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A Western Blueprint

An atheist defends the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Oct 24, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 06 • By MICHAEL NOVAK
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It may seem odd that this book, written by an atheist and secular liberal, should be commended in its preface for its importance by a pope of Rome, Benedict XVI, no mean professor himself. Recall, though, that this same Joseph Ratzinger, as cardinal, once challenged Jürgen Habermas to a public debate, sponsored by the Académie Française. To everyone’s surprise, Habermas publicly admitted liberalism’s intellectual debts to Christianity, and for his part, Ratzinger emphasized the dangers that religion poses when it is not protected by reason. This is the same point Ratzinger as pope later made in his controversial Regensburg Lecture—met in Muslim countries by violence—in which he invited Muslim cultures to see that true religion turns toward reason and away from violence.

Obviously, Senator/Professor Pera means this book to open an energetic, perhaps emotional, but fair-minded conversation. He knows that “civilization is constituted by reasoned conversation.” Civilized persons persuade one another through mutual respect in conversation. Barbarians club one another.

Michael Novak is the author, most recently, of a book of verse, All Nature Is a Sacramental Fire, and, with William E. Simon Jr., of Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation.

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