Ever since Allan Bloom penned his best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind, the word has been out that many academics who pride themselves on being “open-minded” are really “closed-minded,” since their minds are closed to truth.
The incident in January of this year at Rome’s La Sapienza University when Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to that school was canceled, allegedly because he is not sufficiently open-minded toward science, is an example of this peculiar phenomenon writ large and played out on a world-wide stage.
As soon as the letter of the 67 La Sapienza University academics who opposed the Pope’s visit was made public, a counter-letter was composed entitled “An Appeal for Reason and Freedom in the University”.
The irony here is that academics were criticizing their fellow academics who thought the Pope was closed-minded for being themselves closed-minded, while praising the Holy Father for being open.
Before long, 650 signatories, all teachers and researchers, mostly in scientific fields, supported the counter-letter (the “Appeal”). Anyone who wants to add his name to the document can do so by going to appellouniversita.net.
Those who sign the document agree with its content which states, in part, that “it is disgraceful that at a university, the designated place for the free exchange of ideas, a small minority of faculty and students should have succeeded in preventing the Pope from honoring an invitation to take part in the inauguration of the academic year and expressing his thought. This act plumbs the depths of ideological intolerance and is one of the blackest pages in the history of freedom of expression in our university and in civilized society.”
These are indeed strong words. They offer a clear challenge to those who claim to be open, to practice what they preach or risk being publicly chastised for their pretenses. The 67 had not anticipated the kind of drama they had invited upon themselves. In truth, they underestimated the openness of their colleagues.
After reading the address that Pope Benedict was not allowed to deliver, Marco Bersanelli, who teaches astrophysics at the University of Milan, had this to say: “If you read the speech penned by Benedict XVI, you at once note the disproportion between the rigid and ideological attitude of the 67 signatories and the elevated concept of reason expressed by the Pope, the defender of freedom.”
In an article called, “From La Sapienza to Reason,” Stefano Filippi avers that “universities are rife with closed minds and intolerance” (Traces, Vol 10, No. 2, 2008, p. 24).
One wonders if the media will give as much exposure to the support of the Pope as it gave for his protestors. Nevertheless, much of the academic world in Italy was shaken by what transpired at La Sapienza.
As a result, the Pope’s undelivered text received more attention than it would have if La Sapienza had been more receptive to it.
For example, at Universitá Cattolica in Milan, the Pope’s speech was read in the Great Hall to 700 willing listeners — faculty members, students and staff. Public meetings spread to various universities across Italy to discuss the text of the “appeal” and the content of Benedict’s discourse.
One of the signers of the “appeal” is Gianpaolo Bellini, professor of nuclear physics at the University of Milan and one of the most highly respected physicists in the international scientific community.
He was somewhat puzzled by the reaction of the 67, especially from the physicists who are, in his words, “usually a more open-minded bunch than scientists in other fields.” However, Bellini did point to the pervasive relativism that pervades culture, an ideology insisting that there is no clear distinction between truth and falsity.
But, as he went on to explain, “science is based essentially on a representation of reality that has to be true.” If we remove this distinction, he continued, “science no longer exists.”
In other words, relativism is the death of science.
It is indeed a curious thing that there are scientists who are oblivious to the realistic premise that serves as the basis for science. Benedict was merely affirming what science needs in order to flourish — a respect for truth.
Yet, he also wanted scientists to remember that truth alone, without a sense of what is good, is not sufficient.
As the Pope states, “The purpose of knowing the truth is to know the good. This is also the meaning of the Socratic inquiry: What is the good that makes us true?”
The Pope’s protesters, though quite indirectly, greatly enlarged his stage, thereby giving more exposure, attention and ultimately credence to the content of his address.
They also, by virtue of their strong opposition, occasioned a show of massive support for the Holy Father.
Four days after the publication of the speech, 200,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, in solidarity with the Pope, to recite the Angelus with him. At the same time, an additional 10,000 people joined him, through a special television hook-up, from Milan’s Cathedral Square.
It is not unreasonable to suggest, given the events that transpired subsequent to the “Letter of the 67,” that God, not the disgruntled protesters, is in charge.
Donald DeMarco is
adjunct professor at
Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.