Allah and God: the debate continues

Readers may be interested in the debate between Peter S. and Alan Roebuck in the comments of my post “Maverick Philosopher on whether Muslims worship the same God“.

5 Responses

  1. Yes, I’m highly interested. It’s interesting to see Escalante’s dazzling brilliance at work in another context. Peter, are you still promoting authentic 2kism?

    Interested readers may check out his work at http://thebasilica.wordpress.com

  2. So you’re saying Peter S. is Peter Escalante? That’s interesting; nice to know more about my commenters. What’s 2kism, by the way?

  3. 99.99% sure. Two Kingdoms Theology: Martin Luther’s doctrine of the two reigns of God (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_kingdoms_doctrine).

    Ultimately, on Luther’s view the righteousness of God (grace) and the righteousness of earthly virtue (law) ne’er do meet. They must always be opposed to one another as two antagonistic principles.

    Human works can never be energized by divine justice, and thus can never gain the approval/ sanction of Heaven. The end result is the complete secularization of the seculum, as genuine righteousness contracts into the inward realm of faith and the tangible realm of human activity is emptied of grace. The sacred is restricted to the invisible, the sacraments emptied of their power, and earthly authorities bereft of divine sanction.

    It is the logic that convinced normally pious Christians they could overthrow the ecclesiastical and civil authorities without risking divine displeasure, by separating the heavenly from the Catholic order in thought.

    The wedge issues in the arsenal of infidel propaganda (i.e., hypocritical ecclesiastics, tyrannical kings, and persecuted minorities of faithful) actually completed the separation (heaven from earth) in many minds, but the disjuntion had already occurred with the acceptance of Protestant 2K doctrine.

    Or so I argue… 😉

  4. The following is in response to Mr. Roebuck’s post [July 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm] at the bottom of the thread linked to at the top of this page; as Boland has started a new thread, I am posting here:

    I will address his reply section by section. First, however, I would like to reemphasize, as per my previous post [July 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm], that no less than the Catholic magisterium asserts that Muslims acknowledge and worship the one God and Creator. Similar acknowledgments may be found from such major Christian authorities as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (respectively: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/canterbury//data/files/resources/1107/A_Common_Word_for_the_Common_Good.doc; acommonword.com/en/a-common-word/6-christian-responses/202-response-from-his-holiness-patriarchy-alexy-ii-of-moscow-and-all-russia.html). Mr. Roebuck no doubt understands himself to be speaking for Christians generally in his denial of the claim under consideration; however, he stands in direct opposition to major, as well as numerous lesser Christian authorities in this regard.

    That point aside, and turning to his reply, first, regarding the term “worship the same God” as indicating “kinship between groups”, this is certainly one sense in which the phrase can be taken. I would assert again that, in this regard, metaphysics necessarily takes precedence over sociology, and that the matter of “the same God” necessarily takes precedence over the matter of “worship” in his statement. That aside, for the sake of argument, I will admit and address his point. Is it the case that there is no kinship between Christian and Muslims?

    To the contrary, there is a major commonality of kinship – as jointly understood in Christianity, Islam and also Judaism – through the figure of Abraham, the first patriarch, to whom God revealed Himself. In this sense, all three faiths jointly comprise “the children of Abraham”, himself described by God as the “father of many nations” (KJV: Genesis 17:5) and by Paul in as the “father of all them that believe” (KJV: Romans 4:11). One of the most touching renditions of this theme may be found in an illumination from the French “Bible de Souvigny” (c1100 AD), showing Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered together in Abraham’s bosom (expositions.bnf.fr/parole/grand/005.htm). The theme has been further elucidated in such works as F. E. Peters’ classic treatment, “The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam”.

    Kinship might possibly be taken in two other senses also (not that we necessarily impute these to our interlocutor): firstly in terms of ethnicity or race, secondly in terms of similarity of worship, as it is specifically worship that is being addressed. To consider kinship in terms of ethnicity or race would seem to conflate Christian and Jewish categories of judgment, but Christianity, from its earliest centuries, has understood itself as a world religion, and is becoming progressively so in the modern era as it has shifted in the course of centuries from a Middle Eastern religion to a predominantly European one to a progressively African, Asian and Latin American one. It is worth contemplating that in terms of race, Christianity spans from the Ethiopian Copts of black Africa, one of the oldest churches, to the Protestant churches in South Korea, among the newest, where roughly a third of the population is Christian.

    To consider kinship in terms of similarity of worship ignores the distinctions to be found between, for example, the spartan worship of a Geneva Calvinist, the heavily iconic and ritualized worship of a Russian Orthodox or the noisily eclectic worship of an African Evangelical. Further, it also ignores certain remarkable similarities in form of worship or spiritual practice to be found between Christianity and Islam, such as the very similar standing, bowing and prostration in prayer of Muslims and Greek Orthodox monks, to which could be added the example of Tibetan Buddhist monks, and the very similar practice of the Hesychast Jesus Prayer – as perhaps best known through the anonymous Russian spiritual classic, “The Way of a Pilgrim” – and the Sufi dhikrullah, or invocation of the name of God, to which could be added the example of the japa yoga of the Hindus, among others.

