Friday, November 05, 2004

God, Muslims and Thomas Sowell

(Am I too much of a Thomas Sowell fan? He keeps popping up in the oddest places.)

Anyway, there's frequently controversy in certain Christian circles over whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The Southern Baptists have criticized President Bush (though not very hard) over saying that they do.

After starting in on a book on Muslims yesterday, though, I'm quite convinced that Muslims and Christians do worship the same God, and that denying they do is really indicative of a poor understanding of who God is on the part of Christians. (Hold your horses--this is not because Muslims have a better understanding.)

Let me illustrate with an incident that happened while I was studying at the World Journalism Institute a couple of years ago. I was riding with two other students to a party and the topic of our assigned readings came up. Student A and I were both fans of Thomas Sowell before we were assigned to read A Conflict of Visions. Student A asked Student B what he thought of the book.

"I hated it," Student B said, "You could just tell here was this white guy who didn't have a clue what he was talking about . . ."

"What?" Student A and I responded, "Thomas Sowell is black."

"No way!" Student B said.

The argument continued in this vein for some time, and I'm not sure by the time we arrived we had him fully convinced, although we were both privately quite amused at his ignorance.

Now, would it have been accurate or helpful for us to say, "You aren't talking about Thomas Sowell. You have been reading a false Thomas Sowell?" Of course not. It was definitely Thomas Sowell we were all talking about; one of us just had a radically erroneous understanding of who Thomas Sowell was, one that colored his understanding of everything he said.

But here's the thing: Thomas Sowell was a real person. We all knew we were talking about a specific real person, the one who writes all those books. From there we could argue about the specific traits that this real person had--quite independent of our opinions of him. The only way Student B could have had one Thomas Sowell while Student A and I had another Thomas Sowell was if Thomas Sowell himself was simply a figment of our imaginations.

Now, when a Muslim talks about God, he is talking about the transcendant, personal, uncreated Creator and Lord of all things. That is quite definitely who Christians are talking about when they are talking about God. We do have radically different understandings of the character, nature, and demands of God--but it is the real God who is out there we are talking about. Only if God was simply a construct of our own imagination could we declare that only those who precisely comply with our understanding of God are talking about "our God." God is Himself, not the creature of our dogmas.

That doesn't mean our dogmas are unimportant. They are even more important if you look at it this way. Because if God is real and distinct from our ideas about Him, it matters hugely whether those ideas are right or wrong. Christians and Muslims do worship the same God; at least one of us is very, very mistaken about how He wants to be worshipped. And it is the real God whose real actions will punish those who misconstrue his nature.

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