Corriere della Sera, a main stream italian newspaper, published an intervention of Ratzinger on the public place of religion. Here's the text with my comments in italics:
The Pope: ”Don’t remove the crucifix from schools and offices.”Benedict XVI: “It is important that God be present in public life, through the sign of the cross, in homes and public buildings.”
On the eve of the opening of World Youth Day in Cologne, the pope has asked for crucifixes not to be removed from public places. “It is important that God be present in public life, through the sign of the cross, in homes and public buildings,” said Benedict XVI during his homily for the mass of the Feast of the Assumption celebrated in Castelgandolfo, the pope’s summer residence.
It is puzzling that Ratzinger says that 'God should be present', and not 'Christians (Catholic) symbols should be present in public life'. After all, the controversy in Italy sprang up when muslims claimed to be offended by the presence of christian crosses in classrooms (see below).
The subject had already caused controversy in Italy when leading Muslims requested that the crucifix be removed from classrooms. And last year the affair finished in the courts. The pope insists: the symbol has to stay, in schools and all public buildings.
The mere fact that the Pope insists for his symbol to stay should be a ground for getting rid of it. It is not clear at all to me with which authority he claims this. Moreover, the reasons he gives are quite loose. Let's examine them.
The pope’s call is based on his reflection that “where God disappears from public life, man does not become greater but rather loses in dignity, becoming the product of blind evolution and for this reason may be used and abused".
The central concept in Ratzinger's mind is dignity. So, now it seems that if men believes in evolution, progress, the force of reason, they are bound to be fooled and to fool themselves. To the contrary, following Ratzinger, if they hold on to a strong metaphysical belief in the existence of a supranatural entity, then everything is fine. And the more they believe in this metaphysical entity, the better they are likely to be. Hmmm, this sounds like a 'brilliant' piece of propaganda.. Coca Cola could say pretty much the same: 'if you don't drink it, you'll be damned. The more you drink it, the better you'll feel.
"The modern age", the pope observed, “has believed that in setting aside God and following only our own ideas and will we would become totally free, but this has not happened. Only if God is great can man be great.”
You see there is a non-sequitur in the previous argument. One may well agree that the mere belief in evolution and progress does not carry very far, and, more importantly, doen not necessarily increment the overall level of human liberty. Why should it? But from there it does not follow that human beings should ground their hope for liberty in the belief of a great God. Religion can be a part of everyone's life, but it does not guarantee the goodness of a man, or one's moral achievement. Many other efforts are necessary to do so.
That is why the presence of the Christian symbol remains important. “We must apply all of this,” concluded the pope, “to our everyday lives. It is important that God be visible in private homes and public places, that God be present in public life, through the sign of the cross, in public places,” because if God is absent, “differences become irreconcilable”.
I would tend to say the opposite: If symbols of only one confession, as opposed to many others, are present, then differences become irreconcilable. In a pluralist society, this seems to me to be plain.