Luigi Vitali in conversation with Vito Mancuso
Interview Vito Mancuso DUST9 [PDF]
Luigi Vitali: It’s no easy task to understand exactly what we mean when we speak of the concept of “God”. The term often refers to human projections and inventions of an anthropomorphic deity who decides on our affairs, a figure venerated by those who blindly believe and who is attacked by sceptics and which probably has very little to do with any real concept of God. Today the work that you are doing represents a reference point for a passionate, relevant and sensible reconsideration of the concept of God and human existence. So, my question to you is: what have you been able to learn about God in your ongoing questioning of life?
Vito Mancuso: I have come to understand a few things, but above all, I have understood that there are some things that we can’t understand. I can say that I have understood why a sort of reflection has always arisen in humanity, actually, I would call it more than a reflection, I would call it faith or belief in the divine. Why does this need arise? Doubtless for two reasons. The first, which was felt in Antiquity, is the need to explain the complex mesh which is the world. The second and main reason is the need for consolation and healing. The two things are related but not completely the same. Wounds are something that concern the life of every human being, everybody suffers. In the best of cases we are all covered with scars, in the worst, the wounds are still open and bleeding. Wounds that are physical, psychological and spiritual. The first of the noble truths the Buddha proclaimed in his famous sermon in Benares, when he set the wheel of Dharma into motion, is that life is suffering: Dukkha which means just that, suffering, discomfort, pain. I think this is one of the most important premises, probably the most important premise behind the need for Religion. And it is out of this suffering that the need for consolation and healing arises. “Consolation” may be understood in the not very noble sense of “soothing”, but it can also be understood as something noble, such as philosophy. Philosophy the way Boetius (Roman philosopher of the sixth century) used the term with no distinction between the term theology and spirituality. As a matter of fact, it was a philosopher, Plato, who coined the term Theology in the second book of the Republic. At a deep level there is no difference between the discipline of theology and philosophy.
Isaac Newton, in his famous Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy wrote “Deus est vox relativa”, God is a relative term. As Newton said and before him one of the Church fathers, Justin, God is a term which isn’t a proper noun for an entity, but a relative term, that is to say, a term that points to a relationship, or rather, to a dependence. When a human being realizes that he is in the presence of something greater than himself, something that absorbs him, envelops him and sometimes even unsettles him, or overwhelms him; that is when the mind allows the concept of the divine to enter. Here a feeling of dependence is created. A great philosopher, Friederich Schleiermacher, who lived in Berlin between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, spoke of this very feeling of dependence, as something that marks out the religious conscience. We mustn’t think of this as a servile dependence, but rather as the awareness of being in the presence of something larger than ourselves, something we depend on and which at the same time we belong to. If we don’t have these two things together, there is no religious conception of God.
Certainly, the concept of the divine may be interpreted in different ways, in the singular or plural, in other words, as monotheism or polytheism, as a male or female, or as both male and female together, as personal or impersonal, these are the different variations that human beings, depending on their histories, their environments, climates, etc. have put forward. Whatever the case, the concept of the divine arises in the human consciousness for one reason, to express the feeling we experience in the presence of something larger than ourselves.
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