Allah, Son, and Holy Spirit: The Apologetics of Oneness and Threeness

Thanks to the holidays, the internet debate about whether Christians and Muslims worship the “same” God and refer to the “same” divine reality by their use of “God” and “Allah,” respectively, has died down a bit; but the question is not likely to go away anytime soon. So far we have mainly heard from Protestant analytic philosophers and evangelical theologians. But what about Roman Catholics and the Orthodox?  So far I have not found anything particularly interesting on the subject by contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians, yet I have learned that in the first millennium Arabic-speaking Christians assumed that both Christianity and Islam believed in the one God/Allah. They commonly spoke of Allah and his Kalimah (Word) and his Ruh (Spirit). Tom Belt has shared with me his recent correspondence with Dr Najib G. Awad, author of Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms. With Awad’s permission I quote this passage from his email to Tom:

But, to my knowledge of the Christian-Muslim Kalam in the early Muslim Era, which I touch upon in my book Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms, the Arab-Speaking, Oriental Christians always believed that they and Islam believe in the same God. So, it was not a problem for them calling the God of the Scripture and of Jesus Christ, “Allah”. They even talked about the Trinity in terms that are reminiscent of the Qur’anic attestation: the Trinity is Allah, his Kalimah (Word) and Ruh (Spirit). They also talked about Jesus as God’s Word ‘kalimat Allah’ intensively in their kalam texts due to this belief in the commonality of their and the Muslim’s belief in God. John of Damascus in the 7th century would treat Islam as just a Christian-Jewish Heresy, not as a totally contrast faith. Timothy I in the 8th century and Theodore abu Qurrah, Abu Ra’itah at-takriti and Ammar al-Basri in the 9th centuries would also speak about the Christian God not just in Arabic terms, but also in Qur’anic ones because they believed that the common components between the Christian and Muslim doctrines of God are far more evident to be ignored or undermined. So, what western scholars like Volf try to reveal to the western world today as a revolutionary and new discovery has been considered a given fact for these Oriental Christians of the 7th-9th centuries.

Once Oriental Christians realized they could not ignore Islam but had to engage it theologically and apologetically, they found they could not simply dismiss it as a form of pagan idolatry.

Last week I came across an essay by the noted Roman Catholic theologian, Denys Turner: “Christians, Muslims, and the Name of God.” Eclectic Orthodoxy readers should find it of particular interest, given Turner’s emphatic insistence that God is not a being but is Being—hence the necessity of apophatic qualification when we speak of either his Oneness or Threeness. Turner is not interested in theological dilution for the sake of ecumenical dialogue and peaceful coexistence; but he does recognize that Christians must come to grips with the truth that both religions confess the one God who has freely made the world from out of nothing. Yet how do we speak of sameness and difference precisely at the point where all theological language is breaking down?

I hope to return to this topic in a month or two.  I have ordered Miroslav Volf’s book Allah: A Christian Response, as well as a collection of essays titled Christian Theology and Islam. Hopefully I’ll have something intelligent to say after I read these books.

(Go to “Do Muslims Worship the Same God?“)

 

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Islam and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Allah, Son, and Holy Spirit: The Apologetics of Oneness and Threeness

  1. Dale Tuggy says:

    Another good post – thanks. A brief comment:

    “the Trinity is Allah, his Kalimah (Word) and Ruh (Spirit)”

    Note that this sounds like what I call trinity (God and two others somewhat like him) as opposed to Trinity (tripersonal God). That is, God as a member of the trinity (a triad), and not as the Trinity.

    A while back I posted several times on what I call Islam-inspired modalism – what I would now call one-self trinitarian responses to Islamic concerns about monotheism. Some of my examples are Catholic: http://trinities.org/blog/?s=islam-inspired+modalism In essence, this spins the Word and Spirit and just two attributes of God – and surely attributes which the Muslim will not deny. Quite against the grain of “social” takes on the Trinity – and also doesn’t at all fit with saying that the one God is one of a triad / trinity. The point of the one-self apologetic is that the multiplicity is only of attributes.

    Am hoping to talk face to face soon with the Maverick about this; I hope a podcast will result…

    Like

    • “Note that this sounds like what I call trinity (God and two others somewhat like him) as opposed to Trinity (tripersonal God). That is, God as a member of the trinity (a triad), and not as the Trinity.”

