Two Frontrunners for Peace: John Paul II and Fethullah Gulen
by Thomas Michel S.J.
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We live in a strange world. So many people are in favor of peace, and yet many people around the world suffer because they live in situations of conflict and war. I was at an international conference not long ago, with many speakers from various countries, religions, and ideologies. It will not surprise you to learn that all the speakers affirmed the firm desire of their group for peace and offered quite convincing arguments to show that these were not just empty words. They noted that they and their colleagues not only wanted peace, but they were working actively to bring it about. Some cynical part of our makeup might ask, with so many committed and talented persons and organizations working for peace, why peace is so difficult to achieve, why does the lack of peace seem to be an ever-present part of the human experience.
Part of the problem is that even though many might be working for peace, it only takes a few to destroy that peace. I have lived for many years in parts of Southeast Asia where the vast majority of people, of all religions, ethnic groups, and walks of life, thirst for peace and come together to take common action to build peace. Generally speaking, there is peace. People live together well and cooperate at the daily level for the good of all. Nevertheless, it only takes a few individuals or small groups, driven by anger, resentment or jealousy, to try to destroy that peace. Moreover, modern technology has made it possible for a very limited number of individuals to destroy the very peace that is desired by the vast majority.
So our world is one which is repeatedly fractured by suspicion, conflict, and war. The causes are many and complex, and the paths to peace difficult to comprehend and to follow. There is a paradox here that we must face. It seems like everyone is in favor of peace, no one ever admits to being against peace, and yet there is very little peace in the world. The problem, I believe, lies in the fact that we are all in favor of peace in the abstract, but without saying in what peace consists, and without examining what is involved in building peace.
Of those religious thinkers of modern times who have attempted to study the concept of peace to explore what is involved in establishing and maintaining peace, I want to compare the thought of two persons who have made a remarkable contribution to the topic. One is a Christian, Pope John Paul II, leader of the Catholic Church, and the other a Muslim, Mr. Fethullah Gülen, affectionately called Hoca Effendi by those inspired by his teaching.
My paper aims at sharing some of the wisdom found in the writings of two living figures, one Christian and the other Muslim. Here I hope to bring together the thinking of these two scholars and religious teachers into a kind of dialogue on the theme: “the ethics of peace.” I will do this by summarizing the position of the Pope as the basis or point of view from which I will then read and explain the views of Fethullah Gülen as found in his many writings.
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