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8 Which God? (Mark Durie)

Mark Durie, Which God?Jesus, Holy Spirit, God in Christianity & Islam, Deror Books, Revised (2nd) edition, 2015.

ISBN 978-0-9874691-4-4

 “Well, we all worship the same god, don’t we?” – how many times have you heard that? And when you hear it, where, exactly, do you think it comes from? Personally, I think it comes from a deep desire for some kind of accommodation, reconciliation, one-ness, a belief that society can be made harmonious and peaceful by the acknowledgment that we are all really one. That’s the motive that many Christians, or agnostic English people generally, have; sadly, I think it’s a forlorn hope. And from the Muslim world – as William J. Murray tells us, in his Foreword to this book – there is a “heavily financed” promotion of this view, to the West. What is meant, by Muslims, is that there is one concept of god which “we” have a part of, or a distorted view of; the Christians and others, in these circumstances, however, have not really thought about it (in my view) or they have an incorrect grasp of what Christianity actually teaches – or again, they prefer the concept hich they personally hold to, rather than that of orthodox Christianity. Do we worship the same God? I always thought – before reading this book – that two minutes’ examination of the concept of god in Christianity, and in Islam (with only a dim knowledge of that of Islam), would reveal that they are rather different things; now, having read this book, I think they are very different, and I know why.

              The simplified “schoolboy” description of the relationship of Christianity and Islam is that they are mutually-blasphemous religions in that the one has as essential the idea of god becoming human, and the other sees the nature of god as utterly other than the material; for Christianity, redemption (liberation, if you will) comes by way of god’s becoming human, for the other, god could not possibly be tainted or besmirched by any contact with the flesh. As the sub-title suggests, this book examines in detail the Muslim concept of Jesus, or Isa, and that of the Holy Spirit or the Ruh al-Quds of the Quran. Essential to the Muslim understanding of Isa is that he is seen as simply a prophet, or the prophet which preceded Muhammad; in a strange way, of course this view of Jesus bears definite similarities with the “only a very good man” thinking held by some “liberal” Christians, and non-believers. The Muslim idea is that Isa will return in the Last Days to fight for the true faith (Islam), and against Christians. Isa inhabits a very different world of historicity than Jesus of Nazareth, and Quranic “history” is quite unlike that of the Bible. The author stresses that to Muslims, Islam is not simply a “newer” religion than Christianity and Judaism but “the primordial religion, the original faith from which Judaism and Christianity are subsequent developments” (p. 9); the Bible is a distortion of the “real” scriptures, and Jews and Christians only have a corrupt version of the scriptures/the truth (or have corrupted the original). An important part of the book – in the light of contemporary disputes about the source and nature of evil – is Chapter 10, where Allah is seen, from the Quran, as the author of evil; a somewhat amoral, utterly transcendent – indeed, quixotic – Allah emerges from parts of this book ( eg. pp 122-3).

              One concern of the book is to examine – and reject – the efforts of the Yale theologian Miroslav Volf to argue that Allah and YHWH are in fact one (Chapter 16). Volf’s concern is a political one, Durie explains, his concern is to suggest that Christians and Muslims can live peacefully because they do worship the same god (that old wishful thinking!).

              Time and again, Christians are tempted into thinking that concession and conciliation, co-operation and interaction, will bring real fruits, that it is the mission of Christians (perhaps first and foremost) to bring peace on earth, and that someone – it may, must, be themselves, me – have to make the first move, and, eventually, good things will flow from this. But is this irenic, optimistic view borne out by real experience, facts, things which actually happen? Also, recently, I have been reading Michel Houellebecq’s (originally French) novel Submission. It is set in France in the near future – about two-decades’ time – and all-important to France, in the story, is up-coming presidential elections and a political crisis. The result is that a “moderate” Muslim party takes control, or at least gets to hold the balance of power, and as part of a compromise, education is totally in its power. The result, in schools and universities, is that all teachers have to be male and Muslim, and women are effectively banned (“submission” is the meaning of Islam, of course; see Durie p. 94). Will something like this actually come about?

 March 2016

 

 

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