As I drove to the cemetery today to honor my Grandmother who died one year ago today, I turned on the radio to check the news. The local KPCC host was having a discussion with scholars and listeners about whether or not Muslims, Christians and Jews worship the same God. One scholar chimed in and stated that while there were certainly differences in how God is perceived, all of the Abrahamic Religions stem from similar roots and therefore worship the same God, the God of Abraham.
I found the conversation to be interesting, and as I parked my car along the lawn of the cemetery and walked among the monuments and flowers of those who have come before us, I began to think about the question for myself. Jesus, Allah, Adonai. Are they the same? Christians talk about God as a Trinity, a unity of Three Persons, Muslims and Jews, more similar in their view, see God as indivisible, as One. Our worship is different, our rituals distinct. Our liturgical calendars and saints are different.
In an age of pluralism, it is important to acknowledge difference. As Stephen Prothero writes in God is not One, difference matters. But the question of God’s sameness is not a scientific one. We cannot discern the object of God through the religious experience of three different believers and then independently compare Her attributes. If God is experienced through the subjective, spiritual lives of believers, and amplified through the subjective sayings and writings of believers’ prophets, how are we to have a productive conversation about this question?
I have attended Interfaith Dialogues where common ground is sought between Christians, Jews and Muslims over social justice issues, ecology, war and peace. The 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City was frenzied pep rally for the pluralists among us. But when it comes down to it, there are fundamental differences in emphasis, truth claims, worship, and even Names for God.
Allah, Adonai, Jesus… May the soul of my grandmother be near to you…
I felt a subtle sense of peace, as I often do in cemeteries, these sacred groves we have planted over the resting souls of our dead. Perhaps God is not a being whose parts and passions we can compare in a table; rather, God is Being itself. So, when we talk about whether God is the same, we are not talking about a discrete object in the Universe that has been given different meanings by different spiritual or cultural contexts. Whether we worship the same God is simply not the same question as for example whether or not two baseball teams are playing with the same baseball. If God is Being itself, the Ground of our Being –Jews, Christians and Muslims—then like the life that Being makes possible, God comes to express Herself in a myriad of different forms. To return to the Baseball example, God is not an object within the game we can analyze and assess, God is the Game itself.
As I left the cemetery, a large group was gathered around the grave of a dead relative and friend. I felt a sense of sympathy for them. Many were offering prayers no doubt to God. Whether they were Jews, Christians, Muslims or unaffiliated, the Ground of Being most certainly heard their prayers.