Do Muslims Worship the Same God?

To lazy to read? The short answer is yes. Ok, go back to Netflix.

I’m going to paraphrase a long quote from Lumen Gentium Paragraph 16.

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God….But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. – Pope Paul VI

Now notice that Paul VI uses the word for God “the Creator”. Obviously the God that Christians worship, which is not simply God the creator, but also the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Muslims do not believe this, and some would say that the Muslim God is so different because of this that it does not count as the same God we worship. I would say that this is focusing only on the differences and not on the similarities, or throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

That is a valid point to bring up, but is not sufficient to say that we do not worship the same God. One of God the Father has a main quality, that he created. If I was to say “I believe in the same God as you, but he did not create the universe” then ya, that’s not the same God. For example “Pantheists” believe that nature is God and that there is no outside force holding nature in place. That has a certain amount of truth to it however I wouldn’t equate it with the Christian God. Muslims however believe in the Abrahamic God, the same God present in the earliest writings of the bible. From what I understand, Muslims followed Ishmael’s lineage and Christians follow Isaacs.


Now that is not to say that Christians can embrace the full Islamic religion. There are very important differences but at its core we do worship the same God and we have so much we could learn from Muslims. There is a problem that arises from when we only account for our differences and focus little on our similarities. It leads to a “us vs. Them” mentality and we see them as enemies rather than allies. They most certainly are our allies when we live in such a secular, dare I say, anti-theistic world! 

What I think people don’t realize is that the criticisms of Muslims from non-religious people can easily be turned on Christians as well. Some say Muslims are violent or oppress women or believe in an archaic book. All these attacks can be used against Christians as well. We can respond with “not all Muslims are violent, only some” or “oppression of women is rooted in people, much deeper than simply their religion” or “just because a book is old doesn’t make it untrue”. Even if these arguments from non-religious people are somewhat true, the sweeping generalizations made are not true. Furthermore from a secular perspective those sweeping generalizations, sweep us Christians away with them.

 

So when we hear someone say anything negative about Muslims that is unfair, untrue or over generalizes them, we have a duty to object! Justice calls us to defend Muslims far more often than we realize! When we let a joke slide that makes fun of a religious Islamic tradition, we allow them to make fun of our Christian traditions as well.it is our obligation to defend religions of all sorts against slander. If we do not, we are really letting slide slanderous words about Christians and ultimately slanderous words about the one true God.

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Relevance vs. Pandering

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I said Pander, not Panda! Although a picture of a panda is the perfect way to pander…

So what does it mean to pander? I was watching this comedian, Bo Burnham, making fun of the new “stadium country” music. (Warning, explicit language and subject matter!) He talks about how they just use buzz words that pander to country music fans even though they themselves are removed from anything resembling a “country” life.

“A Dirt road, a cold beer, blue jeans, a red pickup… rural noun, simple adjective.”

Pretty much everything in modern media is guilty of blatant pandering, especially advertising. Pandering is necessary in a certain sense. If you don’t care at all what anyone thinks of your thing, then no one’s going to listen. You have to, to a certain extent, give people what they want.

Historically, the Catholic Church does not pander, in fact I would say even to a fault. This has been good in some respects because it means the church is not compromising to cater to people’s waxing and waning opinions. The church doesn’t agree with everything that modern society deems acceptable. For this the church has been called “irrelevant”. Under Pope Benedict the church was accused of this constantly. Now, being called irrelevant (and rightly so in many cases) is not good for the church either.

Pope Francis is doing something incredible though. He is making the church relevant again without pandering to the opinions of the general population. Certainly there are certain people who do not believe this though, conservative Catholics that believe in fact he is pandering to popular opinion. Liberal non-Catholics are accusing him of pandering in a “words only” sort of way. Meaning that he is saying what people want to hear but, like a politician, those words don’t match up with his actions. So for example on homosexuality he says “Who am I to judge” but has no intention of changing church teaching.

