Category Archives: Philosophy & Religion

If God is Jesus, is Allah or Yahweh God?

A thought-provoking post at Kingdom People (via):

Is Jesus God? If you answered with a quick, firm “yes,”? read on. Recent polls show a whopping 96% of Americans believe in “God.”? Obviously, considering the state of American Christianity, something doesn"t quite add up. Dare we assume that 96% of Americans believe in the Christian God? Do we all have the same “god”? in mind when we confess faith?

Now think about the center of Christian apologetics: that Jesus Christ is God. Please don"t excommunicate me just yet, but if you were to ask me, “Is Jesus God?”? I would respond with another question. “Which ”?god" are we talking about?”? Most evangelical Christians, when sharing the Gospel, assume that Jesus" identity is in question, while God"s isn"t. In other words, we think everyone basically agrees with us about who God is, and so all we must do is simply proclaim Jesus" divine link to Him.

Declaring the divinity of Jesus by stating matter-of-factly that He is God does not really resolve anything until we have painted the biblical picture of the true God. Yet in the past 200 years, fundamentalists and evangelicals have defended Christ"s divinity without stopping to consider how God"s identity is also under attack…

…Here"s the statement that I recommend you chew on a little bit: GOD IS JESUS. When you see Jesus, you are seeing God, not just because Jesus is God, but also because God is Jesus. Jesus is the One who shows us who God is and what God is like. [read the whole post]

Perhaps his most interesting assertion is that we make a mistake in saying that Jews and Christians both worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

…you might say, “Jews and Christians share the same God! It"s just about Jesus that we don"t see eye to eye.”? By saying this, Christians make a glaring misrepresentation of Yahweh – the Great I Am.

God is not God apart from Jesus. It is pointless to try to define the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart from Jesus Christ.

I’ll have to think on that some more, but it’s certainly an interesting notion: what do we say about Jesus—who we claim is God (i.e. of one substance with Him)—when we say that we worship the same God as Jews or even Muslims, both of whom do not recognize Jesus in the way Christians do?

The kicker is that we must at least assert that the Jews used toworship the same God, because Christianity is based on and grew out of Judaism.  How could things suddenly change?  It’s important to note, of course, that the author’s concern is with how the “same God” position relates to our understand of Jesus: does such a position undermine the Christian assertion that Jesus is God?

Confusingly, last summer I read a convincing editorial in Faith Today, which argued that Muslims and Christians do, in fact, worship the same God (with certain caveats ):

there are…reasons to think that, from a Christian perspective at least, the answer is: “Yes, Muslims and Christians worship the same God.”? In case this assertion sounds strange, let me assure you that I am outlining the position of historic Christian orthodoxy…

To explain further: if the Christian God ”? the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ”? is the true God, then God is worshiped, however incorrectly or incompletely, by many who do not embrace Christianity. For the Christian God is the creator of everything and, as such, is implicitly known and sometimes worshiped by all people. 

It is on this basis, says Paul, that God judges the nations (Romans 1:18-32). It is from this basis that God may acquit some people on the Last Day (Romans 2:13-15). This assumption also seems to underlie Paul"s conviction that the Athenians" dim awareness of God was given expression in their altar dedicated to an unknown God (Acts 17). Paul proclaimed to them that the God and Father of the Lord Jesus was their unknown God. And he invited them to come to know him through Jesus. 

The writer of the Hebrews says that God welcomes all who believe that He exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). 

For these reasons, I think the Bible teaches that Muslims (alongside adherents of other faiths and none) and Christians worship the same God.  [read the whole thing, along with the author’s response to reader feedback]

Both authors make good points, I think.  Perhaps key to the Faith Today article is that the author asserts that while non-Christians may worship the same God, they do so with an incomplete or incorrect notion of who He is, as did the Greeks who worshipped the idol “to the unknown God”.

In the end, I don’t think we can make a definitive statement in this regard.  In any event, that isn’t really our business.  As the Faith Today author suggests in his response to reader concerns, humans are all brothers and sisters in spite of the various faiths, and all deserve love and dignity.

