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Alan answers the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Is it impossible for people to use “God” and “Allah” as names? If not, why think that some people aren’t using these terms as names (when, e.g., they begin a prayer, “Dear God…”)? When you say, “Allah is a unitarian God,” it sounds to me as if you are using “Allah” as a name and “God” as a category that is grammatically similar “person” or “mouse”.
I didn’t get from this that Alan was suggesting that Christians shouldn’t use the word “God” as a name. Traditionally the Christian church has done just that. The real problem comes when people from different beliefs use a term that can be both a name as well as a position. The emphasis is on the position. I’ve heard many Christians wrongly state that Christians and Muslims worship the same “God”, just in different ways. Alan addresses just that by pointing out the very different views of who God is. I don’t see a problem with Christians using the name “God” in prayers, worship, etc., because we have a clear idea of who “God” is. We must be very careful though when presenting our belief to others so there is no misunderstanding of what we mean by “God”.
You and I may believe contradictory things about Abraham Lincoln. Yet we can still succeed in referring to the same person when we mention the name “Abraham Lincoln”. Similarly, if “God” and “Allah” are used as names, then Muslims and Christians can both be referring to the same entity despite believing contradictory things about that entity. If they can refer to the same entity, then they can also be thinking about and worshiping the same entity. The fact that they have contradictory beliefs about the entity in question shows very little.
I guess I’m not clear on what appears to be your objection. Are you taking issue with people using “God” when referring to the God of the Bible, since, as you are claiming, by doing so you open the door to worshiping the same “God” as Islam or vice-versa? If that’s the case, I don’t see how the use of the word “God” gets you to that place.
Just because two people say the word “God”, it doesn’t necessarily mean they both mean the same thing. Considering your example, we’re not talking about are different opinions of what kind of person Abraham Lincoln was. We can have differing opinions about his policies, about whether or not the man was a good statesman, or whether or not he is worthy of the place he has earned in history. But we cannot deny who the man was. Consider this. Historical records say that “Abraham Lincoln” was born in Illinois, was the 16th President of the United States, was the issuer of the Emancipation Proclamation and was assassinated at Ford’s Theater. Someone else may believe that “Abraham Lincoln” was the first President of France who invaded China to get some great tea in 1908. One of those beliefs about Abraham Lincoln is just plain wrong. Given two people, one of whom believes the first “Abraham Lincoln” to be the historical person, the second believing the false information, they can’t both be correct about the ‘who’ of Abraham Lincoln, regardless of the fact that they both use the same name. We can only be successful in referring to the same man if it’s the same Abraham Lincoln as shown by history. The second Abraham Lincoln does not, and has not existed. If I say Abraham Lincoln was someone other than who he really was, then I am simply wrong.
It works the same way with God. If by “God”, you mean the transcendent eternal creator taught in the Bible to be one God, but revealed in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that this God came into this world in the form of human flesh as the Son, then you mean God as taught by the Bible. If instead you believe God to be one and only, not revealed in three persons and also believe that to say he has a Son is an unforgivable sin, you believe in a different God. There is no way those two beliefs can be about the same being, regardless of what name they use in their prayers. We’re going beyond opinions of who we think God is here, we’re talking about the very nature of the being we worship, who he has revealed himself to be. I don’t want to worship the wrong God, so it’s important that I know who and what I mean when I say God. When I speak to “God” in prayer and worship, it’s to the being that I know God to be, as revealed in his teachings. If I get the ‘who’ God is wrong, then I’ve got the wrong God. You need to know what you mean when you say “God” in order to divide between truth and a false teaching.
Jesus made it clear that those who reject the Son also reject the Father. It is not possible for someone to reject Christ, yet worship the God of the Bible, regardless of the name they use or what lineage they use to trace the origin of their belief. Jesus was clear that playing around with the ‘who’ of God was not to be tolerated. Jesus made it clear that there is one way, one truth, one life. Anything else is a lie.
Likewise Paul, when he spoke to the Athenians in Acts 17, corrected them by noting they worshiped all manner of gods, including a shrine they built “to the unknown god” just for good measure. They had it wrong. Paul corrected their belief of who God is by teaching them the nature and person of the true God. It was only after people receive this truth that they can worship the true “God”. We must receive the truth of God before we can really worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
I guess I’m a bit confused about your point of view. Are you advocating for a Universalist position? For those seeking common ground between faiths, it is often believed that Judaism, Islam and Christianity all share the same God – the God of Abraham, they just use different names and have slightly differing beliefs. It is so much more than differing opinions. While we may share a common history, we do not worship the same God. If God revealed himself in the form of Jesus as his only Son, then Christianity has the right God and Judaism and Islam are incorrect since they both reject the Son. If Islam were correct, then Christianity would have the wrong God. They can’t all believe different things about God and be right, regardless of the name they use.
Erik I think the point might become clear as you consider these questions . When the ignorant historian is writing nonsense about Abraham Lincoln, why think that he is writing nonsense about Abraham Lincoln? Why not think that the ignorant historian is simply writing about a fictitious entity whom he happens to call “Abraham Lincoln”?
