The Same God?
It drives me nuts when people start saying that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same god. I’ve talked about this before on this blog, but I have a slightly new way of thinking about this.
The problem is establishing a referent to the word “God.” In his discussion of reference and referents in Sign, Text, Scripture, George Aichele points out that determining the truth of a statement usually involves establishing the referents in the statement. In addition—in quasi-fictional texts—a reference can be split between a fictional character and a real character. There was a real-world “Alice” (Alice Liddell) that in part inspired the “Alice” in Alice in Wonderland, but the two are obviously not strictly the same. The reference is a “split reference” in the sense that it is split between the fictional character and the real-world person.
Aichele rightly insists that establishing referents (or split referents) for fictional characters (such as “Alice” in Alice in Wonderland or “Jesus” in the gospel of Mark) is obviously highly problematic—which makes it almost or literally impossible to determine the truth of statements about such referents. He writes:
Unlike Alice Liddell, we have no knowledge of either of these characters [Jesus or John] apart from their appearance int he Gospel of Mark or other stories. … Even to assume (as many readers do) that the Jesus who appears in Mark is the same being as the character of that name who appears in some other story, such as the Gospel of Matthew, the film Jesus of Montreal, or the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, requires metaphysical postulates as well as religious beliefs that go far beyond any message provided by the Gospel of Mark alone. (80)
In sum, assuming that the referent of the sign “Jesus” in Mark is the same referent as the sign “Jesus” in Matthew, Jesus of Montreal, or Jesus Christ Superstar is highly problematic, and—I would even say—impossible to demonstrate.
Similarly, to say that the various uses of the word “God” for all Jews, Christians, and Muslims each have exactly the same referent is something that would be impossible to demonstrate—even if we conceded the dubious assumption that gods exist.