TOLERANCE IN THE THEOLOGY AND THOUGHT OF A. J.

CONYERS AND FETHULLAH GÜLEN (ExTENDED AbSTRACT)
David B Capes

In his book The Long Truce (Spence Publishing, 2001) the late A. J. Conyers argues that tolerance, as practiced in western democracies, is not a public virtue; it is a political strategy employed to establish power and guarantee profits. Tolerance, of course, seemed to be a reasonable response to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but tolerance based upon indifference to all values except political power and materialism relegated ultimate questions of meaning to private life. Conyers offers another model for tolerance based upon values and resources already resident in pre-Reformation Christianity. In this paper, we consider Conyer’s case against the modern, secular form of tolerance and its current practice. We examine his attempt to reclaim the practice of Christian tolerance based upon humility, hospitality and the “powerful fact” of the incarnation. Furthermore, we bring the late Conyers into dialog with Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim scholar, prolific writer and the source of inspiration for a transnational civil society movement. We explore how both Conyers and Gülen interpret their scriptures in order to fashion a theology and political ideology conducive to peaceful co-existence. Finally, because Gülen’s identity has been formed within the Sufi tradition, we reflect on the spiritual resources within Sufi spirituality that make dialog and toleration key values for him. Conyers locates various values, practices and convictions in the Christian message that pave the way for authentic toleration. These include humility, trust, reconciliation, the interrelatedness of all things, the paradox of power--that is, that strength is found in weakness and greatness in service—hope, the inherent goodness of creation, and interfaith dialog. Conyers refers to this latter practice as developing “the listening heart” and “the open soul.” In his writings and oral addresses, Gülen prefers the term hoshgoru (literally, “good view”) to “tolerance.” Conceptually, the former term indicates actions of the heart and the mind that include empathy, inquisitiveness, reflection, consideration of the dialog partner’s context, and respect for their positions. The term “tolerance” does not capture the notion of hoshgoru. Elsewhere, Gülen finds even the concept of hoshgoru insufficient, and employs terms with more depth in interfaith relations, such as respect and an appreciation of the positions of your dialog partner.
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The resources Gülen references in the context of dialog and empathic acceptance include the Qur’an, the prophetic tradition, especially lives of the companions of the Prophet, the works of great Muslim scholars and Sufi masters, and finally, the history of Islamic civilization. Among his Qur’anic references, Gülen alludes to verses that tell the believers to represent humility, peace and security, trustworthiness, compassion and forgiveness (The Qur’an, 25:63, 25:72, 28:55, 45:14, 17:84), to avoid armed conflicts and prefer peace (4:128), to maintain cordial relationships with the “people of the book,” and to avoid argumentation (29:46). But perhaps the most important references of Gülen with respect to interfaith relations are his readings of those verses that allow Muslims to fight others. Gülen positions these verses in historical context to point out one by one that their applicability is conditioned upon active hostility. In other words, in Gülen’s view, nowhere in the Qur’an does God allow fighting based on differences of faith. An important factor for Gülen’s embracing views of empathic acceptance and respect is his view of the inherent value of the human. Gülen’s message is essentially that every human person exists as a piece of art created by the Compassionate God, reflecting aspects of His compassion. He highlights love as the raison d’etre of the universe. “Love is the very reason of existence, and the most important bond among beings,” Gülen comments. A failure to approach fellow humans with love, therefore, implies a deficiency in our love of God and of those who are beloved to God. The lack of love for fellow human beings implies a lack of respect for this monumental work of art by God. Ultimately, to remain indifferent to the conditions and suffering of fellow human beings implies indifference to God himself. While advocating love of human beings as a pillar of human relations, Gülen maintains a balance. He distinguishes between the love of fellow human beings and our attitude toward some of their qualities or actions. Our love for a human being who inflicts suffering upon others does not mean that we remain silent toward his violent actions. On the contrary, our very love for that human being as a human being, as well as our love of those who suffer, necessitate that we participate actively in the elimination of suffering. In the end we argue that strong resonances are found in the notion of authentic toleration based on humility advocated by Conyers and the notion of hoshgoru in the writings of Gülen.

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