All the same god?

I’m sick of hearing that Jews, Christians, and Muslims “all worship the same god.” It’s such a popular characterization amongst proponents of interfaith collaboration. It sounds so nice. But it just doesn’t make sense.

Suppose Alice says, “I believe in Zeus — he’s the god of the sky, and the king of all the gods.” And Bob says, “I believe in Zeus too — but you’re wrong, Alice, he’s the god of the underworld.” Then Carl says, “I believe in Zeus as well — but you’re both wrong, Zeus is the god of the oceans.” On a superficial level, they do all believe in some deity called Zeus … but at the point at which they disagree on major details about who Zeus actually is, it doesn’t mean very much to say that they all believe in “the same god.” They might as well have named these gods Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon; having different names wouldn’t make these three gods any more different in any meaningful sense.

Yes, I know that Christians include a version of the Jewish Tanakh as the Old Testament in their Bible. Yes, I realize that Muslims believe the Torah contains the teachings of Allah and that Jesus was a prophet. But that doesn’t mean that Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in a god with fundamentally the same attributes and teachings. Jews and Muslims believe in God as one being, while Christians believe in a trinity. Christians and Muslims believe that Jesus’ teachings reflected the teachings of God, while Jews do not — and Christians believe that Jesus was actually divine, while Jews and Muslims do not. These are pretty basic details, and they don’t match up! And there are many more examples I could give.

Here is a generous characterization of what is going on — it is not quite true, but I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt to people who make this silly claim about “all worshipping the same god.” The Jews have their understanding of God. Then, the Christians come along and say, “That’s pretty good, but we are going to make some modifications.” Then, the Muslims come along and are all right with most of the Jewish and Christian ideas about God, but they want to add their own stuff too. I guess I see the sense in which everybody is taking about the same god — I mean, everybody here is saying that they are describing the only god there is — but each group thinks that the other groups are deeply wrong in their understanding! I just don’t see any real sense in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims “worship the same god” in a way that would actually constitute theological or philosophical agreement.

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  1. Aristarchus

     /  September 2, 2010 at 9:57 am

    You’re right that the idea of it being the “same god” is too incoherent to really be right (or wrong). It makes a little sense when you say that Methodists and Lutherans worship the “same god” but only if you interpret it to mean that their religions are similar, in which case it’s a sliding scale without a yes/no truth value.

    I’ve also been bothered by this statement before, but for a different reason. It is always used in the context of saying that we should be tolerant towards each other. The implication, though, is that this tolerance is based on religious similarity. If this was the reason, we wouldn’t be tolerant towards Hinduism or Shintoism. Essentially, it’s arguing that we should allow another member into our elitist club, when the existence of the elitist club is itself bad.

  2. Hey NFQ –
    long time no reply; been pretty busy.
    You wrote, “I just don’t see any real sense in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims “worship the same god” in a way that would actually constitute theological or philosophical agreement.”
    The reason is b/c there is no real sense in such a statement. We do NOT worship the same God no matter how badly the “tolerance-police” don’t want to own up to that. That doesn’t mean we ought to fight each other and blow up people’s places of worhsip – that’s not how we are to treat each other no matter how many nut-jobs out there have tried to use their “holy book” to condone such actions. But, it also doesn’t mean we need to pretend like “we’re all good” when we’re not; we should not have to lie to others or ourselves to seem like we’re bing more tolerant of everybody or “playing nice together”. That’s just foolish. Look at the same argument from a political standpoint: we can’t all have our opinion about who the President is to the point where if someone wants to say, “well, you think Obama is President but i think it’s Hillary Clinton,” and not have the men in white coats come looking for you. It is incoherant, if you know and understand the teaching of the Bible, to say we all worship the same God for the exact same reason.

  3. If different religions are to claim that they worship the same God, but that they understand this God differently, then they must explain why these understandings are so frequently contradictory. Jesus can’t be divine and not divine simultaneously. It must be obvious, then, to anyone who makes the one-god claim, that *someone’s* understanding has to be wrong. And with this realization, the sense of coexistence that the one-god claim was meant to engender disappears into thin air, because no religious believer is ever going to concede that his understanding is the one in error.

  4. @Aristarchus — Sometimes it is just an accidental implication, but now that you mention it, I’m pretty sure that from time to time it’s being insinuated on purpose. “Come on, we’re on the same side here, so why don’t we team up and go get the other guys!” Sigh.

