This is a translated extract from an article entitled “Atheist, Secular, and Liberal: three definitions for a vocabulary of moderation“, published in 2016 on the revue Critica Liberale.
It was part of a longer discussion arose after the publication of “Why, as atheist, I do want the hour of religion teaching – but not the Catholic one“. There my proposal was to replace the “teaching of Catholic religion” in Italian public schools with a “a comparative teaching of history of religions”.
I translated this extract following a pleasant discussion on liberalism that I had with some friends last week in London.
Liberal is a controversial term whose meaning changes from culture to culture. According to the philosopher Sebastiano Maffettone, there are at least 15 kinds of liberalism. In this article I am nonetheless using only a very specific (and personal) definition of liberalism, which I can define in this way.
I love to define myself a liberal for a lack of truth, which translated simply means the following: since I do not believe to possess any absolute truth, I believe as well that it is wrong that someone wants to impose to the others a truth that he believes to be absolute.
I am liberal also for the logical exacerbation of a principle that I would define «of prudence». It is a quite simple principle, and nonetheless the fanatics from all over the world forget it. It states as following: anyone who believes to have the right to impose his truth to the others is indirectly justifying the violence that in turn he will endure from the others’ illiberal behavior.
The alternative to liberalism is war, whether ideological or material: what is indeed the war if not the recognition that our own reason has the right to prevail at all costs on the others? Only with this conviction in mind one could aim for the discrimination or the conversion of someone that thinks differently from us. And personally, as liberal before atheist, I do not want to discriminate nor convert anyone, but rather: I want the pluralism to flourish in all its splendour. This because as Wilhelm von Humboldt I believe in the following statement: «for the human being to enrich and to perfect it is necessary a variety of situations. Keeping this variety is the main effort of true liberalism».
Therefore, theoretically speaking, all I am asking for is this: that a secular and democratic system respects that last, inviolable bastion constituted by the individual freedom; and that in turn the individual has to be free to do anything that he considers better for his spiritual well-being, respecting the freedom of others, without a church nor a party imposing him what they believe is “objectively” better for his person. As remote as possible from paternalism, the State has only to create the cultural preconditions and the legal tools so that the citizen could freely and knowingly choose. But in the end is the citizen that has to choose, and the citizen only.
In this logic it lies my proposal of a comparative teaching of history of religions: far from teaching one only vision of the world, which is what is happening right now, school must provide the student the necessary tools to understand the same religious pluralism he is living in. After that, the decision on which faith to embrace – and if to embrace a faith – it is up to the student, and to him only: whether he would become Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or even a “mean and nasty” atheist, the State should not care less. Its only duty is to give him all the necessary knowledge for a free and aware choice, not to give him a catechism.