November 16, 2018

Do all believers believe in the same God?

Most Americans, including most Jews — despite the fact that so many Jews are secular — say they believe in God. And around the world, religious Jews, Christians and Muslims all say they believe in God.

But the truth is that this is largely meaningless. If all those who say they believe in God believe in the same God, then “God” and the statement “I believe in God” mean nothing. 

This should be obvious to anyone. To cite but one example, the God in whose name Muslims cut innocent people’s throats and gang rape young girls cannot possibly be the same God as the God of those who believe that God hates such actions.

Likewise, it is also wrong to claim that believing Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in the same God or even that all Christians believe in the same God, or all Jews believe in the same God, or all Muslims believe in the same God.

Given how obvious all this ought to be, who would argue that all those who say they believe in God believe in the same God? Generally speaking, the people who make this argument are people who have an anti-religious agenda. They say that all believers believe in the same God in order to discredit God and religion.

So, then, how are we to know whether any two people who say they believe in God believe in the same God?

The best we can do is to ask the following questions:

1. Do you believe in the God of Israel?

Those who cannot answer this in the affirmative do not believe in the same God that all believing Jews and the majority of believing Christians believe in. Believing Muslims should also answer in the affirmative. But, at least today, many wouldn’t.

The God of Israel is, among other things, the God introduced to the world by the Jews — the God who created the world, revealed Himself to the Jews, and made His moral will known through the Ten Commandments (see Question 3) and the Hebrew Prophets.

2. Does the God you believe in judge the moral behavior of every human being? And if so, does this God use the same criteria in judging all people?

The many modern individuals who say that they believe in God but do not believe that this God judges the moral conduct of human beings do not believe in the same God as those who believe in a God who morally judges. This is not some minor theological difference. Those who believe in a God that is indifferent to the moral behavior of human beings believe in a “God” that is so different from the God introduced by the Jews that, from a perspective of those who continue to believe in the moral God of Israel, they might as well use a word other than “God.” 

I hasten to note that this does not mean that such people cannot be fine upstanding people (any more than anyone who believes in the morally judging God of Israel is necessarily a fine upstanding person). Such people can most certainly be moral. But in general, such people are less likely to be moral for the obvious reason that human beings act better when they believe their actions will be judged (by God and/or by man).

I should also add that one need not be a believing Jew, Christian or Muslim to believe in the God who judges people’s moral behavior. There are many people who affirm no specific religious creed but who believe in a God who judges moral behavior. American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was one such individual. He did not affirm the Christian creed, but he did believe in the morally judging God introduced by the Bible.

Now, one may argue that violent Islamists also believe in a judging God, and that Torquemada, the most infamous head of the Spanish Inquisition, also believed in a judging God. But the argument is not valid because they do/did not believe in a God who judges all people by their moral conduct. Islamists believe and Inquisitors believed in a God who judges people by their faith. Therefore to Torquemada and Islamists, the moral norms that apply to members of one’s faith do not apply to others.

For the record, Jews never believed — and the Jews’ Bible never suggested — that one must believe in Judaism in order to be favorably judged by God.

3. Do you believe in the God who gave the Ten Commandments?

The third question is related to the previous two — it was the God of Israel who revealed the Ten Commandments; and the Ten Commandments are the basis of Western morality. But this question, too, needs to be asked in order to ascertain what God a person believes in. After all, if we have no moral instructions from God, how do we know what moral behaviors God demands from us and therefore judges?

One final issue needs to be clarified. What about all those people who answer the three questions affirmatively but who have additional theological beliefs that separate them from others who believe in those three things? Do they believe in the same God?

For example, what about Christians who believe in the God of Israel, in a God who morally judges human actions, and the God who revealed the Ten Commandments but who also believe — by definition — in the Christian Trinity? Do they believe in the same God as Jews and other non-Christians who believe in those three things? I think essentially they do. And the same would hold true for a Mormon who believes in those three things but also has specific Latter-day Saint beliefs, or a Muslim who believes in those things but also believes that the Quran is the only fully valid revelation. 

Why? Precisely because a moral God judges people’s actions, not theologies — unless those theologies lead to evil actions. 

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles from 9 a.m. to noon on KRLA (AM 870). His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).