    @Wesley — I’m glad we agree on something. 🙂

    @Keith — I’ve heard people talk about the blind men and the elephant to answer accusations about contradictory beliefs. But you’re absolutely right when you say, “Jesus can’t be divine and not divine simultaneously.” It’s like one blind man concluding, “This elephant has no tusks at all!” and another concluding, “This elephant is completely made of tusk!”

  5. jorge alvarado

     /  September 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Re “I just don’t see any real sense in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims “worship the same god” in a way that would actually constitute theological or philosophical agreement.”
    Some Jews don’t believe in Jesus because they don’t see Him as the prophet that was to come (since He claimed He was, they killed Him, among other reasons).
    Muslims, as you pointed out, believe Jesus to be one of many prophets Allah has. But, strangely, they will not abide by ANY of His teachings. They believe Mohamed is THE ONE everyone should listen to.
    Christians believe Jesus IS the prophet spoken of in the Old Testament. The one who fulfilled all the prophecies.
    In that God is the God of Abraham (a patriarch of the Old Testament), all three religions worship the same God. They are correct, in that sense, up to that point.
    Re “..but each group thinks that the other groups are deeply wrong in their understanding!”
    I think it is more accurate to say Jews and Muslims, by reasons only they can attest to, refuse to believe in the Jesus of the Bible. That is at the core of this issue, and something I have mentioned before. The ability to believe in Jesus comes from above.
    Jesus, the Son, claimed equality with God the Father ( The Holy Spirit is also equated with God) in the Bible. That’s one reason they dismiss Him. By the way, that’s why we say God is a Trinity (three persons, one God). Like most spiritual issues, easier said than explained.
    So, are we worshiping the same God? Yes, most definitely. ( I hope “Wesley” can see what I mean here).
    The other issue; How, if we are worshiping the same God, are the “understandings” so different?. I think that is a matter of Bible interpretation. If those two groups keep ignoring the teachings of the New Testament, there, unfortunately, can never be agreement.
    Just like there can never be agreement between Atheism and (insert any faith here).
    @ Keith
    Hi, when we say (and I think that’s what you’re alluding to) Jesus was 100% man, and 100% God, we don’t mean He’s “200% something.
    Let me use the example of a plain man. A man can be a father, a son, a grandson, and a teacher. Is he therefore 25% of each of those things?. This explanation breaks down somewhere, but it’s just to illustrate a point. Jesus was 100% man in that He was born into the world. He IS 100% God in that He has returned to the Father’s right side in Heaven, where He was before He came to Earth, as part of the Trinity.Hope this helps.
    Is he therefore

  6. Aristarchus

     /  September 2, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Jorge, I’m honestly amazed. This is a level of bigoted idiocy I didn’t even expect from you.

    Some Jews don’t believe in Jesus because they don’t see Him as the prophet that was to come (since He claimed He was, they killed Him, among other reasons).

    This is one of the stupidest sentences I’ve ever seen written. Your claim that the Jews killed Jesus is anti-semitic, bigoted bullshit. For more information, see the wikipedia article on it, which you’ll note is part of the anti-semitisim series. Get a brain, learn to google, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to get yourself out of the Dark Ages.

    Your sentence is also completely meaningless. It’s equivalent to “Some Jews didn’t believe in Jesus because they didn’t believe in him.” Yes, that’s true. But… do you really think that’s clarifying things? Does that sound like a reason to you?

    But, strangely, [Muslims] will not abide by ANY of His teachings. They believe Mohamed is THE ONE everyone should listen to.

    In what way is it strange? Can you not comprehend why anyone would be any religion other than Christian? Also, they abide by plenty of his teachings. They consider Jesus a prophet. Even if they didn’t, they (like everyone else on earth) would abide by lots of his teachings, since most of his teachings are obvious things that almost everyone thinks are good.

    Really, though, the biggest thing is that you have zero reading comprehension. You seriously seem incapable of reading a post/comment and actually knowing what was said. Most of what you say in your comment is basically a repetition of what NFQ said in her post, except with less clarity. You then, however, say you’re disagreeing. You completely miss the semantic ambiguity she explains at the beginning and do exactly what she explained was stupid.

    I don’t know why you waste your time writing these comments, but you should know that you’re embarrassing yourself. You writing in defense of Christian ideas makes them seem more idiotic, not less. The best thing you could do for your cause would be to shut up.