      Many Trinitarians often address just the Father as God when talking about all three together (the Son and the Holy Spirit). As the Father is the arche of the entirety of the Trinity. For instance, the Apostles’ Creed says we believe in one God, the Father Almighty, his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. The Apostles’ Creed is used by many Trinitarian Christians but they do not understand it as a rejection of the deity of Christ or the Holy Spirit but an affirmation that the Father is the arche of the Trinity. There is a sense of hierarchy within the Trinity with the Father being greater than the Son and the relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit not being well-defined except in Western Catholic theology. This does not negate that the three are equal in terms of divinity and honor. The Trinity is a mystery.

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        It is interesting that in his Summa Theologica I Question 108, in his “answer” in Article 1, St. Thomas Aquinas says that “in the Divine Persons there exists, indeed, a natural order, but there is no hierarchical order” (in the translation published in 1920 at newadvent.org: I have not (yet) looked up the Latin original of this).

        Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Right. While I cannot comment directly on Aquinas’s understanding of the Trinity, this makes sense. My guess is that for Aquinas to say anything else would be to imply an ontological subordination of the Word and Spirit. The Western liturgical tradition, on the other hand, has from very early on addressed its prayers to “God” (i.e., the Father) through the Son in the Spirit. Needless to say, this practice does not imply that the Son and Spirit are “less” divine than “God.”

          The Eastern tradition, on the other hand, clearly affirms the monarchy of the Father and is therefore quite comfortable speaking of God and his Word and Spirit—again without suggesting their ontological subordination. Some contemporary Orthodox (e.g., Met John Zizioulas and Fr John Behr) like to stress the divine monarchy in response to Western formulations of the Trinity.

          (I know you know all this, David. Just mentioning this for any readers who are unacquainted with trinitarian theology.)

          Like

        • Very interesting–just read through that section now. It seems that he understands hierarchy to be referring to “a “sacred” principality, as above explained. Now principality includes two things: the prince himself and the multitude ordered under the prince” (ibid). As such, I would agree with St. Thomas that the one God is not a set of hierarchies but is on top of the hierarchical order. Any way, he then goes on to speak of the hierarchies of the angels and that man is one hierarchy. This may be an issue with how the language is being understood. For instance, it was the Sabellians who originally used terms such as consubstantial. I’ve been reading mostly Eastern Orthodox theologians in discussion on the Trinity and they use the term hierarchy in regards to the Trinity quite a bit (Bulgakov’s The Comforter especially). Ironically, Bulgakov also criticizes St. Thomas Aquinas as using Arian language to describe the processions of the persons from each other.

          Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Something I’ve wondered about in the Apostles’ Creed is whether that “God” which precedes “Father Almighty” is ‘understood’ in the next clause (effectively “Deum Jesum Christum”/ “Theon Iesoun Christon”), as one has in various prayers and liturgical texts “Christ Our True God” (“Christus Deus Noster”, etc.).

        Like

      • Dale Tuggy says:

        My point is not about who is called “God” – the point is who *is* the one God. Many unitarians happily admit that the Son of God, and other humans, can be addressed as “God,” e.g. Hebrews 1, John 10, Ps 82. Talk of the trinity generally assumes that the one God is none other than (is numerically identical to) the Father. Belief in the Trinity is belief that one God is the Trinity, is tripersonal.

        “with the Father being greater than the Son”
        An issue which trinitarians disagree on. You may think it obvious that only the Father, on the scheme of generation and procession, can be a se, and so will thereby be greater. But some trinitarians just deny that aseity is an essential divine attribute, or even deny gen & proc.

        Your way, sorry, seems to amount to that the Father is and is not greater than the Son. I don’t see how you get around that contradiction.

        Like

        • “My point is not about who is called “God” – the point is who *is* the one God. Many unitarians happily admit that the Son of God, and other humans, can be addressed as “God,” e.g. Hebrews 1, John 10, Ps 82. Talk of the trinity generally assumes that the one God is none other than (is numerically identical to) the Father.

