Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Do We Worship the Same God?

On Pentacost, Pope Francis held a meeting at the Vatican with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli president Shimon Peres in which each prayed for peace. This has caused angst in some quarters on the theory that an inter-faith prayer meeting smacks of religious indifferentism. As such things go, it seems to me that this was actually very thoughtfully managed by the Vatican. The three leaders assembled together outdoors, and each then offered a prayer separately on the theme of peace. Given the obvious doctrinal differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this seems a far better way to do things than trying to somehow compose a prayer or service which members of all three faiths can wholeheartedly participate in.

One of the claims which I saw come up in a number of discussions of this among Catholics, however, is: Muslims don't even worship the same God as we do.

Father Longenecker wrote a fairly good piece responding to that claim. His argues that the fact that someone's understanding of God is defective or incomplete does not mean that person is not worshiping "the same God". There is, after all, only one God:
The real heart of your question is that you can’t get your head around the idea that Muslims worship the same loving Father in heaven that we do.

It’s a problem you share with many Muslims who are horrified not only at the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity (they think it is polytheism) but they are also very resistant to the idea of God as Father. Allah is completely transcendent and any idea that we impose human characteristics on to him they find abhorrent.

So how can we say that they worship the same God?

Simply because there is only one God.

If someone worships God as he conceives of him he is worshipping the one, true God.
One can see Fr. Longenecker's affection for C. S. Lewis coming through here, as this line of thinking will be very familiar to readers of Lewis's The Last Battle. It's not a bad way of looking at things, but I think there are a couple other elements of this which are worth thinking about.

In the sense that Fr. Longenecker is speaking, someone who sincerely worships Zeus is worshipping God. In the sense that there is no Good but God, I think that's clearly true. But it is still possible to worship false Gods. Whether one holds that Zeus simply didn't exist, or that he was some sort of non-human being who was not God, it was certainly possible to worship him and in worshipping him, one was worshipping something other than God.

Is Allah a false god?

It seems to me that we have to say "No." Muslims worship the one God of Abraham. They take the Old Testament of our Bible to describe God's relationship with man. They believe (wrongly) that Jesus was a prophet rather than God. But then, Jews do not believe that Jesus was God. If we hold that Muslims do not worship "the same God" because they do not believe in the Trinity, then we have to hold that Jews do not worship the same God either -- and that's rather problematic given that we believe God Himself came to earth as an observant Jew.

Another concern I've heard expressed is that Islam stems from the revelation which Mohammad allegedly received from God via the Angel Gabriel. Obviously, as Christians do don't believe that a "revelation" which denies the divinity of Christ and our salvation through His sacrifice on the Cross is a true revelation. With the end of Apostolic times came the end of general revelation. There will, if Catholicism is true, be no more prophets. So, if this revelation which we must consider false is the source of Islam, and God would never have sent a false revelation, must this not mean that Muslims do not worship the same God?

I don't think that necessarily follows. Clearly, as a Catholic, I do not believe that the Koran is the word of God. That means that I would have to conclude that Mohammad was either either deceived or lying when he claimed to receive a revelation through the Angel Gabriel. If deceived, this could be either the result of some kind of natural delusion or a result of some real supernatural creature (but not one of God's faithful angels) giving him a false message.

However, it's entirely possible to tell an untruth about a real person. By telling an untruth about a person, we don't somehow create an alternate, false person. We just tell a distortion of the truth. Even if we take the position that Mohammad was spoken to by a fallen angel, this would not mean that Islam worships some other God. There is, after all, only one God who revealed Himself to Abraham, and this is the God that Islam names as Allah. Lies always exist in reference to truth, they don't exist on their own. If the father of lies or one of his servants was the source of Mohammad's revelations, what could be more mischievous than to base his lies in the obvious truth of God's revelation of Himself to Israel and the Incarnation?


JenniO said...

What? This isn't a question of any dispute. Of course it's the "same" god. There is only one God. This is the kind of thing people worried about centuries ago, but we have long since settled the matter.

Itinérante said...

Two thoughts I had while reading:
1- The name of God, the Triune God, in Arabic is Allah,and any god would be "Ilah". While Muslims say la Ilah illa Allah, no god but God, the Christian will say Allah al Ab, God the Father and so on. It goes beyond the naming really that at the root of it all He has the name of the One God, Allah for the Muslims and Christians alike. The error is less of a confusion on who God is, The Creator, The Merciful, ... but a matter of teaching and pretty wrong bad one. The Islamic prophet(s) did not create a god, but changed/defiled the image of God, Father Son and Spirit. Which is very very sad but at the same time hope giving because the Truth will be revealed sooner or later. Which leads to the next thought...
2-I have seen many true worshippers of "Allah" (in the Muslims sense) find Christ through their prayers and readings of their own manuscripts...

