When a ‘Christian’ met Tawhid Al Asma Wa Sifat
A response to the unexpected Christian objections
A certain Christian named C.L.Edwards has objected to our paper wherein we discussed the problems which Christianity, especially the Trinitarian strand of it, faces while dealing with monotheism with regards to God’s attributes and names.
Throughout Edwards directed his response to Ijaz may be either due to careless negligence or sheer obsession as recently they were engaged in a debate. So whenever Edwards refers anything to Ijaz it is actually aimed at me.
Although it was an honor to read Edwards’ response, yet certain very important issues needed to be addressed which we intend to do in this paper.
Problem lies at the base
Edwards divides his response into twenty five bullet points. The most important of all lies at the very end! In fact as we would soon observe it shows the philosophy which Edwards as a Trinitarian endorses under the assumption of it being ‘doctrine of monotheism’. As such we would start our analysis from there. Here is Edward’s twenty fifth point:
25. Ijaz says…Monotheism simply means One God, the issue of God incarnating as a man and living the life of a man has nothing to do with whether God is One. The real issue clearly is Ijaz’s psychological hang ups about the incarnation.
Carefully observe the stress upon the definition of monotheism for Edwards. It simply and only means counting God as “One”. We assume this is a standard Trinitarian belief. Nevertheless, on one hand where it is extremely important to count God as one; on the other hand, it is not enough to merely count Him as one! Since even the pagans – by all sense of the word – also count God as one! Consider the following quotations from Hindu scriptures:
“There is only ONE God, not the second; not at all, not at all, not in the least bit.” (Concept of God in Major Religions, Brahma Sutra of Hindu Vedanta, pg. 8)
“He is One only without a second” (Concept of God in Major, Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1, pg. 5)
Therefore, we do not think that by merely counting God as “one”, Edwards is any different from Hindus who are (generally) known polytheists. As such there has to be more to monotheism than just counting God as one. It is this lack of more qualifications to the imports of monotheism which drives Edwards towards beliefs wherein he allows all sorts of Idolatry under the aegis of Trinitarian Christianity:
24. He then says, “Nevertheless, they have no qualms when they ring their church bells about “God” being delivered out of Mary’s womb “in the crude way” or, “God” being poked on cross while he was almost naked or, still more weirdly, a dead “God” hanging on the cross with probably scavenger hovering over “His” head until his “dead body” was to be placed in a cave.” No we do not, just like the previous messengers had no qualms about this, nor Jesus disciples, nor Jesus himself. because this is what God had said would happen and it is what did happen. Your inability to accept or grasp how it could be is irrelevant, unless you only want a “god” that conforms to your mind(aka an idol).
To paraphrase Edwards’ stand: once a Christian has sufficiently “counted” God to be “one” then he is monotheist enough to allow God being delivered out of Mary’s womb in the crude way; God hanging almost nude on the cross; or even more embarrassingly, monotheists carrying God’s “dead body” into ‘His’ “grave”! So on and so forth.
In other words, a Hindu would be a polytheist since he is worshipping “God-man” like Krishna but a Trinitarian Christian would be a ‘monotheist’ destined to heaven since he worships Jesus (peace be upon him) – , albeit, another ‘God-man’; even though both a Hindu and a Christian “counts” God to be absolutely “one”! We do not really have any good explanation for this extremely biased and partisan approach towards different “God-mans” apart from the fact that either “God is God of Israel” – the nationalistic God and thus the biased approach or, the so-called philosophy of “hypostatic union”:
In fact Edwards readily accepted a number of utterly idolatrous acts for God under the name of hypostatic union. Following is the list,
1) God being procreated out of the womb of Mary “in the crude way”.
2) God contained inside His “mother’s” womb
3) God sucking his life of his mother.
4) God producing biological waste.
5) God almost made naked on cross.
6) God made to bleed and wounded.
7) God being spat on his face.
8) And, on top of all of that, “God” dying on the cross
9) And, “God’s” dead body being enshrouded and placed in cave.
And following is Edwards’ acceptance of them under the explanation of hypostatic union!
