Here is an excellent question from the heart which came up in the combox. It’s not only a good question, but it is framed in a polite and honest way by a woman genuinely seeking an answer….unlike the one I will publish later in this post.
Fr. Dwight, what can you suggest to someone like me who, as a woman, finds Islam extremely horrific and evil, and the thought that Muslims supposedly worship the same loving, true God that I do, all but impossible?
Let’s think this through. First of all, your being a woman doesn’t really have much to do with the question. There are plenty of men who share your confusion and consternation about this matter.
It’s understandable that you find Islam “extremely horrific and evil”. But I wonder if this opinion is based on true knowledge of Islam or on second or third hand information, biased opinions based on your experience of extremist Muslims and horrible reports on anti-Islamic websites?
I’m not blaming you if this is where your opinion comes from and it’s pretty hard not to gain this impression from news stories about child brides, women being beheaded because they didn’t have the supper ready, massacres of Christians and the slaughter of Christians in Syria.
However, the vast majority of Muslims are not like that, and sensible Muslim imams and scholars will draw back from, and re-interpret the violent bits of the Koran just as we pull back from and re-interpret the verses in the Old Testament where God seems to tell the Israelites to go and slaughter every living thing in an Amalekite village.
But really, your gut feeling of disgust and abhorrence at Islam is really beside the point. The real heart of your question is that you can’t get your head around the idea that Muslims worship the same loving Father in heaven that we do.
It’s a problem you share with many Muslims who are horrified not only at the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity (they think it is polytheism) but they are also very resistant to the idea of God as Father. Allah is completely transcendent and any idea that we impose human characteristics on to him they find abhorrent.
So how can we say that they worship the same God?
Simply because there is only one God.
If someone worships God as he conceives of him he is worshipping the one, true God.
However…this is not to say that everyone’s concept of God is hunky dory. Saying this is not to say that every concept of God is equally true and good. Many people worship the one God with sincerity, but they have a defective understanding of him.
Here’s an example: Let’s say a Catholic is brought up to worship God, but his home environment is extremely harsh and legalistic. He has a father who beats him and a mother who is a doormat. Let’s say the priest, old Father Stormtrooper at St Thrashers is also a tyrant and yells a lot and preaches long, dark gloomy sermons about hell and damnation and guilt and sin. Let’s say his school teacher Sister Cruella is a nasty piece of work and the child grows up in an environment where all is doom and gloom and punishment and the fear of hell.
He might drag himself off to Mass his whole life and do his best to worship God, but his concept of God is very severely defective. He will, no doubt, conceive of God as a thundering tyrant like his earthly father and like Father Stormtrooper at St Thrashers. He may worship that God all his life and never come to know a loving and merciful God.
He has still worshipped the same God as enlightened and grace-blessed Catholics, but his concept of God is very defective.
Likewise with people of other faiths. Unless they specifically and consciously worship a demon through Satanism or particular forms of paganism, we say they are worshipping the one, true God. The further away they are from the fullness of the Catholic faith, the more their understanding of God will be defective and at times some people with a severely defective understanding of God may cross over into the worship of idols and demons.
Therefore, we assume that most non-Catholics worship the one true God but they do so with a defective, partial and distorted understanding of him. The more they reject Jesus Christ the fullness of the revelation of God, the more defective their relationship with God will be.
That is why the Catholic Church recognizes the goodness, truth and beauty in other religions and recognizes the search for truth in other religions, but because they are partial, directive and distorted we are called to engage in sympathetic, pro active and compassionate missionary activity.
Now compare this honest and good question to another comment on this issue in the combox. Another woman writes
Muslims do not worship the True God. The True God has a Father, a Son, the Holy Ghost and a Virgin Mother. The Triune God is impossible to separate (defined at the Council of Rome) – it is then impossible that Muslim worship the True God if they say the god they worship is not the Father of the Redeemer (Christ), His Son, no Holy Ghost. This lie has got to stop. Now.
It seems to me that this is a person who already knows everything there is to know. She is not asking a question to learn more, but making her own firm statement of what she perceives to be truth. However, look closely at what she has written and we’ll see that her own concept of God is defective. She says the “true God has a Father, a Son, the Holy Ghost and a Virgin Mother.”
Come again? God has a Father? God has a Virgin Mother? Is Mary part of the Divine Godhead? Is it a Quaternity not a Trinity? It could be that this person is simply inarticulate and has not been able to state clearly her orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity and we can give her the benefit of the doubt perhaps, but to take it at face value, God does not “have” a Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and he certainly does not “have a Virgin Mother.” We call Mary the Mother of God because she is the mother of Christ the Lord, giving her flesh for the mystery of the incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity.
If what this woman wrote is what she truly believes about God, then her concept of God is also defective. We do not conclude therefore that she does not worship the One, True God.
Instead we say that her understanding of God is defective and we seek to correct it.
Same with Muslims.