First, let me clarify that I am not against Muslims as people; rather, I am against Islam in the sense that I do not agree with its beliefs. I think it is possible to discuss the truths of religion, science, philosophy and the like without resorting to violence, abuse and the cessation of friendships. Indeed, as a former philosophy student, I have had friends who espoused a different philosophy but we could engage in serious debates and still remain friends.
Second, by ‘Christianity’ I mean Catholicism which I believe is the correct form of Christianity. I cannot discuss here my direct arguments for favoring Catholicism over other Christian sects, but I think some of the points made here will show why I favor this religion over others.
2. Islam’s common counter-Christianity points
The common points Muslims have against the truth of Christianity are these:
- The Trinity is incomprehensible.
- It is possible to prove through several ways that Jesus is not God.
I think only the second has weight because if Jesus is not God then Christianity is wrong. Regarding the Trinity, Muslims fail to understand that even Christians admit this. Nobody is expected to completely understand the Trinity just as nobody is expected to completely understand God. Hence, that point about the Trinity must be dismissed as irrelevant.
3. The indirect argument against Islam
If Jesus is not God and Christianity is rejected, Muslims will give arguments for the truth of Islam, and this is how former Christians might come to accept Islam. However, I think that once the Islamic understanding of God is unearthed, the Christian will reject it and necessarily reject Islam. In other words, even if the Christian considers for a moment that Jesus is not God, once the Islamic understanding of God is presented, the Christian will reject it because it goes against the Christian understanding of God.
To give an analogy, let us say Peter is unhappy with his job and Paul tries to convince him to switch jobs. To convince Peter, Paul tells him of the advantages of his job. Gradually, Peter becomes convinced, but then Paul tells him the caveat, ‘You have to work 7 days a week instead of just 5.’ Suddenly, Peter decides to stick with his current job. Thus, all the good arguments Paul gave for his job are rejected. If Paul still wants to convince Peter, he must think of an argument for the desirability of a 7-day work week and/or the undesirability of a 5-day work week.
In the same way, if Muslims want to convince serious Christians about the truth of Islam, they ought to give an argument for the desirability of their understanding of God and/or the undesirability of the Christian understanding of God. By ‘serious’ I mean someone who really understands his faith and has enough intelligence to distinguish between good and bad arguments.
I will admit here that people convert to other religions for various reasons, but that is irrelevant. For example, a Christian might convert to Islam for the person s/he loves. People can also be easily convinced by fallacious arguments particularly those which appeal to the emotions. I will not discuss whether this is right or wrong because that is not what is being discussed here.
4. The Christian understanding of God
Christianity and Islam have a similar understanding of God as creator, all-powerful, merciful, etc., but only Christianity claims that God is love. This does not simply mean that God loves us although this is certainly true; rather the statement is a tautology like ‘A is A.’ However, by ‘love’ Christians do not mean the warm fuzzy feeling one gets when one is in love although that is one way love can be felt. To love is to will the good of the other as other. It is to do what is for the benefit of the other without being directly influenced by what would be good for oneself.
Given this definition of ‘love,’ Christians understand God to necessarily will what is for our benefit. That is, His infinite power is always willed to what is for our benefit. That may be difficult to understand given the existence of evil in the world, but I cannot tackle the specific problem of evil in this post.
However, Islam can also accept that God wills what is for our good. What’s the difference between ‘God is love’ and ‘God loves’ or ‘God wills what is good for us’?
If love is the act of willing what is good for the other as other, then we can substitute this phrase for the word ‘love.’ Hence, we can come up with the statement ‘God is the act of willing what is good for the other as other.’
Contrast this with the statement ‘God wills what is good for us.’ The difference is not obvious until we discuss the concepts of necessity and contingency. As I have mentioned, the statement ‘God is love’ is a tautology like ‘A is A’. God cannot be anything but love, and A cannot be anything but A. This will be clearer if we consider the statement ‘A triangle is a polygon with 3 sides.’ A triangle cannot be anything but a polygon with 3 sides. If it ceases to be such, then it is no longer a triangle. Otherwise, it can be a large triangle or a small one. It can be isosceles or scalene, but is cannot be anything but a polygon with 3 sides.
Therefore, if God is love, then God necessarily wills what is good for the other as other. In contrast, if we say that God wills what is good for us, but not necessarily so, it will be possible for God to will what is good or beneficial only for Him. This is exactly what is problematic about Islam from the point of view of Christianity. It will not matter that God wills what is good for us 99.99% of the time. The fact that God wills what is good only for Him 0.01% of the time is problematic as I will explain below. Further, even if God wills what is good for us 100% of the time, the fact that He can will what is good only for Him, even if He never actually does, is problematic.
To explain this, we must lay out the point of Christianity or what all Christians are called to do, and how God enables them to do this.
5. The point of Christianity
Christianity is the only religion which worships a ‘defeated’ God. I think this is what horrifies Muslims the most. How can God who is almighty be defeated? The answer is because He allowed Himself to be defeated to show His children how He wants them to live. The cross isn’t just about the forgiveness of sins. Christians are supposed to pick up their crosses and follow Jesus’ example. This means that Christians will be ridiculed, tortured, hated, and even killed for their beliefs but they are expected to respond to their enemies with love and forgiveness.
