God Is Not a Christian by Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu and President Obama

President Obama and Desmond Tutu, who received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize

Source: The Huffington Post

The following is excerpted from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s new book, ‘God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations.’

This talk also comes from a forum in Britain, where Tutu addressed leaders of different faiths during a mission to the city of Birmingham in 1989.

They tell the story of a drunk who crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, “I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?” The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, “That side, of course!” The drunk said, “Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.” Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us; and religion is one of the most potent of these formative influences, helping to determine how and what we apprehend of reality and how we operate in our own specific context.

My first point seems overwhelmingly simple: that the accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy. I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this — perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.

My second point is this: not to insult the adherents of other faiths by suggesting, as sometimes has happened, that for instance when you are a Christian the adherents of other faiths are really Christians without knowing it. We must acknowledge them for who they are in all their integrity, with their conscientiously held beliefs; we must welcome them and respect them as who they are and walk reverently on what is their holy ground, taking off our shoes, metaphorically and literally. We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.

We should in humility and joyfulness acknowledge that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or other transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the divine — however named, however apprehended or conceived — is infinite and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend the divine completely. So we should seek to share all insights we can and be ready to learn, for instance, from the techniques of the spiritual life that are available in religions other than our own. It is interesting that most religions have a transcendent reference point, a mysterium tremendum, that comes to be known by deigning to reveal itself, himself, herself, to humanity; that the transcendent reality is compassionate and concerned; that human beings are creatures of this supreme, supra mundane reality in some way, with a high destiny that hopes for an everlasting life lived in close association with the divine, either as absorbed without distinction between creature and creator, between the divine and human, or in a wonderful intimacy which still retains the distinctions between these two orders of reality.

When we read the classics of the various religions in matters of prayer, meditation, and mysticism, we find substantial convergence, and that is something to rejoice at. We have enough that conspires to separate us; let us celebrate that which unites us, that which we share in common.

Surely it is good to know that God (in the Christian tradition) created us all (not just Christians) in his image, thus investing us all with infinite worth, and that it was with all humankind that God entered into a covenant relationship, depicted in the covenant with Noah when God promised he would not destroy his creation again with water. Surely we can rejoice that the eternal word, the Logos of God, enlightens everyone — not just Christians, but everyone who comes into the world; that what we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing them to fruition, bringing to fruition what was best in all. We do scant justice and honor to our God if we want, for instance, to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was a truly great soul, a holy man who walked closely with God. Our God would be too small if he was not also the God of Gandhi: if God is one, as we believe, then he is the only God of all his people, whether they acknowledge him as such or not. God does not need us to protect him. Many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded. It is often said, half in jest, that God created man in his own image and man has returned the compliment, saddling God with his own narrow prejudices and exclusivity, foibles and temperamental quirks. God remains God, whether God has worshippers or not.

This mission in Birmingham to which I have been invited is a Christian celebration, and we will make our claims for Christ as unique and as the Savior of the world, hoping that we will live out our beliefs in such a way that they help to commend our faith effectively. Our conduct far too often contradicts our profession, however. We are supposed to proclaim the God of love, but we have been guilty as Christians of sowing hatred and suspicion; we commend the one whom we call the Prince of Peace, and yet as Christians we have fought more wars than we care to remember. We have claimed to be a fellowship of compassion and caring and sharing, but as Christians we often sanctify sociopolitical systems that belie this, where the rich grow ever richer and the poor grow ever poorer, where we seem to sanctify a furious competitiveness, ruthless as can only be appropriate to the jungle.

Reference

Additional Reading

How Islam has Influenced Christian understanding of God

16 replies

  1. I want to thank Desmund Tutu for this book, as it will help in universal brotherhood.

    But, at the same time, I am also reminded that what Desmund Tutu is writing and outlining is not traditional Christianity, but, Islam as defined in the Holy Quran.

    I would suggest the first chapter titled: Inter-Religious Peace in the following book, to elucidate what I mean:

    Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues

    Why his book is not traditional Christianity, I will not elaborate further here, just to keep discussion mellow and gentle here.

