No God But God

No God But God February 20, 2008

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The answer to the question is controversial. Most Muslims answer yes, following a passage in the Koran that appears to say that both groups do worship the same God. Many Christians, on the other hand, vigorously dispute this claim. Yet it is not clear what exactly this denial is based on. After all, Christians do not dispute that Muslims worship God, after all, and since there is, in fact, only one God, it would seem to follow that Christians (who worship God) and Muslims (who worship God) must be worshiping the same entity, no matter how different their conceptions of Him may be.

I used to think that the above argument was sufficient to show that Muslims and Christians did worship the same God. Since then, however, I have come to think the matter a bit more complicated. As I now see it, whether the claim “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” is true will depend on two things: 1) whether the statement is being made de dicto or de re, and 2) whether the word “God” is taken to be a name or a description.

The God Delusion

In Acts 14:8-15, we find Paul and Barnabas caught up in a very strange case of mistaken identity:At Lystra there was a crippled man, lame from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking, who looked intently at him, saw that he had the faith to be healed, and called out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet.” He jumped up and began to walk about. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they cried out in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in human form.” They called Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes,” because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, for he together with the people intended to offer sacrifice. The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their garments when they heard this and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “Men, why are you doing this? We are of the same nature as you, human beings!”

Undoubtedly the incident was quite embarrassing for all parties involved. But suppose we look at things from a philosophical perspective and ask: were the Lyconians in this story worshiping Zeus and Hermes, or Paul and Barnabas?

The answer would seem to be: it depends. If we look at things from the perspective of the Lyconians, then they were, of course, worshiping Zeus and Hermes. That is who they took the two figures before them to be, and that is who their worship was mentally directed towards. On the other hand, we might equally well say that the Lyconians were worshiping Paul and Barnabas, not Zeus and Hermes. After all, the Lyconians were worshiping two particular people, and those two people, contrary to whatever the Lyconians might have thought, were actually Paul and Barnabas, not Zeus and Hermes. So the claim “the Lyconians were worshiping Zeus and Hermes in Acts 14” is true in one sense, false in another. Philosophers call these two different ways of understanding a claim interpretation de re (literally “of the thing”) and interpretation de dicto (literally “of the word”).

Now consider another case: A man, sick with a high fever, begins to hallucinate. In this hallucination, God appears and talks to him. Does the man with the fever talk to God? As with the case of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra, the answer is that it depends. De dicto the answer is yes, the man does talk to God. De re the answer is no, he is only talking to thin air. We might put things crudely by saying that the man thinks he is talking to God, but in reality he is only talking to an illusion.

How does all this relate to the “same God” question? Well, while Christians have different views as to the origins of the Islamic religion, few of them believe that God actually appeared to Muhammad in the desert or that he received any special revelations from God as Muslims believe that he did. Some Christians might say that Muhammad was hallucinating; others that he was lying; I’ve even seen some Christians argue that something supernatural did appear to Muhammad, but that it was not heavenly in origin. But in any case, the vast majority of Christians wold agree that the Koran does not represent a revelation from God, and that whatever Muslims (or even Muhammad himself) might mistakenly think, God did not actually talk to Muhammad.

Thus, it would seem that my argument for the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God rests on an equivocation. While everyone would agree that Muslims worship God de dicto, not everyone would agree that they worship God de re. In the latter sense, some might say, it is not accurate to claim that Muslims worship God. What they worship is an illusion, a non-existent being. So from the fact that there is in actuality only one God, it does not follow that Christians and Muslims both worship that God.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s consider the other distinction I mentioned at the beginning of this discussion: the distinction between “God” taken as a name and “God” taken as a description.

What’s in a Name?

As philosophers ranging from Saul Kripke to Linda Richman have noted, there is a great deal of difference between names and descriptions. Names are what Kripke calls “rigid designators.” They pick out a particular person or thing or kind of thing, and refer always to that thing, regardless of what other attributes the person, thing, or kind of thing may have. Descriptions, by contrast, refer to particular attributes and may apply to a person, thing, or kind of thing at one time but not another. “George W. Bush”, for example, is a name; “President of the United States”, by contrast, is a description. “Holy Roman Empire” is a name; “a holy, Roman empire” is a description.