  7. jorge alvarado

     /  September 2, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Hi, Aristarchus
    Re ” Your claim that the Jews killed Jesus is anti-semitic, bigoted bullshit.”
    Just some scripture to back what I wrote. Acts 3:12-15; Acts 5:27-33; John 19:6-16. The Bible says Jews killed Jesus; not me (you could make the point that it actually was the Romans who killed Him, but you’ll be getting into semantics). I thought it was understood that what I write here is in agreement with what the Bible says (as accurately as I can put it). I AM sorry I did not clarify it from the beginning of that post. Also, don’t take that fact to mean everybody should go around making that an issue. It really isn’t. Jesus HAD to be killed in order to complete God’s plan for salvation.
    Re “Some Jews don’t believe in Jesus because they don’t see Him as the prophet..”
    That is not saying (I’ll generalize: “People don’t believe something because they don’t believe it”). You say: “Yes, that’s true.” (???)
    When I wrote: “Some Jews don’t believe in Jesus BECAUSE…” I give just one reason why. I don’t see how you can take that reason (he wasn’t who they were expecting) to mean “because they didn’t believe in Him”. In saying “because they didn’t believe in Him”, one needs to give a reason. I did.
    Re “Also, they (Muslims) abide by plenty of his teachings. They consider Jesus a prophet.”
    Not being a Muslim, I cannot affirm that the way you can. But I would ask: Which ones? Jesus said many times He IS God (that’s why the Jews (there I go again) sought to kill Him) John 5:18. A prophet is not a true prophet if nothing (or even some things) he teaches is/are true.
    Re “..since most of his teachings are obvious things that almost everyone thinks are good.”
    Which ones are not considered “good”?. I think everything Jesus taught is good, and usable even today. The fact is many of the teachings of Jesus go against what the world would like to believe. (going to hell, for one, that He is the ONLY way to heaven, for another). That would mean you think one has to be selective about which teachings to accept, and which to avoid. Bad theology.
    Since you’ve mentioned before (a couple of times), I will agree with you that my reading comprehension skills leave much to be desired. Still, I don’t see what you meant.
    NFQ wrote: “I’m sick of hearing that Jews, Christians, and Muslims “all worship the same god.”
    “I just don’t see any real sense in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims “worship the same god” in a way that would actually constitute theological or philosophical agreement.”
    I have made that clear. (Again) we worship the God of Abraham. That’s it. I’m sorry, but I can’t make it any clearer. Why there isn’t agreement amongst the faiths is another subject altogether.
    Re ” The best thing you could do for your cause would be to shut up.”
    I will if NFQ asks me to.

  8. Wow.

    Jorge, I’m never going to tell you you’re not welcome to comment here, unless you get severely out of line. I don’t want to ban people from commenting, because I value intellectual discussion between people of different opinions. I don’t want to prevent people from attempting to make their case just because I think their conclusion is wrong or because I think they’re doing a bad job of constructing arguments.

    If you’re asking for my opinion as to whether or not your contribution to this discussion is worthwhile … my answer is a very clear no. The vast majority of your comments are asserting points which I have already answered in the post you are commenting on; you seem to be looking for me to write you a Cliff’s Notes version of my post because my original one was too difficult for you to read. You seem unable to commit even 30 seconds to going to Google and finding some facts upon which to base your opinions. You have repeatedly stated that you are not interested in offering logical arguments to attempt to convince people of your views, and freely admitted that no such logical arguments exist. I don’t really know what you think you are contributing. Occasionally it seems like your goal might be to “clarify” your beliefs, but
    1. This blog is not addressing the religion of Jorge Alvarado, but rather religious beliefs in general, some of which will be held by Jorge Alvarado and some of which will not. If you don’t believe some particular thing I have mentioned, I don’t really care; I know that some people do.
    2. Your “clarifying” is not clear at all, and often involves simple reassertions of the ideas I have already explained to be incoherent, with no refutation of what I have already said.

    So, if you’re just looking for my personal preference on the matter — if you never commented here again, I wouldn’t mind a bit. I think I would actually be relieved.

    Two small notes about the discussion between you and Aristarchus which I can’t let go:

    – “Maybe it’s anti-Semitic, bigoted bullshit, but it’s backed up by the Bible” is one of the most disgusting, repugnant lines of argumentation I have ever encountered. I am literally nauseated by it.

