First-Person: Many Sons had Father Abraham

Nov 06, 2002 03:00 AM EST

A recent Time magazine cover story featured the patriarch Abraham as a common touchstone of three major world religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

For Christianity, he is the father of those who believe God and are counted as righteous based on that belief. For Judaism, he is the father of the covenant with God that resulted in Israel's chosen nation status. For Islam, he was the first Muslim by affirming his belief in one god.

Some people believe a common respect for Abraham suggests the possibility of productive dialogue between three otherwise mutually exclusive world faiths. The Abraham Initiative is one such effort to promote understanding between religions that consider Abraham significant.

It's a noble intent. Last year's attack on New York put Islam on everybody's mind -- at least in the U.S. Since that time, many have worked to redefine Muslim and non-Muslim faith so that all men can be acceptable to one another. Such effort has been confounded by reality for over a thousand years. Reality has not changed, only our sense of urgency.

The solution proposed by syncretists such as those who participated in the Abraham Initiative is that a compromise be struck to either smooth over the distinctives of each religion or deny their truth. Initiative leaders don't appear to believe in any specific god. A more honest statement of their intent is to offer a sop less volatile than our orthodox doctrine until we mature beyond fundamentalism. Thanks so much.

Time's chief religion writer, speaking of the magazine's theme article, noted the intolerance of these three religions. "Is it something in the monotheistic water?" he asks. I'm afraid so. It's called monotheism -- the belief in one God. As in, "no other God." Allah is not Yahweh and God, who sent his Son to die for my sins 2,000 years ago and then raised him from the dead, is not the same as any god who didn't. In simple English, they can't all be true at the same time. They make mutually exclusive claims that bear on the heart of each faith. Either one faith is right about the nature, work and revelation of its god or all three are wrong. No other possibility exists.

A foundational insult to all three religions is the assumption that we worship the same god because we worship only one god. Further, our unifying beliefs about Abraham are said to be built on legends about a man who may or may not have even existed. It in no way lessens the offense when a liberal Jew, Muslim or Christian makes the assertion -- or that he makes it in the name of peace.

In fact, horrible things have been done by the orthodox adherents of many world religions, not just monotheist faiths. It is part of at least one animist religion to bury alive children born during some phases of the moon. Some religions have thrown young women into volcanoes; still others practiced cannibalism and other forms of human sacrifice. Are all religions truly the same, monotheist or not? If we favor monotheism, we degrade our Hindu neighbors with their elaborate web of deities. If we favor theism, Buddhists are rightly offended. Are all religions truly the same?

If you want to unite all world religions, Abraham is not the man. Adam is. Genesis 1 tells us that the first man and the first woman sinned. Romans 5 tells us that we all sinned in Adam. Chapter 3 says that all of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory. That is the unifying theme -- all human religions leave us in our sins and condemned. All. Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, animism, Hinduism and liberal "God is dead," "Jesus may or may not have actually risen" Christianity are each and all polite, perhaps gentle and peace-loving roads to hell.Romans 5 also tells us of a second Adam who would draw together all the first Adam's race. The man Jesus (himself fully God), who died for our sins, offers forgiveness to as many as believe in him.

Time's writing team was said to be made up equally of Jews, Christians and Muslims. It was noted, however, that the participants were not very observant of their own faiths. How continually odd that non-observant participants of any religion offer counsel to those who take their own faiths and sacred documents seriously. Specifically, considering the implications of the tedious call for ultimate tolerance, they counsel that we cut it out.

Our well-meaning, sophisticated friends in the Abraham Initiative are left to invent a new parable to replace the existing (though distinct) ones claimed as fact by orthodox Jews, Muslims and Christians. They must invent a myth that all non-observant religionists can use to rewrite the history and future of their respective peoples. "Observant" adherents of these faiths have no place in this future. We are too divisive and potentially violent.

The problem is that this is nothing new. Earlier attempts to rewrite faith and history to suit political expediency resulted in the Inquisition, the Crusades, American slavery, the Holocaust and the Taliban. A tyranny of the tolerant would be tyranny nonetheless. Those who believe that any mere man, living or dead, can unite Adam's race around a standard of love and understanding do not understand history, theology or eschatology.

By Gary Ledbetter