Muslims most certainly do worship the same God

A few years ago, Lydia McGrew and Jim Kalb engaged in the same argument we’ve been having here:  which is the worse threat, liberalism or Islam?  You won’t be surprised that I think Kalb got the better of the exchange.  Here I’d like to focus on just one claim that I see from time to time on the blogosphere.  Mrs. McGrew says

In fact, the whole idea that Islam has something going for it “in the abstract” pretty much boils down to saying, “Well, at least they believe in God and try to love and obey Him.” Is that really either so obvious or, in any sense in which it might be true, so good? For one thing, it assumes without argument that we are talking about the same God, and that this sort of worship of God (through obeying the putative revelations of a false prophet) is a human good. Here I must express bafflement at the casual way in which this assumption is so often made.

Since I’m one who’s made exactly the claim she’s talking about, let me explain why it is true, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Muslims worshipping a different God is only conceivable if it is possible to imagine more than one “god”.  Of course, being monotheists themselves, McGrew and others of like mind don’t think there are two actually existing Gods.  However, for their claim to make any sense, they must suppose that “god” is an abstract type which has multiple possible instantiations, Ya*eh and Allah being two.  They do believe that only one possible God is instantiated.  They may even believe that two instantiations are not possible (i.e. Ya*eh or Allah may exist, but not both).

This is an incorrect idea of divinity.  According to classical theism, there is no distinction between essence and substance in God.  “God” is both a type and a proper name; it is necessarily singular.  One cannot speak of divinity belonging to two beings, because divinity is God.  (If you’re interested in why divine simplicity doesn’t mean that God is a property, see my review of Perfect Being Theology, by Katherin Rogers.)  The claim that Muslims worship a different God, a God that doesn’t happen to exist, is nonsense.  They worship the one true God–utterly simple, self-subsistent, infinite Being in Whom essence and existence are one–but they do so under a partly false revelation with a partly flawed idea of the One they worship.

But, couldn’t one say that the Muslims don’t worship a false God, but rather no God at all, that their God is actually an imaginary demon rather than an imaginary god?  Again, no.  The God of Muslim conception possesses distinctly divine attributes:  omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, power to create ex nihilo, etc.  These attributes are inseperable from divinity (identical to it, according to divine simplicity) and cannot exist except in divinity.  To attribute such qualities to a being is necessarily to identify that being with God.

Therefore, Muslims worship the true God.  QED

5 Responses

  1. “Muslims worshipping a different God is only conceivable if it is possible to imagine more than one ‘god.'”

    “The God of Muslim conception possesses distinctly divine attributes: omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, power to create ex nihilo, etc.”

    Well, it isn’t quite so simple. The God of Muslim conception possesses some of the divine attributes which necessarily can only belong to a Creator; but they deny of Him some divine attributes which belong to Him necessarily as well. For instance:

    1. They deny He is Trinitarian
    2. They deny only He is man’s end (i.e., Heaven is not the beatific vision, or even philosophic contemplation of God, but the 72 virgins, etc) and the end of all creation.

    Etc. Now, although many people who arguably believed in God may not have believed 1 & 2, they did not deny it. But what do we say about the case of people saying they believe in some thing designated by the term “X,” which has the properties that only thing designated by term “Y” can have, but also lacks some of the properties that at thing designated by term “Y” must have? I really don’t know.

    To make matters worse, I think ultimately we identify things definitely through connection to sensible reality, rather than through abstract description. If this is the case, than when they say they believe in the God of Abraham, but deny that Our Lord was God, we again have a serious conflict. (Sorry if this is too abbreviated.)

    Thus, I find it difficult to say with certainty whether they worship the same God or not–it would take more than the above to convince me.

    On the other hand, I too like Muslims much more than I like liberals.

  2. Well this one really got my attention!

    My first response was negative, but I know you are my brother in Western Civilization and traditionalist conservatism, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

    Your point, in summary, is that since there is only one God, Moslems do worship God, although they make some major mistakes at it.

    As you have defined the terms, your conclusion is correct, but misleading. Consider:

    When John Q. Public [ unsophisticated person] hears someone he respects say “Christianity and Islam worship the same God,” he hears it as “Islam is just as valid—or invalid—as Christianity.” But, of course, this is not what we want to say.

    And consider: the Lord Jesus Christ says, in John 4:23,

    “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”

    Moslems do not worship God in truth, because of their many false beliefs about His, and one could argue on this account that they do not worship the true God.

    And what’s wrong with saying “The Moslem conception of God: non-triune, not crucified for our sins, not forgiving sins because of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, etc, is a god which does not exist”?

    It‘s a mistake to be more charitable to Islam than the facts warrant. The essence of Islam appears to be combat against unbelievers to force them to submit. Other false religions oppose Christianity, and will fight us physically on occasion, but only Islam makes combat an integral part of the religion. Don’t be misled by the fact that Moslems seem relatively sane when they oppose the insane parts of liberalism. Unlike the Western liberals, they are not our brothers, that is, they are not a part of our line and they therefore cannot have sympathy for our ways. Although many Moslems are decent people and we should sympathize with them as fellow human beings, their religion defines them as our enemies, and we should take it at its word.

  3. Hello,

    You both make excellent points–I always learn a lot from my commenters. Let me summarize and respond to the two major
    points raised.

    1) I argue from divine simplicity that if someone credits an entity with a distinctly divine attribute, then that entity must be our God. Both of you (especially Mr. Wilhelmsen) point out that this can be turned around: Muslims explicitly deny certain traits that God necessarily possesses; therefore they implicitly deny them all, so their Allah is not God. This seems to be a good argument, but I can’t help thinking that there must be something wrong with it, since it would mean that only orthodox Christians can speak about God at all. For example, Arius would then not have spoken incorrectly about the true God, but have spoken about a fictional entity of his own imagination. I would still say, rather, that if someone assigns a divine attribute (one of His real, not just Cambridge properties), the true God is the only being that person could be talking about. If he denies some other divine attribute, then he contradicts himself (although perhaps in ways beyond the power of our limited intellects to see), which just means that his understanding of God is flawed and confused.

    Consider a counterexample: suppose there are some pagans who believe in a supreme being named “Zeus”. Zeus has no distinctly divine quality: he’s not omnipotent, not omniscient, not omnibenevolent, not the first cause, etc. Zeus’ supremacy just consists in the fact that his finite power slightly exceeds that of any other creature currently alive. I would not say that these Zeus-worshippers are worshipping the true God with false ideas about Him. They are worshipping an entirely fictional creature. The cases of the Jews and Muslims are clearly different.

    2) Also raised was the danger of leading the simple-minded astray into religious indifferentism with this talk of Muslims worshipping the true God. That is, indeed, a danger. Probably any Christian wanting to learn how to think about Islam would be better off listening to all three of us than just me. I admit I’ve been a little one-sided on this issue. However, if we deny that Muslims worship our God, then we become vulnerable to a popular atheist charge, namely that of all the possible gods that might exist, we naively believe that the one we happened to learn about as children actually exists while all the others are frauds. This charge carries great force among the simpleminded, who don’t realize that it can’t apply to the God of classical theism, for the reasons I give above.

  4. […] the blogger who goes by the pseudonym Bonald, who sees Moslems as worshipping (albeit inaccurately) the same God Christians worship, and who has stated the desirability of Western conservatives making some sort of alliance with […]

  5. […] a relief–I agree with both of these!  I have argued before that Muslims certainly do succeed in referring to the one actually-existing God, both in their speaking and their worship.  I have also affirmed that Islam is a religion of […]

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