Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a friend I met in Istanbul last year. I posted some stories about the San Luigi Dei Francesi church in Rome showing some Caravaggio's painting, so he asked me three simple questions I really would like to share with you. These questions are even more interesting if you consider that Abdel is Muslim, so he has a completely different view on this.
I'm copy\pasting the conversation, adding some thoughts in Italic.
What’s like being a descendent of these painted cultures?
My case is peculiar, I studied in an art institute (high schools) so I actually grew up in these paintings, I'm not catholic so I appreciate the meanings on an “existential” level.
Talking with my girlfriend we agreed on the fact that all these paintings, that are actually sacred paintings, have definitely lost most of the religious meaning, they are now icons of power, so about politics. They are the institutional image of something solid, strong, eternal. So, at the collective level, we feel somehow connected with that world, it’s a way to create our identity. On a personal level, we don’t feel so connected with that world, which is actually a dead world. Consider also that these kind of artworks are actually everywhere, so we are not even so impressed.
My village lost in the woods have a cathedral from 1700, fully painted. The village beside has a church made of stone from the XII with original paintings and everything.
Some people have these artworks at home, or in the garage. Obviously, nobody has a Caravaggio under the bed, but these things are part of our daily life. Since my mother's a restorer I grew up in an environment full of antique furniture, objects, paintings, musical instruments, and so on.
Abdel: what about religion-wise, Italy is a big Christian country historically and demographically, how do you see religion in today’s Italy?
Italy is a secular nation, there’s obviously freedom of religion but it seems that Catholics are freer than Muslims. In my whole life, I met just a few people really religious, most of the people here are religious just because they have the sacraments (baptism, communion and confirmation) but a very few people go to church and most of them use blasphemies in their daily vocabulary. Religion is now the last choice after science, if you have a problem you can’t resolve, if you have cancer or a sentence in court, you start believing in god. Religion is a tool you can use to spiritually and mentally survive against the unpredictability of life.
On a political level, the Vatican has always been powerful in our country. Even if now it’s not so strong anymore, some civil society achievements look stopped by them: abortion, euthanasia, surrogate pregnancy, etc.
The Vatican power is about life and death, it doesn’t interfere with habits anymore. They don’t tell you: “don’t use a condom”. They tell you “if you get pregnant you can’t decide to abort”. Anyway, none of the catholic figures we are used to seeing started a real debate about it, even if most of the current philosophy is discussing it.
Furthermore, the Vatican has been involved in several scandals over the past century, some of them are referred to the IOR, the Vatican bank, involved in corruption, money laundering and illegal investment in some Italian parties. Just consider that one building on 5 in Italy is owned by the Vatican.