    – Aristarchus is not a Muslim, and has no more personal ability to know about the beliefs of Islam than you do, except for that he is willing to do basic research, and he is capable of reading sentences and grasping their meaning. The teachings of Islam which he referred to here are really common knowledge to anyone who is at all literate and follows reliable news sources. If he wanted to know more details about the beliefs of Islam, it is really not hard to find a way to learn them. Also, the entire text of the Qur’an can easily be read online.

  9. jorge alvarado

     /  September 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Hi, Aristarchus (and NFQ)
    This from the Wikipedia article you linked to:
    “But though the New Testament clearly looks to the Jews (Judeans) as responsible for the death of Jesus,…”
    “According to the New Testament accounts, the Judean (Jewish) authorities in Judea charged Jesus with blasphemy and sought his execution..”
    “Nostra Aetate stated that even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus’ death, ..”
    Did you read the article at all?. It, in a way, only affirms what I wrote and the references I gave.
    I don’t want to leave this blog without attempting to clarify what I believe (again). I am truly, truly sorry that I upset you guys. When I wrote that the Jews killed Jesus, I did it in a plain, “matter-of-factly” way that now I can see lacked tact. I thought we were over that. It would be like me, right now, saying the Germans committed horrendous atrocities against the Jews at Auschwitz. I can only imagine the backlash from the Germans of today.
    I did not mean to imply that we should, in any way, hold against Jews what they did to Jesus. As I pointed out, Jesus HAD to die. I see it makes no sense to elaborate on that anymore.
    I wish you only the best.

  10. Aristarchus

     /  September 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Ok, Jorge, let me explain this a bit, since you seem to be trying to get it right. Saying “The Germans committed genocide against Jews” isn’t all that bad because it’s true. The Jews did not actually kill Jesus, which is why the accusation is seen as unfair and bigoted. You are correct that the article says that the Bible says that the Jews killed Jesus. That is correct. The problem here is that the Bible is wrong.

    We can’t actually verify much historically about Jesus. There is some documentation (Josephus, for example) that mentions him early on as having some followers, but the total written about him is a paragraph or two. What we do know a lot about is the general history of the area at that time. The Jews were a conquered people. The government was a puppet government of Rome. Some of the local rulers were by birth Jewish, but their allegiance was to Rome, not to the Jewish people.

    The Jews were known by Rome to be particularly reluctant to accept Roman rule. Their resistance fighters were “zealots” – that’s where that word comes from. The Romans were nervous about an uprising in the province. Many Jews at this time believed that the messiah would come soon and lead a revolt against Rome. This is in fact what happened a little later (see this article for more information). When the authorities saw that Jesus was claiming to be the messiah, they worried about a nationalistic Jewish revolt against Rome, so they had him executed. (This was a time when many people claimed to be the messiah, and Jesus was not the only one killed.) The authorities in question were probably a mix of people who were ethnically Roman and ethnically Jewish, but who precisely gave the execution order is irrelevant. Saying the Jews killed Jesus is like saying the French committed the holocaust because the Vichy puppet government appointed by Germany helped.

    So why does the Bible say the Jews killed him? Partly because some of the writers were more Roman than Jewish. Partly because at that point in history they were targeting non-Jews for conversion to Christianity more than they were targeting Jews. Mostly, though, it’s because the selection of which books to include in the Bible took place after Christianity had become the official religion of Rome. Constantine converted to Christianity, ordered bibles made, and built many churches. He was the benefactor that was going to make Christianity spread. The early church leaders weren’t stupid, and they weren’t going to make Rome the bad guy in their story, so they had to make it look like Rome reluctantly executed Jesus because the Jews wanted it so badly. It’s not, though, what actually happened.

  11. Sorry to add another voice here but it seems everyone’s got it wrong. I’ll give you two quick quotes:
    1: Acts 2:22,23 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” [Italics mine]
    2: Acts 4:27,28 “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. [Italics mine]

    So … the Bible is pretty clear that -ultimately – God killed Jesus according to His own will and plan, and the Jews [Herod in the verse from Acts 4] and Pontius Pilate [the Romans from Acts 4] and the Gentiles [everyone else including you and I to this day] were simply carrying out that action. so it is, ultimately, non-sensical to talk about Jews or Romans or anyone else as “killing Jesus”. They were the instruments of that action and are, thus, morally responsible for that action, but were, in the end, carrying out what God had already predetermined would happen.

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