Letter: Challenges to faith and atheism on the streets of the Holy City

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The Independent Online
Challenges to faith and atheism on the streets of the Holy City

Sir: Before launching what could be seen, ironically, as a call to crusade or jihad on behalf of liberalism ("Liberalism has grown complacent and lazy..."), perhaps Polly Toynbee ("Cradle of fanaticism", 5 June) would profit from the work of the 15th century cardinal Nicholas of Cusa.

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, a conflict as imbued with religious fanaticism and hatred as any in our own era, many in Western Christendom responded negatively to the victory of an Islamic army. Pope Nicholas V exhorted Christian princes to unite behind the banner of the cross, thus sadly paralleling the Muslim enemy which had united behind, and for, the Koran.

Nicholas of Cusa urged, instead, a peaceful dialogue with the infidel, with the "other" that we all fear in our ignorance and presumption. In his work De Pace Fidei Cusa formulates an approach to faith and the "other" which grasps the inability of us all to grasp the fullness of any truth. It is liberating, yet admittedly difficult, to live with Cusa's precept, "All will know that there is only one religion in the variety of rites." It is this humility in the face of the absolute which should be our strength, not recourse to extremism.

How does faith survive? Faith survives because it is greater than the parody Toynbee presents in her article; it survives because some of us consider values such as tolerance and reason to be as integral to a meaningful religious life as to Toynbee's humanistic alternative.