Philosopher and Atheist Julia Kristeva Addresses Assisi
Julia Kristeva, a Bulgarian-born philosopher and psychoanalyst, addresses the interfaith meeting for peace at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, Italy, 27 Oct. Pope Benedict XVI brought together 300 religious leaders together for the meeting on the 25th anniversary of the first such gathering hosted by Blessed John Paul II in 1986. (photo: CNS/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)
28 Oct 2011 by John Thavis
ASSISI, Italy (CNS) — It isnt every day that the Vatican shares the papal stage with a nonbeliever.
Then again, Julia Kristeva was no flame-throwing
atheist. Some sentences of her speech could have been
lifted from a papal discourse.
In order for humanism to develop and reestablish
itself, the moment has come to take up again the
moral codes constructed through the course of history
and renew them without weakening them, Kristeva told
Pope Benedict XVI and about 300 religious
representatives Oct. 27 in Assisi.
Kristeva, a Bulgarian-born philosopher and
psychoanalyst, was one of four nonbelievers the pope
invited to the Assisi interfaith meeting for peace. Their
presence was an innovation that sparked questions and
even criticism in some conservative quarters.
The program gave Kristeva and the pope the same
podium and a global audience, and both spoke in bridge-building language. The pope said he invited the
nonbelievers because he was convinced they were seekers
who, by looking for truth, in effect are looking for God.
Kristeva said the world today needs to create
forms of cooperation between Christian humanism and the
humanism of the Enlightenment — a risky path but one
worth taking, she said.
Calling Blessed John Paul II an apostle of human
rights, she quoted his famous words, Do not be afraid! That appeal, she said, applies not only to Christians called to witness their faith, but it calls on the church not to fear European culture.
Kristevas assertion that humanism is feminism might have raised some eyebrows among Vatican officials in attendance. But she followed it up with an intriguing argument that the modern secularized culture needs to better appreciate the unique relationship between mother and child. If her speech was challenging in its language and philosophical turns, it left church leaders with food for thought.
Certainly, the pope and Kristeva offered quite
different perspectives. For the pope, God is the key to
every possible human solution to problems of peace and
injustice. Kristeva never mentioned God and described the
task of renewing culture solely in terms of human efforts.
But they both appeared to agree that they need to
talk to each other.
It is a case of being together on a journey toward
truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity
and a case of common engagement for peace against every
form of destructive force, the pope said.
At the closing event in Assisi, another of the
invited nonbelievers, Mexican philosopher Guillermo
Hurtado, pledged to keep this discussion open, declaring:
We, humanists in dialogue with believers, commit
ourselves together with all men and women of good will
to building a new world in which respect for the dignity of
each and every person ... is the foundation for life in
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Interreligious Assisi Atheism