There is some truth to both of these because he is giving people what they want. He is talking about the relevant issues and giving the most sensitive and compassionate answers. He is not saying no to anyone, instead he is open to conversation. So in some respects both are right, but really neither are right. Pope Francis is doing what Jesus did, entering into the sins of others in order to bring them out. He’s not concerned about his image, so he cannot be pandering. He is authentically having discussion and hearing the concerns of the people, which is making the Church relevant again. He is also not just giving lip service, because he is making significant changes, specifically right now to the divorced and remarried as well as the annulment process. These are real changes that are significant to many more people than other hot topics like women’s ordination or homosexuality.

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I want to end by saying if you are skeptical of Pope Francis, good! You should be, mostly because having real, honest, authentic dialogue about these issues is unpredictable and can lead to real change. However do not be afraid! Trust that the Holy Spirit is working through the church right now. These are incredible times we are living in that will make a mark on the history of Catholicism, be a part of history with Pope Francis!

Part 3: What Does “Goodness” Mean?

maxresdefault (3)Ok, it sounds like a stupid question but we eventually need to prove that God is good. In order to do that we need to understand what we mean when we say good. I’d argue that we use the word good in two very distinct ways.

Two Definitions of “Good”

  1. The Moral Sense

Good is used to make an ethical or moral distinction. Right vs. Wrong or Good vs. Bad/Evil. This use of that word is usually attributed to an action. “It was wrong for you to punch that guy.” Or “Walking away from the fight was the right thing to do.” Sometimes we attribute this way of speaking to thoughts also. We say we have Good thoughts or evil thoughts. This is also a moral way of speaking but a thought is only morally good or bad in as much as it leads you to an actions. If I think about murdering someone but I don’t, the thought was evil but only because it could have led to murder. Thoughts only have moral values in relation to the actions they create (potentially or actually).

  1. Perfection

The other way we use the word “good” is morally neutral. We would say “that was a good catch!” or “that’s a good sandwich!” We aren’t making a moral judgement about the sandwich, it was not right in a moral sense. I don’t think I’ve ever called a bad sandwich evil! If I did it would have to be pretty nasty… So what do we mean when we say these things? I would argue that when we use good in this way we are talking about perfectionIf we call a sandwich good, we are saying that it is close to what we imagine would be the perfect sandwich. Obviously this perfect sandwich doesn’t exist but we have a sense of what the perfect sandwich would be.
Plato’s Forms and “The Good”

Plato called these perfect images of things, like the perfect sandwich, the “Forms”. So anything has a Form, sandwiches, baseball catches, and tables, even abstract concepts like perfect beauty or perfect love. It’s like everything we have is imperfect but it was based on a perfect mood that we never get quite right. Goodness is talking about how close it gets to its “Form”. Plato then said all these “Forms” come from something he called “The Good”. As a Christians I would interpret this as God.

Here is a video if you are interested in going deeper.

Moral Perfection

So we have two different meanings of goodness, but they are intricately related. So I said even abstract concepts have a perfection so morals have a perfect form of morals. So when we say someone is morally good, we mean it is leading towards a “moral perfection”. “Moral perfection” is a Form, but we use the word good for both meanings so I can say, “being good is good”. It’s kind of like what we mean by saying a thumb is a member of the finger family, but not all fingers are thumbs. Moral goodness is a member of the perfection family, but not all perfections have a moral value to them. Moral goodness is one of many goods (perfections).

Who Cares?

If you are still reading this, first of all, God bless you! But you are probably wondering why any of this matters at all. Well often we use the word good and we don’t understand which one we are using. In Part 2: Rational Proofs for the Existence of God, we talked about God being creative and I said this will prove God is good. Creation refers to the perfection type of goodness. So the argument is,

  • God created me/you
  • Creation is a perfection
  • Perfection is a good
  • Therefore God has to be good

Are we assuming that because God has one good quality (creativity) he has all good qualities, i.e. He is perfect (including being morally perfect)? Yes we are so let me think about this for a week and get back to you with a response.

