March 16, 2010, 10:00 pm
By ROBERT WRIGHT
“[Some American Christians are fostering religious strife abroad. They mean well, but the damage they’re doing can be seen all the way from Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are killing each other, to Malaysia, where Muslims are trying to keep Christians from using the term “Allah” for God.”
This article from the New York Times caught my attention because it speaks to an (often unspoken) quesion that my fellow CF chaplains and I struggle with when we speak about interfaith dialogue, namely, “Do we pray to one God with different names, or to different gods with different names?”
Whether Christians proselytizing Moslems by suggesting that Allah is the Judeo-Christian God is disrespectful and an unhelpful (in geopolitical terms, since it can lead to violence between Christians and Moslems and deepen Moslem suspicions of American motives) development or whether it is an evangelical imperative required by Christ’s Great Commission is a whole debate in itself. Wright ends his piece by noting that there are some Christian leaders and theologians who disagree with the premise that God and Allah are different names for the one God.
“One of them, Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, in Lynchburg, Va., said in a recent podcast, “There’s nothing that the two gods — the god of the Koran and the god of scripture — have in common. Nothing.”
Well, to look at the bright side: Maybe that’s a basis for interfaith rapport; Caner can sit around with Malaysian Muslims and agree that they worship different gods.
Still, I like to think that their gods would beg to differ.”
Which brings us back to interfaith dialogue. I’m defining dialogue here as a conversation whose goal is not proselytization, since I don’t think (as we’ve all experienced on our doorsteps when religious salespeople visit us), a conversation intended to bring about conversion can really be called a dialogue. The Christian theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas once said somewhere that if we can agree on nothing else, we should agree not to kill one another in the name of religion. I don’t think it’s setting the bar too low to say that if interfaith dialogue accomplishes nothing else, it is a success if it keeps us from killing one another.