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Is God the same in all religions?

Author: Francisco Gallardo
Published in: 50 Questions on Faith, 22

This question can be answered in two ways, depending on the meaning given to it. The first way is the more literal meaning. In antiquity it was common to consider that each social group or religion had its own god or gods, distinct, for example, from those of the neighbouring people. The notion of divinity that underlies this polytheistic approach is totally insufficient, so that, basically, there is no divinity, there is no God: in any case, the gods would be conceived in the human way, as great lords. The people of Israel, who lived surrounded by polytheistic peoples, were very clear that the gods of those peoples were not such: "They have mouths, but they do not speak," we read in the Bible, "they have eyes, but they do not see..." (Psalm 115, 5). (Psalm 115, 5).

Of course, it makes no sense to speak of a God for every religion; there can only be one God, the same for all peoples, for all religions, in which there is at least a vague idea of an underlying divinity, perhaps hidden behind multiple gods, even if it is the "unknown God" worshipped by those Athenians whom St Paul addressed (cf. Acts of the Apostles 17, 23).

The second way is to interpret the question posed as equivalent to this one: is the idea of God the same in all religions? A cursory comparison of the different religions is enough to answer no.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church illustrates this reality very well when it says:

"Since its beginnings, the Christian faith has been confronted with answers other than its own to the question of origins. Thus, in ancient religions and cultures we find numerous myths concerning origins. Some philosophers said that everything is God, that the world is God, or that the becoming of the world is the becoming of God (pantheism); others said that the world is a necessary emanation of God, that it springs from and returns to source ; others even affirmed the existence of two eternal principles, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, in permanent struggle (dualism, Manichaeism); according to some of these conceptions, the world (at least the material world) is evil, the product of a fall, and must therefore be rejected and overcome (gnosis); others admit that the world was made by God, but in the manner of a watchmaker who, once made, would have abandoned it to himself (deism); others, finally, do not accept any transcendent origin of the world, but see in it the pure play of a subject that has always existed (materialism). All these attempts bear witness to the permanence and universality of the question of origins. This search is inherent to man" (n. 285).

If we ask ourselves about the reasons for this diversity, we can identify, among others, two very decisive ones:

1. From the very beginning, as history attests, the human person has asked himself about the profound meaning of his own existence. The answer is not to be found in the immediate, but in a beyond, in something that transcends, that refers in one way or another to something divine, infinite; basically, in a more or less explicit way, to God. But God is infinite and human reason is finite and limited, so that it cannot fully comprehend God. This means that different people perceive God in different ways. This is why different religions or religious traditions have arisen with very different conceptions of divinity.

2. The limits of the human knowledge imply not only the impossibility of fully understanding God, but also the possibility of error, so that one can arrive at a basically false idea of God, although within that erroneous vision there may be some true aspect.

Behind these different perceptions of God we can see two aspects: the impossibility of having a perfect view of God (any viewpoint adopted is partial) and the fact that we can be wrong.

Thus, for example, the pantheistic perception of God has a certain basis in reality, for God is everywhere, but it errs in identifying the world with God; on the other hand, deism captures in a certain way the transcendence of God (as defined by the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy: "that which is beyond the natural limits and detached from them"), but such a God cannot be worshipped or prayed to since he is unconcerned with the reality he has created. The Catechism refers in general to the myths of ancient religions and cultures: many of them are polytheistic, they consider the existence of several gods, so that an essential attribute, that of omnipotence, disappears. A particular case, also cited in the preceding text of the Catechism, is dualism, in which the problem of evil is explained by personifying it in a divinity antagonistic to another, who would be the good god.

But right reason is able to arrive at the existence of one God, endowed with absolute perfection - including the perfections proper to a personal being - who both creates the world and transcends it. This is, in general terms, the Christian conception of God, which is shared in part with Judaism, Islam and Islam. In Christianity, moreover, the transcendent character is reconciled with the consideration that God is everywhere and, in a particular way, in the depths of each person, who receives the gift of divine sonship, which enables him or her to have a one-to-one dialogue with God. The latter is only partially realised in Judaism and is not conceivable in Islam, because of the emphasis it places on the transcendence of God, which it does not see as compatible with this closeness. Christianity has also received from Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, the revelation that there are three persons in God.

All these differences in the notion or perception of God, i.e. the fact that not everyone understands the same thing by "God", do not exclude that, within the scope of a specific language , God is designated by the same word. For example, Arab Christians, when speaking of God or addressing Him in their language, say "Allah"; and Muslims, if they speak in Spanish, usually use the word "God". As with so many other concepts, the notion of God can be understood differently depending on the cultural or religious tradition in which one lives.