Evil in the name of Jesus

“Well,” I can hear someone say at this point, “the followers of Jesus haven’t made much progress so far, have they?  What about the Crusades?  What about the Spanish Inquisition?  Surely the church has been responsible for more than its own fair share of injustice?  What about the people who bomb abortion clinics?  What about the fundamentalists who think Armageddon is coming soon so it doesn’t matter if they wreck the planet in the meantime?  Haven’t Christians been part of the problem rather than part of the solution?”

Yes and no.

Yes: from very early on there have always been people who have done terrible things in the name of Jesus.  There have also been Christians who have done terrible things knowing them to be terrible things, without claiming that Jesus was supporting them.  There’s no point in hiding from this truth, however uncomfortable it may be.

But also no: because again and again, when we look at the wicked things Christians have done (whether or not they were claiming that God was on their side), we can see in retrospect at least that they were muddled and mistaken about what Christianity actually is.  It’s no part of Christian belief that the followers of Jesus have always got everything right.  Jesus himself taught his followers a prayer which includes a clause asking God for forgiveness.  He must have thought we would go on needing it. (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p. 12)

He goes on to give several examples of people who have done world-changing positive things in the name of Jesus, but I won’t get into them here as they often lead to argument.

‘There is no one story’: The one story

The passage below covers one of my pet subjects. It’s something I’ve posted about frequently here, so you’ll forgive my broken record-ness. It’s one of those things that delights me every time I hear it rephrased.

As Alasdair MacIntyre has argued, liberal democracy claims to liberate individuals from all tradition, leaving every member of society free to live according to whatever concept of the good he finds pleasing, to live out whatever narratives he can conceive. It is the essence of democracy’s story to have no one story. Richard Rorty is fully in keeping with his viewpoint when he claims that only madmen have a single purpose in life (such as seeking the glory of God), which makes Rorty far less radical than he would like to pretend.

In fact, MacIntyre continues, liberal democracy does have its own overriding story and its own over-arching purpose. Despite its claim to liberate from tradition, liberalism is itself a tradition and has a particular vision of the good society. For liberal order, the good is to preserve individual choice; liberalism’s story of tolerance and pluralism in practice prevents other stories from laying claim to the public square. Everyone is free to choose whatever story or concept of existence that will lend meaning to his personal life, but the rub comes when you ask, “What if my concept of existence requires that the whole society be conformed to my concept of existence?”

Clearly, on liberal principles, no one has the right to adopt that concept of existence. (Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity, p. 62)

I think this is implicit in what Leithart is saying in this quote, but it’s worth noting that technically liberalism already does suggest that the whole of society should be conformed to liberalism’s context of existence. Simply by implying that no one can require that all of society be conformed to their concept of existence one already does so. That’s a bit convoluted, but there you have it.

Living the good life.

“…living the good life does not consist in minimizing hardship and maximizing comfort. To live well means to take up the ordinary and extraordinary challenges that everyone encounters sooner or later and to act responsibly in the face of these. It means to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8), recognizing that the blessings of this life are not rights to be grasped tenaciously for our own purposes, but gifts of God’s grace to be enjoyed and shared with others. Furthermore, as many of us know from hard experience, even our adversities can become blessings, both to us and to others, as we try to live in ways manifesting this grace through the power of the Holy Spirit.”»?»? — David Koyzis»? (link)

Religion is public.

Religion is private: this is the heresy of Christianity in a nutshell. (Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity, 78.)

It occurred to me that the religious right and the religious left are not all that different in their views of faith.

The religious left says, “Religion is a private matter and does not belong in the public sphere.” The left’s religion is public insofar as it is limited to secular social action.

The religious right says, “Religion is an individual, internal matter (i.e. personal salvation),” which is the same as saying it is private. The right’s religion is public only insofar is it is limited to getting everyone else to accept this individual, internal matter through political and legal means.

Both are incomplete because they still see religion as a private matter. Neither seem to recognize that true religion will pervade one’s life: public and private; political, social, cultural; at home and at work; in the city and in the country; rich and poor; healthy and sick. True religion cannot be cornered or boxed—it is not a part of life, it is a way of life. A healthy life is lived in community—humans are relational beings—and is therefore public.

UPDATE: I see David Fitch said something like this already back in April of last year.

The hands of God.