    Turning to the claim made that “Islam is the only religion I’m aware of whose very scriptures record their god commanding eternal hostility to all unbelievers,” this is a very serious charge; it is also one without serious foundation. While the Qur’an criticizes Christians in certain respects, it also frequently commends and praises them. Further, the Qur’an is never critical of either Christ or Mary, both of whom it treats with great honor, although the given understanding of their significance is obviously somewhat distinct from that of the Gospels. Some of the most significant passages involving Qur’anic praise of Christians include [tr. A.J. Arberry, “The Koran Interpreted”]:

    “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabaeans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness – their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them; neither shall they sorrow.” (2:62; 5:69)

    “When God said, ‘Jesus, I will take thee to Me and will raise thee to Me and I will purify thee of those who believe not. I will set thy followers above the unbelievers till the Resurrection Day. Then unto Me shall you return, and I will decide between you, as to what you were at variance on.’” (3:55)
    “And some there are of the People of the Book [e.g. Christians and Jews] who believe in God, and what has been sent down unto you, and what has been sent down unto them, men humble to God, not selling the signs of God for a small price; those – their wage is with their Lord; God is swift at the reckoning.” (3:199)
    “But had the People of the Book believed and been godfearing, We would have acquitted them of their evil deeds, and admitted them to Gardens of Bliss. Had they performed [i.e. followed] the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to them from their Lord, they would have eaten both what was above them, and what was beneath their feet. Some of them are a just nation; but many of them – evil are the things they do.” (5:65-6)
    “And thou [Muhammad] wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say ‘We are Christians’; that, because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud.” (5:82)
    “Those to whom We gave the Book [i.e. Scripture] before this believe in it and, when it is recited to them, they say, ‘We believe in it; surely it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, even before it we had surrendered.’ These shall be given their wage twice over for that they patiently endured, and avert evil with good, and expend of that We have provided them. When they hear idle talk, they turn away from it and say, ‘We have our deeds, and you your deeds. Peace be upon you! We desire not the ignorant.’” (28:52-5)
    “Then We sent, following in their footsteps, Our Messengers; and We sent, following, Jesus son of Mary, and gave unto him the Gospel. And We set in the hearts of those who followed him tenderness and mercy. And monasticism they invented – We did not prescribe it for them – only seeking the good pleasure of God; but they observed it not as it should be observed. So We gave those of them who believed their wage; and many of them are ungodly.” (57:27)
    Should one think that such sentiments were only confined to the text of the Qur’an and not to the hearts of Muhammad or his followers, let me quote in full the charter of protection and privileges drafted by Muhammad on behalf of the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai referenced in a previous post:

    “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation [Muslims] is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day [end of the world].”
    (st-katherine.net/en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=65)

    The original of this letter still exists in the Topkapi Museum, its terms and conditions having been observed and ratified by Muslim rulers for some 1400 years. The sentiments expressed are, quite self-evidently, as far from those of eternal hostility toward Christians on the part of a non-Christian as could be imagined.

    With this said, there certainly has been historic conflict between the two civilizations, as could hardly be denied. One point worth considering is to what extent Christian attitudes are shaped by what are essentially contingent factors: first, that the two civilizations have lain geographically adjacent to one another and, second, that Islam has been historically subsequent to Christianity. The first factor dictated that there would be likely contact and thereby potential conflict – and the worst conflict is always between neighbors – while the second factor dictated that it would be Islam that impinged upon a previously established Christian civilization, rather than the reverse.

    An emphasis on the purported history of endemic Islamic violence also obscures notable periods of coexistence, tolerance and exchange between Muslims and Christians as well as Jews, as explored in such recent works as Zachary Karabell’s “Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation,” Sidney H. Griffith’s “The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam,” Ian Almond’s surprising “Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians across Europe’s Battlegrounds,” Chris Lowney’s “A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain” and Mark R. Cohen’s “Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages”.

    With respect to the statement that “pious Moslems affirm some of the most important positions we [I assume this means Christians] hold against the liberals,” the situation is rather more severe than this: increasingly, it is the Muslims who are the ones holding the line. For instance, a recent, comprehensive Gallup survey focusing upon European Muslims (www.abudhabigallupcenter.com/144842/REPORT-Gallup-Coexist-Index-2009.aspx) highlighted that the greatest distinction between European Muslims and Europeans generally – and that which forms one of the principal litmus tests used in measuring the acceptance of Muslims in various European polities – is their acceptance of liberal sexual mores, most notably homosexuality, abortion, pornography and extramarital sex (here, one could clearly add an acceptance of secular atheism as well).

