Lets begin with a disclaimer. This is a very important and popular issue. Not every point that I refute is a point that Unordained wishes to argue. But ever since I heard a Philosophy prof say in a public (and unchecked) forum that the three monotheistic religions of the world were close enough....i have been very sensitive to this issue. Please bear with me when I explain points you already understand. :)
I'm glad Unordained didn't put the Involucrus on my name. The sword is rarely sheathed on this forum. :)
To use a similar line of logic as Unordained's from his Which God article:
Unordained has an IQ that is unknown to me. It is doubtless higher than 100 by quite a margin. A friend of mine, has an IQ less than 100, but probably only slightly. When you compare these two gentlemen to a squirrel, you will find that they have very similar intellectual capacities (as each other...NOT similar to a squirrel!!!). Therefore, they are similar enough that they should sit down and talk philosophy some time. I'm sure that it would be a constructive experience for each. After all, they are quite similar.
Notice that if the purpose of philisophical conversation was to say words (This is arguable!!!!) then the above reasoning is perfect. Words would most certainly be spoken and very probably repeated over and over again. (I'm pretty sure some philosphers debate just to prove that they are smart...nooo, this is not a bash on Unordained). If the purpose of the conversation is to determine truths about reality (I would say so, but obviously, some philosophers disagree) then the above argument is absurd. Who then will enlighten us and assign the objective purpose of every philosophical debate? :) Who is qualified?
If that argument isn't enough, let me try to explain a principle that I think will help us attack the problem later.
Is a dog like a sparrow? Yes in many ways. I won't bother naming them.
Is a sparrow like a duck? Yes in many ways. In fact, they have more similarities than the sparrow / dog comparison.
Is that sufficient then to say "Since there is a greater number of similarities, the duck is closer to a sparrow than a dog is?"
I think not.
Is it sufficient to say "They are close enough that they can live together in harmony?
Close enough is arbitrary without divine revelation.
But analyze why it is that you know that a sparrow and a duck are closer than a sparrow and a dog. (Yes. If you want to play dumb and change your mind about which is more similar because you think you know where I'm going feel free. Stop reading even, I couldn't convince you that the sky is blue since for you the sky might not exist for some people or since blue might be a social construct which is easily reinterpreted by consensus. :) )
The reason is of course that the similarities are not only of great number but of great importance. Both of these animals are birds which mean they inherit all birdlike characteristics.
Note also before I begin that classification is an arbitrary thing such that people cannot agree on some classifications. You can abstract from any two (or more) things that are not diametrically opposed and find similarities and then create your own classification. I did this in my post on black box theology, but I certainly did not attempt to say that a thing that is true of one element in my classification always applies to another. I believe that might be coming dangerously close to the logical fallacy of division (like this, "Dogs roam the streets of New York at night. Lassie is a dog. Therefore, Lassie roams the streets of new york at night!")
Let us then compare Islam, Christianity and Judaism. I'll begin by saying that they worship the same God as I do (Yahweh). However, I do not believe that Muslims, or for that matter Mormons (who deep below the surface are polytheistic) or, possibly, Catholics, who worship the same god as I do.
Why? It isn't just the name.
I'll give you a hint. I bet (though I am not certain) that most religious Jews do not believe that our Yahweh is the same as their Yahweh. (Indeed, in a different discussion, some of my opponents (not Jews) will say that the Old and New Testament have two different pictures of God and must be different Gods as one is a God of Justice and sacrifice and another is a God of mercy and grace. Such people have not been very exposed to Calvinism I think) Note that for the Christian, "worshipping" Yahweh is not sufficient to be currently in God's good graces, and to a great degree that is what religion is about; satisfying the demands of a deity. Right there, that should be sufficient to prove my point.
The key, I think, is twofold. Derivation and doctrine.
Some doctrines are more important than others. I hold a very strong relationship...and indeed go to the same church in the same denomination...with people who disagree on the doctronis of Calvinism vs Arminianism. Many of my friends also do not completely understand the idea of prayer. As important as these doctrines are, we are good friends and don't try to save each other.