There is an ancient story from the land of Israel about the richest man in town. He was sleeping (as usual) through Sabbath. Every now and then, the rich man would almost wake up, trying to get comfortable on the hard wooden bench, and then sink back into a deep sleep. One morning he awoke just long enough to hear the chanting of the Torah verses from Leviticus 24:5-6, in which God instructs the children of Israel to place twelve loaves of challah (twisted egg bread) on a table in the ancient wilderness tabernacle.

When services ended, the wealthy man woke up, not realizing that he had only heard a few verses from the Torah being chanted about how God wanted twelve loaves of challah. Convinced instead that God had come to him in his sleep and personally asked him to bring twelve loaves of challah as an offering to God, he felt honored that God would single him out. But he also felt a little foolish. Of all the things God could want from such an important person, twelve loaves of challah didn’t seem very important. But who was he to argue with God? So, he went home and baked the bread.

Upon returning to the synagogue, he had a new problem: how to get the bread to God? He decided the only proper place for such a holy gift was with the Torah scrolls in the ark. He carefully arranged the loaves and said to God, “Thank You for telling me what you want […] Pleasing You fills me with delight.” Then he left.

No sooner had he gone than the poorest Jew in town, the synagogue caretaker, entered the sanctuary. All alone, he poured out his heart before God. “O Lord, I am so poor. My family is starving; we have nothing to eat. Unless You perform a miracle for us, we will surely perish.” Then, as was his custom, he walked around the room to tidy it up. When he ascended the bimah (raised platform at the front of the room) and opened the ark, there before him were twelve loaves of challah! “A miracle!” exclaimed the poor man. “I had no idea you worked like that! Blessed are You, O God, who answers our prayers.” Then he ran home to share the good news and the bread with his family.

Minutes later, the rich man returned to the Continue reading

Ockham’s Razor trumps Zeno’s Paradoxes

Zeno: The arrow should never hit the target because it first needs to cross half the distance between the bow and the target. And before it does that, it needs to cross a quarter of the way between the bow and the target. And so on. In fact, posits Zeno, the arrow should never leave the bow.

Ockham: The arrow hit the target.

Zeno: Quite frankly, I shouldn’t even have been able to get to the archery range, for the very same reason the arrow should never reach the target. And how am I moving my mouth in order to speak? This shouldn’t be.

Ockham: Well, clearly my arrow crossed all the halfway points to get to the target and you got up out of bed this morning, hailed a cab and arrived at the archery range. And you are speaking. And you will probably relieve yourself in the port-a-potty over there in a couple minutes. And, incidentally, when you have arrived at that port-a-potty and done your business, you and your bodily fluids will have crossed an infinite amount of halfway points.

Zeno: Oooooo, Ockham, if it was possible for me to move from where I am, I’d walk over to you and slap you across the face! Unfortunately, I am trapped here in a series of infinite nows, so you receive eternal reprieve from my wrath.

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**I know this is all done with a pretty crude understanding of both theories, but it’s still fun. Read up on Ockham’s Razor and Zeno’s Paradoxes.

Proselytizing

From time to time I hear people complain about door-to-door evangelists and street witnessers.»? "I don’t want to be proselytized, to have someone come to my door and try and convert me.»? It offends me," they say.

It occurred to me today that the problem isn’t the proselytizing, but the message that is being put forward.»? We are proselytized every day through advertising and other media, so it can’t be the proselytizing because people don’t complain about all the other images and messages that are being thrust on them each day—at least, they don’t complain in the same way.»? So it must be the message.

I walked into 7-11 today to buy a slurpee and the first thing I see is the magazine rack.»? More specifically, I see upwards of 70% of the magazines on that stand had scantily-clad (to varying degrees) women on the cover.»? And not just the men’s magazines—the women’s magazines, too.»? And the closer the magazines are to the entrance, the more scantily clad the women and the more lurid the pictures.»?

I’m being proselytized, too, and the doctrine being put forth is that lust is good, that sex can and should be had frequently, promiscuously and consequence free, that "you can have my body and lust after it and I want you to". Sex sells.»? Lust sells.

When I watch TV I am being proselytized, and the philosophy is Bigger, Better, Faster, More, Classier, and of course more sex and lust.

