Since people of many religions say they believe in God, can we say that all people believe in the same God? I think the answer is no. I’ll explain why.
First, I think the concept of belief is wrong. It was introduced into Judaism by the then-Jewish, later Christian, Paul, who attempted to convert pagans to his concept of Judaism. He told the pagans that they would not have to observe the Jewish commands, such as circumcision and kosher foods, as long as they had “faith” in God. Unfortunately, many Jews thought his ideas were correct and began to accept them, including the idea that we should have “faith.”
A modern, now deceased famous rabbi who over a thousand Orthodox rabbis highly respected, was influenced by the Protestant theologian Soren Kierkegaard and persuaded rabbis to accept Kierkegaard’s notion of a leap of faith: if you reach a point in your thinking when it doesn’t make sense to accept a religious teaching, you should leap and accept the seemingly illogical view on faith. He took a second misstep. He taught people to accept God and serve God as a servant. He was wrong on both teachings.
The Torah does not have the concept of beliefs. When the word emunah appears in the Hebrew Bible, it refers to an act, not a thought. It means to act faithfully. When the word appears in the Bible after the Israelites saw the drowning of the Egyptians who pursued them, it does not mean they believed in God, but that they became more faithful to observe his commands. Also, it makes no sense to think that God created humans to be his servants. God does not need servants. Only in modern times did emunah begin to be translated as faith.
Second, Maimonides taught us that we can know nothing about God. In Exodus 33:18-23, Moses requests that God show Himself to Moses. God replies that He will place Moses behind a rock and pass by the rock so that you cannot see Me. “You will see My back but not My face.” He tells Moses that humans can know nothing about God, only what God created or formed. They can learn much about the laws of nature by studying the sciences.
Decades ago, I told a two-star Army Chief of Chaplains that I am very satisfied being Jewish but could still fully respect other religions. He asked why. I said, “Because none of us know what God is, so we are in this respect the same.” He was shocked! Therein lies a serious problem.
The ancient philosophers, including Maimonides, Plato (c,428-c.424 BCE), and The Spaniard Ibn Tufayl (died 1185), realized that people need to believe in some things. I highly recommend Ibn Tufayl’s philosophical novel Hay Ibn Yaqzan. Plato stressed that we must teach them “noble lies” to satisfy them. Maimonides did the same but called them “essential truths.”
Maimonides said that although we do not know if it is true, we can believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, punishes sinners, and similar ideas because while these ideas may be wrong, they help control people and fill the needs of ordinary people. He also composed a list of thirteen beliefs for them even though he was convinced that believing is wrong. We need to study, know, and act.
There is a third reason why all people believing in God do not have the same God. They may have faith in God. But each has a different idea what God is.
But there is a way that we can all interact and behave alike. Both the Torah and New Testament emphasize that the fundamental teaching of religion is to love all God created or formed. At the beginning of the Common Era, the great sage Hillel rephrased and simplified the wording, “What is harmful to you, do not do to another.”
We can all join together in doing this. If we do, we will create a Messianic Age.