Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?
According to the Baluba People of Africa and our Gut Flora, “Yes.”
Christians and Muslims worship the same God (just as do the Baluba peoples of Africa). This brief post is centered on proving that true, and exploring why that is important to Christian theology.
Aristotle begins his metaphysics with the assertion that “all men desire to know.” Innately, there is a sense of needing to move from less understanding to more – though we may get caught up in the particulars of what it means “to know,” and how one does that, surely we can agree to this premise. To defend it, I’ll address three examples (2 extreme, one moderate).
- The most intelligent person in the world. Does the most intelligent person in the world desire to know? Assuredly, yes. One does not become the most intelligent person in the world without cultivating such natural abilities, and one does not move into fields of rigorous academic study without an internal desire to understand and know. Perhaps the most intelligent person in the world is a woman who studies astrophysics, or a man in southeast Asia who writes poetry, or someone else – but it is easy to see that anyone involved with a study or practice that is built on a fundamental principle, yet remains distinct of that principle, must have an increased desire to know beyond what is already established.
- The least intelligent person in the world. Does the least intelligent person in the world desire to know? I would argue that yes, the lack of intelligence does not preclude the desire. Further, I would expand the understanding of “knowing” to include subconscious awareness of physical nature – to remain alive is essentially a commitment to knowing the presence of the next moment, an otherwise unknown event rife with possibility that must be experienced to be known. Thus, even those whose minds have shut down and exist in persistive vegetative states are in the act of seeking knowledge, as their bodies fight to encounter the momentary, discrete wonder of a possibility coming into fruition.
- The most average person in the world. This is much harder to prove, surprisingly. A person with the potential to learn, yet does not do so – do they desire “to know?” Is a wasted ability enough to prove Aristotle incorrect? No, it is not, because the desire to know is a much more basic principle than one’s willingness to engage in education. Tautologically, one’s desire to purposefully not know something is indistinguishable from the desire to know; it may be read reflexively as “one’s desire to know what life is like were the arc of change to cease.” In a world where we do not exist as independent of our neighbors or the broad culture, to seek solace in constancy is to live into the desire to know the status quo more deeply and more permanently.
So then, if all people have an inherent desire ‘to know,’ what else is true about all people that could connect us back to the original question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? I propose a secondary premise – that all people desire not just to know, but to be known. Whether is it known by others, known by an external entity, or known by themselves more fully, all people (even those in vegetative states) inherently seek to be known by virtue of their interdependence on something beyond themselves. Consider a hermit who lives in nature, far removed from other human beings. In one sense, being known may entail being known as a creature which eats other creatures, or uses other creatures for warmth, or creates fire, or makes specific noises unfamiliar to other woodland animals. It is unavoidable that even one removed from society is still engaged with something beyond themself. Even without interacting with the environment, the human body is in fact filled with bacteria, viruses, and others that are necessarily part of us without being of us. We would not survive without our bacterial symbionts, and thus we intrinsically must be known, even if not perceived. I don’t intend to argue that bacteria recognizes or appreciates us, but do intend to illustrate that our bodies are never in isolation.
So where are we? We have seen that all desire to know, and all desire to be known (sorry John Piper, I’m rejecting your premise that all men desire happiness. Actually, I’m not sorry at all). Any activity that takes place must be understood through this paradigm. And thus, human religion must account for these premises. This is not to say, as many humanists and social researchers of religion have, that faith is merely a human construct designed to account for these needs (the conclusion of which is that God is invented solely to placate those who are not ready to live in a world which does not connect meaning and these fundamental desires). It is, however, to say that our experience of religion (whether designed by God or by humans) is inherently based around these truths. You may argue that the ordering of this matters a great deal (whether the meaning is inherent or constructed), but for the purpose of this argument it does not (at least, it doesn’t matter yet. Though, if you believe religion to be solely constructed without any inherent truth, it does not ultimately matter what the outcome is for this).
So far, we have a the concept that in general, religion explains and gives meaning to our inherent desires to know and to be known. And this, my friends, should be enough to encourage us all to accept the validity not of all religious practice, but the concept of universal God-seeking through faith. According to the Catholic Church, and the overwhelming profusion of Protestant, Mainline, Eastern, and Evangelical thinkers, it is necessary to note that all humans have an inherent desire for God – essentially, this places a name on the premises that were already discussed above. God, as creator and sustainer, is the ultimate end by which we can be known, and the ultimate source of our own knowing. Call God by any other name and the desire remains unchanged. Consider the creation myth of the Baluba peoples of central Africa (as recorded by Carl Einstein in 1925):
“…I [Kabeza-Mpungu] don’t want that humans will see me any more. I return into myself and send Mutshima…Then Kabeza-Mpungu [the Creator God] disappeared. Thereafter, the heart appeared, in a small, hand-sized vessel. The heart cried and turned towards Sun, Moon, Darkness and Rain: “Kabezya-Mpungu, our father, where is he!” “Father is gone, we don’t know the way he went”. “Oh how much I am longing to see him” the heart replied, “to talk to him. Since I cannot find him, I will enter into this man. So I will wander from generation to generation.”
Do the Baluba worship and seek the same God as Christians? Yes. If we believe that God is omniscient, and that within all people there exists the same desire for knowing and known-ness by the ultimate source of all things, we must accept that others are seeking the same end as Christians. If God is written into the very heart of humankind, we can conclude that God is not without a witness in the world – our souls, which spring forth from God, long to return to God and our desires for being known and knowing are merely extensions, within Christian theology, of the understanding of being created by God. THIS IS NOT A MINOR THEOLOGICAL STANCE. This understanding is incredibly important for understanding the universality of Christ – without all sharing the same basic nature, Christ would be a regional or ethnocentric solution. If Christ is to be the solution for all – and Colossians 3 reminds us that there are no more divisions in Christ – we have to accept a further premise that all are created in the imago Dei.
Thus, we have the following construction:
A) All are created by God
B) All created by God share the same basic nature
B1) All seek to know
B2) All seek to be known
B2a) God is the ultimate answer to both knowing and being known
C) Regardless of theology or practice, any who seek God respond to the same desires
C1) Given God’s omnipotence, all understanding of God is incomplete
C2) Seeking God does not mean one has found the nearest possible approximation of God
Conclusion: Muslims, Baluba, Jews, Hindus, All others, etc. seek the same desires for God as Christians, and thus their understandings of the approximation of God are alternate understandings of the same God. Disagreements in the practice of religion or the tenants of faith are irrelevant (even when considering the very nature of God, such as unity versus triune).
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