Philosophy: May 2004 Archives

Same God posts

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In a continuing effort to shorten my list in the sidebar despite constantly adding to them, I'm removing my two posts on the same God issue with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and linking just this one that refers to both of them.

The first was simply an argument that the one being called God in English is the same being that Muslims refer to with the name 'Allah', though they believe very different things about this one God, which makes all the difference. The second looked at some arguments in N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God about first-century Judaism and first-century Christianity and their relevance to this issue. Partly it helped clarify my position, and partly it helped me express my reasons for thinking this a little more clearly.

Update: This comments on this post about on freedom, rights, and 'under God' in the pledge of allegiance also has a discussion about the same issue that reflects a development of my thought on this issue. The basic idea is that I don't think there's one sense in which an expression might refer to God. An act of false worship may in one sense be worship of God but done so wrongly that it's immoral and worthless. The same act of false worship may in another sense not count as genuine worship of God and therefore count as worship of a false god. I think the former sense is primary and the latter secondary, as the terms in English are standardly used, and John 8:41-44 and II Kings 17 contain examples of the two senses in the Bible. The correct theory of reference-fixing for terms like 'God' and 'Allah' should explain why there are both senses, but it may still turn out that my view that the one of II Kings 17 is the primary one in English.

Update 2 (March 2008): The conversation picked up again in response to a debate between Rick Love and John Piper. In Muslims Worshiping God But Not Worshiping God, I present the argument in a different enough way that I thought it was worth linking to it here, and I respond to the objection that Muslims deny an essential property of God and thus must not refer to him when they use God-language.

Then in Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? I respond to a couple arguments from Timothy Tennent. He argues that it doesn't seem right to say that the God of Muhammad is the Father of Jesus, and I point out the real problem in that statement is that no Muslim or Christian should accept both labels for God, but that both could refer to God in the same way that mistaken descriptions of mere human beings can refer even if they get things badly wrong (e.g. the red-haired man across the room drinking champagne, when it's a bald woman in a wig cross-dressing and drinking wine out of a champagne glass).

Finally, in Islam and a Different Jesus, I respond to a more difficult set of arguments from Kevin Courter and Dale Tuggy. What about Paul's statement in II Corinthians that those who teach a false gospel are teaching a different Jesus? What about his statements in I Corinthians about demons lying behind idols? What if Muhammad actually received the Qur'an from a demon? This post offers a slightly modified view that can handle these objections, and it argues that, since you won't be able to modify the alternative view to handle the difficulties I've raised for that position, my view is the most reasonable way to handle the tensions within the scriptures that bear on this issue.

Update 3 (March 2011): Miroslav Volf has now released a book about this that seems worth reading. He sees to me to give a bad argument for the correct view, and then he goes on to apply the view in ways that strike me as possibly going way too far, but I'd have to see the details of what he has to say to be sure beyond that. I've recorded some thoughts on Volf here.

Sam's latest post (and the comments) got me thinking about the structural relations of race in relation to those of gender and sex. Sex is a biological category, and gender is social. Those with more liberal attitudes about these things tend to include most sex or gender differences in the category of gender, seeing as much as they can as illegitimately forced perceptions of male and female not required by biology. Sam was arguing for a conclusion on the other end of the spectrum, that there isn't anywhere near as much to gender as opposed to biological sex as many people seem to want. I gave some reasons in the comments not to take it so far. People of all political persuasions will want to see some inappropriate gender standards that aren't dictated by biology, and most people don't seem to have a problem even with some socially-determined gender differences. It's not as if most people who affirm the distinction think everything about gender is wrong.

Anyway, that's all in the comments. You can read it there if you want more. What's interesting to me about this right now is its bearing on questions about race. We can separate gender and sex without having to do conceptual analysis to see what our concept of gender refers to in the world or what our concept of sex refers to in the world. These terms have been defined by those who study this issue. The debate is over which elements of our more general sex/gender concepts fit into each category. In race, the debate is at an earlier location. We can't even agree on what criteria are used to determine racial categories. This is because we're trying to do conceptual analysis. We postulate a single concept of race and then try to figure out what that concept refers to in reality (if anything). That in itself will explain some of the differences here.

Smoking Pharisees

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Many Christians treat smoking as one of the worst sins, something you can assume someone isn't a Christian if you see them doing. Tim Challies has a good post showing why such an attitude is Pharisaical.

Now I think a good argument can be made that smoking is morally wrong, even without the Bible, though it would be based on controversial ethical views that aren't common to all the main ethical theories. A virtue- or character-based ethic will have the easiest time showing this, I think, though other principles might count. Still, the other sorts of things that come out immoral on these grounds wouldn't compare too well with the Pharisaical people who place smoking on such a pedestal of evils. One consideration against smoking, that it pollutes, counts similarly against failing to recycle or driving an SUV. Another, the annoyance factor, counts just as much against mowing your lawn at 9am in a university area or playing loud music after 10pm in a neighborhood with kids. Pursuing the character trait of taking care of your body means avoiding sloth and gluttony as much as smoking, and those aren't on the list of total evils of most of the people I have in mind (though I'd say the same thing about someone who is overweight, whose spiritual level I have seen people wonder about). The second-hand smoke issue is stronger, but that depends on the context of the smoking, which can be controlled, and this reason also counts against people who have cars that pollute so badly as to harm people's health. Would most of these things be on the list of sins the observance of which should create the impression that someone probably isn't a Christian? Then neither should smoking.

I've met Joel Rosenberg a couple times. He used to write for World Magazine before he wrote a bestselling novel, and World posted a comment from him yesterday on their blog. Before he wrote for them, he was a student at Syracuse University, where I'm currently working on my Ph.D. I've met him a couple times due to my involvement with a Christian organization that he was involved with when he was a student here, and we have some common friends because of that.

He responds to this statement by Nick Berg's father:

My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this.

Joel says:

I grieve and pray for this man and his family. No one should have to suffer what they are suffering now.... But Mr. Berg's outrage at the Bush administration is both misguided and offensive. Nick Berg didn't die because President Bush sent military forces into Iraq. President Bush sent military forces into Iraq because innocent people like Nick Berg were dying every day. And many more would have died if Saddam Hussein had been allowed to continue his reign of terror unchecked.

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