A God with a Thousand Names

By Tim Butler | Posted at 1:28 AM

One interesting thing that happens based on the way Facebook handles “likes” of notable figures in more recent times is that these figures (or, rather, someone posting as these occasionally deceased figures) will post choice quotes that show up in one's news feed. The other day, the following quote popped in based on my “like” of Joseph Campbell:

You have the three great Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - and because the three of them have different names for the same biblical god, they can't get on together. They are stuck with their metaphor and don't realize its reference. They haven't allowed the circle that surrounds them to open. It is a closed circle. Each group says, “We are the chosen group, and we have God.”

While the quote attracted many positive comments on Facebook, it is actually quite problematic. This claim may be true for some people,but the main points of division between the members of the Western religions are not the names used, but the contents of their beliefs. A simple demonstration of this comes from an increasing number of Christian missionaries who use the word “Allah” to refer to God when in a country where that word seems to be the most logical (linguistic) equivalent of elohim or theos in Scripture (i.e. “God” in English). The signifier (the word) stays the same, but the signifieds (the deities behind the word) look different in key ways.

Oversimplifying this matter and thinking in the way Campbell does is a common enough error to be sure, but one we ought not to make. Such a mistake ultimately demonstrates a failure to take these religions seriously, because each has distinct claims to the truth. Those deserve to be taken seriously and not immediately flattened.

Also Filed Under: Home: Faith: A God with a Thousand Names

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