          Dale, as a former Unitarian myself, I am quite acquainted with “Biblical” Unitarian theology (as well as Socinian theology). Your initial statement though made it sound as if you were saying that Trinitarians who speak in terms such as “God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit” though they believe all three are God, are only calling the Father the one God. My point though is that Trinitarian theology is much more complex than simply starting with the proposition that the “one God is the Father”. There is one God, the Father–but his Word and Spirit are also God and persons in this tri-personal deity. Any way, I don’t really want to debate this issue because I’m no where near as adept a theologian or metaphysician and the metaphysics stuff just simply flies over my head most of the time.

          Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            And this is probably a good place to bring the unitarian/trinitarian discussion to a close, unless directly related to Islamic/Christian debate. Thanks, everyone. I promise that I will revisit unitarianism sometime in the near future. 🙂

            Like

  2. Tom says:

    Another interesting point in all this might be the inherent plurality at work. For example, how helpful is it really even to speak of “the” Islamic view of things, as if there is a single “Islam” that all Muslims agree on. It’s probably more accurate to speak of ‘Islams’ in the plural. At best, any single “Islam” people offer as “the” Islam is a representative selection of beliefs and traditions agreed upon by some slice of the Muslim world. Same is true of Christianity. In the singular at best it describes a representative selection of beliefs and traditions agreed upon by some self-identifying slice of the so-called Christian world.

    What we actually have are Muslims whose faith is always a mixture of agreements and disagreements, and Muslims themselves experience that mixture communally to different degrees of tolerance and intolerance. Same is true of Christians.

    I recall a prolonged discussion about the Trinity with a group of Muslims on an Islamic website. The discussion asked Muslims to think through their own theological development surrounding the Mu’tazalites (who denied that the Quran as God’s Word was uncreated) and other Muslims (today the orthodox majority) who insist the Quran is uncreated. Muslims had this debate in amazingly similar terms as Christians debated (ala Athanasius and Arius) the nature of the Son/Logos. And Muslims who rejected the uncreated nature of the Quran recognized the corresponding Christian similarities and implications for God’s unity (tawhid). In spite of these implications, the belief in the Quran’s uncreated/eternal nature became the Orthodox view.

    The next this conversation discussed was the relationship between the uncreated/eternal and unchanging Quran and its historical incarnation. It took a while, but eventually several of the Muslims on this site were comfortable saying something like this: “Yes, we can see how a version of God’s unity can be worked out in terms of inner-relations along personal terms worked out analogous to how we affirm the relationship between God and his uncreated Word and its incarnation in history without compromising God’s unity.” They conceded that if a thing like the Quran (which is obviously created in its historical appearing and context) can be simultaneously uncreated, it can’t be impossible for that thing to be a human life instead of a book.

    Tom

    Like

    • Mina says:

      I find this very fascinating. I found out about the idea that the Quran was uncreated only a year ago. It’s rarely discussed on what Muslims believe the nature of the Quran to be. I am curious to know what other regular Muslim on the street would say when asked this question, “Is the Quran created or uncreated”.

      Do these Mu’tazalites exist today? I understand some Shiites do not take a view of the Quran as “uncreated”.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom says:

    You’ll find the Salafiyun over at Azhar University in Cairo very familiar with the history.

    The Mu’tazila school of thought doesn’t exist today. They declined in the 10th century. As far as I know the Shi’ites share a view on the Quran like that of the Mu’taliza but the Shi’ites (one Shi’ite says) deny both that the Quran is “created” and that it’s “uncreated.” They say instead that the Quran is muhdath (مُحدث). Not sure how they elaborate on it, but muhdath seems to describe something like ‘caused to be’ without the implication of ‘coming into existence’. So the Quran is eternally existent (like God) but in a ‘derived’ state of being (unlike God). I like the term myself. I wonder if it could help Muslims close the gap on the idea of the eternal ‘begotteness’ of the Logos.

    I tell Christians not to make the standard comparisons between Islam and Christianity, i.e., don’t compare books (Quran and Bible) and prophets (Muhammad and Jesus). Rather, compare book to person (Quran to Jesus), because what Muslims say about the Quran is closer to what Christians say about Christ than it is to what Christians say about the Bible. How we view the Bible is more like how they view their Hadith than how they view the Quran.

    I’ve never met an average Muslim, not a serious student, who was even aware of the debate or its implications.