Most people, I take it, tend to assume without reflection that “God” is a name like “John” or “Steve” or “Sally.” For the scholastics, however, “God” was not a name, but a description, meaning something along the lines of “supreme being,” or, to use St. Anselm’s more precise terminology, “that than which no greater can be conceived.”Whether the claim “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” is true will depend on whether “God” is understood as being a name (e.g. the being who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, etc., or the being who revealed himself to Muhammad in the dessert, etc.) or as a description (e.g. “the supreme being”). If God is taken to be a name, then the claim will be true de dicto when made by Muslims (who believe that the same being revealed himself to Moses and to Muhammad), false de dicto when made by most non-Muslims (who don’t believe the same being revealed himself to Moses and Muhammad), and false de re (on the supposition that Islam is not the true religion). On the other hand, if “God” is taken to be a description, then the claim would be true de re (since Muslims and Christians both believe in a supreme being, and there is in fact only one such being), and while whether the claim was true de dicto would vary from person to person, the claim would seem to only be false de dicto for someone who was confused or mistaken about the issue.

Personally I am inclined to think that St. Anselm is right, and that the word “God” is not a name like Jesus or Shiva. To use an admittedly very weird example, if it turned out that Jesus was actually a time traveler who used his advanced technology to perform the miracles depicted in the Gospels, we would not say that there was no Jesus but that Jesus was actually a time traveler. But if it turned out that all of the actions and words attributed to God in the Scriptures were actually the words and actions of this time traveler, we would not say that God was actually a time traveler. We would say that there was no God (or, at least, that it wasn’t really God who did all of these things).

As such, I have no problem with saying that Muslims worship the same God as Christians, or that Hindus worship this same God, or that any group that worships a supreme being worship the same God as do Christians. But I recognize that someone might take a different view on this, and so I cannot say that the “same God” question is as open and shut as I had previously supposed.

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  • Morning’s Minion

    “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.” CCC, 841.

    That’s all I need to say, really.

  • The discussion on “hallucination” is erroneous. Just think, what if a Catholic who worships at a Catholic Church and follows the teachings of the Church has a hallucination of God talking to them. They believe it. Does it mean the rest of their worship at Church ever since then will be for a different object? No. This only demonstrates where there is an error in understanding, not that the object differs. Especially since Islam develops out of a long stranding tradition following the God of Abraham and the traditions of the Jews and Christians. So if one says Muhammad was wrong and had a hallucination (which is far from obvious, btw), it would only demonstrate an illusion over a reality, a false perception of a real object.

    MM is correct. The Catholic Church declares Muslims as worshiping the same God as us (in many documents including those of VII). JPII had a good speech on this, as you can read here. http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2MUSLM.HTM But it is not the only source. Go to the Vatican website, and do a search for Islam and Muslim. Read the multiple documents on this.

    Or, get the book, Interreligious Documents I. Guidelines for Dialogue between Christians and Muslims. From the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. It will give quite a bit of discussion on these key points.

  • Br. Matthew Augustine Miller, OP

    blackadder,

    Thanks for the facinating post. I think the scholastics took ‘God’ to be both a name and description. For instance, Aquinas ends the second of his five demonstrations with ‘quam omnes Deum nominant’ (to which everyone gives the name of God). Moreover, if God is taken simply as a description, certain things which we traditionally have held true according to the communication of idioms (e.g., ‘God suffered and died) could no longer be true. ‘God’, in the example above, names the second person of the Holy Trinity and does not describe his divine [edit] nature (otherwise it would be false). Let me know what you think.

  • blackladder,

    I don’t mean to be mean or too critical, but the post is a bit messy. I would suggest reading Naming and Necessity.

    Take for example your case about the man hallucinating. You said the man is hallucinating **and** then God talks to him. Is the hallucinating man talking to God? Yes he is talking to Him. Now, he may not know it, but the fact is, he is talking to God. He is not talking to thin air.

