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5.8.03

Via Tacitus, I came across this set of Washington Post readers' answers to the question "Do Jews, Christians and Muslims all pray to the same God?" The answers are more or less what you'd expect -- some people saying "they're all the God of Abraham" and others objecting "Jews and Muslims don't believe in Jesus."

But it seems the line between gods is blurry. Certainly within a polytheistic religion one can draw lines between gods, but between different religions it's less clear. Imagine, for example, that you and I both wanted to write letters to the President of the United States. We both mail them to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But you opened yours "Dear Mr. Bush," whereas I opened mine "Dear Mr. Gore." Have we both written to the same person? Alternately, consider that we both decide to write letters to George W. Bush, but while you open yours "Dear President Bush," I open mine "Dear Governor Bush." Are we writing to the same person?

Perhaps a more telling question would be "does the real God hear the prayers of Jews, Christians, and Muslims?" That is, how accurate does a person's conception of God have to be before God will recognize that person's prayers? In my letter-writing analogy, would George W. Bush respond to a letter that arrived in his office with the mistaken greeting of "Dear Mr. Gore" or the outdated greeting "Dear Governor Bush"? (And to stretch the metaphor even further, would the postal system even deliver a letter addressed to "Al Gore, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" or "Governor Bush, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue"?)

I'll leave it as an excercise for the astute reader to guess how I would answer the God-questions.

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