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I just encountered a discussion of a translation of a quotation from a televised sermon by Saudi Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid (the excerpt was posted with subtitles on YouTube on 31 October):

    During his sermon, al-Munajjid said that “some [Muslim] hypocrites” wonder why it is that “we [Muslims] don’t permit them [Western people] to build churches, even though they allow mosques to be built.” The Saudi sheikh responded by saying that any Muslim who thinks this way is “ignorant” and “wants to equate between right and wrong, between Islam and kufr [non-Islam], monotheism and shirk [polytheism], and gives to each side equal weight, and wants to compare this with that, and he asks: ‘Why don’t we build them churches like they build us mosques? So we allow them this in return for that?’ Do you want another other than Allah to be worshiped? Do you equate between right and wrong? Are Zoroastrian fire temples, Jewish temples, Christian churches, monks’ monasteries, and Buddhist and Hindu temples, equal to you with the houses of Allah and mosques? So you compare this with that? And you equate this with that? Oh! Unbelievable, for he who equates between Islam and kufr [non-Islam], and Allah said: ‘Whoever desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers’ (Koran 3:85). And Prophet Muhamad said: ‘By Him in whose hand is the life of Muhamad (By Allah) he who amongst the Jews or Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that which I have been sent, and dies in his state (of disbelief), he shall be of the residents of Hellfire.’ ”

    This seems to admit no difference between the polytheism of “Hindu temples” and the worship taking place in “Jewish temples, Christian churches, monks’ monasteries”, and to characterize the latter as equally instances of “another other than Allah […] be[ing] worshiped”. Is what is theologically decisive in fact a matter of affirming a particular interpretation of “belief in that which I have been sent”?

    Like

    • Tom says:

      David: Is what is theologically decisive in fact a matter of affirming a particular interpretation…

      Tom: All belief is interpretation. But I’m not exactly following your question. What do you mean by ‘theologically decisive’? Decisive for whom?

      Unfortunately the views expressed by the Al-Munajjid are, as far as I know, virtually universal. Muslims who disagree with him are very exceptional. A few (secularized, educated) Muslims want a world where everybody in every country is free to believe and worship as they wish, period. On the other hand, Al-Munajjid wouldn’t be preaching about it if he didn’t think that perspective was significant enough to address as he does. I ran across an author (can’t recall whom) this week who was documenting the attitudes of Arab Millennials in the Middle East and North Africa. I was pleasantly surprised. Who knows? Maybe the day will come when Al-Munajjid’s view will be facing minority.

      But I don’t think his view is decisive for the debate we’ve been having about whether (and if so, how) Muslims and Christians worship the same God. That would be like saying the views of Pat Robertson, John Hagee, or Franklin Graham (whose views represent true Christianity for millions of people) are decisive for the same question. I mean, I wouldn’t admit anything these preachers say as relevant to the question. Al-Munajjid would be something like the Franklin Graham of Muslims.

      Tom

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Theologically decisive as Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid sees things, and, if you are correct that “the views expressed by the Al-Munajjid are, as far as I know, virtually universal”, as most self-described Muslims now living see things (if that is what you mean by “virtually universal”: not only those in the Salafi movement (as the Wikipedia article about him puts it), or Wahhabists, or Sunnis, but virtually all).

        It would seem that Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid does not (et suis do not) and would never recognize that it is the God of Abraham that (any) Jews and Christians are worshipping and/or that what (any) Jews and Christians are doing is worshipping the God of Abraham (including submitting to Him obediently).

        What “belief in that which I have been sent” would satisfy Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid (et suis)? Would that vary between ‘movements’, (legal) schools, Sunni, Shiite, Isamaili, Sufi?

        So far as I can see I would agree with you in saying, “I don’t think his view is decisive for the debate we’ve been having about whether (and if so, how) Muslims and Christians worship the same God.” But if his view is shared by virtually all self-described Muslims now living (however variously they disagree with and oppose each other on other points), that is a practically important matter and worth knowing and proclaiming.

        Like

        • Tom says:

          David: But if his view is shared by virtually all self-described Muslims now living (however variously they disagree with and oppose each other on other points), that is a practically important matter and worth knowing and proclaiming.