You may not want a guy in an acrylic sweater knocking on your door and telling you about Jesus or hell or the Watchtower Society or»? whatever.»? I don’t want a naked, air-brushed super-model knocking on my door, so to speak, telling me I can have her.

There is of course a difference between, say, a message of love and hope and quasi-pornographic advertising, but in both cases the proselytized are confronted with a message that they would rather not hear (or see, as the case may be).»? There’s a good chance that the guy who is offended by the street preacher won’t be bothered by the sexy magazines.»? So it’s not the messenger or the messaging—it’s the message itself.

In the case of the offended evangelized, they would rather not hear that everything is not okay with the world or with them.»? It doesn’t matter if the message is ultimately positive (even if often it’s not presented that way), because it challenges their current way of life—just as the magazine rack or tv commercial challenges the life I am trying to live—and nobody likes to be challenged in that way, at least not initially.

The Muhammad Cartoons, Christ, Secular Culture, Pluralism, Tolerance, Respect, etc., etc., etc.

I haven’t been following the story about the Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammed.  While I don’t condone the violence that has followed, I can sympathize with Muslims being angered by what they see as great disrespect for something sacred.  One of my reactions to the news was to wonder why Christians are not angered in a similar (but non-violent, please) manner to unflattering or disrespectful depictions of Christ in the media.  A recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine, for instance, had a picture of R&B singer Kayne West on the cover with a crown of thorns on his head, along with the title “The Passion of Kayne West”.  This wasn’t a direct depiction of Jesus, of course, but it’s close enough.

John Piper suggests the different reactions to depictions between followers of the teaching of Muhammad and followers off Christ has to do with the basic understanding of what it means to follow each ‘prophet’ (is Christ considered a prophet along with Messiah and all the other titles?):

…Not all Muslims approve the violence. But a deep lesson remains: The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. This produces two very different reactions to mockery.

…For Christ, enduring the mockery of the cross was the essence of his mission. And for a true follower of Christ enduring suffering patiently for the glory of Christ is the essence of obedience. ?Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account? (Matthew 5:11). During his life on earth Jesus was called a bastard (John 8:41), a drunkard (Matthew 11:19), a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65), a devil (Matthew 10:25); and he promised his followers the same: ?If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household? (Matthew 10:25).

and

…Most Muslims have been taught that Jesus was not crucified. One Sunni Muslim writes, ?Muslims believe that Allah saved the Messiah from the ignominy of crucifixion.?1 Another adds, ?We honor [Jesus] more than you [Christians] do. . . . We refuse to believe that God would permit him to suffer death on the cross.?2 An essential Muslim impulse is to avoid the ?ignominy? of the cross.

…How should [Christ’s] followers respond? On the one hand, we are grieved and angered. On the other hand, we identify with Christ, and embrace his suffering, and rejoice in our afflictions, and say with the apostle Paul that vengeance belongs to the Lord, let us love our enemies and win them with the gospel. If Christ did his work by being insulted, we must do ours likewise. (Link. Via.)

While I don’t know enough about Islam to know if Piper is on the mark there, I do know enough about Christianity to know that he makes a point with regard to Christ and mockery.  I’m not saying it should be condoned or encouraged, but Jesus said it is to be expected.

Taking a more secular angle on this, however, I’m not sure what to make of newspapers around the world reprinting the inflammatory cartoons of Muhammad as a show of solidarity in the interest of freedom of expression, opinion and the press.  We live in a pluralistic and theoretically ‘tolerant’ society and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that all the freedoms we (thankfully) have are bound to clash with each other?these days, freedom of religion seems to be clashing a bit with personal rights; in some places freedom of expression and opinion is being trumped by personal rights.

As I say, I’m not sure what I think about the press reprinting these cartoons.  It seems to me that all our rights and freedoms also come with responsibility.  Pluralism and tolerance, which the media itself generally advocates firmly, imply a high level of respect for others and their point of view.  Willfully publishing pictures of a religious figure, depiction of whom is considered sacrilegious according to that figure’s religion, seems to me to be a sign of great disrespect.