    What about the worshipping Paul or Hermes? The answer is simple: they were worshipping Paul. The reason: even though they called Paul “Hermes”, it does not refer simply because “Hermes” refers to a certain mythical deity which such and such a property. So, suppose I am looking at Jones at a distant. Now from a distant, he looks like Andrew. I said, “I am looking at Andrew.” Well, that’s wrong. This is because “Andrew” refers to a different person. Because Andrews parents called Andrew “Andrew,” “Andrew” now refers to this person with such and such properties. So, take Bobby to be the father of Andrew. When we say “Andrew”, this would refer to the person whose father is Bobby. so even though I called Jones “Andrew,” it does not refer because Jones’ father is not Bobby (of course I mean Jones and Andrew not to be biological brothers).

    Now, suppose Sally believes that Einstein was a Christian and the person who discovered E=MC ^2. She then said, “Hey mom, I’m about to go see the Christian who discovered E=MC^2.” Well, this seems a bit weird because here we have a person confused about identity. However, it does seem that she is referring to Einstein even though she wrongly thought that he was a Christian. This may be similar to how Muslims worship Allah. So, they are wrong because they do not understand that God is a Trinity, but they may refer to Him, that is, when they are intending to worship the God of Abraham. Maybe relative identity can be of help here.

    For more, see Referring God ed. Paul Helm.

  • Blackadder,

    Very interesting post. I’m sorry to some of your fellow authors here brushing it off with so little apparent consideration.

    On the much-maligned hallucination example: I think people are reading a little too quickly and simplistically. If I understand you correctly, you mean: A man imagined himself to be holding a two-way conversation with God. Perhaps, in this conversation, God is telling him some things which to a Catholic observer, it would seem that God could not possibly be saying, (Perhaps the hallucinated ‘God’ says: “What? That Jesus fellow? Well, you know. He was an odd angel who got out of the asylum one day.”) Now the question is: Is the man in conversation with God? Well, he is speaking to the ‘God’ in his hallucination under the belief that it is what we mean by ‘God’. And yet, it is our judgment that there is in fact only a one-sided conversation going on. He’s conversing, and he may be addressing himself to God, but he is not having the conversation with God that he thinks he is having, no matter how earnestly he may believe he is having it.

    We are in some ways in much the same situation trying to understand the Muslim claim that the Koran is the literal (word-for-word in Arabic) word of God. The Koran says that Jesus did not die for our sins. It says that Jesus was a prophet, not the third person of the Trinity. It denies the very concept of the Trinity. And, of course, it leaves out or contradicts many of the most important doctrines of Catholicism.

    So I think your point is solid: One may say that we “worship the same God” in several senses, an additional one being a sort of historical continuity: We both say that we worship the God of Abraham. However, their description of who that God is and our description of who that God is are different in some very key ways. There is definitely a sense in which we might say our descriptions are of “different Gods” even though clearly there can be only one — and one of the religions is vastly wrong in its understanding.

    I don’t know if I take the idea seriously, but the differences are stark enough that one can’t help wondering if there is some sort of Screwtape hypothesis to me made about the origins of Islam — though clearly, God understands all sincere worship of the divine (however misguided in its understanding thereof) and is quite capable of bringing to him those outside the visible Body of Christ.

    Honestly, I’m a little perplexed at how much of a, “Nothing interesting here” attitude MM and Henry show above. Certainly, there are been other issues on which Henry especially has been happy to call into question very clear CDF statements. Why does the fact that there are recent statements lauding Islam’s Abrahamic monotheism mean that there can be no discussion of what precisely it means (and does not mean) to say that “we worship the same God”?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Excuse me, Darwin? I was quoting the Catechism, which is pretty authoritative last time I checked. And just to reinforce the point, let me go to the source: the conciliar documents Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate.

    Lumen Gentium: “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”

    Nostra Aetate: “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

    Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

    Now, I am perfectly happy to debate theology with the Muslims– and in fact I do so regularly with a very good Muslim friend of mine. The points of disagreement are obvious. But it is equally obvious that we all worshop the same God, Al’lah.

  • Blackadder

    Brother Matthew,

    Excellent points. It’s true that St. Thomas does say at the end of each of the five ways that the being with such and such attribute (which he has just demonstrated must exist) is named God, but I think “named” there is being used as synonymous with “called God” rather than in a Kripean sense. We sometimes speak, for example, of people being named President (say, of a company), but we don’t mean by this that their name is “President.”

    As for God suffering and dying, I agree that there is a paradox here, but I think it is a paradox fundamental to Christian doctrine, rather than a proof that the word “God” functions as a name. Still you’ve given me something to think about.

