We often hear that Judaism, Christianity and Islam “all worship the same God”. But is that true? Obviously, I wouldn’t be asking the question just to say, “yes”.
Let’s evaluate the idea that “we all worship the same God” at face value. We have to define what “same” means. By same, we can’t mean just their names. Names can change – I even changed mine legally when I made aliyah. Plus, one name can refer to more than one person. I am not the only Reuven or Bobby in the world, and I have begun to graciously accept that. While all three religions use the term Allah in Arabic and, to some extent, God in English, this doesn’t mean they are the same.
Even though these are the three “great monotheistic religions”, the number of gods is not really the point. As is well known, the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten briefly introduced a monotheistic religion, but it worshipped the sun god Ra. I doubt anyone would claim that Ra is also the same God.
What we’re really talking about is identity – whether these religions have identical deities. In the physical world, we have physical attributes and physical location to determine identity. In the spiritual world, there is really only one way we could differentiate different beings; that is: interaction with our physical world. The Jewish sages state this concept as “One angel cannot have two missions, nor can two angels have the same mission.” If they interacted with the physical world in the same way, they’d be the same angel.
So do we have the same God? Is His interaction with humanity really exactly the same, or even compatible, across religions? In Trinitarian Christianity, which includes most denominations – Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox – Jesus is not only the begotten son of God, but God Himself (this is the meaning of God the Son, which is different from “son of God”). Is that really the same interaction with humanity as Judaism and Islam. Muhammed is the Messenger of God in Islam. If we Jews and Christians accepted his message, how would we remain Jews or Christians? Judaism has a whole system of commandments and rabbinic law which are obligatory because God gave this system to Moses. Do Muslims and Christians really believe the same thing about commandments as we do?
I know a lot of well-meaning people, including Christians and Muslims, say this in a “can’t we all just get along” way, but in reality, it just demeans the real, and important differences between the various religions.
Besides this, a number of people are not well-meaning. They pour a different meaning into these words and no one realizes that these two groups are really talking past each other.
So what are people really saying? The most common usage is by agnostics, atheists and those who don’t really know anything about these three religions. Deep down, they mean, “Why are y’all always fighting if you believe in the same imaginary man in the sky?” This is understandable, since this is how we view any disagreement which doesn’t affect us.
Jews use it as a way of saying, “Please leave us alone, we’re not a threat.” As I once said, when I was a panelist at an interfaith discussion, Judaism’s message for the world is “please stop shooting the messenger.” Our message is obviously a lot bigger, but that would be a start.
Official Christianity and Islam use this phrase in an apologetics sense. They are both “successor” religions, meaning Christianity believes it replaced Judaism and Islam believes it replaced both. As successors, they both have two claims: 1) Our message is an accurate reading of what the earlier religion really meant and 2) it was given by the same God to correct mistakes in the original. Getting the predecessor religion to admit it’s the same God is the first step in their apologetics. Interestingly, both of these say they believe in the same God as their predecessor(s), but are not so keen to do so for religions claiming to be their successors – Mormonism for Christians, or Baha’i for Muslims.
This post isn’t about who is right. It isn’t even saying we have nothing in common. It is saying that people who are serious Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. are not silly or insincere. They each have a message which they are serious about. It may be a correct message or an incorrect message. It may be a message you approve of, or not. You can even say the message makes no sense, but you ought to give each the respect of learning what the message is before making judgments. Glossing over real differences doesn’t lead to more peace or respect, just less understanding.