    European Christians, as the same survey observes, are largely as liberal in these matters as Europeans generally, leading to the somewhat ironic situation of conservative Christians – whether American or the handful of remaining European – finding themselves in agreement with European Muslims – and Muslims generally, for that matter – on conservative sexual mores, against the stance of both European Christians and Europeans generally. In other words, conservative Christians and Muslims find themselves to be inadvertent allies against liberalizing tendencies within broader secular culture in what is one of the most crucial battlegrounds of the culture war, a theme explored, for example, in some detail by the noted conservative Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft in his works “Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War” and “Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims”.

    To return again to the question of judging a matter of objective truth on the basis of practical considerations, perhaps I have misjudged the earlier statements of the previous thread [July 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm; July 12, 2011 at 10:16 pm] as is claimed, although this, at least, is not my reading of what was stated there. In any case, let me lean upon this issue briefly in order to drive the point further home. To consider a deliberately ridiculous example, if your greengrocer discovers that he can improve his profits by determining, on the basis of practical considerations, that, as an objective truth, 2 + 2 = 5, should you applaud his sagacity? Let me take one closer to the issue at hand and express it in terms more formally logical: “A doesn’t like B, therefore A and B worship different Gods,” or alternatively, “A and B have a history of conflict, therefore A and B worship different Gods”. Would this be held up to any as a model argument? To consider a concrete example, the French and Germans have had a long history of mutual enmity, revanchism, open conflict and pitched battles – from Jena, Sedan, the Marne to the Ardennes – yet both have been historically Catholic countries.

    That aside, the “classical notion of the Trinity” is precisely not a “practical consideration” but rather a theological or philosophical one. With regard to it being “an open-and-shut case that Trinity cannot be the same as non-Trinity”, while this is certainly true in a broad sense, when examined with greater care, the matter is by no means so cut-and-dried. On the Christian side, to say that God is “Three” without at the same time asserting that God is “One” is, as I have previously pointed out, a distortion of the tradition. [July 13, 2011 at 2:11 am] As Boland succinctly summarized, “God is certainly one Being/essence/substance, possessed whole and complete by each of the three Persons.”

    To further forestall reification of the Trinity, it may be worth recalling the words of Christ from the Gospel of Mark: “And Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.” (KJV: Mark 12:29) “And Jesus said unto him, ‘Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.’” (KJV: Mark 10:18)

    On the Islamic side, God is certainly “One”, as is frequently reasserted, but there is also the sense – developed by the Islamic intellectual tradition – in which this “One” carries certain distinctions which nevertheless do not break the Divine Unity. Most significantly, God as the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman) is, as it were, understood as the outward facing hypostatic face of the Divinity toward creation. More generally, both these examples are bound up in the larger one-many problem of traditional metaphysics: God is ultimately One, but the world is many. How does the One give rise to the many? The One must first articulate into a one-many within Itself and then extend from this into the manyness that is creation. One sees this general metaphysical formulation repeated across traditions. The Christian Trinity is one particular expression of this – certainly unique to itself – but, taken in a broader sense, to be seen as of a general type.

    Let us put this aside, however, and return to the notion that it is the doctrine of the Trinity, uniquely and axiomatically, that forms the proper measure of judgment in separating the sheep from the goats. As noted previously [July 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm], classical philosophical theism does not distinguish between Abrahamic monotheisms or, for that matter, the Greek philosophical tradition; the specific focus upon the Trinity does so distinguish, but a tighter focus upon the specific nature of the Trinity, as in the filioque controversy – discussed previously [July 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm] – fractures Christianity internally, as between Catholic and Orthodox.

    In specifically focusing upon the Trinity, rather than the many other properties of God held in common by both Greek philosophy and the Abrahamic monotheisms under classical philosophical theism, and in keeping that focus broad, rather than narrow, to avoid drawing attention to internal Christian divisions, one can certainly come to the measure of judgment expressed, but how is this not simply an exercise in cherrypicking an issue to achieve a desired end? In other words, to make the issue of the Trinity – and only that issue – the deciding factor is to frontload a desired conclusion, one unsurprisingly arrived at.

    It may be helpful to here recall that with respect to such major philosophic figures as Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus – all, in a sense, “baptized” by the Church in its adoption of their philosophic insights – and such Old Testament patriarchs, prophets and priests as Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David and Solomon – all figures held great reverence by the Church – none were Trinitarians.

    With respect to the comment regarding the “desire to bring Jehovah and Allah together”, again, this goes off the rails immediately – as Boland has discussed in detail (bonald.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/muslims-most-certainly-do-worship-the-same-god/) – by assuming that there could be two Gods under discussion in the first place. That aside, the choice of naming here is suggestive, as there has already been a more radical “bringing together” between the God of the Old and New Testaments, the first a Unity – as witnessed, for instance, in the Jewish Shema, quoted by Christ above – and the second a Trinity. In comparison to this, the “bringing together” of Jehovah (YHVH) and Allah – both understood as a Unity – is (Divine) simplicity itself.

