“Praise of religion”: plea for an indispensable framework of faith

praise of religion

by Paul Valadier

Salvator, 200 pages, €18

The title of this new work by Paul Valadier is a bit provocative. How can we praise religion at a time when the various religious traditions are suspected of being the cause of violence? This sulphurous reputation spares none: “Crimes committed in the name of one of them reflect on all the others in the eyes of public opinion”, raises the Jesuit philosopher. Even philosophical criticism attacks the concept of religion. Some then come to defend the path of atheism, others that of a spirituality without God. Still others say they prefer a faith relieved of religion, like those Christians who want to do without ecclesial institutions to find “the sharp and ‘revolutionary’ side of the Gospel message”.

Throughout his chapters, Paul Valadier examines the various grievances addressed to religion and responds to them. To those who say they are more attached to the faith –“ term meant to be more specific and less ambiguous” – he reminds us that a faith totally disconnected from religion runs the risk of falling on the side of subjectivism, a source of violence and manipulation. “A religious faith that is not supported and framed by a religion risks remaining empty or lapsing into sentimentality…”, he warns. To those who distrust religion but welcome ” Spirituality “he says the requirement of an authentic spiritual life which is not “not a trivial and risk-free adventure” and which is much more than a “sentimental enthusiasm for the beauty of things or for the mystery of nature”.

Attentive and critical observer

The Nietzsche specialist also calls out to those who advocate atheism, which in many cases only replaces deities denied or refused with other profane beliefs such as progress, science, money, social success. But he emphasizes above all “the failure of atheism to create a viable common universe”. He gives an example “the impotence of atheism to create an art worthy of the name. Indeed, artistic creation always presupposes an inspiration that goes beyond any form of materialism. (…). However, the arts inspired by State atheisms have shown themselves to be remarkably poor…”

References to recent books as well as press articles show that Paul Valadier, who will be 90 years old in January 2023, remains an attentive and critical observer of our time. In passing, he does not hesitate to denounce the levity or flatness shown by certain prominent authors who seem to have put intellectual rigor on the shelf when they speak of religion or spirituality, even among philosophers. With this writing, the Jesuit testifies that it is possible to speak rationally and calmly of religion, while assuming its anchoring in its tradition of belonging, Catholicism. Without exalting it “as the true and only religion”he specifies what in his eyes characterizes it, in particular its concern for the universal, a messianic hope which opens the future to collective history, the beauty of its liturgy… A eulogy to the Christian religion which is also a confession of faith that is not silent “pending questions” about the crisis in the Catholic Church.

“Praise of religion”: plea for an indispensable framework of faith