With these relatively small differences in mind, lets compare Islam to Christianity. They have the same root idea for the name of their God (as do the Mormons). Indeed, they are so similar that if a person is not a Christian, Jew or Muslim, he is classified as a pagan. These are the three great monotheistic religions of the world. YetMuslims read from an entirely different book! Indeed, for the Muslim, there is only one way to guarantee salvation and that is to die in Jihad. Also, Salvation does not come from the defeat of the problem of sin, but rather doing lots of good stuff and being very obedient. To compare Christianity and Judaism, we Christians read many of the same books as Jews do but we have the New Testament. That adds a great number of new beliefs; vital ones. We believe that the coming of Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and covenants. Do you think the Jews like that? Do you think we can sit in the same pews and listen to the same pastor or priest? If Christianity is much closer to Judaism (from which one could say it was derived) than to Islam, yet we cannot worship together (we could, but each would be looking at the other's worship wondering why they bother) how much more so can we not worship with Muslims, who have an entirely different book and a version of God who's comparison with the God of the New Testament has far more differences even than the comparison of the "God of the New Testament" with the "God of the Old Testament."
Then there is the problem of derivation. One could argue that Christianity was "derived" from Judaism. We incorporate their books and simply read them differently. Islam was formed when Christianity was well along and considers the doctrines of Christianity in its text ("Say not three" etc). But whether one argues that Islam was derived from Judaism or from Christianity, that derivation is of an entirely different sort since they believe our book is a crock.
I don't think we can really attend the same church with that in mind. Indeed, we try to save each other all the time.
Does that mean we have to kill or hate each other? No. Obviously not. You don't see Christians going around hunting Atheists or vice versa even though Atheists have less in common with Christians than Christians do with Catholics. There is no Biblical excuse for murder and the Bible has little to say about when it is that war is just.
It is easy to paint with a broad brush and say that since all Christians and all Jews hate all Muslims and vice versa but that isn't true. It's also easy to say "With so many similarities, why don't they worship together?" Such phrases come from different people who hold different views of the purpose of religion. Some view religion as falsehoods which give false comfort to man. Some view religion as a path to redemption. Some attempt to make them all true (and thus, some of them false since they contradict). Can we expect these people to agree with our Church divisions? Of course not.
So then, lets turn their own knife back on them.
Who are they to believe that their arbitrary definitions and viewpoints should have any effect on our church organizations and beliefs? Unordained had this discussion regarding worldviews with me not days ago. I do not attempt to tell him "The bible says fornication is bad" because it'll be about as important to him as "The bible says evolution is wrong." I also do not attempt to tell him that I enjoy coffee because that says nothing about whether or not coffee is truly good in reality. In other words, Unordained's article doesn't seek a common ground, it attempts to analyze other people's system from within it's own safe worldview; a worldview that says doesn't take religious beliefs seriously.
To conclude, I'll reiterate. It matters less the name of the God you worship. What truly matters is how you believe you will avoid His wrath. Since Unordained fears no wrath, these religions are close enough for him. But, I cannot accept his argument since it is an irrelevant conclusion based on an arbitrary evaluation.
Ed: 7/3/03 I might have indeed misread the scope of Unordained's article. Lets find out.
"Monotheist religions are typically mutually exlusive..[support and expansion on this idea.."
"But why does it have to be that way? [expansion on this thought]"
"Will those of these faiths agree? "They don't know the whole truth." "They have been misled." "They are the lost ones." "Their god is a false god." The reactions vary, but are generally not favorable. If their god is also your god, why are your religions differentiated?"
Several times last night, I worried that I had not read Unordained's article thoroughly enough and that I would look like a defensive fool. I'm not afraid of that now.
I'll confront what I was too..yes, angry, to confront yesterday. That is, Unordained's criticism of a faith which is too detailed.
"How much detail is needed? There are basic things I know certain denominations of christians would say are necessary; but they would rather teach you much more than this. Why? Beyond the basics needed to assure the new believer eternal life, do the details matter? You'll be told, most likely, that this all makes your earthly life better."
That isn't what I would tell people. I'll make it easy for Unordained.
Take my faith. It is very cohesive..one large structure, almost every piece interconnected to others. Indeed, the Bible is like that, quoting from other passages, giving credence to other books, etc. Christians believe that this is the Word of God. We differ as to how this was achieved and how much human frailty could have affected the theology, but we believe that the Bible was inspired by God.
So isolate that statement. "The Bible is the true inspired Word God."
The Laws of Thought teach us that this statement is either true or false, and cannot be both.
Here is some scripture:
2 Corinthians 11
Paul and the False Apostles
1I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. 2I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 5But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "super-apostles." 6I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.
1 Timothy 6
Love of Money
3If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
(This is in regards to false teachers who teach falsehood for money.)
No Other Gospel
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! 10Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
How much truth is too much truth? That's a nonsensical question. How much falsehood is too much falsehood? Any amount of course. Consider again the statement "The Bible is the true inspired Word God."
