Incarnation vs. Transcendence of deity
The second theological-philosophical difference that stands out to me is how incarnation is emphasized in Christianity and how transcendence is emphasized in Islam. Incarnation is kind of an elevated and glorified immanence of deity, but clearly it is more than just immanence that Islam and Christianity agree on. Here, matters get more complicated. Christianity agrees with Islam on immanence, but Islam rejects incarnation completely although I think Al-Ghazzali teaches on ta’alluh (a kind of God-ization) that comes close to the divinization of humans.
So here the matter is not about what’s central or not but rather who God is, which again points to the question of what kind of God there is. Of course, Islam does not refuse incarnation on the account of God’s incapacity to incarnate. Had he chosen to, the all-powerful God of Islam could have incarnated too. But it does refuse incarnation on the principle that again comes back to God’s transcendence. God simply chooses not to incarnate because he is above all that is earthly and human.
Trinity vs. Oneness of deity
Another point of disagreement between Christianity and Islam is how God is one and how that oneness relates to the many-ness we observe in the universe. Again this issue is directly linked to the concepts of quantity and quality in God. Islam has a very elevated and, I would say, rigid understanding of the oneness of God that excludes all many-nesses from God. This conceptual move gives us the intuitive concept of oneness in deity. Christianity on the other hand has the challenge of keeping both the oneness of God that is clearly testified to in the scriptures and the relationality within God that is indirectly but consistently manifested in the Bible. Believe me, Christianity has a hard job to do in this particular matter, and so far it has half-succeeded and half-failed. The Trinitarian teaching on God is not polytheism, but in the context of Islamic oneness, it surely looks like a compromise of a shared heritage. What I believe saves the Trinitarian God of Christianity and compensates for the loss of a clearer and more intuitive oneness is the relationality and dynamism of the concept. This too goes back to what kind of God there is. As Augustine famously taught, in God, love is complete and is other-oriented because the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Spirit is the love in-between.
As a person who has been on both sides of the fence and loves the imaginative and rigorous thinking about God, I personally find the Christian concept of God more appealing. Of course, I’m biased as a Christian, but there is something appealing and beautiful in a God who shares my sufferings and who identifies with me. I know it sounds weird, yet I find the tragedy of Jesus Christ, the life of a God-With-Us who became vulnerable for humans’ sake, deeply satisfying. Call it whatever you want; it just makes God more desirable, more mysterious, and more elusive. The same thing goes for the Trinitarian God. I always took the Trinity to be a highly complex, symbolic, and mythological expression (a la Joseph Campbell) of the deep thinking that realizes in God the most fundamental of human concepts — the one and many becoming blurred and qualified. The Beloved of my heart simply does not fit into rigid abstractions and is able to be both one and many all at the same time. Even in Islam, the concept of the oneness of God is qualified. Once I read that, the oneness of God in Islam cannot be understood as one among many as if God was one in the ordinary sense of the word “one” (like one table, one book, or one substance).
Well, so much for the most important (philosophical-theological) differences between Islam and Christianity. I hope what I wrote here really does not sound too academic. If you have questions about any particulate issue I explored in this blog post, comment and let me know.
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