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Private virtues and public vices of a cult apologist

Luigi Corvaglia

There is a village with only one barber, who is a well-shaven man. In front of his shop is a sign which says:"I shave all those, and those only, who do not shave themselves ".

The question at this point is: who shaves the barber?

This dilemma comes from the fact that the classes 'men who shave themselves' and 'men who do not shave themselves' are mutually exclusive, with the barber fitting into neither category.

I happened to think about this very famous antinomy, known as "Russell's paradox", when I came across some manifestations of the thought of Massimo Introvigne, the scholar of the "new religious movements". Indeed, you can often find him manifesting himself as the impossible barber hypothesised by Russell, but instead of not finding refuge in any class, he claims to be in two mutually exclusive classes at the same time. In fact, Introvigne is known to the general public as a defender of the "new religious movements", most of which are far removed from the dogmas of Catholicism. Nevertheless, his adherence to a rather rigid vision of the Church of Rome escapes most people. The scholar thus manages to present himself as 'liberal' and ecumenical, even though the version of Catholicism he embraces is characterised by hostility to pluralism.

The system he adopts to prevent the alarm raised in defence of the 'law of non-contradiction' from sounding is to place the antinomian terms on two different planes. For example, during an online debate with the me, he defended tantric sex schools by asking me the provocative question of whether we should "prevent consenting adult women from having the sexual experiences they want". Obviously, the answer was negative, and I, with specular provocation, showed my pleasure with his position, which demonstrated an open-mindedness that was hard to imagine in someone who had been "Reggente Vicario" (Vicarious Ruler) of "Alleanza Cattolica" (Catholic Allience) for thirty years. His comment was that, since Catholic morality is different from Hinduism, a priest would do well to tell the faithful not to attend tantric schools, but that he would be "going beyond his function if he were to pretend that his advice should become the law of the State". As if to say that faith is a private matter that must not pretend to interfere in public affairs.

Excellent! Is there any statement that could satisfy a secular person like me more than this one? No, there is not. One can only feel in tune with the person doing it. There is, however, a small problem: here we do not have a secular society that respects every creed and ritual within itself, even if it is hostile to secularism itself. No: here our man is both the secularist and the denier of secularism, only on different levels, the public and the private. He claims to keep them separate on the basis of a laudable 'liberal' logic, which he however denies on one of the two levels. A "mind short-circuit" that can only be resolved, I fear, through psychological dissociation.

In fact, even if some might see a commendable effort at balance in Introvigne's antinomian position, we should bear in mind that the logic behind Alleanza Cattolica does not allow for balancing acts. It is in fact a desire for "reductio ad unum" (reduction to one), that is, the restoration of "traditional" society that leaves no room for anything else. In Game Theory, a zero-sum game is defined as one in which what one player wins the other loses, as in the case of wars of conquest of territories. Now, the private Introvigne, the religious one, is a "zero-sum" player, because the existence of other "Truths" steals ground from his own, while the public one, the secular one, is a "non-zero-sum" player, because he does not feel he loses anything from the coexistence of other cults. The first is the expression of a part that wants to make itself the whole and cannot allow any other part to erode its totality. The second is the one that erodes the totality of the first. In fact, although the two claim to play by different rules, the "game" is the same! It is that of ecumenism. The two cannot coexist.

It is also true that for some time now he has taken positions that are unpalatable to the world of Catholic traditionalism by defending the much-discussed "progressive" pontificate of Bergoglio, but this, rather than a sign of a change of views, seems to us to be a confirmation of the same indecipherable ambiguity. The proof is that when he is not dealing with the issue of minority movements, Introvigne proves to hold firmly to the traditional course.

A good example of the compass still used by Introvigne can be found in the book he co-authored with Giovanni Serpelloni and Alfredo Mantovano: Libertà dalla droga. Diritto, scienza, sociological ("Freedom from Drugs. Law, science, sociology", Sugarco, Milan, 2015). In his chapter, he writes that drugs are the symbol of the 'anthropological revolution' of 1968 (p. 111). The reference is to Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira's view that the "de-Christianisation" of Europe is the outcome of a process of progressive "Revolution", articulated in several phases, of which that of '68 is the fourth and last. This fourth phase is said to have been preceded by the communist revolution, which in turn was preceded by the Enlightenment revolution. Readers unfamiliar with the thought of de Oliveira, the man to whose counter-revolutionary magisterium Alleanza Cattolica has always made explicit reference, might be surprised to learn that the first anti-Christian revolution was identified by him in the Protestant Reformation. It is then rather peculiar that those who even see the advent of Protestantism as the first of the "catastrophes" that mark "the advance of a historical process in which impiety, immorality and anarchy are taking over the universe" can present themselves as ecumenical defenders of "new" religious movements that are furthest removed from Catholicism, or that they stand as champions of the freedom and rights born with the Enlightenment (that is, with the "second revolution"...). The idea that a superordinate (public) plane of secularism can include the (private) plane that denies it, on pain of the dissolution of the latter, is as bizarre as it is bold. This is why it seems to us that the esteemed author is an impossible character - just like Russell's barber.


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