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The Conferences of not-Believers

The Conferences of not-Believers

Via Festa del Perdono, 7 - 20122 Milano - ITALY



"I believe that each of us has in himself an unbeliever and a believer, who talk to each other, interrogate each other, continually postpone pungent and disturbing questions to one another. The unbeliever who is in me worries the believer who is in me and vice versa ». With these words, Carlo Maria Martini opened the First Conferences of non-Believers in 1987. Thus began a long journey of dialogue that Martini specifically wanted to give the word to non-believers, offering them the opportunity to explain their convictions, and favoring in believers an attitude of listening available and thoughtful. Through the meeting with prominent figures of culture and the scientific world, during the various editions of the Conferences, it was possible to explore what it means to believe and not to believe in relation to the city, to feelings, to art and literature, to pain. , to the cosmos and to history. «The important thing - comments Martini - is that you learn to worry about it. If believers, to worry about your faith. If unbelievers, to worry about your unbelief. Only then will your positions be truly founded ». From year to year, a theme was identified that allowed us to explore various areas of human existence: from pain (1988) to hope (1990), from the order of sentiments (1991) to the silence of God (1992), from the relationship between faith and violence (1996) to horizons and limits of science (1998).
The Conferences of non-Believers was an initiative launched in 1987 by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan, in his diocese and was probably one of the most characteristic insights of his episcopate. The initiative was developed along 12 editions and 50 meetings on various issues, meetings to which the cardinal invited exponents both to be declared believers and non-believers. The aim was to give voice, on the various topics, to those who do not define themselves as "believers", in order to confront each other; these meetings were an opportunity for knowledge and dialogue. The venue of the meetings varied, also in relation to the growing echo that the initiative had and that led to an increasing number of public, settling, from the 6th edition to the end, in the Aula Magna of the University of Milan. an initiative that lasted until 2002, the year of Martini's resignation from his pastoral position in Milan due to age limits.
Great was the inter-religious relevance of this experience that, for the first time, placed on the same level the reasons of those who do not believe and the reasons for those who believe. The fundamental intuition of Martini was in fact to listen to non-believers, to dialogue with them, but above all to put them "in the chair" (an expression that was used by an archbishop, took a very particular meaning), to be questioned by them and the dynamics generated by the comparison. It was not a classical conference from the unilateral movement, with a teaching by those who were "in the chair" and a passive listening by those present (including the archbishop). On the contrary, the dialogic element was crucial, both in the conduct of each meeting (in which Martini introduced and interacted) and, at a deeper level, in the inner dynamics set in motion in the participants. As was explained by Martini himself at the beginning of the course, it was "an exercise of the spirit, almost a seminary of research on oneself, on the reasons for believing or not believing, that is, on the reasons of those things that for many of us they are decisive, because they concern the global orientation of life ".
The Conferences of non-believers has certainly been an emblematic intuition also from the religious point of view, because it has undermined prejudices about intercultural and interreligious dialogue: not a dialogue based on the cancellation of differences, to achieve an unlikely uniformity, not a dialogue founded on the principle that one side is right and the other wrong, but a dialogue that starts from recognition and respect for mutual differences and recognizes diversity as an enormous wealth. Each contributes with his own card to the large mosaic (in perennial extension) of human knowledge. To think that the card is the mosaic would be absurd. But without that card, however small and inconsistent, the mosaic would be incomplete. The mosaic tiles have various shapes, colors and sizes and for this reason the mosaic is so beautiful at the end.
Round table between believers and non-believers on one of the themes of the Conferences of non-Believers: Faiths and violence

Centro Astalli - JRS Jesuit Refugee Service in Italy - Via degli Astalli 14/a - 00186 Roma - ITALY

Inter-religious Museum of Bertinoro - Via Frangipane, 6 - 47032 Bertinoro (FC) - ITALY

Qol Inter-religious dialogue magazine - SEDE: Piazza Unità d'Italia, 8- 42017 Novellara (RE) - ITALY




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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.