Pari’s dialogues on science and religion will be running at two levels – open monthly meetings for people in the immediate area and smaller, closed meetings involving professional scientists and theologians. Since advertising its program the Center has had a very strong response and from a much wider area than anticipated – stretching from Naples to Pisa, Florence and Modena. In particular an important contact has been made with a group of Dominicans in Naples who are engaged in science/religion dialogue, a monastic community of Siloe who have been carrying out interfaith dialogues and a group of scientists in Pisa who are engaged in a debate with religion.
The first of our open meetings for the 2003 season was on the topic of “War: Yesterday and Today”. It took place on the 15th of January to a very full house. David Peat opened the meeting with an examination of two paradoxes regarding the role of religion and science in the business of war. Most scientists would argue that their work is truly international. It should transcend national and religious boundaries to present an objective vision of the world. Moreover, the products of science and its associated technologies should be beneficial for people of all nations and beliefs. Scientists including Joseph Rotblat and Albert Einstein have spoken out vigorously against the institution of war, as does Pugwash, the association of scientists against war and winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize. On the other hand science and technology have also been responsible for creating the atomic bomb, biological weapons, rockets, mines and new generations of highly sophisticated antipersonnel weapons. One only has to remember Oppenheimer’s words on the testing of the first atom bomb, “Now science knows original sin” and the fact that in retrospect some of the scientists involved in the Manhattan project found themselves motivated by the excitement of the scientific and technological challenge that transcended any ethical or social considerations.
A further paradox is that the world’s religions preach peace yet, from the earliest recorded times, are so often associated with human conflict. As someone remarked, religion can so easily become a weapon in the hands of the poor and oppressed. The notion of Jihad or Holy War was mentioned and it was pointed out that Mohammed taught that the true Jihad is not against The Other but occurs within the hearts of each one of us, it is the war against good and evil within out hearts.
The meeting then heard from a number of speakers. Silvia Landi director of Amnesty International for Tuscany gave examples of wars in different countries, torture and the abuse of human rights. She also expressed concern that the term “terrorist” is being used to justify oppression by non-democratic governments and rules. Landi also read out the United Nations declaration of rights pointing out how many of these are being abused. On the more positive side she spoke of the laws and conventions that are being drawn up to limit arms exports, the use of land mines and the possibility of open inspections of places of detention to seek evidence of the use of torture.
Virginia del Re of La Casa della Donna in Pisa spoke of the Women in Black movement. This began in Israel when a group of women, dressed in black stood in the center of cities in silent protest against the institution of war. Similar silent protests now take place in many European cities.
Father Jose Adriano Ukwatchali, a priest from Angola, gave dramatic first hand testimony to the effects of civil war. He had risked his life on many occasions to save children, transport wounded civilians, re open a hospital and even battle with the authorities in order to bury rotting corpses. On one occasion he was sent to a remote area to say Mass. He found the people starving as a result of the civil war. He told the Bishop that he couldn’t say Mass until the people were fed. The Mass is a celebration and he could not celebrate while people were starving.
Egidio Grande, director of Amnesty International for Siena spoke of the roots and origins of war and the need to develop alternative means to resolve conflicts and disputes. Dr Roy McWeeny, a physicist from the University of Pisa argued that poverty and lack of education lead to widespread corruption, create the fertile soil for conflict. He noted the amount of money spent on armaments in a single day and pointed out that such a sum could have a marked effect in the social structures of poor counties. Luciano Fiordoni, an economist from Siena argued for the need for more research into new economic models.
A lively discussion continued over dinner and on the following day the people of Pari continued to discuss the issues that had been raised. One said, “the meeting opened our minds and hearts” The president of Pari’s village association argued that while the village, as with so many other groups, was too small to influence the decisions of politicians and those who push nations to war they could do something practical by giving support to priests like Father Adriano Ukwatchali and others who work in poor countries. This will be discussed at the next village association meeting.