          Tom: Definitely. To the extent the culture and politics of a people are defined by the end goal of eradicating throughout the world all faiths other than their own and achieving a political and cultural existence purged of all beliefs and religious practices contrary to the essentials of their own faith, non-Muslim peoples ought to be extremely aware and proactive.

          (I don’t know what that would look like policy-wise for, say, America. I’m just saying, a policy of extending an unqualified welcome to whosoever will is not impervious to the effects of an increasing number of those intent on changing that policy. And before we condemn the Muslim goal of such universal conversion, we Christians should remember that such aspirations are essential to the Christian worldview as well.)

          David: It would seem that al-Munajjid…would never recognize that it is the God of Abraham that Jews and Christians worshipping and/or that Jews and Christians worship the God of Abraham (including submitting to Him obediently).

          Tom: Probably not. But he’s the Islamic equivalent of Franklin Graham or John Hagee, so it goes without saying that he would see things that way.

          David: What “belief in that which I have been sent” would satisfy al-Munajjid? Would that vary between ‘movements’, (legal) schools, Sunni, Shiite, Isamaili, Sufi?

          Tom: Good question. I suppose he has his list. It would vary between schools (just as Christians would disagree on what counts as essential or requisite to salvation). But just to clarify how this relates to the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, it doesn’t follow that if we do in an important sense address and reference the ‘same God’, everybody is reconciled and obedient to God.

          Tom

          Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            David and Tom, does it matter whether (most) Muslims believe that Christians intend Allah when they use the word “God”? I don’t think so. What would be interesting is to hear a Muslim trained in analytic theology discuss this question. I suspect he would probably say the same thing that we have heard from other analytic philosophers–the difference between sense and reference.

            Atheists can meaningfully talk about “God,” as understood by either Christians and Muslims, even while denying his existence.

            David Hart can write a book on The Experience of God and meaningfully talk about transcendent divinity.

            Etc., etc.

            The decisive common description that establishes reference, I argue, is the identification of “God”/”Allah” is creation: God/Allah is the reason the world exists rather than nothing. Both Christians and Muslims agree on that, despite all their other disagreements. Hence, in my opinion, it does not make any sense to say that they believe in “different” Gods. I don’t even know how to make coherent sense of that. We can distinguish and number gods, but we cannot number the transcendent origin of beings.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Fr Aidan: What would be interesting is to hear a Muslim trained in analytic theology discuss this question.

            Tom: You noted Hart. He treats a few of the (older) key Muslim philosophers as supporting classical theism (in broad terms). There are more than the few he mentions. As for modern Muslim philosophers, I don’t know. Muhammad Iqbal (Pakistani poet, philosopher, statesman, d. 1938), whom I’ve read, comes to mind. He’d definitely number among classical theists philosophically speaking, and probably Hossein Nasr (Iranian philosopher, George Washington U).

            Fr Aidan: The decisive common description that establishes reference, I argue, is the identification of “God”/”Allah” is creation: God/Allah is the reason the world exists rather than nothing. Both Christians and Muslims agree on that, despite all their other disagreements. Hence, in my opinion, it does not make any sense to say that they believe in “different” Gods. I don’t even know how to make coherent sense of that. We can distinguish and number gods, but we cannot number the transcendent origin of beings.

            Tom: Exactly. That’s where Feser’s point about Mormonism is good. Same language (Yahweh, the Father, the Son, etc.), but understandings that are philosophically so divergent on essentials. Once you say Creation is brought into being by the transcendent One who is cause and ground of all but not caused or grounded in anything outside himself, you’re now asking the same question and outlining its answer in fundamentally the same way.

            Tom

            Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Tom, where has Edward Feser made the point about Mormonism to which you refer? Searching I have found a blogpost of his of 26 June 2013 with a Peter Geach essay as starting point (which post I have read, together with his two additional comments below it). In it, he says, “some degree of error is consistent with worship of the true God, and there is some flexibility in notions like simplicity, eternity, etc. But there are limits to the degree of error that is consistent with true worship, even if it can in some cases be difficult in practice to know when those limits have been reached.”