“16. Ijaz then lists many things that happened to Jesus Christ while incarnate as a man, that he says do not befit God. In a sense I agree from the stand point of God in his essence would never be nailed to a cross(how could a incorporeal being be nailed to anything?), but God incarnate in the manner detailed by the doctrine of the hypostatic union could and did do all those things without violating his “God-hood”.
Edwards goes on to explain what hypostatic union means and how it justifies all of the above blasphemous attributes upon God:
13. Ijaz then says “On the same reasoning, Jesus (peace be upon him) cannot be imputed with some of the attributes which ill-fits a “God”” Correction Jesus as the incarnate God-man having two natures could not have attributes ”ill-fit” for a God ascribed to his divine essence(dhat). As for His second additional nature that he took upon himself, it is fully human in every sense of the word. Since Jesus two natures are not mixed or co-mingled causing a dilution nor a cancellation of the other, Christs human nature imputes nothing ”ill-fit” to his divine nature.
This is pure Greek philosophy than anything else since we cannot have a “union” of two mutually exclusive attributes at the same time and in the same entity. Although Edwards asserts that Jesus’ (peace be upon him) humanity would not interrupt his divinity yet this is not possible. To explain this let’s take a situation in Jesus’ (peace be upon him) life where he was in his mother’s womb. When the baby, in other words, the human Jesus (peace be upon him) was in the womb along with it the “God” of Trinitarians was also clinging to the uterine wall of Mary! So, where it is perfectly acceptable for a human Jesus (peace be upon him) to be contained in Mary; however, it is grotesque even to imagine “God” hanging in Mary’s womb! And yet this is exactly acceptable under the explanation of “hypostatic union”!
To further realize the absurd implications of the “hypostatic union”, we would go further earlier in Mary’s pregnancy. Think about the time when Jesus (peace be upon him) was not even a baby in the womb – the zygote state. By the very token of “hypostatic union” we would have to grant that the zygote was both a mere human-pre-natal state and at the same time (hypostatic union) “God” Almighty clinging to the womb of Mary as a mere two celled organism! So if the dual nature of Jesus (peace be upon him) – the divine and the human – by the virtue of “hypostatic union” allows him to be referred as “God-man” during his adult ministry, then by the same token of “hypostatic union” it should have been ‘doctrinally’ permissible to call him “God-zygote” during his incipient stages!?
The above explanations make it amply clear that the human nature of Jesus (peace be upon him) does interfere with his divine nature (if he has one). And this cannot be merely explained away by assuming that “two natures are not mixed or co-mingled causing a dilution nor a cancellation of the other, Christs human nature imputes nothing ”ill-fit” to his divine nature.”!
At last, some attributes are blasphemous
Edwards, however, does not allow everything for Jesus (peace be upon him):
15…For those unfamiliar with Christian doctrine it does not teach “the “Son of God” would procreate his “Son””. Ijaz does such things constantly and despite being corrected he continues on, I can only speculate because it befits his attempts at dawah.
Note how precisely Edwards deny the notion that Jesus (peace be upon him) would beget any kid(s). He reasons that the “Christian doctrine…does not teach” so. However hardly does he care to enquire why the “Christian doctrine” is so? Why Jesus (peace be upon him) cannot procreate? The reason is simple. Jesus (peace be upon him) – the human – begetting a kid would be acceptable but because of the “hypostatic” phenomenon, the divine nature is also co-residing; thus, Jesus (peace be upon him) betaking kids would defy all monotheistic paradigms. And in this situation church mandated the Christian “doctrine” that Jesus (peace be upon him) cannot beget kids.
However, on one hand where the “Christian doctrine” disallows Jesus (peace be upon him) begetting kids, nevertheless, ironically it does allow Jesus (peace be upon him) himself being begotten off Mary! Furthermore, Christian “doctrine” does allow Jesus (peace be upon him) to bleed, sweat, feel for hunger, and so logically, have all other hormonal developments including reproductive as there is in any other human being – yet the only thing he cannot do is beget kids!
It was to circumvent these nasty implications that Islam qualified that there is more in monotheism than mere count of God as “one”. It made it necessary that besides recognizing and counting God as one, sufficient care has to be taken with regards to His attributes. His attributes should not be invested upon His creation and vice-versa.
