Belief or Nonbelief?: A Confrontation

Belief or Nonbelief?: A Confrontation

Umberto Eco

Language: English

Pages: 112

ISBN: 1611456894

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


One is the beloved author of The Name of the Rose, a celebrated scholar, philosopher, and self-declared secularist; the other is a preeminent clergyman and a respected expert on the New Testament. In this intellectually stimulating dialogue, often adversarial but always amicable, these two great men, who stand on opposite sides of the church door, discuss some of the most controversial issues of our day, including the apocalypse, abortion, women in the clergy, and ethics. As we voyage onward into the new millennium, they frame a debate about matters that have already begun to rage, always aware of the gulf between belief and nonbelief that separates them, constantly probing and challenging, but also respectful of the other’s viewpoint. For believers and nonbelievers alike, the result is both edifying and illuminating. “Their correspondence,” writes Professor Harvey Cox in his introduction, “lifts the possibility of intelligent conversation on religion to a new level.”   

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to find a common ethical ground between laymen and believers, so that both can work for the betterment of mankind, for peace and justice. The appeal to human dignity clearly constitutes a principle that establishes a universal basis for thought and action: never to take advantage of another person, always and everywhere to respect the inviolability of the other, always to consider every person as an unusable and untouchable reality. Nonetheless, at a certain point one must ask what the ultimate

cultures don’t recognize notions which seem evident to us, such as, for example, the idea of substance endowed with certain properties (when we say “the apple is red”), or the idea of identity (a=a). I am nonetheless convinced that notions common to all cultures exist, and that they all refer to the position of our bodies in space. We are animals of erect stature, for whom it is painful to remain upside down for long. We therefore have a common notion of up and down, and tend to privilege the

providing an explanation and a model, an exemplary image. And of those that he can dream up — some illuminating, some terrible, some pathetically self-consolatory — in the fullness of time, he has at a given moment the religious and moral and poetic strength to conceive the model of Christ, of universal love, of forgiveness of one’s enemies, of life offered in terrible sacrifice for the salvation of the other. If I were a traveler from a distant galaxy and found myself before a species that knew

can challenge the hope of believers. In this sense, I am in agreement with you when you say that today preoccupation with the end of time is more typical of the secular world than the Christian world. At one point the Christian world was also overcome by apocalyptic anxiety, having to do, in part, with obscure verses in Revelation 20: “And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. . . . Also I saw the souls of those who had been

beheaded. . . . They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” A current of ancient tradition interpreted these verses to the letter, whereas other similar, literal millennialisms have never won legitimacy in the broader Church. Rather, a symbolic reading of the text has prevailed. In the above passage and in others in Revelation we again find a projection into the future of the victory of those first Christians who were able to survive their present thanks to their capacity for

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