17 December 2015
God and Allah are the same
Wheaton College, an evangelical school, suspended one of its professors, herself a Christian of course, for asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The professor, the only black woman on the faculty, called attention to herself by wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims whom she saw as actual or potential victims of prejudice in America and violence around the world, but it was her heresy in speech, not dress, that got her in trouble. This controversy, magnified somewhat in an apparent attempt to remind people of Christianity's capacity for intolerance, is just a reminder of a debate that has gone on since Islam emerged from the Arabian desert. From the beginning, Muslims have claimed that "Allah"-- Arabic for "the god" -- is the god of Abraham, and that they worship that god as Abraham himself was told to, before subsequent generations distorted or forgot the original teaching. God provided these reminders every few generations or centuries, the message always getting distorted until Muhammad's successors managed to make it stick for nearly 1,400 years. Against this assertion, Christians have taken two approaches. One is to dismiss "Allah" as a Meccan idol that Muhammad tried to elevate to supreme-god status by claiming it was the god of Abraham. The other is to argue that Muslims can't claim to worship the god of Abraham if they deny Christ. As is well known, Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, i.e. one who received genuine revelations but, like his predecessors, couldn't stop the true message from being distorted, this time by Christians who preferred to worship Jesus as a god. Muslims still regard Christians as "people of the book," acknowledging that they worship the same god Muslims do, albeit to such a wrong degree that they should have to pay a poll tax to continue doing so. By contrast, many Christians believe that Jesus is so essential a component of God's complex nature that to deny Christ is to deny God. When Muslims scoff at the idea of the One God having a "son," and insist that he wouldn't, Christians scoff back that they're missing the point to a catastrophic extent. While Muslims praise Allah as "compassionate" and "merciful," Christians see a god incapable of "love" that therefore can't be their own. Wheaton College apparently works on these assumptions and can't accept a faculty member arguing to the contrary. Their action against the professor is drawing predictable protests, but if there must be freedom of religion in this country a religious college should be able to take administrative action on theological grounds. They are under no obligation to accept or even tolerate the premise that Muslims and Christians worship the same god. The title of this post appears to contradict Wheaton's position, but I'm actually saying something slightly different. It matters less whether Christians and Muslims worship the same god than that they worship the same kind of god -- one that, like all the others, almost certainly does not exist. As far as I'm concerned they may as well worship the same god because 0 = 0. To bend a phrase, to argue over whether God and Jesus and Allah are all the same is like debating how many angels can dance on a pinhead. Even Republican presidential debates are more substantial. When you can say that, there's really nothing more to say.