In fact the Hebrew Bible also teaches the same! Therefore, we quoted Exodus20:4. Nevertheless, Edwards neglected it with the explanation that the verse merely speaks against the “making” of idols:
4. Exodus 20:4 does not prove the following statement, “Quite obviously Bible is denying that attribute of any creation can be imputed upon the Almighty”. Exodus 20:4 is a prohibition against making idols.
Similarly, for obvious Trinitarian reasons, Edwards also asserted that Deuteronomy 4:16 does not speak against any humanization of God:
18. Ijaz further exposes his lack of knowledge of Christian theology by supposing the incarnation of Christ is some how like the craving of a idol in his quoting of Deuteronomy 4:16. I am not sure how a command from God to Israel to not crave idols disproves God could have the ability(or will) to take on a second additional nature and co-exist as both God and man. Again ijaz ignores the actual topic of the passage(do not make idols) and feels free to make it say what he “feels” it should say.
We would consider Deuteronomy 4:16 only for brevity and check if it only concerns with “making” of idols. This is what the text reads:
Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, (Deuteronomy 4:16)
As usual Edwards neglects the reason why God is not to be represented in an idol. A verse earlier, Bible explicitly gives the reason:
And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: (Deuteronomy 4:14-15)
God’s reasoning is very clear: On the day when He spoke, Israelites could not observe His similitude to any of His creatures! As such it was forbidden that Israelites represent Him in any shape or form including human males. More specifically, God does not have any similitude to male humans and thus it would be idolatry to conceive Him in that form and worship.
However, when Edwards tries to limit the scope of the verse to mean merely forbiddance of idol making and worship, then he even goes against the standard Christian interpretation of the verse:
The likeness of male or female – Such as Baal-peor and the Roman Priapus, Ashtaroth or Astarte, and the Greek and Roman Venus; after whom most nations of the world literally went a whoring. (Adam Clarke’s commentary on the Bible)
the likeness of male or female; of a man or a woman; so some of the Heathen deities were in the likeness of men, as Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, Apollo, &c. and others in the likeness of women, as Juno, Diana, Venus, &c. Some think Osiris and Isis, Egyptian deities, the one male, the other female, are respected; but it is not certain that these were worshipped by them so early. (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)
Out of the many names which the commentator has provided many were real mennot mere idols. However, they are criticized as “Heathen deities” since God has no similitude to “males”! And so personification of God is here termed as paganism.
Nevertheless, Christians would never apply the same standards upon Jesus (peace be upon him) even though he is just another male like Hercules or Apollo! In Jesus (peace be upon him), Christians somehow do see (similitude of) God notwithstanding the premises of the preceding Hebrew biblical verses.
To further expose the weakness of the argument that the verse merely speaks about “making” of idols we would consider the era when, say, Krishna was physically moving around in the villages of India “preaching” about spirituality and performing “miracles” among masses. And consider the group of people worshipping him during his earthly ministry; now what would Edwards say about the religious practices of these people! Are they ‘monotheists’ (remember they (Hindus) staunchly count God as one) – or polytheists! Note that these people would not be into any idol business since they have their deity physically present with them. If Edwards would still deem them as polytheists for the mere reason that they worshipped a “God-man” then how is he himself with all other Christians a ‘monotheist’?
As such Christians should provide strong enough reasons why as a non-Christian we should reject all other “Heathen” god-men in the name of ‘monotheism’ but yet accept the deity of Jesus (peace be upon him), who was yet another god-man. One cannot accept such a notion unless s/he is flagrantly biased; since, if Jesus (peace be upon him) performed miracles and that makes him to be “God” then so did a number of other claimants of divinity in other religions. If Christians have a “scripture” which allegedly speak of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) deity; most other “Heathen” religions also have scripture, in fact many even predating New Testament, that also speak of their candidates as gods! And most importantly, if Jesus (peace be upon him) is a “God-man” so were a number of others!
But if the acceptance-rejection yardstick lies only on the mere fact that the “Heathens” in absence of their man-gods portrayed them in idols then we would have to accept that the few sects of Christianity, which are easily outnumbered by more dominant ones, are only a step behind in “Heathenism” since they do have full-blown image/idol of Jesus (peace be upon him) in their minds during their “services”.
