Siblings Fighting for Attention?

Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children at the YMCA Peace Preschool in Jerusalem make a banner that flew on a shuttle to the International Space Station. Photo: Tara Todras-Whitehill, AP

On our latest radio show, Jean spoke with Professor Suleiman Mourad about Jesus in Islam and Christianity. They discussed a number of topics, ranging from the importance Islam gives to Mary–the Qur’an dedicates an entire chapter to her, Sura 19, Maryam–to Islam’s take on prophethood. A number of callers’ comments during the show added other interesting perspectives, but what struck me most was the symbolism that Mourad used to describe the theological differences between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. He sees the theological disagreements among followers of  Abrahamic traditions as similar to siblings vying for parental attention. He sees the differing views on Jesus as

part of the terrain, competition over attention of the parent. Often we mistake this [as] anxiety; this [is] eagerness on the part of each member of this community of believers to receive the complete attention of their Father. … There is an excessive protectiveness of God. … We need to be more scholars and historians than religious defenders.

The question of who Jesus was is central to the difference between these traditions. According to Mourad, most Muslims believe that Jesus was one of three messengers or “super prophets,” but not the Son of God. Also, Judaism and Christianity are viewed as precursors to Islam–the third and final version of the Abrahamic religions. Central for most Christians is the belief in Jesus as the Son of God, or the human manifestation of God on Earth. Most Christians view Muhammad as a man of deep faith, but a false prophet.

Do insecurity and ego account for the passionate disagreements over whether Jesus was a human Prophet or the Son of God, or is something else at play?

I would argue that there is an innate desire for humans to seek out truth through meaning. For some people, their search manifests in a religious conviction. Many believers of various faith traditions have a desire for affirmation and approval from their Creator, and the paternalistic tone of religious language is used as a way for them to connect more easily. Since most people have grown up with one or more parent, they can relate to the concept of deference and respect for an elder.

There is an underlying assumption by many people of faith that there is only one truth and one story that correctly explains the most enigmatic questions in life. Worshiping God is the ultimate act of love for many people of faith, and so the thought of misconceiving God’s message on Earth is disturbing for many. For other believers, the precise identity of Jesus and other questions are not as important as the big picture; for these people, a degree of uncertainty, confusion, and/or dissonance is accepted. They see themselves and believers of other traditions as siblings; or as one caller from Wednesday’s show put it, in “one of the many rooms in God’s house.”

If you believe in God, how do you reconcile other interpretations of God with your own? Are disagreements among followers of the Abrahamic traditions analogous to siblings fighting for attention from their father? Do you find it condescending to characterize Abrahamic believers as siblings or children vying for attention from their father? Are believers of other non-Abrahamic traditions excluded from conversations about the possibility of there being “many rooms in God’s house?”

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