Category Archives: general

is ‘god’ the same ‘god’ as ‘god’?

You’ve heard it before: “Is God the same as Allah?” or “Is Allah the same as the God of the Bible?”

You’ve also probably heard both simple ‘yes’ answers and possibly simpler ‘no’ answers.  My response would be to answer with a question: “Is ‘god’ the same ‘god’ as ‘god’?

Words are incredibly slippery little animals.  ‘God’, of course, is an English word (used variously with lower or upper-case ‘g’) to refer to various kinds of deities or supernatural beings.  Origin, usage, context and other factors determine the meaning of a word.  Consider the word ‘cool’ in the following sentence: “Outside is cool.”  The word ‘cool’ could refer to a (relative) standard of temperature, or to an equally (or more so) relative standard of cultural interest.

The choice of the word ‘God’ has more to do with one’s culture and language than one’s religion.  I use the word ‘God’ as a Christian, and so does a friend of mine who is a Muslim sheikh.  Are there differences between Christian and Islamic theology?  Along with some similarities, yes of course there are differences.  Some cosmetic and cultural, and other deeply rooted into the heart of both religions.

So whilst ‘the God of the Bible’ and ‘the God of the Qur’an’ have both basic similarities and important differences, the flexibility of the term ‘God’ means that ‘Allah’ is indeed the ‘God’ of the Bible, in the sense that ‘Allah’ is the word used for ‘God’ in the Arabic Bible; just as it is the word for ‘God’ in the Arabic Tanakh (Judaism) and the Arabic Qur’an (Islam).  In Aotearoa (New Zealand), we might also say that ‘Atua’ is the God of the Bible, more particularly Te Paipera Tapu (the Holy Bible in Te Reo Māori).

You’d think that the English Bible, Tanakh and Qur’an would all use the English term ‘God’.  However, my parallel English-Arabic copy of the Qur’an has ‘Allah’ in it.  My understanding is that for Muslims, the Qur’an ceases to be the Qur’an when it is translated out of the original Arabic.  This special appreciation for the Arabic language (much like many Jews treasure the Hebrew language) may be related to the desire to use the term ‘Allah’, which is a transliteration of the original Arabic: له (‘Allah’).  Jehovah’s Witnesses also have convictions around God’s name, and use ‘Jehovah’ to translate the original Hebrew: יהוה (‘Yahweh’).

The insistence on using these terms are meant to protect the respect or accuracy that God deserves.  But even using the terms ‘Allah’ and ‘Yahweh’ do not guarantee either devotional respect or conceptual accuracy.

It is here that the authors of the New Testament, reflecting the earliest convictions of the earliest Church, use words that point us beyond concepts, titles or names, and toward the person of Jesus Christ.

In a mind-blowing moment in the gospel according to John, the Jewish leaders accuse Jesus of saying he was greater than Abraham, the Patriarch of all Jewish patriarchs.  John, writing in Greek to Greek readers, records the response of Jesus, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  The Greek phrase ‘ego eimi’ translates as ‘I am’, and reaches back to the burning-bush moment of revelation in the Hebrew Tanakh or Old Testament (compare surah 28 verse 30 in the Qur’an) where Yahweh gave Moses the personal name ‘Yahweh’.  Passages John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11 speak of the person of Jesus, who was human, as also somehow being divine; the ‘Word’ who was God, or ‘equal’ with God.

For these New Testament authors, knowing God is not a matter of getting the right word in the right language.  ‘God’, rather, can be known because God showed up in, through, and as the person of Jesus, who made ‘the invisible God’ visible.

All of our ideas about ‘God’ need to bow to the God revealed in Jesus – or as John V. Taylor words it, “the Christlike God”.  All of us, even those of us who believe in Jesus, tend to see God as we want to see God, rather than how God has revealed ‘God-self’ in Christ.

So then. Whether you use the term ‘God’, ‘Allah’, ‘Atua’, ‘Jehovah’, ‘Yahweh’, or something else: Is your ‘god’ the same as “the Christlike God”?

warning is not blaming

My friends know I have a penchant for re-framing false “either-or”s as “both-and”s.  A couple of cases were in the news (TV) and news-feed (Facebook) this morning.  A tweet or Facebook comment (and my lack of ability to achieve brevity) makes a blog post a much better place to express my thoughts about them.

Scenario 1.
(Described as per my memory of news segment)  Car gets pulled over.  Cop(s) asks driver to get out of vehicle.  Driver doesn’t. Cop smashes driver window & tazers driver.  Yep.  Child in back seat phone-videoed the whole thing.  Media coverage (understandably!) focused on the actions of the cop, which were insanely O.T.T., violent and just wrong.  No question.  That cop in particular needs to be dealt with appropriately (massive lay-off, fine, firing, etc.).