  • The muslims believe in a supreme being, the eternal and ever living God. I don’t think there’s any point disagreeing on this, and if we can find some reasoned discourse with that religion it’s helpful.

    On the other hand the muslims do not KNOW God, nor do they TRULY worship Him as only the Catholic Faith provides. Importantly their understanding of God is deeply flawed, and the source of their religion was an anti-Christ, not a prophet, perhaps a madman, or the devil himself. Islam leads people far astray from the true faith, and has very dangerous teachings indeed to mortal man and immortal souls. So let’s just drop the huggy huggy and kissy kissy that liberals love so much.

    On the other hand, the Church does not accept that any polytheistic religion believes in the one True God.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • ps. I don’t think it’s “pretty obvious” we worship the same God considering Jihadist element which has caused such horror from inception. Such a conclusion really requires a deeper theological distinction.

  • Blackadder

    To say that Muslims adore the one God is not quite the same as saying that they worship the same God as Christians do, though of course I would agree (as detailed in my post) that there are some senses in which Muslims and Christians do, in fact, worship the same God.

  • Br. Matthew Augustine Miller, OP

    Blackadder,

    I suspect you are right regarding your first point (specifically, with reference to the five ways). There is a section of the Summa which deals with divine naming (one of the names treated there is ‘God’). I’ll have to reread that in the next couple days and think it over a bit. The second point is more crucial. I suspect that the communication of idioms requires a distiction between ‘God’ as naming a divine person and ‘God’ as naming the divine nature (the latter would be analagous, perhaps, to your “President” example).

    For those who are interested and who are not familiar with the communication of idioms, there is a great article in the Catholic Encyclopedia which can be found here:
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04169a.htm

  • “On the other hand, the Church does not accept that any polytheistic religion believes in the one True God.”

    Matt, read St Paul on Mars Hill. That is the foundation of the Church’s answer to what you just said.

  • “We are in some ways in much the same situation trying to understand the Muslim claim that the Koran is the literal (word-for-word in Arabic) word of God. The Koran says that Jesus did not die for our sins. It says that Jesus was a prophet, not the third person of the Trinity. It denies the very concept of the Trinity. And, of course, it leaves out or contradicts many of the most important doctrines of Catholicism”

    So the Jews don’t have the same God as the Christians? Indeed, this line of reasoning is dangerous, and might even be Gnostic, because it creates a way for the OT to be differentiated from the New, since in the OT the Trinitarian God with a belief in the Incarnation wasn’t proclaimed. Sure we can read into the OT to see that it doesn’t contradict a Trinitarian God, but it doesn’t affirm God as Trinity. That revelation was much later. So would you say Marcion is right in saying this makes the OT God a different God? Obviously Christians say no.

  • What is obvious and apparent is that people are not just simply dismissing Blackadder’s fallacious reasoning. The topic has been examined by the Church, even at an Ecumenical Council. The response is: Islam and Christianity share the same God. Popes speak it. The Vatican speaks it. It is indeed seen as a basic agreement in the debates between early Christians and Muslims. The whole tradition of “the God of the philosophers” demands such a response here. Notice, documents not only say Muslims worship one God, but “the one God” and “with us.” This discussion also ignores how Islam developed, that it was not ex nihilo but within the context of the monotheism of Christianity and Judaism, and this background is always an interpretive scheme in explaining Islam. Always. Just as with the Mormon discussion earlier, so Islam is working within the same salvation history — reinterpreting it, disagreeing with it, but yet coming from it and the same overall tradition.

    One’s ideology should not get in the way of hearing the Church. Alas, cafeteria catholicism is high.

  • Darwin

    BTW, we are talking about Vatican II — Ecumenical Council and ITS DECLARATION ON ISLAM. We are talking about the CONSISTENT historical interpretation of Islam in Christian theology. We are not just talking about one CDF note. Your complete misrepresentation of the situation comes from a true disengagement of the Church.

    Here it is simple. I have made it clear — follow the Church, not my theological questions; follow what is binding even if it is reformable. On the other hand, if you cannot see the difference between the authority of a CDF note vs an Ecumenical Council, something is quite wrong.

