On September 23, the Yale Center for Faith & Culture helped host the President of Croatia, Ivo Josipović. The lecture he delivered during the visit—“Religion in Post-Communist and Post-Conflict Society: The Croatian Experience”—aligns well with the extensive work we have done in promoting reconciliation between Muslims and Christians, as well as in teaching and writing on the role of faith in an interconnected and interdependent global world.
President Josipović is a renaissance man, a professor of Law at the University of Zagreb, a professor of harmony at the Zagreb Music Academy, and a composer of complex works of contemporary classical music. He is also a superb politician. Most recently, he successfully helped shepherd Croatia into the European Union. The way for this momentous event in Croatian history was paved by his overtures toward government representatives of Croatia’s erstwhile enemies, the Serbians and Muslims.
Though a brilliant, renaissance man and an effective, bridge-building politician, Professor Josipović was an unlikely person to have become the president of Croatia. Close to 90% of Croatians declare themselves as Catholics, and most are Catholics of a rather conservative stripe. Mr. Josipović, in contrast, is a self-confessed agnostic. That fact alone could have sufficed to derail his presidential ambitions. Certainly in this country, the United States, it is highly unlikely that an avowed agnostic would become a president. Yet more than 80% of Croatian Catholics voted Professor Josipović into the Presidency. Even now, almost 4 years into his mandate, his popularity runs high—a testimony to his capacity to build bridges between believers, agnostics, and atheists, and between believers of various stripes.
Consider the following nuggets from the speech of this extraordinary agnostic:
He advocates a state neutral toward all religions and a-religions but believes that the state should support religions—all equally, of course. The reason for support: religion is a human need, like sport or art, and if the state supports sport and art there is no reason why it should not support religion;
He was the first man to bring Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim leaders of Bosnia to pray together at the sites of their mutual massacres.
I am, of course, a Christian, a believer, though one who thinks that only those who don’t believe don’t doubt. But as a believer, I think that agnostics like President Josipović are not far from the Kingdom.