Humanization in Islam
On the fly, Edwards accused Islam of humanizing God as well:
17. Ijaz a man who follows a religion that teaches God has a face, two eyes, a shin, feet, will be seen in the form of a man, and descends down into time and space then claims, “ What is disappointing in all of this is that Bible strictly speaks against any such idolatrous humanization of God”. Besides the fact that Christian theology doesn’t teach the humanization of God in the manner Ijaz accuses, see point 13, 15 and 16.
Islamic Scriptures does speak about face, shin but it also states that:
(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves, and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things). (Qur’an 42:11)
Commenting on the above highlighted part of the verse, Shaikh Philips writes the following:
The attributes of hearing and seeing are among the human attributes, but when they are attributed to The Divine Being they are without comparison in their perfection. However, when these attributes are associated with men they necessitate ear and eye apparatuses which cannot be attributed to God. What man knows about the Creator is only what little He has revealed to him through His prophets. Therefore, man is obliged to stay within these narrow limits. When man gives free reign to his intellect in describing God, he is liable to fall into error by assigning to Allah the attributes of His creation. (The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism), Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, pp 28-29)
Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. (Qur’an 112: 1-4)
Noted Qur’an commentator Yusuf Ali also reflects likewise:
This sums up the whole argument and warns us specially against Anthropomorphism, the tendency to conceive of Allah after our own pattern, an insidious tendency that creeps in at all times and among all peoples.
Thus when Allah (SWT) states that He has a Face or Hands etc the similarity lies only in the linguistic words, certainly not in the imports. On the basis of preceding Qur’anic verses, we do not have any warrant to make deductions/conclusions that if Allah (SWT) said about His Face then it would mean a face made up of two eyes, one nose, pair of lips and ears – comprising of epidermis, fat, muscles, nerves, blood etc; since in the end God also said “nothing whatsoever is like unto Him”. We need to be particularly careful with the last clause since God will question about it.
With regards to Edwards’ understanding of monotheism, we observed some peculiar and typical statements like,
18…I am not sure how a command from God to Israel to not crave idols disproves God could have the ability(or will) to take on a second additional nature and co-exist as both God and man.
25…Also Monotheism simply means One God, the issue of God incarnating as a man and living the life of a man has nothing to do with whether God is One. The real issue clearly is Ijaz’s psychological hang ups about the incarnation.
These give strong indication for the type of philosophy Edwards endorses as “monotheism”; and we assume that Edwards is trying his best to demonstrate the standard Christian doctrine of monotheism. As such the type of monotheism which Christianity offers to humanity is extremely narrow. It is just the count of God to one which matters added with the denial of idols.
However, Christianity does allow drawing similitude to God even though the Hebrew Bible expressly rejects it. In order to accommodate the “incarnation” or the humanization of God, Christianity neglects the reason why the God of Israel forbade representing Him through idols. It was because, as He explained, He does not have any similitude or resemblance to any of His creation, including “male” humans. And so it would be attributing “male” resemblance upon God which has to be rejected as paganism. If this essence and theme is neglected from the verse then it does not matter whether one worships Jesus (peace be upon him) or Krishna or any other “God-man” since, as we saw, even the Hindu scriptures counted God as “one” so a Krishna worshipper is still a ‘monotheist’ in that regard. Thus, until we filter out “incarnation” of God (i.e., attributing the qualities of humans upon God), as a non-Christian it is hard to see difference between Paganism and Christianity.
And so in all good spirit we request Edwards to ponder into the following words of God where He is addressing the very delusion of most humans who ‘think’ they believe in God but…
…most of them believe not in Allah without associating (other as partners) with Him! (Qur’an 12:106)
“Travel through the earth and see what was the end of those before (you):Most of them worshipped others besides Allah.” (Qur’an 30:42)
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all Qur’anic texts taken from Yusuf Ali Translation.
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all biblical texts taken from King James Version.
- All emphasize wherever not matching with original is ours.
P.S.: This paper was mostly responsive where we responded to a number of issues Edwards raised. During the course, we touched on issues which might hurt Christian feelings. Nevertheless, it was never our intention to hurt any sincere Christian sentiment. We apologize, in case, if any Christian sentiment has been hurt. We seek God’s guidance and mercy.