God, Allah, George Washington, and Eric Clapton

December 20, 2015

George Washington - Cherry TreeMy seven year old nephew believes that once upon a time the young George Washington chopped down a cherry tree.

For my part, I don’t think that happened. I believe that the cherry-tree story is a myth.

Therefore, when my nephew talks about “George Washington” he’s not referring to the same guy I’m referring to when I talk about “George Washington.”

Once, this nephew overheard me opining that George Washington never chopped down any cherry tree, and he piped up with “Yes he did! My teacher said!”

But I explained to him that he simply could not disagree with me, because we’re not talking about the same guy. My “George Washington” didn’t do that. I don’t care if some other guy whom we can call “George Washington” did that. That’s irrelevant to who I’m talking about.

A fiction, of course. I didn’t commit this particular fallacy. But the story may help you to understand what’s wrong with Franklin Graham’s reasoning here re: the “same God” dustup at Wheaton.

Christians and Muslims disagree about whether God has a Son, right? Then, they’re talking about the same (alleged) being. They may disagree about “who God is” in the sense of what he’s done, what attributes he has, how many “Persons” are in him, and whether Muhammad was really his Messenger, etc. But disagreement assumes one subject-matter – here, one god.

Eric Clapton give god a soloArabic-speaking Christians referred to God as “Allah” (= the Greek ho theos) before, during, and after Muhammad’s career, and even today Arabic Bible translations, except when forbidden by Islamic governments, translate some of the Greek and Hebrew words for the one God as “Allah.”

Could it possibly confuse some people if Christians talk about “Allah”? Yes! But Christians haven’t quit the word “God” just because Mormons, New-Agers, and Eric Clapton fans (“Give God a solo!”) use it.

Christians never have accepted the prophetic claims of Muhammad. But he explicitly said that he meant by “Allah” the God whom Abraham served. Isn’t that sufficient to refer to the God in whom Christians believe? It’s enough in the case of Jews, isn’t it, even though they reject Trinity and Incarnation theories? Why should it be different, then, in the case of Muslims?

Muhammad: By “Allah” I mean the being worshiped by Abe, Moses, Jesus.

Muslims: we mean by “Allah” what Muhammad meant.

It’s no good to come along and just pound that table that the word “Allah” somehow magically can’t be used in this way. Obviously, as demonstrated by the Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews, it can!

This is conceding very little. It doesn’t imply or even suggest that Islam is as true as Christianity, or that Islamic worship is as valuable to God as is Christian worship, or that the two are equally effective routes to salvation, or that there are no significant differences between these religions. Nor does it imply that Muhammad really received revelations from God.

It’s an interesting question why some many Christians like Franklin Graham and the leadership of Wheaton feel a need to employ this “not the same god” rhetoric. Perhaps they dislike Islam so much that they don’t want to concede even this similarity with Christianity.

Perhaps the case is like that of the Islamic governments who forbid Christian groups from using “Allah.”

It’s possible too that both are over-sensitive to claims of religious pluralism

Still, I do see how the other side can be argued. In another post soon, I’ll try to work through some reasons for thinking that “Allah” (when used by Muslims, in an Islamic context) can’t refer to God.

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.

8 thoughts on “God, Allah, George Washington, and Eric Clapton”

  1. My problem, Dale, is that at some point simply using the same words with one another can’t suffice to actually mean the same thing. I’m not claiming to know where that line in the sand is (that is, the line between a disagreement about the same God VS just having 2 differing gods) but below I have an example.

    Another man says he has the same father that I have. I disagree. He insists. So I say, “Prey tell, what is your father like?” He responds by telling me the approximate height, weight, and hair color of his father. He says his father loves pizza, is a hard worker as he works 60 hours per week, and so on and so forth. I respond by saying my father is much shorter than his, weighs less, and has a differing hair color. My father hates pizza, is a lazy bum, and so on down the line. Now, I say, “See? We have different fathers.” He responds by saying, “No, we have the same father, the one who impregnated our mother!” At this point, his claim is meaningless. Much the same is the catchphrase of, “See! We worship the God of Abraham. The One who created the heavens and the earth.” Well, OK. If he doesn’t require the same thing of mankind as the Biblical God, judges differently, gives mercy differently, has no Son, loves different things than the Biblical God and hates different things as well, approves of multiple wives and etc. then I really can’t take seriously that it’s the same god. In fact, I’m not so sure I even think all Muslims worship the same god…but that’s opening a can of worms I guess.

    I don’t have a problem saying that Jews have the same God as Christians for two big reasons. First, in the case of Jews and Christians we as Christians are simply saying we have insight into *more* truths about the same God than they do. We don’t have outright contradictory teachings about God that they don’t have. Even the Trinity doctrine can be said to be a new revelation about the Jewish God’s mode of existence, not a contradiction to a previous revelation. Second, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that she “worshiped what she did not know” but that “we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” I would say that now Jews are in the same position as Samaritans were then. That is, Jews are worshiping someone whom they do not know, because salvation, and knowing God, only come through faith in Jesus Christ.

    If anyone disagrees, I think you’re right. It’s not a big concession. At most it means that “Allah” in Islam really refers to the same “Allah” as Arabic speaking Christians but doesn’t mean that Islam is in any way from God.

  2. You can usually tell if these American evangelicals (usually quite right wing) are honest and consistant in saying that the Allah that muslims worship is not the same God that Christians worship by asking them if the God Christians worship is the same God jews worship, if they say no, they ok, they are being consistant, if they say yes it’s a good indication that the insistance that the God of Muslims is different is more political and based in bigotry than sound theology.
    The God of Islam and Judaism are Unitarian, Christians are (generally trinitarian), the God of islam and Judaism is completely transcendant, the God of Christians (usually) became imenant in the incarnation, the God of Islam and Judaism is not a man, punishes or rewards based on actions and so on.
    The fact is most rabbinic jews would say that their concept of God is much closer to the Islamic concept than the Christian, yet many Christians insist that the God of Judaism is the same as the God of Christianity, and fankly it’s often for purely political reasons.
    I get why People have a problem With Islam, I do as well, it’s a false religion, but we have to be serious about it, and think Things through and be consistant.

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