 

Part 2: Rationalist Proofs of God

Last week I talked about the problems with Empiricism. Since we are going to be skeptical of Empirical evidence  and the scientific method altogether, we need to look at purely rational proofs for Gods existence. Next week we can look at empirical arguments, with a skeptical eye. I don’t think we need empirical arguments to prove God though. Below are what I believe to be the best evidence for the Jewish, Muslim and Christian God.

Desire

C.S. Lewis uses the argument from desire in “Mere Christianity”. He says,

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

This desire Dr. Peter Kreeft describes as a “desire for the perfection of all the good transcendent things in the world”. The perfection of Goodness, Beauty, Justice etc. We all can look at the world and see the imperfection of the world. We can also see the potential for perfection, even using the word imperfection presupposes a perfect world that we have fallen short of. The idea of perfection cannot exist unless perfection exists. Nothing in our world is perfect except for (possibly only) one thing, Math.

Math & Logic

The second proof for God is math. We have a system that we did not invent, but discovered. A system that seems to transcend space and time. A system that we continually discover deeper and deeper truths in, and continue to use this system to discover deeper and deeper truths about our universe. A system that screams of the infinite. This to me is the most conclusive proof for God that exists. So where did it come from? Some scientists think math exists necessarily, as soon as you have any physical thing. That really doesn’t explain the complexity of math. Of course it appears to us that math is necessary, but why would our universe need to be sensible?

I’m going to include logic in this since I think they are related. Why shouldn’t our universe just be chaos?  Why were we given this perfect system, math and logic, as a vehicle to discover the mysteries of the universe? Without math and logic we would be impotent. 1+1=2 is the most beautiful thing in the world. If we have a problem that has one, clear, distinct and definite answer is perfect and that is beautiful.

Beauty

We usually see beauty as completely subjective. I don’t want to argue that beauty is objective, what I want to say is similar to logic and desire, why does beauty exist? Or maybe why do we have perception all sense of beauty? You can’t say it is necessary, but you can say it is universal. We all can recognize beauty even if we disagree on what is beautiful, we all have a sense of beauty. Why? Where did it come from and why is it universal to every human being? A naturalist Atheists would have to say it is just neurons firing in our brain or maybe something in science we haven’t discovered yet. However, neurons firing in the brain seems to dismiss the tears that a great movie or book or piece of music can bring us to. The latter answer makes you an agnostic since the agnostics answer is always to say, “well I don’t know yet.”

  • Creativity

An additional thought that is important is creativity. This is a bit of an add-on to the argument from beauty but it will become important. Our ability to be creative and the fact that something created something (even if only my ability to think, see Part 1: Empiricism) proves that there is a creator. For I am sure I exist, even if only in my ability to have thoughts, therefore something had to cause me to exist. Creativity is a fundamental characteristic of God, which will come into play when we need to prove God is good.

Part 1: Empiricism

Let’s start like responsible philosophers with clear definitions…

Empiricism is the theory that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience. It emphasizes the role of experience and evidence in the formation of ideas, and argues that the only knowledge humans can have is “a posteriori” (Latin for “from what comes after”)

Thi is opposed to Rationalism which is…

Rationalism is a method of inquiry that regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge and, in contrast to empiricism, tends to not approve of  sensory experience. A priori (Latin for “from what was before”)

A priori (prior to experience) knowledge is what we know using our minds and not our senses. We live in a world of Empiricism right now. Science gives us empirical evidence and we are told we need this to believe anything. We are a culture of extreme skepticism in everything, except of science and empirical evidence.

This is a problem for two reasons. 

  1. Not everything is subject to the scientific method. God, ghosts, anything spiritual. Even psychology, we can do experiments and test but we can’t be as certain in psychology as we can be of something like gravity.
  2. The other problem is that we don’t know how much we can trust our senses. This is what I want to spend some time on.

You’ve probably seen the movie The Matrix which leaves us with the question, how do I know that everything I’m experiencing (Empirical data) isn’t just a dream or a computer program? Now, no one believes this is real, but we can’t know for sure! Descartes took this to the extreme and decided the only thing he can know is that he is a thinking thing. There is something (his soul? his mind?) that definitely exists because he knows that he is thinking about these things. From there I think we can build a few basic truths and know them for sure (as Descartes tried to do).