But why are we not also able to see that the driver was also unwise (or stupid? they didn’t include what he might have said to the cop to tick him off) for not getting out of the car when a police officer asks you to (even if it’s obviously a less serious offense than the smashing/tazering of the officer).  And why is it thought that pointing this out is ‘victim blaming’?  Warning people to obey the (legal) instructions of police officers does not in any way support police brutality of any kind.  Responsibility on both sides.  Cop = 100% responsible for being more than a bit violent.  Driver = 100% responsible for being more than a tiny bit unwise.  Big difference between being violent and unwise; but the main thing here is that the driver’s actions were not neutral in this scenario.

Scenario 2.
Today there was a news story about 3 recent cases of rape by people with predatory motives preying upon people using the Tinder app to find a date (or very often a one-night-stand).  Unlike the above case of violent cop + unwise driver, the media focused on both the damnable actions of the rapist(s), and the need for caution when using an app like Tinder.  The NZ Herald posted this article on it’s Facebook page, which received comments such as “way to victim blame”.

Again, this is a case of dual responsibility.  Rapists are 100% responsible for their not only violent but evil and inhumane actions.  By contrast, the Tinder user is 100% responsible for their unwise actions.  The Tinder user who contacts and meets with a complete stranger in ‘x’ kind of location is not being violent, evil or inhumane, and neither are they ‘to blame’; however, what they are being is very naive and unwise (as many women on the Facebook thread pointed out in reference to the 3 rape cases).  It is not about ‘blaming’ the victims of rape (i.e. “Oh, it’s your own fault, what were you doing…?”), it’s about caring enough about human beings to warn them against not being naive and unwise.  Warning is not blaming, it can be loving.

* * *

Here’s another both-and.  Warning people to be wise in such situations, is both a proactive fence at the top of the cliff (warn them before it happens) and a reactive ambulance at the bottom of the cliff (a response to what has happened).

Better, and more long-term, work to counter rape culture is crucially needed.  And I suspect that if we really were interested in this, we would have to be prepared to work at lots of levels.  It won’t do to only demonise individual rapists.  Human nature is part of it, but nuture/culture is too.  And the latter (which I take to be within a framework of Common Grace) are God-given ways to change or at least preserve the former.

We need to ask the patient question about why their sexual desires and personal self-control has become so disordered.  Centrally, we need to ask about cultural values around sex.  This is not ‘culture blaming’ in the sense that the individual is no longer responsible because ‘culture made me do it’.  Again, both-and.  We each as individuals contribute to a culture that seems to deeply believe that sex is a fundamental human right. 1  And this sexualized culture, in turn, shapes the personal values, assumptions, congnitive-and-behavioural patterns of individuals.  No single lone example (abusive family context, sexualized advertisements, sexualized entertainment such as movies and music videos, sexualized fashion, pornography, etc., etc.) can be conveniently pointed at, named and shamed, and legislated against to ‘solve’ the rape culture problem.  But unless we are prepared to admit the link between rape culture and ‘sexual freedom’ culture, very little will change.

  1. I’ve even heard a proposal for the state to fund prostitution for disabled persons who feel unable to find a sexual partner. []

outsiders in

(Luke 11:29-32) 29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.”

It has been said that prophecy always ‘comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable’.  One of the stronger themes in Luke’s ‘prophetic’ gospel is the ‘afflicting’ of the comfortable and exclusive religious elite (Pharisees, Scribes, etc.), and the ‘comforting’ of the afflicted and excluded religious rejects (poor, blind, sinners, Gentiles, etc.).  In Luke, the excluders get excluded, and the excluded get included.

In theology, the doctrine of soteriology (salvation – soterian [salvation] + logos [word]) in particular, there are, broadly speaking, the following views that most Christians have held about how “the final judgment” will go for humanity:

  • Exclusivism: Because God’s love and grace through Christ are accessed and activated by “faith alone”, a person has to make a conscious decision to trust in Christ and be saved.
  • Inclusivism: Because God’s love and grace through Christ is enough for and is offered to all humans, God is able to save apart from a conscious decision to trust Christ.
  • (Christian) Universalism: God’s love and grace through Christ are and will be so overwhelmingly powerful that every human person will eventually accept and receive the saving Grace of Christ.

In the passage above, Jesus not only mentions “the judgment”, but clearly describes the contrasting fates of “this (wicked) generation”, who will be condemned, and the “Queen of the South (or Sheba)” and the “men of Nineveh”, who will do the condemning.  These are not ‘insiders’.

The Queen was so far from Jerusalem that she is described as traveling “from the ends of the earth” to listen to Solomon’s wisdom.  We have no record of her ever becoming a Torah-observant Jew, but simply giving a ‘blessing’ to Solomon’s God.  The Ninevites were Assyrians, who also did not become Torah-observant Jews, but they did “repent at the preaching of Jonah”, and in the book of Jonah are said to have “believed God”.

The key point is that, whilst all Christians affirm that Old Testament ‘insiders’ (Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, etc.) will be saved, this passage has Jesus going a step further: even ‘outsiders’ whose hearts and actions show themselves to be oriented toward God will be saved.

