Over the past few days, two or three very passionate writers have insisted to me that Muslims — and perhaps, it seems, all non-Latter-day Saints — worship false gods.
I strongly disagree.
Do we conceive of God differently than others do? Yes. There’s no question about that. Does that effectively make all non-Latter-day Saints idolators?
I’ve written on this subject before:
And this column, which I published in the Deseret News on 27 January 2011, may suggest some additional ways to think about the issue:
Trying to make their view seem merely a minor logical extension of my own, several atheistic acquaintances have assured me that there is little difference between us: They just happen to disbelieve in one more god than I do.
They seem to imagine that being a Latter-day Saint entails rejecting all non-Mormon religious experiences and disbelieving every doctrine of every other faith. This, however, is not true.
When Joseph Smith learned that the then-existing Christian churches were corrupt, that didn’t mean that they were totally wrong. To say that something is “corrupt” means that it has been damaged. We speak of “corrupted texts” or “corrupted files,” intending to say that they have been infected or tainted — not that their original content has been replaced by something completely different.
In fact, many mainstream Christian doctrines were and are substantially correct. There is indeed a God. He has a divine Son who came to earth, atoned for our sins, rose again on the third day and now sits at the right hand of his Father. Those who taught prayer, preached of the Savior and translated the New Testament during the centuries between the early apostles and the Restoration preserved and transmitted many central gospel truths.
But what about non-Christians? Do they worship false gods?
Jews certainly don’t. Believing Jews accept the Old Testament, venerating the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, spoke through the prophet Isaiah and was proclaimed by Jesus (a Palestinian Jew).
But what of Islam? Isn’t “Allah” a false god? No. According to the Qur’an, Allah created the earth in six days, placed Adam and Eve in Eden, and then inspired prophets like Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Sound familiar?“Allah” is simply the Arabic equivalent of English “God,” related to the Hebrew “Elohim.” Moreover, Allah is the God not only of Muslims but of all Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews. “In the beginning, (Allah) created the heavens and the earth,” reads Arabic Genesis. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (Allah), and the Word was (Allah),” says the Arabic version of John 1:1. “We believe in (Allah), the Eternal Father,” says the first Article of Faith in Arabic, “and in his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Muslims, Christians and Jews disagree about God, but that doesn’t create numerically different gods. My neighbor regards Senator Foghorn as the greatest orator since Daniel Webster; I think he’s a noxious windbag. But there is, mercifully, only one Senator Foghorn. Our different opinions don’t spawn multiple senators.
But what of the non-Abrahamic religions? Are they too far wrong? It seems presumptuous to declare that mistaken but sincere devotion means nothing to our loving Father in Heaven.
In fact, Christians have been quite willing over the centuries to equate Zeus, the supreme ruler and father of the Greek Gods (the Romans’ Jupiter or Jove), with the God of Christian belief. Shakespeare’s Juliet chides Romeo from her balcony with a close paraphrase of the pagan Roman poet Ovid: “At lovers’ perjuries, they say, Jove laughs.” The great medieval Christian poet Dante says that it was Jove who died on the cross (“Purgatorio” 6:118-119).
When the apostle Paul, preaching on Mars Hill, sought to connect with the pagan Athenians (Acts 17:24-28), he identified Zeus with Israel’s God: “For in him we live and move and have our being,” he taught, quoting the words about Zeus of a sixth-century B.C. Cretan philosopher. “As some of your own poets have said,” he continued, citing a third-century B.C. philosopher’s verse about Zeus, “‘we are his offspring.'”
In the final volume of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” a Calormene soldier named Emeth (= Hebrew “truth”) has been a sincere worshiper of the false god Tash all of his life. When, at the end, he meets Aslan and recognizes the true God, he expects severe punishment. But Aslan graciously reassures him that “all the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me,” explaining that, although Emeth had been unaware of it, his honest devotion was actually to Aslan, rather than to Tash. “No service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.”
God’s sheep recognize his voice, even when it’s in a different language or imperfectly heard. They follow him as best they can and will not lose their reward.