One truth we can never know for sure is Empiricism. I’m not saying I believe we are in Inception or something, however science itself helps to prove how unreliable science actually is. Einstein came up with his theories of relativity in the early 1900s which basically say that time is different depending on your perspective. Not that it is perceived differently, but time is actually different.

“Scientists have tested this theory through experimentation – proving, for example, that an atomic clock ticks more slowly when traveling at a high speed than it does when it is not moving. The essence of Einstein’s paper was that both space and time are relative (rather than absolute)…”

So depending on your speed time literally moves slower or faster (you don’t perceive it slower or faster, it actually slows down or speeds up!!). I know it sounds insane, but that is because we place so much importance on experience. This was confirmed conclusively just recently because not only is time relative, but also physical matter itself is relative. Gravitational waves from a supernova came through and scientists detected that it stretched all physical matter on earth (including the earth itself) by a microscopic amount. We didn’t notice a thing though.

My concern is that if something as basic as time and my height can be completely subjective, then how can I trust anything I see or hear or smell or taste or feel? Logic is something I can trust much more. The law of non-contradiction is more concrete than Newtons laws. Furthermore if we can throw out so much of what we knew about physics so quickly, maybe we will be throwing out Einsteins theories sooner than we think? 

My point is just that we cannot choose to trust only Empiricism, as we have. I would argue that Rationalism is more trustworthy than Empiricism. You may not believe that, but either way, we all have to wrestle with the fact (and it is a fact) that we cannot be as certain about anything as we thought we could. We know staggeringly little about the world we perceive. We should be more open to uncertainty and not act so sure of so much.


This clip from Last Week Tonight expands on the science problem. There is a quote in this piece (below), “I think the way to live your life is you find the study that sounds best to you” where Jon Oliver makes the joke that choosing only what you want to believe, “is religion, that’s religion you’re thinking of.” That’s Exactly the problem, our society doesn’t understand what science does or what philosophy/religion is. 

Jon Oliver – Science Studies


Who Goes to Heaven?

           I read a book about 5 years ago by Rob Bell called “Love Wins”.  I had a lot of questions about my baptist faith and if I would have heard of Rob Bell I would have had a lot of answers I was looking for at the time. I eventually would have came to the Catholic Church because Rob Bell only scratches the surface of these questions. If you want a simple read about why “God always gets what He wants, and what God wants is everyone in Heaven with Him.” (My synopsis of Love Wins) then read Rob Bells book. If you are an intellectual that wants to deepen your knowledge of the theology of our time, read Love Alone is Credible by Hans Urs Von Balthasar. 

          After reading both these books I have become a believer in what we call “Universal Salvation”. This is the belief that in the end every human being will be saved and go to Heaven. The idea is that Hell exists (because Jesus said it does) but no one is actually in Hell. Rob Bell argues that God is the ultimate being (all powerful, all knowing and all good) and if He wants something, there is nothing that He cannot have. We know that our God desires every person to be in Heaven with Him, yes even Hitler! If we do not believe this then we do not understand anything about Christianity or God. However, Rob Bell fails to address the true gravity of the problem of free will. If we have free will then we can choose to reject God completely. Hell is then simply the loneliness of not being with God. Hell is not a place God casts us when we are bad, we put ourselves there by alienating ourselves from a God who desires more than anything to be with us.  

           My personal belief is that Rob Bell is correct. As for the free will problem, I can’t understand how anyone would willingly choose against God. I see it in finite things, in my own sin I choose against God, but even in sinful pleasure you can look back and say “is this really all there is?” The pleasure that we feel from our sin derives from a distortion of the pleasure of God’s goodness. Food is good and pleasurable until we pervert it by becoming gluttons. The only sin that is not like this is Envy which gives us no pleasure. I would speculate all sin in Hell is Envy and Pride. There can be no good in Hell, therefore Hell is a combination of Envy and Pride since these are the only two sins that contain no goodness. We are envious of God and everyone in Heaven, while at the same time being too prideful to want to abandon ourselves to God. (Dante may refer to this in the Inferno). The reason I believe the argument holds has more to do with human psychology than anything else. How could someone be that prideful? Is it even possible? I don’t believe someone will ever  reject all goodness and all love, however I do believe it is possible while Rob Bell does not.