  2. Rev. Elwood Morris Wherry (1843- 1927) was an American Presbyterian missionary to India, who wrote a number of books and was a famous Christian apologist and Orientalist in his time. He wrote acknowledging the beauty of Unity of God in Islam:

    A few passages, like the oases in the deserts of Arabia, stand out as truly beautiful both in their setting and in their thought. Take the first chapter, the Fatihat:
    ‘In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds! The compassionate, the merciful! King on the Day of Judgment! Thee do we worship, and to thee do we cry for help! Guide then us in the right way! The path of those to whom thou art gracious! Not of those with whom thou art angered, nor of those who go astray.’
    The celebrated throne verse in Chap. II., 255, is as follows: ‘God! there is no God but he; the living, the self-subsisting: neither slumber nor sleep seizeth him; to him belongeth whatsoever is in heaven and on earth. Who is he that can intercede with him, but through his good pleasure? He knoweth that which is past, and that which is to come unto them, and they shall not comprehend anything of his knowledge, but so far as he pleaseth. His throne is extended over heaven and earth, and the preservation of both is no burden unto him. He is high, the Mighty.’
    The question is often asked why a book of such singular composition should hold such sway over the millions of the Moslem world. In reply two reasons may be given: first, the beautiful rhythm, and often sweet cadences of the original language, which like some enchanting song hold multitudes with rapt attention who understand scarcely a word they hear; secondly, there is a vast amount of truth contained in the book, especially the truth of the divine unity and of man’s dependence upon God, as seen in the throne verse just now quoted.

    Read more:
    Is Isaac Newton a Part of the Muslim Heritage: His Religious Views?

  3. MY QUESTION IS NOT “WHICH IS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET”, I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW “WHICH IS THE BETTER SIDE OF THE STREET”.
    BOTH SIDES AT ONE POINT OR THE OTHER HAVE BEEN UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL. BUT ULTIMATELY WITH PASSAGE OF TIME IN GENERAL TERMS CHRISTIANITY HAS EVOLVED INTO A COMPERITIVELY BETTER WHEN IT COMES TO COMPASSION, TOLLERANCE AND TOLLERANCE.

  4. I agree Christianity in general has evolved to be a more tolerant religion. Except in few pockets, Christian countries are generally peaceful, unless provoked.

    Islam is completely different. Shia Muslims cannot stand Sunnis and many more.

    am always baffled by this.

    Maybe Dr. Shah could explain this. Why are Sunnis and Shias killing each other? Why can’t they stand each other? The way in Syria right now is drawn along ‘sectarian’ lines.

    I am a Christian and some of my best buddies are Catholic, Methodists, Baptist. We never think of killing each other despite our difference in thought.

    • Dorival: I have worked in and with Iraq for ten years. I believe I have made friends with both Sunnis and Shias. Before the Americans arrived in 2003 there was no Sunni-Shia conflict in the country. Inter-marriage was common. Same with Syria, before the current conflict the communities lived in peace. Now look at the conflict carefully? Do you find that Sunnis are trying to convert Shias to the ‘Sunni faith’? or the other way round? No. Therefore we can note that this is not a religious conflict at all. Saudi Arabia and Iran have a power play. Behind the scenes other countries are taking advantage of it to create trouble. Israel is interested that Muslim countries should disintegrate so that they can carry on as they want building their settlements and expanding their occupation. Oil is an additional issue. Plenty of issues, all except religious discussions. The religious differences between Sunnis and Shias are actually few. The political differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia seem to be a question of survival for the House of Saud. (Just my personal view).

  5. The so-called religious or ethnic conflicts in the world, are, to say the least in most cases the effects and not the causes of tension. There are always underlying causes which find expression in religious tensions. The powers that be find refugee in simplistic analysis for their own benefit. In other words this approach diverts attention from real problems.

  6. Thanks Rafiq,

    But I have read this conflict goes back almost to the dawn of Islam.

    There was a schism in Islam after Mohammed’s death in 632. One of Mohammed’s cousin, Ali was killed due to this leadership struggle.

    SO I think this goes back centuries and just being stoked by the western powers, as you suggested.

  7. Thanks…

    I am just trying to understand this. I am used to a religion who taught me that if someone slap me on the right cheek, I should turn the other cheek while at the time pray for the person that slapped me.

    I just don’t see this in Islam.

    Maybe I am just to naive, I don’t know.

