Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Evaluate Differences Between Gods

I have become very interested in finding out what makes one god different than another. Specifically, what makes it the case that another god is different than the actual God? My intuition tells me that Allah of Islam is not the same as the God of the Bible. But why is this? It certainly cannot be the name, for Jehovah does not self-identify with the English word “God.” So what is it? A few suggestions will be made and evaluated.

1. A god differs from the biblical God if its followers believe in things, actions, or attitudes different from that of the biblical God.

The problem with this statement is that it makes Calvinists and Arminians believe in different gods. Of course, if you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, then you are necessarily unsaved. Hence, each side should regard the other as a lost heathen. It gets worse. Because there is probably at least one thing, act, or attitude that differs between any two believers, it follows that each and every believer probably believes in a separate god from one another. This cannot be correct.

2. A god differs from the biblical God if that god rejects Christ.

This has some intuitive support. After all, one cannot be saved and reject Christ, hence any god served who also rejects Christ must be a false god, right? Not necessarily. Consider the Jewish people. They reject Christ (and hence are not saved), yet it is clear the referent of “God” is clearly the God of the Bible.

3. A god differs from the biblical God if that god has different essential properties.

This also seems to do well at first. Allah clearly has different essential properties than the biblical God. Primary among them is that God does not love sinners and the primary focus is upon his will; a form of theological voluntarism. Next, it also avoids the symmetry on Calvinism or Arminianism. It does this because although Calvinists may believe that God has theological voluntarism as part of his being, or some Arminians may think God is not a logically necessary being, these are secondary to the actual ontological existence of the God they do worship by virtue of being Christians. Since this is not a discussion on what makes one a Christian, and they are Christians, they are vindicated. However, this seems a bit tenuous. Perhaps it would be better to say:

4. A god differs from the biblical God if that god has different essential properties and rejects Christ.

This has the benefit of combining both views. This means only in the case that a particular religion or religious belief holds God to have different essential properties and to reject Christ’s message and salvation do they serve a different god than the biblical one. Now for some test examples. The Jews qualify as believers in the biblical God, for although they reject Christ, they believe that God has the same essential properties. Any further disagreements about what God does or who he is tend to be contingent or tertiary, as far as I know. The Muslims would disqualify on both conditions. Calvinists and Arminians qualify, perhaps by embracing both conditions (depending on how one takes my explanation in [3]). Mormons would disqualify, and arguably on both conditions. It is clear the Mormon conception of God differs wildly: he does not exist a se, he is not eternal, he had a beginning, he is not logically necessary, etc. Since salvation is not merely faith alone but along with works, and since Jesus himself seems to be a very different figure in Mormon theology, it seems that both branches are fulfilled. It seems this is a good measure that confirms our strong intuitions on the matter.

What do we think of this? Counterexamples? Any better suggestions?
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