  5. Before I respond to Peter S.’s comments, some general points:

    My thanks to Peter S. and the other commenters here who have helped me to understand why someone who is not just a liberal obfuscator would maintain that Moslems and Christians worship the same God. I can see some merit in their case.

    At the same time, I think that Mr. S., erudite though he undoubtedly is, focuses so much on some of the trees that he fails to see the general pattern of the forest. Also, he seems to have an, shall we say, ecumenical spirit which inclines (but does not predetermine) him to certain conclusions.

    It may be possible for us to formulate our philosophical terms so precisely that the proposition “Christians and Moslems worship the same God “is true in a narrow sense. But if we believe it, what will be the practical ramifications? For example, we can observe in Mr. S.’s comments here an undeniable spirit of ecumenism, tolerance and accommodation. Is this what is needed among us traditionalists? I think not. The proposition might be true in a narrow sense, but we must not let it cause us to lower our guard (intellectually, religiously, socially) against our enemies.

    Also, a proposition can be true in a narrow sense, but false in a broader sense. If the Moslems are worshiping the true God, albeit with many misconceptions—the most important being their beliefs that Jesus is not God, that He did not die on the cross to atone for our sins, and that salvation is not found in His name alone—then do they not for all practical purposes have a different God? Our God is Jesus, theirs is not.

    On to the comments:

    First, Mr. S. says that various apparently respectable Christian authorities agree with the proposition, and therefore it is to be considered within the pale of orthodoxy. But I deny that these authorities are correct. Christian authorities (or authorities popularly regarded as Christian) frequently say false things. I presume in this case it is either to look good (or avoid looking bad) to the liberals who control Western Civilization, or else because these authorities are themselves liberals rather than Christians. As a Protestant, I recognize the Bible as the highest (tangible) authority, and the valid creeds and confessions as second highest (to the extent that they are faithful summaries of biblical teaching), and they disagree with the proposition.

    Mr.s S.’s point about kinship through Abraham is valid, but kinship, or lack thereof, is not absolute. All men are kin through descent from Adam, but this does not help us to decide whom we will befriend. Some Moslems may be friendly, but I recognize enemies when I see them, on account of their manifestly expressed hostility, regardless of any formal kinship between us.

    Speaking of hostility, Mr. S. cites various quotations from Islamic scriptures that make Islam appear to be friendly to Christians and Jews. But surely he knows of the later verses that command Moslems to be hostile to infidels, Christians and Jews included. And the hostile verses abrogate the irenic ones according to the majority view within Islam. Mr. S. is choosing to ignore important evidence that contradicts his position.

    Next, Mr. S. refers to long periods of peaceful coexistence of Islam and Christianity. True, but enemies do not fight literally all the time. Islam has an explicitly formulated doctrine that Moslems can make temporary peace with infidels if they (the Moslems) lack the ability to fight. And all combatants must rest at times. Periods of peace do not disprove a general hostility.

    When I said “pious Moslems affirm some of the most important positions we hold against the liberals,” I used “we” to mean “traditionalist conservatives.” Also, when I refer to Christians, I generally refer to ones who actually believe, rather than those who live within a generally Christian culture but who lack faith.

    Mr. S. mentions some speculations of Islamic theology concerning the nature of God. But is it not true that Islam holds God ultimately to be unknowable, because to know anything about Him would be to restrict Him, and God is not restricted? If so, then is it not true that we cannot pin down Allah as being the same god as Jehovah?

    Mr. S. says

    “In other words, to make the issue of the Trinity – and only that issue – the deciding factor is to frontload a desired conclusion, one unsurprisingly arrived at.”

    But Mr. S. does something like this also, when he gives equal weight to heterodox religious views and pagan philosophy, in addition to the classical Christian creeds and confessions. If sameness is your goal, focus on speculation and uncertainty. If difference is your goal, identify the precise parts that make for differentiation. Neither approach is more inherently honest than the other.

    He also says that I downplay God’s unity by emphasizing His Trinity. But the oneness of God is a part of the doctrine of the Trinity: one substance, three Persons. Since the present question is whether Moslems worship the same God as Christians, we must look for the differences, not the similarities. We can, if we wish, find similarities between just about any two things, but wisdom also resides in recognizing differences. The refusal to acknowledge differences is one of the fundamental characteristics of liberalism.

    My position is this: As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I do not desire to honor false religions any more than basic intellectual honesty requires. Since there is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12), I will not grant any more than a bare abstract philosophical validity (and I’m not convinced even of that) and a possible limited practical utility to the proposition under debate.

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