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Friday, December 5, 2003

Sharing God.

A bit of theological reportage:

He's the commander in chief, not the theologian in chief. Nonetheless, President Bush stepped into a centuries-old religious controversy when he recently said of Muslims and Christians, "I believe we worship the same God."

Do we?

A professor of Islamic studies says, "Yes." Conservative Evangelical Protestants say, "No." The Rev. Richard John Newhaus, a conservative Catholic and editor of First Things, says, "Yes." And the Rev. Sam Trumbore, a Unitarian Universalist, says God is like a light viewed through a prism:

"The light may come from the same source but the prism of reality breaks up that light into many colors," Trumbore said. "In Islam, there is the concept of 99 names of Allah. In Christianity, God has three forms. There is an army of pagan and Hindu gods. The mistake is to take any image, name or description as the literal, absolute truth."

("Do All Religious Paths Lead to the Same God?", Mark O'Keefe, Newhouse News Service 12.5.03)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 5 December 2003 at 5:08 PM

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December 5, 2003 06:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

And what do you say, Philocrites?


December 6, 2003 01:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

I blogged about this last week, and if one accepts that Muslims and Christians (largely) believe their religion's representation of God to be absolutely true, I think it's clear the two gods have very different characteristics. I'm a little bothered by Sam Trumbore's argument. It's pretty dismissive. I think we can deal with the negative effects of the clash of civilizations without ignoring the very real differences in our theological positions or positing some hyper-relativism in which no one's ideals are even right or wrong. In fact, I would say if we solve the problem by emphasizing (at the cost of the beliefs of billions of people, Christian and Muslim alike) the idea that our gods are one and the same, we won't have challenged ourselves as human beings. It's easy to love those who agree with you and are like you; it's much harder to learn to love those with whom you have differences of opinion.


December 6, 2003 01:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Sorry for being a little unclear in my sentence on relativism. I don't mean to emphasize that Muslims are wrong and Christians are right or vice-versa. I simply mean that I follow Christianity because I believe the Christian God to be the one true God. I'm not a fundie, and I don't read Scripture literally. But I really do believe in the Christian God as the one true God. I'll admit humans can screw things up sometimes, but you'd think at least essential things like God's nature and personality (Triune or not, salvation by grace or salvation by the Pillars, etc.) would come through. I don't think saying, "Ignore the differences, they're really the same, because the Muslims and Christians are both screwing up" is very convincing. We may both be screwing up, but that doesn't remove all the very real differences between the characterizations of God.


December 6, 2003 08:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

What do I think? A few thoughts: Each religion — and each sect within each religion, and perhaps even each teacher and theologian within each sect — has a different vision of God. Some of these visions are more radically different than others. I don't find it meaningful to say that the visions are fundamentally the same, and therefore the religions cannot possibly be fundamentally the same. In my view, every path does not lead to the same place; each religion has its own mountain.

But this is really an anthropological or historical argument. From a religious perspective, on the other hand — especially from a mystical or theological perspective (in the sense of talk about God proper) — it may well make sense for you and me to say that we worship the same God, even when we hold very different doctrinal, cultural, and ethical views. Why?

Every worshiper is aware, at some level, that his or her own perspective is quite limited; but "God is great." The humility of the worshiper is recognizable across cultures. Religiously curious people — I'd call them "liberal," although most wouldn't accept the label — respond to people who hold different beliefs and practice different faiths as kindred spirits. They learn from each other; they recognize that they are on very similar paths, even if they are looking for different road signs and heading in different directions. As fellow worshipers — and not even just as Jews, Christians, and Muslims — we do see ourselves and each other as brothers and sisters.

And there is a final point about monotheism generally — about all ultimately monistic doctrines: Each monotheistic faith maintains that God is God not just of the Jews or of the Christians or of the Muslims, but that God is "creator of the universe," the maker of all humankind, the God and Father of us all, the one and only God. Trinitarianism doesn't mute this affirmation in orthodox Christianity; the status of the Jews as the chosen people doesn't mute this affirmation in orthodox Judaism. When people say that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God, I think they are most fundamentally acknowledging this aspect of the monotheistic heritage.

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