The Same God 11

Miroslav Volf, Professor at Yale, on the dedication page of his new book — Allah: A Christian Response, says this:

To my father, a Pentecostal minister who admired Muslims, and taught me as a boy that they worship the same God as we do.

Volf’s quest is to build a theological basis for peaceful co-existence and peaceful cooperation among Muslims and Christians, and his quest is to contend that the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims is the “same” God. What he means by “same” is not “identical” but “sufficient similarity.”

A major issue arises: the relationship of monotheistic faiths and government. Does loyalty to God clash with loyalty to the state? Can two faiths live under one government? Or, and this is what many think today, is believe in one God the source of political strife?

Put differently: Is monotheism so exclusive that it it is “theoclastic”? (Does it destroy all other gods?) Is monotheism the source for intolerance of other faiths? Politics and faith are connected in history.

But monotheists have sought to explain themselves over against the intolerance charge:

1. Monotheism is no worse than polytheism.
2. Monotheism can be democratizing: instead of just top-down it can be bottom-up.
3. Monotheism is inherently inclusive because if there is one God then that one God is for all people.

And it is there that Volf camps.

A state needs to be politically pluralist by not favoring one religion and each religion is permitted to bring its vision of reality into the public forum. Religious exclusivists are often political pluralists.

So he examines monotheism’s capacities for political pluralism: Belief in one God gave religion an essential ethical dimension (justice, law and freedom arose in monotheisms). And more importantly: Monotheism decoupled religion from the state and from ethnic belonging because if there is one God, then that one God is God of all, regardless of political condition or ethnic heritage.

This leads him to his major stance of how monotheism makes political pluralism acceptable: the one benevolent God relates to all on equal terms; love of neighbor implies granting to the other freedom; there should be no coercion in faith.

Which means that proselytism is acceptable: each person has the right to practice his or her faith, and each person can practice the faith he or she chooses. This is justice at the most basic level.

So Volf has three principles:

1. There is no identity between state and religion.

2. There is no complete separation between religion and the state.

3. The state is to be impartial toward religions.

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  • Except that these often get in the way of the state. The state gravitates toward the idea that all practitioners of all religions must do as the state says. That’s putting up a pluralistic veneer over the state as Lord, as itself being the one real god over life. Democracy is the hardest system for getting away with that — but the state is learning, slowly, ways to ‘guide’ that.

    From what I’ve seen, Islam lends itself much better to statism than other faiths. Its life with the state is inherently more at ease, unless the state does something colossally stupid like order a change to its core beliefs.

  • Rick

    “Islam lends itself much better to statism than other faiths.”

    But Bob, how many democratic (a true democracy/republic), Islamic countries are there, and just how pluralistic are they?

  • Perhaps the question of co-existence might be better visualized by asking if we can co-exist with swine flu? History seems to indicate that coexistence with Islam as equals is just not a possibility. Sharia Law disqualifies it:

  • Jon G

    Volf was on Milt Rosenberg’s radio program last night (extension 720) if you are interested in hearing it, here is the link…,0,2794972.mp3file