Friday, August 17, 2007

"Re-branding" God?

It's not uncommon for a Catholic Bishop to come out and say something and end up getting blasted by the public. What is uncommon is for me to think it's the smartest thing I've ever heard.

Tiny Muskens, a Roman Catholic Bishop in the Netherlands, came out with the suggestion yesterday that we should all call God, 'Allah'. As he put it, "Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn't we all say that from now on we will name God Allah? ... What does God care what we call him? It is our problem."

I spent part of this morning listening to the BBC show, World Have Your Say. People are most definitely freaking out... Muslims and Christians alike.

The Vatican, in particular, isn't crazy about the idea.

One person called in to comment that, "Christians and Muslims don't worship the same god! How could we call the two by the same name?!"

And while I never took a theology class per se, I was sure that there is only one God- or at least as there's only supposed to be one.

Christians and Muslims have had a fairly strained relationship for... well, I guess since the Crusades (and tension with Jews long before that). But they have managed to agree unequivocally on one point: monotheism.

So, if it turns out that Christians and Muslims are actually worshiping two different Gods, then either there are in fact two and Wolf Blitzer has something to talk about in 'the Situation Room' or somebody's religion is wrong. Since everybody seems to agree that there's only one God...

Good luck convincing either Christians or Muslims that they've been barking up the wrong tree for the last 2,000 years.

A second caller chimed in saying, "God named himself. And I just think we should respect that."

I didn't catch which God she was referring to. But I did notice that she too had missed the underlying theological problem we're dealing with here: There's only one God but there are multiple names...ergo, we have a choice.

However you slice it, I think the Bishop's suggestion is a good one. I'm not a particularly religious man myself, but just from a logical standpoint, anything we can do to point out that we humans are all on the same team is probably a good thing.

And as I've listened to right-wing zealots over the years, both Christian and Muslim, I've gotten the distinct impression that they're really not so different- they really are on the same team. Given the chance, I think they'd probably get along quite well.

If you listen closely, extremists are all so busy attacking liberal values based on their own fundamental beliefs that they rarely get into the specifics of their religions. In other words, those pesky bits of semantics and details don't really matter as much as it might seem.

There's a message here, I think.

And while I might incur a fatwa by saying this, I can't help but note the similarity between sports and religion. It seems everybody has gotten their collective pride so wrapped up in their own team's success that they've forgotten to stop and appreciate how special the game is all by itself.

Sportsmanship and mutual respect, in other words, have gone right out the window. And while perhaps they were never 'in' the window to begin with, we can certainly always hope.

The world is getting smaller every day. We clearly need to start finding some common ground. And even though (or perhaps even because) religion seems to bring the worst out in people, it's probably not a bad place to start.

And after all, in essence, religion isn't a bad thing- it's just what we do with it that's problematic. The best evidence for this is that all of the major religions seem to suggest the same basic principles: love, respect, discipline, sacrifice, etc. These are all good things- whether you're religious or not. So in other words, we're all pretty much on the same page- even if we're citing different books.

On the other hand, looking at Iraq or Northern Ireland is likely to make even the most ardent optimist a little skeptical. Even a dogmatic belief in the same God would fall short of being a panacea.

That being said, with every continent and country having religious citizens, it's probably not a bad place to start breaking down walls. Globalization's already rendered them obsolete anyway.

Either way, if you believe that there is only one 'true' God, and by extension that everybody is essentially worshiping the same thing (callers not included), why not acknowledge this common ground by referring to him (or her) by the same name?

And furthermore, since Allah is a beautiful name and Islam does fall at the center of conflict for both Israel and the West, why not choose that name?

Without sounding too 'early 90s', I would suggest that we could clearly all use a little unity at this point. And if "re-branding" God, as many callers put it, will help move us toward that end, why not do it?

Allah, Hu Akbar

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