The Apostle Paul said, “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial”.  I realize this is a religious principle, but I think it’s one that is worth considering in a secular context:  should we do something simply because we can, because we have the freedom and right to do so, without considering the effect it may have on others?  Do rights and freedoms mean we never have to consider anyone but ourselves, anyone’s rights but our own?  Presumably we have to consider others if there is an inherent risk to them, and I don’t think many would deny this.  Given what extremist Muslim sects have done in the past, what did this cartoonist and the paper’s editors expect would happen when these cartoons were published?  Again, I don’t condone the violence that has erupted, but it isn’t unexpected, given the historical precident.

I don’t believe “an eye for an eye” is an applicable standard, so I don’t think the continued violence justifies the continued show of solidarity of the world’s newspapers.  In fact, it seems to me that in the interest of peace and safety (I believe several people have died as a result of the violence) newspapers should stop publishing the cartoons and maybe even apologize.  Perhaps the Danish cartoonist and his or her editors should also issue an apology, even if they think they were justified in publishing the cartoons.

I’m not suggesting that we not say something simply because it might offend someone (although, ironically, this is what some propopents of ‘political correctness’ in the press seem to want).  But showing disrespect of this kind?conscious disrespect in what will indoubtedly inflame tempers we don’t, for the sake of others, want to inflame?is not in keeping with the message of tolerance and pluralism the press generally insists we must uphold.  While an Islamic extremist isn’t likely to believe in the concepts of pluralism or tolerance, the press could certainly afford to be the ‘bigger man’ in this case and withhold further agitation.

But that’s just my opinion.  (Note to self: your opinion may come back and bite you in the ass some time in the future.)

Muhammad, Abraham and Judaism

I’ve slowly been making my way through Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler (author of Walking the Bible).  The book has been fairly good, although I lost interest for a while.  Things have picked up significantly in the second part of the books, which explores the ways in which Jews, Christians and Muslims have each used Abraham as the trump card in their bids for status of the “True Religion”.  I don’t know how much of what Feiler says is legit, but it makes for an interesting read.

In particular, I was surprised to learn that Muhammad was at the end of his life a military and political leader of wide-reaching influence, controlling Arabia in its entirety.  My knowledge of Islam and its founder in particular is limited.  I always understood Muhammad to be a Jesus-like figure (only, for the Muslim, greater) or possibly a Ghandi-like figure who went around saying wise things and helping the poor until his death (for some reason I thought Muhammad was believed to have not died but ascended to heaven).  This may have been the case early on, but not, apparently, later on in his life.

In fact, in the early years of Islam, relations between Muslims and Jews and Christians were amicable.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims were all People of the Book, Muhammad said, who believed in the same God.  In fact, Muhammad fully expected Jews and Christians to follow his return to pure monotheism.

…Muhammad worked closely with Jewish leaders, enhanced his knowledge of the Bible, and adjusted his new religion to accomodate his [Jewish] allies even more.  He set his weekly prayer day on Friday, so it would coincide with the time Jews were preparing for their Sabbath (and not compete with the Jewish workweek, as the Christian Sabbath did).  In addition, he urged his worshippers to pray toward Jerusalem and declared that the Jewish Day of Atonement would also be a fasting day for Muslims.

But warm relations between Jews and Muslims did not last…Gradually a schism began to develop between early Muslims on one side, Jews and Christians on the other.  (pp. 167-8)

This schism was largely due to the Jews’ unwillingness to accept Muhammad as a prophet and to accept the Koran as a new revelation.  Eventually Muhammad told Muslim worshippers to turn towards Mecca during their prayers, rather than Jerusalem.  In later years Muhammad was more a monarch than a prophet, or so I gather from Feiler’s book.

A similar schism, also based largely on a refusal to accept a new revelation and a new prophet, had developed between Jews and Christians in earlier centuries.

This discussion is all part of the larger argument regarding the status of Abraham among the three major monotheistic religions.  When Judaism, Christianity and Islam were young, Abraham was understood to be a universal figure, one from who all nations would be blessed.  It was once they started drifting apart that each religion began claiming increasingly exclusive rights to Abraham.

Interesting stuff.  What both fascinates and frustrates me is that all three religions in one way or another overlap with each other: Christianity develops out of Judaism and shares part of its scriptures with her; Islam recognizes the central figures of the Judaism and Christianity?such as Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus?as important and righteous people in a long line of prophets, culminating in Muhammad.  So why can’t we get along?