http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam.jpg

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you are an Arian, one of those 4th-century Christians who believed that Jesus Christ was of a similar substance as God the Father rather than, as believed by Christians who follow the Nicene Creed, of the same substance. Do you worship the same God as the Nicene Christians?

In one sense you don’t, because your understanding of the nature of one of the persons of the Trinity differs from theirs. But in another sense you do, because the God in question is the one who, you  all believe, created Adam, made covenants with Abraham and Moses, spoke through the prophets, and manifested Himself in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

This, in an heretical nutshell, is the problem with the question Jeffrey Weiss rings the changes on over at the CNN Belief Blog; namely: “Do Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God?” If “same God” means that members of these faiths have identical conceptions of God’s nature, then the answer is obviously no. And by that standard, all Christians do not worship the same God, nor do all Muslims, nor do all Jews.

But if “same God” means that the three faiths are, despite profound theological differences, pointing to one supernatural being in particular, then they cannot be worshiping different gods. Those who deny that such a being exists will, naturally, tend to see nothing more than the different conceptualizations. But for believing Christians, Muslims, and Jews, it’s hard to resist the belief that it’s the same God that all are worshiping, mistaken though the others’ conception of that God may be.

Lurking behind the question these days is the sense that if, a la the Hebrew Bible, there are different gods in play, then it’s my god against your god (cf. Gen. Jerry Boykin), and conflict among the adherents is more likely. Lincoln knew better. As he famously declared in his Second Inaugural about the two sides in the Civil War, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” Enough said.

Categories: Beliefs

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

3 Comments

  1. If one is monotheistic, as are Jews, Christians, and Muslims, then we all worship the same one God, for there is only one God. Our conceptions of the deity and other understandings derived from our several Scriptures may differ, resemble, or be the same, depending on the immediate topic. In some senses those are parallel-to differences of nomenclature, such as God, Deus, Gott, Dieu, el Senor … and Allah and Yahweh and Jehovah.

    • That is really the fundamental question for Christians in this discussion. Although the Arian heresy may perhaps seem minor to some, the problem is that it fundamentally redefines who Christ was. If Christ was not both God and man, and truly one with the Father, then Christianity is bankrupt. This is also the defining difference between Christianity on one hand and Islam and Judaism on the other. Both Islam and Judaism reject Christ as God, the former relegating him to a prophet and the latter dismissing him entirely. Jesus directly tied himself to his divine nature, and he furthermore specifically told his disciples that the one who rejects him also rejects the one who sent him.

      This is too big of a difference to paint over with “we all worship the same God” talk. You can’t both reject and worship God. It is not only non-theists who are putting forth this message of ultimate likeness. This is by no means a new idea, and is a strong current of thought amongst modern theists.

      As for the final point of the article, the implication that religion is at the root of war and conflict in the world is completely revisionist historical thinking. This suggestion has come up with increasing frequency with the ongoing bloodshed related to extreme Islamic factions, but it is patently untrue. It is a sign of the influence of the moment that we can make such claims so quickly on the heels of the millions upon millions who died in decidedly non-religious conflict in the 20th century. Even today’s bloodshed is far more complicated than simple religious differences. Ethnic, nationalist, political and territorial causes, amongst others, are often inextricably mixed with religious causes. This has not stopped many people from singling out religious elements, and pushing a viewpoint that discourages religious identity and truth statements under the banner of peace.

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