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  • So the Jews don’t have the same God as the Christians? Indeed, this line of reasoning is dangerous, and might even be Gnostic, because it creates a way for the OT to be differentiated from the New, since in the OT the Trinitarian God with a belief in the Incarnation wasn’t proclaimed. Sure we can read into the OT to see that it doesn’t contradict a Trinitarian God, but it doesn’t affirm God as Trinity. That revelation was much later. So would you say Marcion is right in saying this makes the OT God a different God? Obviously Christians say no.

    Clearly the Jews worship the same God that we do, and if you’re reading what I wrote with any attention (and if I succeeded in writing what I meant to) then I’m not clear how you would come to the conclusion that my reasoning would suggest otherwise. The Jews possess the same revelation that we do, but they do not possess it to the same extent. One may have an incomplete understanding of something while still understanding the same thing. (Clearly, anyone’s understanding of God this side of eternity is destined to be incomplete.)

    It does, however, strike me that with Islam we have something of a different situation. The Jewish understanding of God is a timecapsule from an earlier period of salvation history — it contains nothing that is untrue, but does not contain the whole truth. With Islam, we have a situation where, 700 years _after_ the Christian revelation, we find a prophet who insists that he received a revelation which somehow continues the Christian revelation, and yet direction contradicts it on many of its most important points.

    Now, from a historical point of view, they clearly worship the same God. I’m not questioning the statement in Vatican II and elsewhere that we descend from the same initial revelation to Abraham and that in that historical sense (and in certain important philosophical/theological senses: believing in one, all good, all powerful, all knowing, creative God) we worship the same God. I’m not saying (nor does it seem to me that Blackadder’s original post suggests) that we do not in any sense worship the same God.

    But clearly, we do not worship in the same way, and Mohammad made it clear (according to him because of an explicit revelation from God) that he rejected numerous important tenets of Christianity. So there’s clearly something of a complex situation here. Historically, we all trace ourselves to the same events in which God revealed himself to humanity. And yet, Islam claims that another set of events took place which as Christians I do not see how we can accept as being from God — at least not directly from God in the sense that Muslims believe the Koran to have come.

    So while you’re welcome to denounce me as a “cafeteria Catholic”, a Gnostic, etc. and swept along by some sort of ideology (what ideology?) I don’t see how it’s unwarranted to ask: Given that in certain senses we _do_ “worship the same God” as the Vatican Council stated, what are those sense and what do they mean? And in what senses do we diverge — whether one wants to call that “not worshipping the same God” or not. Clearly there’s something to be discussed here. Muslims believe that God spoke to Mohammad via the angel Gabriel and revealed the Koran — and we as Christians must believe that that is false. Given that situation, there’s clearly some difference going on here.

  • “Muslims believe that God spoke to Mohammad via the angel Gabriel and revealed the Koran — and we as Christians must believe that that is false. Given that situation, there’s clearly some difference going on here.” Christians are NOT required to believe this is false. Indeed, many faithful Christians have said otherwise (Catholics AND Orthodox Bishops).

    This could be turned into “Christians believe God became man in Jesus and revealed the fullness of God in himself, and we Jews believe this is false. Given that situation, there’s clearly some differences going on here.”

    As has been stated before, difference in understanding, error in understanding, does not transform the object into something else. But of course, this failure is in part the problem of Marcion and continues here. And notice how this line of reasoning is never looked at Christianity and Judaism — when Judaism is close with Islam on theology of God — yet, never do the people so out to reject Islam work to the same conclusion with Judaism. That says enough.

  • Blackadder

    I’d say that the situation between Jews and Christians on the “same God” question is parallel to the situation between Christians and Muslims on the question. At least since Marcion, Christians have pretty much all believed that the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament. Many Jews, on the other hand, would not be so quick to agree. Jews certainly don’t think God did most of the things He is said to have done in the New Testament, any more than Christians believe God did most of the the things He is said to have done in the Koran. No doubt the more philosophically minded of them might accept the claim that they believed in the same God in what I call the de re descriptive sense (and the more pragmatically minded of them might be willing to say that they believed in the same God in order to avoid trouble), but I don’t think they’d say that Jehovah and the Trinity were one and the same.