            Fr. Aidan, the “decisive common description that establishes reference” for which you argue, reminds me (relevantly or otherwise) of something in St. Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho (ch. 11 of the Dods-Reith trans as found at New Advent): “There will be no other God, O Trypho, nor was there from eternity any other existing, but He who made and disposed all this universe. Nor do we think that there is one God for us, another for you, but that He alone is God who led your fathers out from Egypt with a strong hand and a high arm. Nor have we trusted in any other (for there is no other), but in Him in whom you also have trusted, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.”

            Perhaps also interesting in this context is St. Justin saying in chapter 30, “some in one way, others in another, teach to blaspheme the Maker of all things, and Christ, who was foretold by Him as coming, and the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, with whom we have nothing in common, since we know them to be atheists, impious, unrighteous, and sinful, and confessors of Jesus in name only, instead of worshippers of Him. Yet they style themselves Christians”.

            Dr. Feser quotes the late Professor Geach, “If anybody’s thoughts about God are sufficiently confused and erroneous, then he will fail to be thinking about the true and living God at all”. And in what Dr. Feser calls ” a key illustration” in Geach’s essay, Geach refers to the proper name of a contemporary living person, and adds Geach’s further illustration of someone you have met and become (at least slightly) acquainted. Dr. Feser follows Geach in apparently contending that such personal recognition and acquaintance need not preclude one is “fail[ing] to be thinking about the true and living [person so recognized and known] at all”.

            Would Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid and virtually all self-described Muslims now living seem likely to make some version of the same contention?

            In contrast to this, would (either of) you say the “decisive common description that establishes reference” does so with such firmness as to prescind from any error(s) or degree of error breaking that decisive commonness?

            Like

          • Tom says:

            David: Tom, where has Edward Feser made the point about Mormonism to which you refer?

            Tom: His most recent blog post, “Christians, Muslims and the reference of God” (on Dec 28, 2015). The first section of that post (about six paragraphs) is under the subtitle “Referring to God.” And the very next section subtitled “Failure of reference” is where you’ll find his references to Mormonism.

            Back later. Gotta 12 hour drive ahead of me today!

            Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I replied here before reading the 1 January post with a link to a new Edward Feser post!

            I’ve now read that post and his further comments below it.

            It does not seem obvious to me that that post and the Geach one (which he links in it) are strongly agreeing with each other!

            But maybe that’s my obtuseness or misreading otherwise, and maybe I should try to ‘bother’ him with it, there…

            By the way, I should have written: “and he adds Geach’s further illustration of someone you have met and become (at least slightly) acquainted with”.

            In one of his comments, he says to someone, “your criterion of ‘erring on a tighter definition of God’ would, if followed through consistently, require treating all theological errors about the divine nature as tantamount to a failure to refer to, and thus or worship, the true God.”

            It is my impression that Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid (and, so, virtually all self-described Muslims now living – ?!) seem to be attrempting some such ‘consistent follow through’.

            In another comment, Dr. Feser says, “theological error by itself simply does not suffice to justify labels like ‘heretic’ or ‘idolater.’ So, to make the case that Muslims, voluntarists, or anyone else fails even to refer to the true God, you need to do a lot more than just keep repeating how they are making this or that theological error.”

            The Geach-Feser ‘case’ seems to allow a lot of scope for a variety of errors justifying labels considerably like ‘idolator’ by a failure “even to refer to’ whomever. Again, perhaps the unclarity is in my reading… (?)

            Fr. Aidan, I also read your comments. Your saying “The activity of divine creation (should we add creatio ex nihilo?) must be the decisive definite description that establishes reference (1 Jan. 6:13 a.m.) and adding “It also excludes pantheism, as well as most Platonic construals of deity” (6:51 a.m.) is interesting, especially in the context of Dr. Feser saying, “the claim might be read as comparable to the Neo-Platonic idea that Intellect and Soul emanate from The One. Now, it is certainly arguable that the Neo-Platonists were referring to the true God despite their errors — Augustine seemed to think so, and I would argue so.”

            Have you posted on such things If not, something worth considering?

