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Civilization or Confusion of Conceptions

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Towards the Lost Paradise

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In the past, civilization was defined as the coexistence of people who come together, whether in a city or district or a village, around humanistic thoughts and feelings and conscious of their being human. Since human beings naturally live in groups, they have, from the beginning, lived in some degree of civilization. A true civilization is based on the refinement of manners, thoughts and feelings, and the strength of human will-power. Although some tend to identify civilization with dazzling advances and innovations in sciences and technology – from trains to space-ships, from broad streets and tall buildings to dams and nuclear power stations, from telecommunication systems to electronics – all these are, as regards civilization, no more than means of an easy, luxurious life.

Modern facilities can help to 'modernize' the outward appearance of life, but that does not amount to being civilized. Civilization is an atmosphere propitious for the development of man's potentialities, and a civilized man is one who has put himself under the service of his community in particular, and humanity in general, alongwith the thoughts, feelings and abilities he has developed and refined in that atmosphere. For this reason, civilization is not to be sought in riches, luxury and a comfortable life in large, richly-furnished houses, nor in techniques and quantities of production and consumption, which are all elements of material pleasures and physical well-being. It is to be found rather in the purity of thoughts, refinement of manners and feelings, and soundness of views and judgements. Civilization lies in the spiritual 'evolution' of man and his continuous self-renewal towards true humanity and personal integrity – being the 'best pattern' of creation. In particular, it should be noted that civilization is not, as it is unfortunately understood by blind imitators of the West, a garment to buy from some shop and put on. Rather, it is a final destination reached along a rational way going through time and circumstances.

Civilization is different from modernism. While the former means the changing and renewal of man with respect to his views, way of thinking and human aspects, the latter consists in the changing of his life-style and bodily pleasures and the development of living facilities. Although this is the truth, the new generations, who have been bewildered through misuse of concepts, have first been misled in their way of thinking and then made to degenerate in belief, language, national thoughts, morals and culture. Apart from this, those Western peoples enjoying technical facilities more than others, and the so-called 'intellectuals' who have emerged among Eastern peoples, and who consider themselves civilized and the others as savage, have committed, through such mis-labelling, a grave, unforgivable sin against civilization and culture. Those peoples and 'intellectuals' should know that as civilization does not mean modernism, so being intellectual is quite different from being a school graduate. The number of true intellectuals who have not studied at a school is not less than high school or even university graduates who have not been able to free themselves from savagery. Misuse of concepts may cause long-lasting deceptions: people may, for ages, confuse white with black, justice with wrong-doing, enlightenment with ignorance, being intellectual with dark-mindedness and civilization with savagery.

The enlightenment of a community and its being freed from confusion of thoughts, expressions and convictions, requires the existence of a group of true intellectuals. However, as we have said, being intellectual should not be confused with being a school graduate. In any particular community, there may be people who have specialized in different branches of science, but the enlightenment of that community is possible –not through those have studied physics, chemistry or biology- but through intellectuals who, in the awareness of the age, lead their life at the level of the spirit and have awaken to existence in soul and intellect by using their will-power in accordance with the dictates of truth. By combining the truths of sciences with the inspirations coming from beyond the visible worlds to form an inextinguishable source of light, they have truly been revived in soul and intellect, and have opened the way to the revival of their community through the messages they disseminate. Only through the efforts of those intellectuals can a true civilization come to existence.

Every new civilization is born through attempts based on a unique love and belief. It is in vain to talk about civilization where there are no such love and belief. In addition, if despotic pressures or interventions are added to the lack of love, belief and zeal, even the conquest of space and discovery of sub-atomic worlds will not be enough to found a civilization.

If the masses in a community are devoid of belief, love, zeal and the feeling of responsibility, if they live an aimless life unconscious of their true identity and unaware of the age and environment they live in, that community cannot be regarded as civilized even if it has changed thoroughly with all its institutions, and the living standards have risen considerably, and the people have all been 'modernized' in their life-style. For, as we have reiterated, civilization is an intellectual and spiritual phenomenon, nothing to do with technology, with dress and finery, with furniture and luxuries. The bloodshed, the continuance of colonialism under different names, unending massacres and conflicts, unchanging of human attitudes, unrefinement of manners, unenlightenment of intellectual life, the dominance of materialism in science and world views, all these, together with many other signs of savagery prevailing world-wide, show decisively that the 'developed' peoples of the world have not founded a true civilization, and nor have their 'developing' imitators been able to do so.

How pitiful it is that the intelligentsia of 'developing' countries have deceived their people into believing that they could be civilized through modernization of their life-style, which means absolute dependence on the West. This is, in fact, what the West has always suggested to them in order to block up the way to their true civilization. The 'Westernized' modernists in those countries have never been afraid of carrying out what has been 'inspired' to them by the West, and, through concerted assaults on the religion, language and way of thinking of their people, have achieved a hundred times more than what a hundred armies of crusaders would fail to achieve.

However, we are hopeful that the world will undoubtedly witness true civilization once more, and the signs of this civilization which will be founded on belief, love, knowledge and universal moral values, have already appeared on the horizon. It suffices for the realization of this sacred cause that the new generations who have undertaken it should go on their way with a strong belief and will-power and ever-deepening resolve. Aug 1985, Vol 7, Issue 79