Friday, March 7, 2008

Observations for those who deny that Muslims worship the true God

It has been said that worshiping God is spiritually good, and that consequently those who are not Christians do not worship him:
Worshiping God is a spiritually good thing, right?
Romans 3 says unregenerate man doesn't do it.
First off, the Jews of St. Paul's day worshiped God, but not according to knowledge (see Romans 10:2).

Secondly, St. Paul says that the Athenians worshiped God in ignorance: "What therefore you worship in ignorance, that I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23).

So we have two examples where St. Paul himself affirms that God is worshiped in ignorance. That it is possible to worship in ignorance is also confirmed by Jesus himself, when he tells the Samaritan woman, "You worship what you do not know" (John 4:22).

Thirdly, not all worship of God is received with approval by God. This is evident from Isaiah 1:12-15, where he condemns the worship being offered by the Israelites. The fact that God rejected their worship does not change the fact that they offered it to him. We can see the same thing from the story of Nadab and Abihu, who offered up profane fire to God (Leviticus 10:1-5): this act of theirs was an act of worship, notwithstanding the fact that it was an improper act.

So we have two examples where God rejects worship that has been offered because of sin on the part of the worshiper. That fact does not change the fact that what was being offered was in fact worship.

I do not see how the situation is substantively different with respect to Muslims.

No Christian would deny that there are errors in Muslim beliefs about God - but the same is true with respect to the Jews in St. Paul's day, and it is simply not credible to suggest that they didn't worship the true God. So the fact of theological error does not invalidate what one claims about whom he worships. It means that he believes false things about the God he worships. That is a distinct proposition, however, from the question of whom he worships.

Secondly, even if we grant arguendo that the Jews' place as God's covenant people is so overwhelmingly significant that they can be said to worship the true God despite their errors while we at the same time deny that others do the same despite their errors - even if we grant this, the fact that St. Paul identifies the Athenians' Unknown God as our God means that it is certainly possible for anyone - even the Muslims - to worship God in ignorance.

I simply do not see what is controversial about this. It doesn't mean that the Muslims are Christians. It doesn't mean that they are saved differently than we are.

Perhaps part of the problem for some folks is that they have taken Romans 3 rather more literally than they should. I have addressed this before. In any case, I think that there is no good Scriptural reason not to take Muslims at their word about whom they claim as their God. This doesn't mean that Mohammed actually was a prophet. And (repeating myself) it doesn't mean that they are saved differently than we are.

It seems to me that those who deny this would need to be able to explain some things. If you say that only the regenerate can worship God, then you would need to be able to explain how the Jews of St. Paul's day worshiped God. Were they regenerate or not? If they were, how could this be since they denied that Jesus was the Messiah? If they did not worship the true God, then Romans 10:2 needs explaining. And St. Paul's interaction with the Athenians needs explanation too.
And from one man he has created the whole human race and made them live all over the earth, determining their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands; that they should seek God, and perhaps grope after him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
It doesn't make sense, it seems to me, to suggest that Paul is talking about man before the Fall: man before the Fall would not have to "grope" after God, nor would they have to "seek" God: their fellowship with him would have been unbroken. No, clearly Paul has to be talking about man after the Fall. But this too suggests that it is by no means irrational to suggest that someone might worship God in ignorance.

In summary - let's take the Muslims at their word about whom they say that they worship, and pray for their salvation.

6 comments:

Leo said...

So we have two examples where St. Paul himself affirms that God is worshiped in ignorance. That it is possible to worship in ignorance is also confirmed by Jesus himself, when he tells the Samaritan woman, "You worship what you do not know" (John 4:22).

Thirdly, not all worship of God is received with approval by God. This is evident from Isaiah 1:12-15, where he condemns the worship being offered by the Israelites. The fact that God rejected their worship does not change the fact that they offered it to him.


I would like to interject here for just a moment:

It might seem that what you are writing of here is that notion by which those who worship in other religions offer that worship to the one true God. To which I would say is not correct “For all the gods of the Gentiles are devils...” -Psalms 95:5; and “When all are baptized I order the temples of their false gods to be destroyed and all the idols to be broken in pieces. I can give you no idea of the joy I feel in seeing this done, witnessing the destruction of the idols by the people who lately adored them…When I have done all this in one place, I pass to another… In this way I go all around the country, bringing the natives into the fold of Jesus Christ, and the joy I feel in this is far too great to be expressed...” (St. Francis Xavier, +1545) and again "But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils and not to God. And I would not that you should be made partakers with devils." [2 Cor. 10:20]. And again from St. Francis Xavier: “One day I turned out of my road into a village of heathens… There was a woman with child, who had been three days in labor with so much difficulty, that many despaired of her life. Their prayers for her were not heard, for the prayer of the wicked is an abomination in the eyes of God, because the gods of the heathens are all devils [Psalm 95:5; 1 Cor. 10:20].” (Life and Letters, Vol. 1, p. 147)

So that no matter what they believe that they worship, that worship is not offered to God, but to devils, as has been believed by the Church.

Reginald de Piperno said...

It might seem that what you are writing of here is that notion by which those who worship in other religions offer that worship to the one true God.

No, that is not precisely what I am saying.

1. I am saying that there is no reason in Scripture to deny that the Muslims worship the true God (based upon the fact that other non-Christians are said to do so).

2. I am saying that Muslims do so in ignorance, just as others are said to worship in ignorance in the Bible - so that it is not contrary to the Bible to suggest that one can worship in ignorance. Additionally, they believe many false things.

3. I am saying that just because they worship God doesn't necessarily mean that he receives their worship with approval (as evidenced by other examples in the Bible).

Although I do not say it here (primarily because the post isn't intended to be a complete argument), a fourth reason (for a Catholic) is that the Church teaches that Muslims worship the God of Abraham.

And of course I also say that we must pray for their salvation.

-- RdP

Leo said...

"...the Church teaches that Muslims worship the God of Abraham."

Who, When?

I think it should be said that the Mohammetans worship what they think is the God of Abraham. Because clearly, the god they worship is not that God. They worship a god which they themselves have created in their own imaginations. Thus, in truth, they do not worship that God, but one of their own making, an idol of their of their imaginations. So that they do not worship the same God as we, nor we them. "We owe God a deep regret of gratitude for the purely gratuitous gift of the true faith with which he has favored us. How many are the infidels, heretics and schismatics who do not enjoy comparable happiness? The earth is full of them and they are all lost!" -St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori

And of course, I say we must labour for their conversion, that they may be saved. “Now this is life everlasting, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

Leo

Reginald de Piperno said...

Who, When?

CCC 841, quoting LG 16.

See also this post of mine, wherein I refer to an article by Mark Shea - who quotes Pope St. Gregory VII saying much the same thing in 1076.

And of course none of this is to deny the fact of Muslim error about the Godhead: obviously they have badly misunderstood him. But so did the Jews of Paul's day, as I indicated in the post, and despite their denials of the Trinity no one would suppose that they do not worship the true God (despite their errors).

My point, then, is that we have good reasons to take them at their word when they say that they worship the God of Abraham, notwithstanding their errors.

-- RdP

Leo said...

"Vital emmanence and the Mohammetan religious sense" - Sounds like a start.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Sorry, I don't understand your comment.

-- RdP