  • This could be turned into “Christians believe God became man in Jesus and revealed the fullness of God in himself, and we Jews believe this is false. Given that situation, there’s clearly some differences going on here.”

    Yes. And indeed, I have a great deal of respect for the theological integrity of my Jewish friends who have expressed their attitute towards Christianity to me in words similar to that. As Christians, we view the Jews as our spiritual parents — holding a revelation which is true but incomplete. To the Jews, we are their mutant semi-descendants, with a great deal of falsehood mixed in. It is entirely unreasonable (and indeed, self-condemning) for a Christian to despire Jewish belief, but it is quite reasonable from a Jewish perspective to despise Christian belief as deeply corrupted from the truth.

    As has been stated before, difference in understanding, error in understanding, does not transform the object into something else.

    Come now, no one is suggesting that it does. But when we talk about human expression, both realist and nominalist approaches can be useful.

    From a realist point of view, there is one God, and Jews, Christians and Muslims all know Him with varying degrees of clarity. (Come to that, all others with any sort of religious or moral belief know Him to varying, though lesser, degrees)

    From a somewhat nominalist point of view, one might say: The Christian description of God does not agree with the Jewish description of God or the Muslim description of God; therefore only one of those descriptions can possibly actually match any real God who does exist, and the other two must describe something else that does not exist.

    And notice how this line of reasoning is never looked at Christianity and Judaism — when Judaism is close with Islam on theology of God — yet, never do the people so out to reject Islam work to the same conclusion with Judaism. That says enough.

    Well, I pointed out that there is a very key historical distinction between Christianity’s relationship with Judaism and with Islam. Beyond that, perhaps you can make a little more explicit what it “says enough”?

  • “From a somewhat nominalist point of view, one might say: The Christian description of God does not agree with the Jewish description of God or the Muslim description of God; therefore only one of those descriptions can possibly actually match any real God who does exist, and the other two must describe something else that does not exist.”

    Far be it from me to deny the fact that you are trying to argue from a nominalistic perspective which will deny realism. Fine. But St Anselm showed what that did to the Trinity. The persons are not one and the same God, either.

  • Henry,

    just like you to toss out a vague suggestion of “go read something” that I am too lazy to cite here.

    Here is my quote from St. Paul:

    1 Corinthians 10:20

    But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God. And I would not that you should be made partakers with devils.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Far be it from me to deny the fact that you are trying to argue from a nominalistic perspective which will deny realism. Fine. But St Anselm showed what that did to the Trinity. The persons are not one and the same God, either.

    What I said was that both a realist and a nominalist description of the relationship of description to object brought certain useful insights to the question. Nominalism is not an appropriate tool for addressing all aspects of reality, but it is useful in certain regards.

    To take the textbook example: One can take the story of the blind men and the elephant from either a nominalist or a realist point of view, and make useful statements using both frameworks. It is at the same time the case that the men are all describing an elephant to some extent, and also that their descriptions are mutally contradictory and all fail to capture what an elephant is.

    What I am arguing in regards to Islam is not that they definately “do not worship the same God” as us, but that their description of God is not complete (as is the Christian understanding), nor incomplete but true in all respects which it contains (as with the Jewish understanding), but rather true in some respects (one, all knowing, all powerful, all good) and yet clearly false in other repects.

    What I think Blackadder brings a healthy dose of is balance. Clearly, Islam is not all false. The rad-trads one runs into on occasion who want to describe Moslems as devil worshippers or pagans or some such are clearly wrong. To that sort of view, the Vatican II statements for a much needed corrective. However at the same time, I think that Blackadder’s point serves as an equally useful corrective to those (and I can’t tell if you fall into this camp or simply reflexively dislike having the topic discussed because you rightly dislike the other extreme) who seem to start with saying that we worship the same God, and then move on to holding that it is thus a true religion, and in extreme cases even that there is no reason why Muslims should convert to Christianity because they are “already persuing God on their own path”. That sort of indifferentism (which often uses the “same God” statements as its justification) is just as misguided as the “Islam is evil” view.

    Who would have thought that moderation was such a hard sell…

  • “What I said was that both a realist and a nominalist description of the relationship of description to object brought certain useful insights to the question”

    Yes…. your nomainlist use brings quite a bit of insight into your theological position. The description of the Father is not going to be the same description of the Son — only one of the Trinity is incarnate. Therefore, following your descriptive analysis and the difference of the description of one with the other, they are not the same God. So not only do we say the God of the Christians is not the same God as the Muslims, the persons of the Christian God are not the same God.

