16 August 2007

Words Matter, or What’s in a Name?

A story popped up yesterday on various news sites (FoxNews feed here) about a bishop in the Netherlands, Tiny Muskens, suggesting that all religious people refer to God as “Allah”. He claims that this would ease relations between the faiths.

I see this is a huge suggestion of theological surrender. I’m not a professional theologian as I assume Mr. Muskens is, but it seems to me that at the very least there is a difference in ideas of the divine between Judeo-Christian traditions and the “religion” of Islamo-fascists, which by no means is inclusive of all Muslims. But the fact remains that the self-declared enemies of the West and of Judeo-Christian ideas pray to a divine being they call “Allah.” Why would I, as a person of the West and either a Jew or a Christian, capitulate to this enemy by changing how I refer to God?

Mr. Muskens’s suggestion then is really either appeasement or capitulation. If Christians, or in his case, Catholics, call God “Allah,” then perhaps the enemy won’t want to kill them any longer. Or perhaps because the same name is used, Mr. Muskens thinks that some sort of parlor trick can be pulled and the enemy won’t recognize the difference of faith as long as the same name for God is used. Does Mr. Muskens consider this deep theological thinking?

Apparently he thinks so, as his reason for capitulation is that God doesn’t care what humans call him (and I use him in the divinely ambiguous sense). That’s all fine and good, but such verbal appeasement doesn’t have much traction in the here and now. Proper names have meaning beyond their uttered syllables. I would have expected a man of the cloth to recognize that without hesitation, but it appears that Mr. Muskens suffers from an acute case of subcubitus terribilis (and I hope I got that Latin right).

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