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DANTE CASE/ Sedakova: A new pseudo-religion tries to expunge the Divine Comedy

Poet and author OL’GA SEDAKOVA discusses the battle fought by secularization against religious symbols, focusing on the new attempt to ban The Divine Comedy because it is racist.

Russian poet Ol'ga Sedakova Russian poet Ol'ga Sedakova

The recent battle in England against those who wear a cross around their necks is just one episode in the vast panorama of the battle against "religious symbols" in course in the "post-Christian" world. I happened to see another episode of this struggle in Italy two years ago, when the Council of Europe attempted to remove crucifixes from classrooms.

I read about a new battle in this war in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. A committee of European experts chaired by Valentina Sereni, after examining Dante under a juridical lens, concluded that The Divine Comedy should be removed from the scholastic curriculum because it contains "elements of racism" that constitute crimes. At the very least the text must be expunged.

I have been working on Dante for years, and I was literally shocked by this diagnosis (racism!). The Comedy was put on the list of banned books once before, but for another reason: its author had expressed himself freely on the popes of the time, and more generally on the temporal power of the popes in terms that had to be seen as heretic. Dante was among the first to defend the idea of "separation of powers", the spiritual and temporal. In other words, he is one of the fathers of secularism. This concept, which would be realized in Europe much later, after the Enlightenment, assumes that social life is governed not by theocratic laws, but by the universal laws of reason and morality, considered common to all men because they are inscribed in the human nature.

The old charge of heresy has been long since withdrawn from The Comedy. The two keys to spiritual and temporal power remain in the papal coat of arms, but we no longer speak of temporal power. The current request to ban Dante stems from secularism itself in the form it assumes today.

Dante is thus accused of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and homophobia. The first accusation is motivated by Dante’s way of presenting Judas (!), Caiaphas, Annas the high priest, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees. In fact, Dante did not invent anything, but followed the narrative of the Gospels, but this does not serve to justify his text, since the Gospels themselves can be declared a "source of anti-Semitism".