Thursday, August 16, 2007

What Should We Call Him?

Today at Catholic Exchange there was a heated exchange about a Dutch bishop who suggested that (within the context of Muslim/Christian dialogue) Christians refer to God as "Allah." This got me thinking about the complexities of cross-cultural communication (my college major was International Studies and Communications). One of the most basic principles of cross-cultural communications is "define your terms." Therefore, the basic consideration is: Whatever we call Him, are we both referring to the same God?

In Nostra Aetate (par 3), the Church acknowledges that "The Church has also a high regard for Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth..." A bit later, the text says, "The sacred Council now ... urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them persevere and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values."

Unless I'm missing something, this sounds to me as though the Church acknowledges that Muslims, Jews, and Catholics all worship the one true God (though of course our understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God is unique to Christianity). But if all three religions worship the one true God, how is calling God "Allah" within the context of Muslim/Christian dialogue, different from translating Catholic concepts into Protestant "language" in the process of evangelization?

It's important to keep in mind that the particular configuration of letters that represents the Holy One varies from culture to culture even among Christian peoples. Language is culturally distinct — "Gott," "Dieu," "Dios," "G_D," "YHWH." Defining terms, on the other hand, is a crucial part of cross-cultural communication. And in this case, for reasons mentioned in the article, we must make the most of our commonalities where we can find them.

"And His name shall be called 'Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace...'" He calls Himself: "I AM."

1 comment:

Veritas said...

The title we give is surely secondary, it's the praise and glory and honour that says much more. Great post, Heidi, and thanks for adding the link to Catholic Exchange.