In my previous column, we discussed the common complaint that No. 841 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is wrong when it teaches that “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
As we saw last week, much of the protest seems to center on a notion of salvation by intellectual works, as though our salvation is dependent on possessing a correct theology. But in addition to this exploded idea, there is also the curious notion that we can somehow create other gods by our thinking. I can find no other explanation for the weird insistence that Muslims, for instance, “worship another god.”
Yes, Scripture speaks of “other gods,” but this is, if you will, metaphorical language, not fact. The fact is that there is one (1) God, and there are no others.
Scripture hammers home this point again and again in blunt and clear language: “I am God; there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22). All other “gods” are creatures we treat as gods by making them first in our lives.
We cannot “create” gods by believing real hard in them. We can only treat things that are not God as gods or treat God as though he is something less then the fullness of who he is.
To this, of course, the reply will be made that while there may not be “gods” behind the gods of the nations, there are devils.
For St. Paul tells us that the sacrificial worship given to idols was in fact sacrifice given “to demons, not to God” (1 Corinthians 10:20).
The problem is that Islam is just as scornful of pagan worship as Judaism and Christianity, and there is a reason for that: Namely, Islam is, at bottom, a concoction made from exposure to Jewish and Christian monotheism, as well as Muhammad’s own ideas and “private revelations” which, while not from God, are also not about directing our worship to creatures.
Instead (mark this), they are about treating God as though he is something less then the fullness of who he is.
Pagans worship the creature.
They really do worship what is not God and, to that extent, have “other gods.” Such gods are really no gods at all because they are really just cats, scarab beetles, figments of the imagination or what have you. Pagans have mistaken the good gifts of God for God himself. Therefore, St. Paul again and again urges the pagans to “turn from these vain things to the living God” (Acts 14:15).
But Muslims are not pagans. They are not treating things that are not God as gods. Rather, they treat God as though he is something less then the fullness of who he is. In a garbled way, their prophet has received real bits of revelation from his exposure to seventh-century Arabian Judaism and Christianity. He knows there is but one God, the God of Abraham. He knows he is compassionate and merciful. He knows he is Master. But he does not know that he is Father.
This means that, insofar as Muslims affirm what is true of God in common with us, they have received revelation about the only God there is: the God of Abraham. But they have not received the fullness of revelation, and they have received false ideas about that God from a mere man named Muhammad who does not understand what Christians mean by the words “the Son of God.” In short, they do not worship “another god.”
Rather, they worship the One God — the only one there is — in ignorance of the fullness of revelation. That’s because there is only the one God.
Bottom line: What contradicts Christ is false. But what does not contradict him is true, even if it is spoken by Muslims. “He who is not with me is against me” says the Lord, “But he who is not against us is for us,” as well.
The effort to make Allah somebody besides “the-true-God-poorly-perceived-by-Muslims” is dumb because it winds up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You have to deny the true things Muslims say about God to call Allah a false god. It’s more sensible to do as the Church does and simply acknowledge that where Islam is on the same page with the Church, it’s right and where it isn’t, it’s wrong.
The teaching of the Church is pretty simple with respect to Islam. It boils down to saying, “Muslims have a real but very imperfect knowledge of the one true God. Insofar as they acknowledge what the Church acknowledges about God and his relationship with man, they are right. Insofar as they are ignorant or deny what the Church says about God and his relationship with man, they are mistaken or in sin.”
Mark Shea is senior content editor for CatholicExchange.com.