May 22, 2004

Divine Border Conditions

Donald Sensing today refers to an older post of his which asserts that the God of Islam is not the same God that Jews and Christians worship. I have to stand in disagreement with the good Reverend because he ends up oversimplifying the criteria by which we must understand border conditions. A Catholic and an Orthodox mutually recognize that they each worship the same God. Their sacraments are valid. The differences between them, the borders that define the two faiths center on the role of the Pope (if you're Orthodox and want to argue I'm wrong, first go convince Patriarch Theoctist of Romania and then get back to me) in the Church.

But if you get much beyond Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism (though the latter is getting more dubious by the day) sacraments start not being recognized. The authority of most protestant ministers to conduct sacramental service is not considered valid by Catholics because the necessary conditions are not fulfilled. Every church has its own rules as to who is close enough so that the differences are viewed as administrative, and which differences are viewed as too big to be merely administrative.

Beyond that, the subject of Rev. Sensing's note, is the level of difference at which point you are talking about a different God. Again, the level of difference is somewhat arbitrary. Rev. Sensing's idea that both christian and muslim ideas about God cannot be simultaneously true is useful for him, but it is not a universal standard. The choice is one of sharpening differences versus blurring differences. Blurring differences between christianity, judaism, and islam permitted the victorious muslim conquerors to set up dhimma treaties with their christian and jewish subjects. This is a process that let sephardic jews and a variety of eastern christians survive, albeit in a second class status while living in muslim lands.

These communities, which exist to this day, are virtually forced to concede the commonality of their deity with muslims or they set themselves up for slaughter. For them, such blurring is not just a potential way to bridge differences, it is life and death.

But even for those of us who are not under muslim domination, we would do well to have a care in casting Muslims completely out of the family. Unless we, as christians, are really going to embark on a crusade to convert muslims, our duty to evangelize must come in the form of a softer road, persuasion. And that persuasion is made easier by the idea that it is the same God, wrongfully worshipped, rather than a different God, rightly worshipped.

In that vein, I'm more than ready to concede the sameness of the muslim and christian God. The differences are great and it's sometimes tempting to declare that they are not the same but it would serve little purpose but personal satisfaction to deny the muslim claim that they are the same.

Posted by TMLutas at May 22, 2004 11:56 AM