It may be because I am an inclusivist, but this seems to me to be in huge support of of inclusivism.  (Other passages will be tagged for the other options of course)  Reading passages like this, I am led to believe that plenty of “non-Christians” will be ‘in’; and conversely, plenty that identify as Christian are in danger of being ‘out’ (Matthew 25).

Evolution? Chaplain?

The two word response of my gym trainer at the university gym at which I am a chaplain, in response to an evolution-friendly comment by me. :)

notes on discourse

  • We are finite, limited beings; so too are our conversations.
  • Therefore, it is not just some of us who are up against ignorance and impatience; we all reach the end of our knowledge (of a given topic) or the time we have to study or discuss.
  • The more controversial the topic or point, the more urgently realisation of these limitations is needed on both/all sides.
  • Summarizing, generalizing statements are conversation-ending/stopping ones.  Questions & clarifications are conversation-developing ones.  Again – all conversations have limited time within which to take place.
  • Sometimes I wonder if reason is a little bit better at deconstructing arguments than constructing them.

On myths: creational and scientific

http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/note-on-science-destroys-creation-myths/

past six days

The past six days for me:

  • Friday 25th Jan – Elephant TV posts the finished ‘evolution‘ episode, which I got to take part in.
  • Saturday 26th Jan – The band I’m in (Great North) plays at Parachute – even after our bass player received 6 stitches for (as you do) having a wine-bottle-ish chandelier fall on her head.
  • Sunday 27th JanGreat North plays a 3pc set at the Auckland Folk Festival, and is awarded a Tui (New Zealand Music Award) for Best Folk Album of 2012 for ‘Halves.
  • Monday 28th Jan – Auckland Anniversary Day.  Casual lovely day with Di & Tom at a park, a beach (with friends) and home.  Tom got stung, we think, by a little jelly fish several times on his legs.
  • Tuesday 29th Jan – I – after much psychological hesitation – published my personal photography FB page, which is sure to rise to the hundreds of thousands of ‘likes’.
  • Wednesday 30th Jan – is my birthday (34th)!  I received ‘special birthday toast’, a Blues Harp (harmonica), a special morning tea at work (Northcote Baptist), and am looking forward to a nice meal at ‘Mexico’ tonight in Takapuna with Frank Ritchie and his family.

projection

We are incredibly skilled at the (always) subconscious act of looking at or evaluating a thing in a very ‘us’-ish way.  Thus, it is all too often the case that:

  • the [re]view says more about the [re]viewer than of that which is [re]viewed
  • the name says more about the namer than of that which is named
  • the belief says more about the believer than of that which is believed
  • the doubt says more about the doubter than of that which is doubted
  • the defence says more about the defender than of that which is being defended
  • the dismissal says more about the one dismissing than of that which is being dismissed
  • the theory says more about the theorist than of that which is theorised
  • the interpretation says more about the interpreter than of that which is interpreted
  • the translation says more about the translator than of that which is translated
  • the governing says more about the governor than of that which is being governed
  • the instruction says more about the instructor than of that which is instructed
  • the legislation says more about the legislative body (or process) than of that which is legislated
  • the writing (or blog post!!??) says more about the writer than of that which is written
  • the comment says more about the commenter than of that which is commented on
  • and so on…

Three Notes

http://thomism.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/three-notes/

rooted reaching

When it comes to discussing certain topics, we all know (and some of us have been?) ‘that guy’1 whose style of engagement seems to harm rather than help the conversation.

I think (and know from my own experience) that loud, impatient dismissals are almost always say more about the loud, impatient dismisser than they do about what is being dismissed.  One gets the double sensation of the person both a) having their mind so made up that discussion with this person is pointless, and at the same time sensing that b) this person has a need to prove their rightness not only to you but themselves as well.

My Dad has a saying (perhaps he got it somewhere himself); the more upset a person gets in a discussion, the weaker their view probably is.  I’d just qualify it a tad to say “…the less confident they are of their view”, because just as it is possible to be confident of a false view, so also is it possible to have a false bravado for a a true view.

Having said that, I think it’s naive to think that we can detach our own emotions from our beliefs, and enjoy a ‘robust’ and ‘frank’ discussion.  I also think one can firmly believe (not ‘know’ in the strict epistemological sense) they are correct and still engage fruitfully with someone they fully disagree with.

The relevant point that follows from this is that the more you really believe view ‘x’, the less energy you’ll need to defend ‘x’ and the more energy you can spend on understanding and critiquing ‘anti-x’, and of course’x’ as well.

This is true in all relationships as well. The more you know who you are, the less you’ll need another person to appear inferior to you (to asset yourself over them) or superior to them (to ride upon their coattails). The more secure your self definition is, the less you’ll need others and their opinions to define you. You’ll be less worried about self and more available emotionally and intellectually to the other. The more rooted you are, the more you can reach out.

  1. yes, I do think the stereotype holds true; argumentatives tend to be fellas more often than ladies?? []