Sunday, November 18, 2007

Does the Catholic Church Equate Allah and Yahweh?

I think the concern reflected in my title is based on a misunderstanding. When the Church has referred to Muslims worshiping the one God, it is meant in the sense of both Christians and Muslims being monotheists. Monotheism includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, and more vague "philosophical theists" (also cults like Jehovah's Witnesses with their Arian God).

Thus, Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, states:
They [Muslims] worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.
If you read closely, it isn't saying that "the Muslim God [Allah] and the Christian God are exactly the same." Not at all. Rather, the common bond is monotheism. Indeed, it could not possibly be equating Allah and Yahweh, because we believe God is a Trinity, and Muslims (and Jews) do not. Vatican II is using what might be called "diplomatic language" in its ecumenical statements. It's an instance where the context of the statement is supremely important in determining the exact meaning intended.

Moreover, one must distinguish between the two notions:
1) A Muslim worshiping the One he believes to be the true God.


2) The recipient of God-directed worship, even if erroneous in some respects, being the God Who Really Is, since Allah does not exist.
As an analogy (the best I can think of at the moment), imagine a child who was adopted but didn't yet know it. He or she might say, "I am really thankful that my mother gave me birth." Now, this person thinks that his or her birth mother is the woman who in reality is only the adoptive mother. But nevertheless, the attitude of thankfulness for having been given birth in a sense "transfers" over to the real birth mother.

In other words, it has to be the birth mother who is truly receiving praise because the person giving it intends it for that person who gave him birth: and that person is who she is whether the child knows this or not. The fact that there is a mistake concerning the actual person regarded as the birth mother does not change the fact of it.

Likewise, a committed Muslim is worshiping what he sincerely believes to be God. He is mistaken, of course, as to the actual definition and ontological reality, but he is worshiping in common with Christians, insofar as he is also a monotheist. He is worshiping, for example, the Creator insofar as he understands Who the Creator is. And Yahweh is receiving that praise in reality because He is the true Creator. In that sense the Muslim is indeed worshiping God, but since Allah doesn't exist, he is really (at bottom) worshiping Yahweh, in relative ignorance. And I believe that God (i.e., Yahweh!) takes this into account and the person gets some credit for what he does know and Who he wants to worship, even though he is mistaken in his theology.

* * * * *

The point is that words have to be read in context and in accordance with an overall worldview. As I have argued, no one seriously maintains that the Catholic Church has stopped believing in the Trinity. Therefore, when the Church says that Muslims and Jews worship the one God, it cannot possibly mean that "Muslims and Jews are trinitarian." Therefore, it must mean that "Muslims and Jews are also monotheists, as we are, and worship the one God." Context (and the writer's purpose) are supremely important. Many people isolate texts and assume things wrongly, and that is where the problems arise.

It sounds a lot better and is infinitely more positive in nature to say:
"Catholics and Muslims both worship the one God of Abraham," etc.
than to say:
"We believe that Muslims worship a false God, because Allah isn't trinitarian; therefore, He doesn't exist at all, so that Muslims worship a figment of their imagination; the only true God is the trinitarian Yahweh of the Bible."
That would rather defeat the ecumenical, diplomatic purpose, wouldn't it? And that purpose is precisely to find things in common, which monotheism is. I happen to think there is a great deal of value in ecumenism. The language is necessarily different, because the purpose and goals are different. It is finding common ground rather than squabbling over differences.

Ecumenism and apologetics don't clash at all. They are simply different, like apples and orange and vanilla and chocolate ice cream. We don't say that those contradict each other.

It is good to defend what one believes to be the truth (I've devoted my life and profession to that), and also to build bridges and rejoice in common ground. The Catholic Church urges both and thinks both are good and worthwhile endeavors.

I can debate a Muslim and also speak this more ecumenical language in other contexts. Any Catholic ought to do the same, per the instruction of Vatican II and the tone and tenor of ecumenical papal encyclicals. It is the Mind of the Church. It is also quite "biblical".

[see also an extended discussion of this paper on my Facebook page]


1 comment:

Maroun said...

Hi Dave.
I like to quote what Hilaire Belloc said about islam . He said that islam is a christian heresy , actualy he said(catholic ) because for him christianity and catholic is one thing . Anyway it is a heresy with one major difference , it came from the outside of the Church and not from the inside like the other heresies .
Of course , like all the other heresies , islam also contains some truth , and on these truths we could as you said and as the Church says , we could build bridges , we have some common ground . But we must also be very careful ( and of course i dont mean that this is something you said ) we must be very very careful lets they think ( the muslims ) that because they believe in one God ( monotheists) it is enough to inherit God`s kingdom . In fact the kingdom is for the children , and without being born from water and the Spirit no one shall see the kingdom of God . ( i am not of course talking about those which through no fault of their own ) because we dont want to fall in the error of relativism .
Now what bothers me is that nowadays , many priests (especialy in Lebanon) on tv , tell the muslims that since we worship the same God , it is enough for them to be good muslims , and they also will inherit the kingdom of God , this of course is a lie , because these so called priests wants to have an easy life , and because of that they dont want to bother anymore to preach the good news , in fact they also say that we have no right to cancel the others and that we must respect the others and we shouldnt offend them , and that`s why they say , they dont talk with the muslims about Jesus and the muslims dont talk with them about Mohammed . Now that`s a big problem if you know what i mean?