    Now, if you want to argue my position and belief, instead of trying to make all kinds of excuses for your erroneous argumentation which leads to anti-Trinitiarian thought, you would do well to read my discussion on inter-religious dialogue. Moreover, I have consistently said here (and others places) Islam and Christianity do not see eye to eye on key discussions — it is not the same religion (as I have said and made clear many times). But I would go to say too many people are pushing all kinds of arguments to make Islam less than it is, for all kinds of polemicism which comes from it. And this “not the same God” and trying to find ways to justify that — instead of speaking with the Church — says something to me which I do not like.

  • Henry,

    arguments to make Islam less than it is

    Islam is not salvific. Islam in many cases does not lead to virtue. Of what use is a religion that does not deliver on it’s fundamental promise or lead it’s followers to virtuous lives?

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Now, if you want to argue my position and belief, instead of trying to make all kinds of excuses for your erroneous argumentation which leads to anti-Trinitiarian thought, you would do well to read my discussion on inter-religious dialogue.

    I believe this is what is generally called a “loaded question”. The way you have laid it out, if I continue to hold that nominalism is ever a useful way of examinging anything in regards to how description relates to its object, then I am “making all kinds of excuses for my erroneous position” and holding to “anti-Trinitarian thought”. My other alternative is to say, “How wrong I have been. You’re so right, Henry.”

    Let me be clear: I am not arguing that nominalism is an appropriate tool to view all of philosophy and theology. I am more of a realist than a nominalist. However, nominalism does provide us with a useful framework at time for looking at how descriptions and their objects relate to one another. It is a system with serious limits. As you point out, it has serious limitations in addressing the Trinity — though I think that can hardly be surprising given the fact that the Trinity is a mystery to our human experience. But that does not mean that one may never use it to good effect. My goodness, if we can gain positive insights (as I would say we can) from some elements of philosophers like Sartre and Nitsche, I’m sure that there are some useful ways to use nominalism.

    As for your post farther up on relations between Islam and Christianity, I thought it was interesting enough, though I thought your suggestion that perhaps Mohammad was a true prophet was a bit of a stretch. (It seems to me dubious to suggest that there would be more prophets in the true sense of the term after Christ.) However, I didn’t see a particular need to comment on is, especially as I know you sometimes don’t like my comments to appear on your posts.

  • I don’t like snide, outright insults to appear in comments which take away from fruitful discussion.

    Now, did you read the link with Paul of Antioch? He isn’t the only one to think these things through. But I think he is a telling case — of a Christian Bishop in a place retaken by the Crusaders explaining his understanding of Islam to fellow Christians. You will find Orthodox Bishops (like Patriarch Parthenius of Alexandria) saying similar things in recent times, so it is not just something speculated upon several centuries ago.

    I myself find the idea that he was a Prophet like unto Balaam quite intriguing.

  • I don’t like snide, outright insults to appear in comments which take away from fruitful discussion.

    I suspect that few reasonable people do. The problem, of course, is that when one deals with topics on which are contentious, there is often disagreement as to what consistute “snide, outright insults”. Pride and strong feeling often obscure the truth from us. If, for instance, I was tasked with removing all snide and insulting comments on this blog, I am sure that I would find myself removing (according to my best judgement) some of yours — though I’m sure that you do not intend to be snide and insulting.

    That’s why sometimes a degree of restraint is necessary, not only in not unduling dismissing others as being nothing but “insulting” or “snide”, but also in considering whether labeling people too quickly as “cafeteria Catholics” or “fundamentalists” or what have you will produce more heat than light.

    I myself find the idea that he was a Prophet like unto Balaam quite intriguing.

    I’ve downloaded the article, since I have an interest in Islam (though generally I tend to trust Islamic sources on the topic over Christian ones) but I most confess that I do not find the idea quite as intriguing as you do. It perhaps seems, in a sense, more charitable to head it this way. But if one must do so in contradiction to the general Islamic consensus on what Islam is, I’m not sure it’s really the best approach.