Wednesday, 17 October 2012

God, Allah, and Volf

“Since you can’t take religion out of people’s lives, the only thing left is to see whether you can interpret religions in such a way as to highlight their potential for peace”1. Although this assertion of Miroslav Volf is valid, it becomes clear that his further claims are neither meaningful nor practical; therefore there is a need to consider alternative potential bases for peace.

Volf argues that the god of Christians and Muslims is in fact the same God - he does so on the basis that there are significant similarities between the deities described in the Bible and the Qur’an2. The problem with this is that similarity does not dictate unity and differences do not indicate exclusivity. The Parable of the ‘Blind Men and the Elephant’ tells the story of several blind men touching an elephant and being unable to agree what it is.
 The men argued whether the object was a wall, a tree, or a rope, until a passing wise man calmly explained:
"All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant.”3 This parable illustrates that even if accounts are different, or appear to be explaining something different, in some circumstances they can be explaining the same thing.

Logical positivist Anthony Flew proposed that if no evidence can prove or disprove a statement then it is not meaningful4. As the statement “Christians and Muslims worship the same god” can be neither proven nor disproven, by this maxim it is meaningless. The same however, can be said for all statements about God. Therefore, it is ultimately meaningless to discuss whether the god of Christianity and Islam is the same. Instead, we need to readdress the issue and consider alternative ways we can identify “potential for peace”. 

Paul Tillich defines religion as ‘the state of being grasped by ultimate concern’5, which means that all religions must have a system of values. A potential for peace therefore may be found in identifying similar values. 

However, Volf proposes that the only way in which Muslims and Christians would be able to have significant overlap in ultimate values, and therefore be able to live in peace, would be if they had “a common God”6. He goes further to say that this would be necessary to pursue the common good. 

The purpose of Volf’s work appears to be to aid social cohesion, however it focusses on an exclusivist view of peace implying that you can only pursue moral virtues or goodness if you believe in the same god. Perhaps it would be more effective if the emphasis reverted to similar beliefs and values, rather than the insinuation that this must indicate, or is dependent on a common belief of deity.

Volf’s assertions fall short on a theoretical level as they lack meaning; furthermore they are impractical as they fail to truly unite Christians and Muslims. Ninian Smart concluded in ‘The World’s Religions’, that “It is unlikely, then, that a real unity of worldviews can be found, except as a minority view”7.  If the aim is greater social cohesion, surely it would be more effective to refocus on the religions' ultimate concerns and practical ways to reconcile them. 


1 Short, 224
2 Volf, 14-15
3 Jain World
4 Morreal & Sonn, 81
5 Chryssides, 23
6 Volf, 7-9
7 Smart, 559

Chryssides, G. D., and Geaves, R.,  The Study of Religion: An Introduction to Key Ideas and Methods, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd., 2007.
Jain World, 'Elephant and the Blind Men', 2011. <> [accessed 18 October 2012].
Morreall, J., and Sonn, T., The Religion Toolkit: A Complete Guide to Religious Studies, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 
Short, R., God's Advocates, DLT, 2005.
Smart, N., The World's Religions, 2nd. ed., Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Volf, M., Allah: a Christian Response, HarperOne, 2011. 

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