Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Purpose-Driven Life, Italian Edition

So a little spiritual book has gotten a big reaction in Italy.

Again ignoring the inherent commentary on its effectiveness in the area of actually nourishing the flock and engaging the masses, the Italian church is none too pleased:

La Fine è Il Mio Inizio (The End is My Beginning), by Tiziano Terzani, a former war correspondent, has sold 400,000 copies and gone into four editions since it was published posthumously in March — an astonishing figure in a country where bestseller normally means 100,000 copies.

Terzani, an expert on China and Japan who covered wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan before adopting a long white beard and robe and living in an Indian ashram, argues that people have an “innate moral sense” and do not need institutionalised religion to teach them right and wrong.

The former Communist, whose mother was a devout Catholic, outlines a philosophy of Indian spirituality, communion with nature and “the harmony of opposites” that he said helped him in his fight against cancer. He deplores the impact of Western materialism on Asia and describes how his growing pacifism made him a bitter opponent of war, and especially of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror.

Add American neoconservatives to the roster of critics.

This week Avvenire, Italy’s leading Catholic daily, accused Terzani of “leading people astray”. He had “completely lost sight of the incarnate and historical dimension of religious experience”. Alessandro Gnocchi, a Catholic author and television presenter, accused Terzani in the conservative newspaper Libero of peddling “a confused mixture of Oriental philosophy, Marxism and Christianity” that muddled “St Francis with Zen Buddhism”.

Vatican sources said that this was anathema to Pope Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warned of the dangers of trying to reconcile Oriental and New Age spirituality with Catholicism.

Terzani’s website has been indundated with admiring e-mails. The book was “a beautiful journey towards the authentic meaning of life,” reads one from Carlo. “I was knocked out,” writes Luisa.

“Terzani has become the lay Pope,” said Panorama magazine. La Stampa said that a “cult” had grown up around the former journalist, making him “an icon, a secular saint”.

Teachable moment, people... Teachable moment. Not so much from the Bosses, that is, but for 'em.