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida, starting from the impossibility of conceiving forgiveness after Nazi concentration camps, reached the conclusion that forgiveness can only be the ‘forgiveness of the unforgivable.’ When philosophy reaches such extreme, the realm of ethics extends beyond ethics itself and it encounters the realm of faith. This ‘ethics that extends beyond ethics’ places our thought on the borderline with religion.
The paradox of the faith is the rupture of all forms structuring the concept of atonement. Atonement is important, but forgiveness cannot be reduced to a structure of atonement.
However, we should be careful not to confuse forgiveness with laxity, the warning of the Pope…
It’s the bond with the Scriptures: with Jesus of Nazareth the idea propounded in Matthew 5, 23-24 tells us that notwithstanding the nucleus of atonement it is fundamental to preserve a ‘spirit of forgiveness’, namely, to be open to forgive those who have sinned against us. For Jesus, forgiveness is fundamental when there is a spirit of forgiveness also on the part of those who suffered injustice, and when precisely for that reason we are willing to forgive. How can meaning be given to that form of forgiveness? Also here, Derrida comes in our help with the story of two Jews, long-standing enemies, who meet at the synagogue on the Day of Atonement. One says to the other: ‘I wish for you what you wish for me.’ The other retorts: ‘Already you’re starting again!’. If we viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through these non-tragic lenses perhaps we would be able to solve it! In other words, forgiveness does not exclude justice. But more than anything else it calls upon everyone to engage in a spirit of forgiveness. In fact, even forgiveness can be employed strategically; even an opportunist can ask to be forgiven while not wanting to forgive others in return.
Authentic forgiveness encompasses the qualifying dimension of otherness, that does not exclude a disenchanted understanding of conflicting dimensions:
The story of the two Jews shows that both were already engaged in the spirit of forgiveness.
For Pope Francis, opening up to forgiveness requires an awareness of the sin. But isn’t it precisely what was lost by secular culture?
You are perfectly right. It’s the logic of rights, which I share, since if we were to identify a point of encounter between the radical secular dimension and the religious radical one it would be in the realm of rights. However, in many cases rights are understood as a strategic tool and not as an invitation to act as a community, to increase the degree of joint responsibility whereby everyone is responsible for the other person. The risk is that rights could be filtered through the narrow lenses of the logics of acquisition, as something earned, expressed in the acquisition of a purely juridical freedom, as a mere individual liberty that does not imply calling ourselves into question.
Taking the problem of forgiveness seriously means understanding that forgiveness also involves the community as a whole, the way in which we are together, so that each and every one may feel involved and called into question by the other person by means of bestowal.
As Derrida said, the dialectics is based on giving and ‘for-giving’. We are all involved in the relational community, where relations are also a gift. Also people can become the object of instrumental or strategic relations: in these cases the other person becomes a means and not an end, while if that person is seen as a gift he is an end in himself. When I do a good deed I expect nothing in return.
Thus acting as a community becomes the point of encounter of a philosophy whose reasoning develop along the borderline with faith.
Could forgiveness, understood as the point of encounter between Catholics and the secular world, be an antidote to “dehumanization”?
Today we are on the borderline of the threshold of human history. It’s a delicate, perilous threshold, since for the first time we possess not only the techniques to master external nature. We also possess the technology to intervene on the human body and on life. What will become of the human race in the future will depend on the choices we will make. In the 20th century we already suffered the consequences of Nazi utopia, an absolute aberration sprung from the obsession of contamination. An identity obsession that escalated into biological racism, into an obsessive drive of identity based on the principle that the identity of the self can be maintained pure only by avoiding contamination with others.
Instead, today we need the universalism of differences, a universalism that not only tolerates difference but that also considers difference a constitutive element of humanity, since contamination is precisely what ensures the continuity of the human race.
Raimon Panikkar said that the universal horizon is not inbuilt; it needs to be developed.