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I’d like to obtain a copy of the Geach article cited by both Feser and Vallicella. If anyone has a copy of it, please email it to me at tigana99@hotmail.com

            Like

  5. Tom says:

    David,

    Just some ideas here. I suggest evaluating answers to the “same God” question by first specifying the respect with which one is answering the question, either:

    (A) Same with respect to ‘referent’
    or
    (B) Same with respect to ‘description’

    Regarding (A)-sense sameness, I think we have good (philosophical) reasons for saying God is the referent which all desire and transcendental religious intuition refer, the end to which all things tend and the Good in which no person who exists can fail to participate. If we’re asking the ‘God’ question at all, grappling with ultimate questions of meaning and existence, we’re ALREADY approximating the Good on a fundamental level. To ask those questions honestly is an experience of God, a real participation in God.

    Regarding (B)-sense sameness, no two theists worship the same/identical God, so differences in description have to be relativized depending on the extent and nature of agreements/disagreements. This seems to be what Feser is pointing out. Orthodox Christians may disagree over non-essentials and still be fundamental one in the practice and celebration of their faith (because they’ve defined their religious life and worship around those core essentials). No problem. Orthodox and Catholics may have disagreements that segregate (to go with that term for the moment) them with respect to the practice of faith. Protestants may then have even greater disagreements that further segregate them outside the practice of Orthodox/Catholic belief. And so forth. But even Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants will still share greater agreement than they will with respect to Judaism, and then beyond that with respect to Islam, etc.

    Once we say we’re discussing whether Muslims and Christians worship the “same” God in this (B)-sense, “same” is going to tolerate a mixture of agreement/disagreement since no two theists agree 100% in their beliefs about God. We find agreement on fundamentals, agreement strong enough to relativize the disagreements, but that means agreement with respect to some purpose or end. This gets left out of the conversation people are having about this question. Belief in the “same” (B-sense) God is decided with respect to some end. “Sameness” in fact is always a ‘perspectival’. It’s a view on two or more things “with respect to” some standard or context. For example, are the Muslim and Christian descriptions (B-sense sameness) of God sufficiently similar to unite their practice of worship and give them a shared sense of corporate identity and purpose? Obviously not. We do not worship the same God with respect to this context. The descriptive differences are too great. But that’s not to say our beliefs aren’t B-sense same with respect to some other context.

    It’s with respect to B-sense sameness that Feser points out the fatal disagreements between Mormonism on the one hand and Christian (Muslim, and Jewish) views of God on the other. There’s literally nothing within the whole scope of relevant truth-claims sufficient to admit Mormons into the descriptive-sameness that Jews, Christians, and Muslims share.

    What’s strange to me is that in all this Scot McKnight thinks all talk of “sameness” out to be abandoned because “same” (supposedly) by default means “identical” or “exactly” the same. But as far as I can tell the relative senses of “same” are active and shaping the conversation whether we use the term or not because there’s no way to be a religious person in the world and not situate one’s beliefs in relationship to others.

    ——————–

    David: Would al-Munajjid and virtually all self-described Muslims now living seem likely to make some version of the same contention?

    Tom: I doubt al-Munajjid would. His rejection of all worldviews but his own is so informed and all-encompassing. As for the vast majority of Muslims beside him, my point was that they’d likely agree with him in envisioning a day when all the world would be Muslim. But I don’t think they’d all agree this implies that Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same (in either A- or B-sense sameness) God. My guess is (just from my experience) most would agree there’s sufficient descriptive-sameness between the two with respect to some useful contexts and relations.

    David: Would (either of) you say the “decisive common description that establishes reference” does so with such firmness as to prescind from any error(s) or degree of error breaking that decisive commonness?

    Tom: I think our (A)-type sameness, being a metaphysics of participation, defines human beings antecedent to any degree of error and nobody can believe something so erroneous that he/she is no longer grounded in God’s sustaining grace and the transcendental orientation of his/her nature to the Good as such. You can’t wrongly believe your way out that. But I do agree there are “perspectives” on descriptive-sameness (since all ‘sameness’ is a perspective on two or more things relative to some context or end) that can be destroyed by disagreement. Christians and Muslims don’t share the same God in any sense that makes “Christian” and “Muslim” convertible “ways” of participating in (worshiping/celebrating) the Good.

    Haven’t read the Geach paper.

    Tom

    Like

  6. Pingback: Do Proponents of Other Abrahamic Faiths Worship the Same God? The Answer is Not in Philosophy but in the Distinction Between Law and Gospel | theology like a child

Comments are closed.