            Hans Urs Von Balthasar comes at this problem differently, from God’s perspective. God poured himself out as far as He possibly could in the most extreme and outrageous way possible; in Jesus. Jesus literally went into the depths of Hell to pull us out of our misery. There is a movie with Robin Williams called “What Dreams May Come” where he dies and his grief stricken wife kills herself. He goes to heaven and she goes to Hell. He cannot be happy in Heaven without his wife so he travels to Hell to bring her out. He realizes he can’t because she’s lost her mind so he makes the ultimate sacrifice, to stay with her in Hell and lose his mind too. This ultimate act of self giving is what saves her. This is what God does for us in Jesus. This act is an extreme effort to save all people. Jesus is the expression of God’s love for humanity and shows that God will go into the depths of Hell to bring us out. The idea is that God would go to any lengths possible to save us (and He has) and because of that He has given us every opportunity to enter Heaven. God has gone as far as possible to bring us into Heaven, all we have to do is accept, what else could guarantee as many people in Heaven as possible?

I’m Back!

So I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus recently.  I’ve been having what I’m calling an existential crisis. I’ve been questioning what is real, what the point of life is and why we exist. I have still been writing but it has been more working out things that I’m not prepared to share yet. Not because I’m embarrassed or the content even. More so because I’ve realized how important it is to reflect. I’ve realized how stupid you look when you just state your opinion all the time without reflecting. I want to make sure I truly believe what I say before I stamp my name on it and send it out for the world to see. At some point you can over reflect, afraid to state an opinion on anything. It is a delicate balance. 

I would like to write philosophy a book that starts where Rene Descartes started, at nothing. Then I want to build a theology on that. All the great theologians take things for granted as assumptions when doing theology. Aquinas references the bible a lot without proving the Bible truly is the word of God. Augustine at times speculates about God and human nature without much grounding in necessity. I would like to start with nothing, start where Descartes left off, I know that I am a thinking thing, everything else could be an illusion. Then prove God and some attributes about God, prove Jesus is necessary if those attributes of God are true and finally prove that Catholicism most closely resembles the church Jesus began. 

Without doing this I really don’t know what I believe. Right now I believe Catholicism is true, but I have no necessary proof. I am however left with so many questions. I have also lost faith in empirical evidence. That is that what we see and hear and take and touch and smell cannot be used as evidence for anything. Einstein proved to us that time and space is relative. What we perceive as time and space really means nothing because it is only perception. It is ironic that science revealed this to me and made me lose faith in science altogether. I don’t believe that we live in the matrix or something, I believe that there is empirical evidence, I just don’t believe we can use it as concrete facts to prove something like God. 

The point I want to make is that the questions I am asking, have in a sense overcome me. I feel inadequate to say my opinion on anything. As Thomas Aquinas realized, everything is straw. Everything anyone has ever thought or wrote or said is completely meaningless. If God exists will he care about anything we say or do? Will it matter in the end? What am I to do with my life if I can’t know anything for sure? How can life have meaning? What is the point of anything? 

I’ve decided though I have to pursue these questions. If life has any meaning then I feel like I must find it. The only way to find the meaning of life is to ask them and try to answer them even if every answer is straw. So I’m back. But this blog is going to be more about asking questions without answers and making people think than about what I think. I will put my opinion in as well of course but I realize I’m probably wrong about everything I say because my knowledge is so incredibly limited. I do this knowing my opinion will just make me look stupid in the end. I’ve realized that your opinion, rather than help, only ever gets in the way. Also, no one cares what you think, so get over yourself. Spend your time listening instead of talking. 

Finally, In the words of Plato, “I know not how I may seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with”