All the Same?

“Don’t we, Muslims and Christians, all believe in the same God?” This has been a recurring question in response to my previous post so I will briefly and inadequately address it.

Since the beginning of the Modern/Humanist period it has become standard fare to believe, and teach in places like seminaries, that religion is the projection of base human desires, needs, and aspirations upon the universe.  Religion, therefore, is simply a sign and response of humankind’s yearning for the numinous and finding a place for itself in the universe.  One should not be surprised, then, to read Marx’s famous statement that “Religion…is the opiate of the masses”1 or Freud’s dictum that “Religious ideas have sprung from the same need as all the other achievements of culture: from the necessity for defending itself against the crushing supremacy of nature”.2

For those who hold this vies, all religion is a creation of humanity. Thus, since humans all have the same desires, goals, needs, and aspirations, all religions are essentially saying the same thing and are simply speaking of the same “God” in different voices.  The analogy often used is that of blind men each describing a different part of the elephant and confusing it for the whole.

While that is a nice analogy, it rings false for a couple of reasons. Firstly, no human being can serve as the omniscient outside observer to see that we are indeed describing an elephant.  Indeed if someone claims this, back away from them while keeping eye contact, as they are obviously not right in the head. The second is that no one has asked the elephant if it is indeed an elephant, or allowed the elephant to have input (hint, Christianity and Islam claim to be revealed religions).

So, if these claims to being revealed religions are taken seriously an exploration of what each means by God is necessary. It is indeed true that the term Allah simply means “God” and is used by both Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.  Despite this, Christians and Muslims do not have the same revelation as to who this God is.

Simply speaking when Christians use the term “God” we are speaking of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is the revelation of which Jesus (I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14.6) and the Church speaks. The ancient faith of the Church holds that Jesus is both fully God and fully man (incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the flesh of the Virgin Mary his mother).  This Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and resurrected on the Third Day.  The Holy Spirit is sent to all who believe, and is given to the believer at baptism.  We believe that we shall be raised like him. At a minimum to be Christian is to hold these beliefs.

Islam proclaims that Jesus (Issa) is a great prophet, but is not God and that the Trinity is a corruption. In Islam, there is no incarnation as God cannot have a Son (i.e. reproduce). For Islam, Mohammed is the supreme prophet to whom God revealed his final message, the Koran.

“But don’t we all believe in the same God?”  No. There are two competing truth claims here, and either both are wrong, or one must be right. There is no third option. Either Jesus is who he says he is or he isn’t. Either Mohammed is who he says he is or he isn’t. It really is that simple.

Even if the answer is that simple, we must still be respectful, seek understanding, and live peaceably as far as it depends on us as we continue the Gospel imperative of working towards and praying for conversion, our own and the world’s.

1 Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher (1844)
2 The Future of an Illusion (1927)