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True faith does not separate us, but brings us together

Deacon Ian Punnett –

Two, separate interfaith conversations intersected in my email last month when two
different friends sent me links to stories about Christians and Muslims. I thought I would share
the nexus of these inquiries.

One was the report of how Kenyan Muslims protected Kenyan Christians during a recent
terrorist bus attack outside the northeastern Kenyan city of El Wak. The other was about a
Christian professor at an evangelical Christian college who was suspended for saying on her
Facebook page that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

In the first news story, witnesses reported that al-Shabab Somali militants stopped the bus
and demanded that everybody get off and form two groups: Muslims and non-Muslims.

Everybody knew what this would mean because al-Shabab had done it before. As soon as the
Muslims were separated, all the non-Muslims would be executed unceremoniously. But only two
people were killed and the plan was thwarted when the Muslims on the bus refused to cooperate.
“These Muslims sent a very important message of the unity of purpose, that we are all Kenyans
and that we are not separated by religion,” Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said. Indeed they
did. Were that always true.

In the second story, an editor I know who runs a website that deals in religious issues
asked for my response to the Christian professor’s claim that Muslims and Christians worship the
same God. I thought the question was preposterous.
I told him, “I’m a monotheist, so there is only one God. If I were a polytheist, I could
accept the proposition that there are other gods to worship. So, there is only one Divine—no
controversy for me—but one God that gets worshipped in different ways. Abrahamic faiths are
all ‘People of the Book,’ the expressions are just different.”

In fact, so great is God, so mysterious is the Divine, I believe, that no religion has a
symmetrical understanding of what God is—only glimpses. We call those glimpses religions and
denominations and sects. I have faith in Jesus’ words, “My Father’s house has many rooms”
(John 14:2). We can only do our feeble best to be worthy of one of those rooms. That’s
why theology means, “words about God.” Not being Divine ourselves, that’s all any of us are
capable of, “words about God.”
But this editor friend was shocked and he seemed to accuse me of not standing up for
religious orthodoxy that says there is only one way into heaven.

I replied, “I’m suspicious of faith when it is used as a power claim. Prophets come to
reverse the table order, to warn the people that believed they would be the first into heaven that
they would be last and encourage those that were told they were last that they shall be first. If I,
as a person of faith, am telling somebody else that I am further up the line to get into heaven than
they are, where does that put me? In the back of the line. I’ve got enough problems as it is.”
They never replied to that explanation. But I will.
Every day I try to walk the line between being proud of my Prophet and humble in my
service to him. I try to love my enemies, avoid legalistic thinking, and never forget that God has
dominion over the Earth, I don’t. As witnessed by the terrorist bus attack, there is a big
difference between taking a bullet in the name of faith, and shooting a bullet in the name of
faith. And in the case of the Christian professor suspended indefinitely for believing there is only
one God for us all, the New Year’s lesson is that militant Muslims are not the only ones trying to
separate us.

7 Comments on True faith does not separate us, but brings us together

  1. Ian, Your point is excellent. Faith SHOULD bring harmony. You lose me at “the expressions are just different” though. This simplifies the differences between the two religions. You are correct that no religion has a symmetrical understanding of what God is. God’s too big and complicated for man to fully comprehend. That doesn’t mean that certain truths about Him are ambiguous.

    Here’s an example: God cannot have a Son (Jesus) who is 1) a deity, one with God, omnipotent, etc. AND 2) just a good person and prophet. They are mutually exclusive. Therefore if you worship the latter, you don’t worship the former. Both religions you cite in this article (Muslim and Christianity) agree on this.

    I am also a monotheist. There is only ONE God. And if there is only one God then his characteristics must be consistent. God can’t have characteristics that are at odds with each other. I’m interested in how you reconcile this?

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    • Hmm. I would say that I have the same characteristics, but some people view them as positive and others as negative depending on where they sit. Some people, for example, appreciate mirth as a tension breaker, and others see it as disrespecting the situation. God is immutable, but God’s people are not. “For now we see through a glass, darkly.”

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  2. Maybe I wasn’t clear in my question. People may view certain characteristics of a person (or a deity for that matter) as positive or negative as you say. That doesn’t change ultimate reality. If my view about you is that you are a woman for example, I would be wrong. How I view you is irrelevant, right? In the same way, how people view God may be different, but there are truths about God that aren’t open to interpretation lest these differing interpretations create a dichotomy. If A is the opposite of B, both A and B can’t be true. Jesus can’t be both God AND not God (i.e. a prophet). He’s one or the other (given these two choices). Therefore it creates dissonance between religions that hold opposing views on this.

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  3. No, I got your point. I understand your position, but to me, scholasticism must always be held in tension with mysticism. Claims of the Divine, faith, religious experience, etc., if valid, will never fit in a logic box: “If A is the opposite of B, both A and B can’t be true.” This is geometric logic, but faith is more like Heiddegger’s Cat where, A and B are not mutually exclusive until the box is opened (death). The claims of faith–either internally or when people compare religions–do not have to be zero-sum formulae such as “If A is the opposite of B, both A and B can’t be true.” We will never have the answer until that day.

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  4. I don’t mean to be argumentative but I really don’t understand your reply. Surely you’re not saying there aren’t any absolutes in faith. If that’s the case, then your blog has no foundation. Because in your blog you stated the editor’s question was preposterous (claiming a truth). If there’s no absolute truth, then his question/opinion is just as valid as your statement (since, according to your own statement, “we won’t know until that day”). Further, just because we don’t know the answer ‘until that day’ doesn’t mean there isn’t a truth behind it. The fact is, “God is”, right? We humans are just interpreting it best we can. So although we may not know the truth, we will discover the truth (which already exists) until that day.

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  5. Yes, you likely do not mean to be argumentative. Prophets speak in parables for reasons. I understand you want absolutes and certainties. I wish I could help you further, but it’s called “faith” for a reason too.

    Like

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