In other words, the point of Christianity is to love. Everything else is a footnote to that.
This is why true Christianity (Catholicism) believes that even atheists and non-Christians can go to heaven if they lived a virtuous life and truly loved other people.
This is also why true Christianity is not just about doing good deeds, reading and memorizing the Bible and going to church in order to merit heaven. If someone who does these things has no love in his heart, then he will probably not merit heaven. In fact, if someone is motivated to do these things because he wants to go to heaven rather than because he loves God and others, then it is likely that he will not merit heaven.
To strengthen this point even further, in Islam, the unforgiveable sin is to consider someone else, e.g. Jesus, to be God. In Christianity, the unforgiveable sin is to deliberately insist on sinning even if God has made it clear that you are destroying yourself in the process.
Islam seems to focus too much on the proper worship of God primarily because it is right to worship God. While Christianity also teaches the importance of worshipping God and how to do it properly, it is understood that doing so is not for God’s benefit because He has no need of our praise; rather God wants us to praise Him because that is how He can mold us to become persons who are able to love correctly. In praising God, we humble ourselves and become suppliant. Thus God reshapes us, injects us with the ability to spread love, then sends us on our way to do exactly that while joyfully watching our progress.
Going back to the unforgiveable sin in Christianity, I think the focus of Christianity is God’s focus on us, i.e. how God can help us become loving persons. Everything God has commanded, e.g. the 10 commandments, how to pray correctly, the Sacraments, etc. is for our benefit not His.
Further, proper Christian worship is not a give-and-take relationship in the sense that if I properly worship God and obey all His commands I will enter heaven. As mentioned above, if I do not act from love, I will never enter heaven. Put differently, without love in my heart, my good actions would be futile.
Why does God want us to love others? Is it for His benefit? Not at all. It is for our benefit. When we are able to love, we become better persons. If people love each other, society improves. It is important to reiterate that God necessarily wills what is good for us; hence He wishes, allows, does, etc. what is good for us. We might not always understand His ways (hence the problem of evil), but that can be solved by changing our perspectives. Usually, it is only in hindsight that we understand why God allowed something bad to happen in our lives.
6. The problematic God
The God who is not necessarily love, i.e. who can will what is good only for Him, even if He never actually does, is problematic because a belief in such a God can have undesirable consequences. For example, what is good becomes contingent on what God considers to be good such that if God declares that murder is good, then it becomes good.
I think this is why Islam has many problems about violence against non-Muslims (and Muslims who do not worship correctly). If the concept of good is contingent on what God wants it to be, then God can choose to define good to mean or entail violence against certain people. I understand that many Muslims do not condone such acts, but that is irrelevant here. The fact remains that certain Muslims fervently accept this belief, possibly not because they hate non-believers or because they are particularly violent, but because they believe God orders them to do this. Such a belief is not rejected as false because of Islam’s understanding of God who can determine a contingent concept of good.
On the other hand, with the Christian understanding of God, if there should happen to be a verse in the Bible which says ‘Kill all non-believers,’ the Christian will reject this verse as incorrectly added. I understand that many Christians are or can be violent towards non-believers, but that is irrelevant here. A correct understanding of Christianity will not allow such acts.
To reiterate this point even further, consider this example: If a Christian should happen to have a vision of Jesus who tells him to kill his family, this person will reject the message as not coming from Jesus, and that the Jesus who appears to him is not Jesus because the true Jesus cannot possibly say such a thing.
7. Missing the point
From what I have observed, Muslims assume that Christianity is about the human desire to enter heaven and how to achieve this. If the arguments above are correct, then to believe this is to miss the point of Christianity.
To reiterate, here are the important points:
- The point of Christianity is to love or to actively will the good of the other as other which will entail responding with love and forgiveness to hate and evil. If non-Christians and even atheists can achieve this even through non-Christian ways, they will merit heaven.
- Proper Christian worship is not for God’s sake but for ours because through it we become more able to love.
- God’s relationship with His children is not a give-and-take relationship. Obedience without love will not allow someone to merit heaven.
Given these, the threat from Islam that Jesus will deny all Christians for thinking He is God at the end of time is something which the serious Christian will not be able to accept because it is contradictory to his understanding of God as love. If Christians believe that even non-Christians and atheists can go to heaven if they truly love, then the Islamic belief about Jesus’ role at the end of time and Islam’s unforgiveable sin will not make sense.
That said, it is very possible that Islam is the truth and at the end of time Jesus will indeed deny all Christians and break all the crosses, and all Christians will go to hell for committing the unforgiveable sin; BUT if this will prove to be the truth, the Christian will not regret choosing the wrong religion, rather he will be disheartened that God turned out to not exist at all because whoever this God is who tells Jesus (who is not God) to do the above and who cannot forgive Islam’s unforgiveable sin cannot be God in the same sense that a triangle which has 4 sides cannot be a triangle.