Anonymous said...

I strugged with this question with regard to Mormons. What it boils down to, I think, is that either we worship the same God, or they don't worship (and believe in, and have relationships with) God at all. But how can I say whether individual Mormons have relationships with God? The ones I have known certainly seem to. They seem to have similar ideas about him, and similar experiences to ones that I have had.

In other words it's a question of fact, and there's just no way to prove that any individual has no relationship with God in fact.

It may be that their errors about him interfere with their relationships with him, in some ways. But we can't reasonably claim to know that no relationship exists.

Ioannes Georgius said...

Dwight Longenecker :
If someone worships God as he conceives of him he is worshipping the one, true God.
Mr Darwin :
One can see Fr. Longenecker's affection for C. S. Lewis coming through here, as this line of thinking will be very familiar to readers of Lewis's The Last Battle.

In my reading of the Emeth scene, that is not so.

If someone is worshipping a false god, but giving him/it the moral attributes of the True God and directing his worship accordingly, then such a person would, according to the Emeth scene, be worshipping the True God, so long as he was not responsible for rejecting explicit worship of the True God.

However, the deity of the Qoran has not the moral attributes of the True God.

Neither has the deity of Talmud and Zohar.

And if a story-based identification with the God of Abraham were enough, then Calvinists would be worshipping the True God. Perhaps some of them are, but Calvinism as such is not giving God His real moral attributes.

For that matter, what Ken Miller calls « The God of Darwin » neither has moral nor metaphysical qualities of the True God.

Ioannes Georgis said...

So how can we say that they worship the same God?

Simply because there is only one God.

That is a sophistry I have heard from Muslims.

His questioner:
Fr. Dwight, what can you suggest to someone like me who, as a woman, finds Islam extremely horrific and evil, and the thought that Muslims supposedly worship the same loving, true God that I do, all but impossible?

Here I am very much reminded of the Last Battle - the scene were the lamb asks that.

And, if you reread the book, the lamb is the one who is right.

Longenecker just took the position of an ape.

Darwin said...

Fr. Longenecker is taking the position that there is only one God, and thus that even if someone has a distorted understanding of God, it remains the same God that he is worshipping.

In The Last Battle, there are in fact two supernatural beings, God (in the form of Aslan and his Father beyond the sea) and Tash, who I think is arguably a satanic figure. The Ape's deception is to claim that Aslan and Tash are in fact one and the same being. Aslan's argument when speaking to Emeth is that only good can be done of Him while only evil can be done for Tash, and so any good which Emeth has done or sought in worshipping Tash was in fact done for Aslan.

I'm a little less clear on your position. You talk about "the deity of the Qoran" and "the deity of Talmud and Zohar" and say "And if a story-based identification with the God of Abraham were enough, then Calvinists would be worshipping the True God."

However, I would assume that you do not in fact believe that there is one deity of the Koran, one of the Talmud, one of the Calvinists, etc. There is, it seems clearly, only one God of Abraham. One Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To the extent that people provide different and conflicting descriptions of God, some of them are obviously wrong. However, there is only one God to whom all of these refer.

Whether one says that all of these people worship the same God comes down, I think, to how one relates a description to its subject. One could say either:

1) There is only one God, however the descriptions of God provided by different faiths are different, so some of these descriptions describe God more imperfectly than others or

2) There is only one God and He is described correctly by the Church. Therefore the God of the Koran does not exist.

Ioannes Georgius said...

False deities can be described both as "not existing" and as "demons".

Or for that matter as "wood and stone".

Accepting a false description of Divinity, whether in many gods or in one God purporting to be that even of the Bible, is a kind of idolatry which can be described both as worshipping what is not and as worshipping demons.

Hence the reference to Tash.

Talmud/Qoran teach basically a monopersonal divinity.

Zohar a divinity in 11 sephirot each having a male and a female version.

Calvinism teaches a divinity which decides for the sinners not only the punishments for the sins, but the sins for which they are punished. Chesterton called it Diabolism.

Ken Miller teaches a divinity for whom it is a matter of honour to make a material universe self sufficient and working "without his continual intervention". I recognise the god of Voltaire, not the Bridegroom of the Church.