Most Americans say they believe in God. And around the world, religious Jews, Christians, and Muslims all say they believe in God, as do many people who do not identify with any formal religion.
But this statement is actually meaningless. To cite but one example, the God in whose name Muslims cut innocent people’s throats and rape women cannot be the same God as the God of those who believe that God hates such actions.
Who, then, argues that all those who say they believe in God believe in the same God?
Two groups make this argument. The first consists of people who have an anti-religious agenda; in order to discredit God and religion, they say that all believers believe in the same God. The second group consists of people who have an “inclusion” agenda and wish to depict Muslims as believing in the same God that Jews and Christians do. (And some Muslims do indeed believe in the same God as Jews and Christians — see below.)
So, then, how are we to know whether any two people who say they believe in God in fact do?
I will answer as a believing Jew: How do I know if another person believes in the same God as I do?
I ask the following three questions:
1. Do you believe in the “God of Israel”?
Those who cannot answer this question in the affirmative do not believe in the same God that believing Jews and the majority of believing Christians do. As for Muslims, they should have no problem answering in the affirmative. But in our time, at least, many wouldn’t.
The God of Israel is, among other things, the God introduced to the world by the Jews and their Bible: the God who created the world, revealed Himself to the Jews, and made His moral will known through the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Prophets.
2. Does the God you believe in judge the moral behavior of every human being?
There are many people today who say that they believe in God but not in a God who judges people’s actions. These people do not believe in the same God that traditional Jews and Christians worship. 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 they might as well use a word other than “God.”
This does not mean that such people cannot be fine upstanding people (any more than everyone who believes in a morally judging God is necessarily a fine upstanding person). But in general they are less likely to be moral for the obvious reason that most human beings act better when they believe their actions will be judged (by God or by man).
At the same time, one need not be a Jew, Christian, or Muslim in order to believe in the God who judges people’s moral behavior. 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.
One might argue that violent Islamists also believe in a judging God and that Torquemada, the infamous head of the Spanish Inquisition, did. But this argument is not valid, because Islamists do not believe — and Torquemada did not believe — in a God who judges people by their moral conduct, but solely by their faith, a faith that they alone determined God approves of.
For the record, Jews never believed — and the Jews’ Bible never suggested — that one must believe in Judaism or be Jewish in order to be favorably judged by God.
3. Do you believe in the God who gave the Ten Commandments?
This question needs to be asked. After all, if God never revealed his moral will, how do we know what behaviors God demands from us and what He judges?
Finally, 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 these three things? Do they believe in the same God?
#related#For example, what about Christians who believe in the God of Israel, the God who morally judges human actions and 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 these three things? I think they do. And the same would hold true for a Muslim who believes in those things but also believes that the Koran is the only fully valid revelation.
Whether or not one uses these three criteria, we should all at least acknowledge that saying one believes in God tells us nothing about the God one believes in. And regarding faith, that is what matters.