When Muslims are thinking about God, why think that they have false beliefs about God? Why not think that they are simply having beliefs about a fictitious entity that they call “God”? When they worship the entity they call “God,” why think that they are worshipping a fictitious entity? Why not think that they are rather worshipping God, whom they have certain false beliefs about?
Because they are not worshiping God, but rather a false image of God: an idol, and God rejects idol worship. Idolatry doesn’t have to be simply in the form of a carved or molded image. Idolatry can be anything we substitute for the truth of who God really is. If you are worshiping a false image or idea, you are not worshiping God. The Bible tells us that God rejects idolatrous worship. He closes his ears to it. If you have the wrong idea about God, you’re not worshiping the true God.
As I already pointed in my previous response, Jesus said that God is to be worshiped in spirit and in TRUTH (John 4:24). If your ‘ignorant historian’ is writing about Abraham Lincoln, but isn’t implying he was the same Abraham Lincoln who was the 16th President, then he may be simply telling a story. If however, he says things about the Abraham Lincoln that was the 16th president that are not correct, then he is distorting the truth. You can believe what you want about Abraham Lincoln, but you can’t change who he was. When people distort the truth about who God really is, they deceive themselves and others. God does not receive worship from those who distort who he is. He rejects it. Deuteronomy 12 is just one of many examples showing God warning Israel that he will not be worshipped in the ways that followers of false gods worship them. God’s character is central to who he is and he simply won’t allow us to believe whatever we want about his character, then offer those false ideas up in the form of worship.
People can say they believe in God. They can believe different things about who he is. They can also be wrong. Distorting who God really is is idolatry and is strictly forbidden by God. For a Muslim that would seek to worship God yet reject Jesus, then they reject the Father and the father will reject them. Their worship will go unheard because it is not worship of him, but of a false image of who he is. Simply put, if you reject Christ, you do not worship the true God, regardless of what names you use in your worship or what methods you use for that worship. If you reject Jesus, you reject the Father. If you reject the Father, you are rejected by the Father. Your worship is for nothing. God will not receive worship from someone who denies his truth.
Erik, you’re not addressing my questions. Try this. First specify the question of mine that you are addressing, then answer it. Repeat for the next questions. Then see if your answers cohere with each other.
I’m sorry my response wasn’t clear. It wasn’t my intent to provide a point by point response to each question you asked, but rather a response to your final question: “Why not think they are rather worshipping God, whom they have certain false beliefs about?” Your final question really summarizes the other questions you asked in your response to me. The other questions, which appear to me to be variations of your last question, are addressed indirectly in my response. As I pointed out, and regardless of how you word your questions, if you or anyone worship a ‘false’ God (or false idea of God), regardless of the name you use in your worship, you have it wrong and your worship is rejected by the true God. This is what the Bible teaches, this is what Jesus taught.
If your objection is that we are calling the Muslim ‘God’ false, then you’re looking to go down another path altogether. But the original question addressed by Alan was whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I believe Alan has already demonstrated why the answer is ‘no’.
But now try to answer the questions about Lincoln.
We could learn pretty quickly what he means by ‘Abraham Lincoln’ by asking a few qualifying questions. Does he intend to make any reference to the 16th President of the United States? If so, then his ‘nonsense’ could be incorrect facts or made-up assertions. We could check that against historical records.If we agree he is attempting to write about the 16th President and is writing nonsense, then he is wrong.
The same can be applied to the Christian/Muslim question. If both agree that they are worshiping who they believe to be the one, true, creator/God, and this God is believed by both to have certain attributes and there are no other ‘gods’ out there, then we can no one thing for certain – both sides cannot be correct at the same time. Both could be wrong, but if we grant that one group has it right, then, by default, the other has to be wrong. God cannot be expressed in two contradictory ways.
So, I’ve given my answers to your questions. Do you find your questions sufficiently answered?
Erik, consider more closely the very case I mentioned: that of the ignorant historian who has certain of his facts about Abraham Lincoln wrong. How do you account for the fact that this man still has beliefs about Abraham Lincoln? Why aren’t we instead forced to the conclusion that this man has no beliefs about Abraham Lincoln, mistaken or otherwise, and that he instead just has beliefs about a fictitious man whom he calls “Abraham Lincoln”? (Or is this indeed what your reasoning leads you to strangely conclude?)
That’s why my previous response indicated we need to learn more about what this man believes by asking some qualifying questions. We can try and learn about his beliefs and try to understand what he means by “Abraham Lincoln” and how he developed those beliefs. I’ve not said we need to assume what his beliefs are. We don’t have to be forced to any conclusions when he can inform us of his beliefs himself. It’s unlikely he developed his beliefs in a vacuum, but rather was informed by some other sources of information. Why does your line of questioning make the assumption that we cannot ask questions to determine the reason for his belief? Must we draw conclusions about this man without any other source of information?