Christianity, as we have said time and again, is take it or leave it, Wisdom or Folly. It is either true or false. So if it is false, than any detail is foolishness. If it is true, than who is Unordained to ask the questions he asks? Once again, he assumes that his external evaluation of someone else's beliefs is necessarily valid.
However, he is right on the mark regarding the denominationalizing of the church. Many of the church splits throughout history have been simple silliness. Is truth important? Yes. Should we then tolerate minor disagreements? Absolutely. "Lets not bicker and argue about who killed whom." :)
Lets consider his conclusion further:
"Personal identity is already a problem in our world today: twins can switch places, thieves can take control of your bank account. We rely on external aspects of a person to know them and identify them; we could easily have a common friend, but not realize it because we focus on different things when in the presence of this person. I might describe the friend as interested in sports, and a funny guy; you might describe the same person as studious and sarcastic. Is it the same person? How will we know? Is it a different person only because the outside aspects seem different? Is it the same person for the same reasons? The problem is that monotheistic religions only allow for one god (by definition) on a absolute scale: if nothing else, all monotheistic religions speak of the same god, whether they know it or not. They may be speaking falsehoods, in the sense that they misrepresent the only entity they could possibly be talking about, but there's no real choice in the matter. By saying that our gods are different because we see them differently (through the eyes of history and person experience) is like saying that our common friend doesn't exist, because we see him differently. It is a statement we cannot assert safely. Is your god my god as well? Read Ensis' article and see what you think."
Look closely. Unordained is begging the question. He asserts that Jews, Muslims and Christians are (or might be) worshipping the same God under different names, seen through different perspectives (like the classic problem of the blind men and the elephant). He attempts prove his point using an analogy. The implicit claim then is that the analogy accurately reflects reality; something I do not agree with; it is assumed. In other words, it is still assumed that the assertion is true, but now it is further assumed that this analogy uses the same relationships. We are waiting for proof. The proof ends with the same assertion that we assumed.
To prove this point better, I could deny his analogy and say it this way.
A mock attempt to demonstrate that Allah and Yahweh are different (in order to truly demonstrate that proof by analogy is flawed)
(We start by affirming an analogy). "Asserting that Allah and Yahweh are the same is like (Ice cream? A box of chocolates?) a discussion with a friend over someone you have met (oh)." (We continue by further explaining) "Imagine that you and a friend are talking. You mention the name Jim Allyn and your friend says "You know Jim Allyn?" You are confused but you describe him. Several of the points (the easily verifiable ones) are identical. He has a nose. He has eyes. He's tall! He blinks a lot. But when you get to other stuff, you begin to disagree. "He hates Windows? He hates Bill Gates? He's the master of deadpan humor?" Are you and your friend talking about the same person? It's unlikely. You see, we have learned that assuming they that Islam's God and Christianity's God is the same because they have similar names and share characteristics is like two friends talking....."
This (the above) demonstration argument is garbage but is constructed the same way. My point? Proof by an analogy is almost always flawed and if the thing it attempts to prove is right, there is probably another method. If you are teaching someone who's trust you have already gained, they are fine as a tool, but they prove nothing because analogies are formed when a person tries to phrase their opinion in a different way. Politicians do this all the time by the way. "Income redistribution is like robbing the rich to feed the poor." "Not doing income redistribution is like a city of super rich people staring down from their towers with their noses in the air, having no regard for the poor starving citizens below and deciding to horde their grain until they feel like eating all of it." What should be said is this: Income redistribution is taking income from one group and distributing it.
Note further that using the same logical form as your opponent to prove something absurd is valid only if done carefully, but using a different logical form harnesses so many logical fallacies it isn't funny (begging the question, Straw Man...).
Finally, Unordained messages me saying that different religions and denominations should study each other to ensure that they are really so dissimilar that they can't play ball together. He is right of course. I have already done so. I encourage others to do the same. To quote a song I like by the Supertones "How can you stand if you don't understand?!" You cannot comfortably defend against an opponent you have not studied. Moreover, the more you study other belief systems, the better your chances of avoiding wrath are....some people will not avoid wrath because they choose to remain (or, for some, have no choice but to remain) ignorant. Demonstrating this point was the idea behind my developing Black Box Theology argument (which needs to be shortened and simplified I think!!).
Unordained and I agree on the point that when a church splits over doctrine, something has gone wrong. If two statements contradict each other, both cannot be true (yes, yes, both may be false). However, two things need to be said about this issue: 1) A meeting of the minds is needed. 2) Sometimes a meeting of the minds is impossible due to human frailties.
Confirming for now, We'll patch up the rest later.