The challenge, however, is to explain the stipulated case. Consider in fact the more specific case of the mistaken historian who has just one fact about Abraham Lincoln wrong: he wrongly believes that Lincoln was born in Nelson county Kentucky. Otherwise his beliefs about the man he calls “Abraham Lincoln” are the same as yours about Abraham Lincoln. My question to you: how can it be that the mistaken historian has beliefs about the real Abraham Lincoln, rather than just beliefs about a fictitious man he calls “Abraham Lincoln” who was much like Abraham Lincoln except born in Nelson county?
“How can it be that the mistaken historian has beliefs about the real Abraham Lincoln, rather than just beliefs about a fictitious man he calls ‘Abraham Lincoln’ who was much like Abraham Lincoln except born in Nelson county?”
I don’t think that enough reason has been given to think the historian is actually speaking of another Lincoln. We can reasonably assume he means the Lincoln who was the 16th president if we ask the questions and check the facts against what we know about the 16th president. Simply because he has one fact wrong about the 16th president does not have to imply that he means someone else named Lincoln who just happens to have lived an identical life save for his birthplace. Are you dismissing the possibility that we can interview the historian in order to check his facts, or does your question presuppose that we cannot learn more about the historian’s point of view?
So we can stop skirting the issue at hand, may I ask you this – is your point in this line of questioning an attempt to say that both Christians and Muslims have the same God, but they differ in just a few small areas, therefore they have the same God, just some mixed up facts? I would remind you again that both of these groups would disagree on that position. Again I point to what Jesus taught – either you receive him as God’s son, or you reject the Father. Muslims reject the concept of God taught in the Bible. They say it is a false view of who God is. We would say the same about their view of God. We’re talking about far more than where a man was born or not born, we’re talking about the essence of who someone is. The Bible tells us that God is a certain being, with certain qualities and characteristics, and that those certain characteristics are at the very heart of who he is. Distort them, and you are no longer talking about the same being. Those who would follow him and worship him must do so based on those revelations. You may have some facts wrong about Christianity and still worship the same God, but once you mess with who God is, in light of his revelation, you are worshiping something that doesn’t really exist.
Here are two possible analyses of what the mistaken historian is doing when he uses the name “Abraham Lincoln”: (a) he’s referring about the real Abraham Lincoln, about whom he is simply mistaken concerning the birthplace, or (b) he’s referring to a fictitious man who was born in Nelson county and was a lot like the real Abraham Lincoln in every other respect.
The challenge for you can be summed up in a question: why suppose that (a) rather than (b) is the correct analysis? Your attempts so far to answer this challenge have failed, since, if we check the facts, we’ll actually find that what the mistaken historian believes about the person in question better fit (b) than (a). That is, the fictitious man of (b) precisely fits the mistaken historian’s beliefs about the man he calls “Abraham Lincoln.”
“…if we check the facts…”? Twice now I’ve mentioned questioning the historian about his beliefs in order to determine what he believes and comparing it to known historical evidence. To me, this is checking the facts. Can you not see that that’s exactly what I suggested previously? You say I’ve failed to answer this challenge by telling me I need to do what I already suggested. Since you haven’t disqualified questioning the historian as an option, it is reasonable to assume we can use this method. I’ve not suggested we ‘suppose’ what the historian means based on no further investigation, yet your response accuses me of doing just that. I have at no point suggested in this example that I could simply assume (a) over (b), rather I draw my conclusion from further investigation.
If you think I’m not getting your point, you may be right. Perhaps rather than cite an example, you may be interested in just stating your point of view so we can discuss that instead. If not, then perhaps in this line of questioning, I am beyond my current abilities to carry this discussion further. I’m willing to accept that if that is the case and chalk it up to an opportunity for myself expand my knowledge in this area.
Erik, I don’t think I’m up to the task of further explaining the issue here, nor of how it relates to the topic of this post. The problem concerns giving an account of how names can refer to a person despite that fact that the one using the name may have (many) false beliefs about the person to whom she succeeds in referring. If you ever get a chance to take an intro course in the philosophy of language, you’d probably encounter the issue again. Then you’d also have an instructor to talk through the issue with you in person.
Peter – as you’re probably aware, I have not studied the philosophy of language in any formal setting. I’ve read a bit here and there to try an be a bit better informed. I did a search earlier on the term “philosophy of names” and found an interesting article that I think gives me a better understanding of where you were trying to go with your example. Just reading that article gave me some food for thought going forward. I was able to quickly identify a few theories that seem to fit with the understanding I have regarding names based simply on my use of language. It’s interesting. Either way, I appreciate the discussion. I like a good challenge, even if I’m not yet able to fully address the challenge. It’s a great way to learn what you don’t yet fully understand.
I’ll end my response with this: Even though philosophers can take the seemingly simple idea of a person’s name and through semantics question what or who the actual name may refer, I don’t know that it’s necessary to really get that abstract. I think most reasonable people with a reasonable level of education should be able to exchange ideas about to who or what a name refers given some reasonable level of qualifying information. We all seem to function pretty well without excessively questioning what someone means when they use a proper name. Perhaps I’m taking an overly simplistic point of view. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to debate a bit with me. It’s been interesting and helpful.