    • Dorival. The Christian religion taught you that if someone slaps you on the right cheek you should turn the other cheek. Question: Have you seen this practiced in real life? Did Christian countries ever do that? What did Bush man do after he got the 9/11 slap on the face?

    • ISLAM IS PRACTICAL AND NOT HYPOCRITICAL.. I HAVE BEEN A STUDENT OF HISTARY AND HAVE SELDOM KNOWN A CHRISTIAL POWER TO FORGIVE A TRESSPASS.. I HAVE READ COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF THE OPPONENT WITHOUT MERCY EVEN IF ON BOTH ENDS WERE CHRISTIANS. WHERE ARE NATIVE AMERICANS AND THE AUSTRALIANS.. AND WHY IRAQ WAS PUSHED TO THE CAVE AGE.. WHEN DID IRAQ ATTACK A CHRISTIAN NATION RATHER IT WAS MOST SECULAR STATE AMONG ARABS. I AM NOT CONDONING SADAM BUT JUST RESPONDING TO YOUR REMARK..
      MUSLIMS DO NOT OFFER THE OTHER CHEEK FOR THEY WERE NEVER ASKED TO DO THAT BUT CHRISTIANS WERE..

  8. In the Name of Allah the Most Gracious Ever Merciful
    Dear Dorival Salam (peace unto you ) First of All I welcome to you on the forum of The Muslim Times and hope you will continue participating in this forum and share with us your viewpoint.
    The Sunni Shiah extremism is deplorable and we do not condone it at all nor we condone Taliban-ism and we all ways condemn such activities from whatever corner and for whatever purpose they may be nor blasphemy law is Islamic in its nature. Actually Islam is secular in its approach not only among its believers but to all other Religions. Islam categorically announce “Laa iqrahaa fiddin qatta bayya-narrushdo minal ghaee…” there is no compulsion in the matter of Religions,the light has been manifested from dark… and there are so many more verses in the Holy Quran shedding light on the same subject. The Holly Quran is witnessed that in the lifetime of Holy Prophet Mohammad (p.u.h.)there are so many incidents of blasphemy, but he never ever punished blasphemer nor let other Muslims to do so. Its a research topic then how come Muslims have become so intolerance. The book “Islam mein Ikhtilafat ka aaghaz” mean ‘Beginning of differences in Islam by late Hadhrat Mirza Bashirud-din Mahmood Ahmad Resolved this issue. More so when some crime of a national type is committed by its follower then the punishment of God is also to the Nation in its kind. The 3rd successor of Islam Hadhrat Othman Ghani (r.u.) a very Godly person warned to those Muslims who became the victims of hypocrites, “If you draw sword and assassinated me, then the sword will never rest among you till doomsday.” No heeds were paid to his warning and he was assassinated, the the history is witnessed upon his warning.
    Although the teachings of Holy Jesus Christ were very polite, but unfortunately Christians seldom acted upon them. There was a terrible period of inquisitions in the History of Christianity. There are so many wars fought among Christian Nations: the British and the Irish enmity is well known.There was a time period when Christian burnt alive other Christian. The world became peaceful when the Church and The State were Separated. Hopefully a time will come among Muslims too when they will separate The State and Religious politics, then hopefully there will be tolerance and it will be bring about by the Promised Messiah (a.s.)

  9. @ Dorival..thank for your a nice critic.
    I would like to join discussion,if I may.

    My respond like this based on His laws.
    1. God is the one who made the rule for His people.

    2. God make His rule according to the condition of people at that time

    3. God has the right to fix the rule according the progress of science and human culture after hundreds years from Taurat laws to Injil laws and the last after 600 years Jesus’s death.

    From Taurat law;

    If some one slap you on the right cheek, and you can slap him on the right cheek too.

    From Injil law;

    If some one slap you on the right cheek, and give another cheek and pray to him.

    From Al Quran; the rule of revenge;

    1.If some one slap you on the right cheek, you can slap him on the same right cheek, or you are better forgive him.

    2. and turn off Evil with good: for such there is the final attainment of the (Eternal) Home.QS 13:22

    3. Repel evil with that which is best.QS 23:96.

    Hopefully, these verses can help you to understand better of Al Quran. ( I do not say in “Islam”, because The book of Taurat, Zabur, Injil and Al Quran are Islamic teaching from the same God, and the descent of Prophet Abrahaam as)

    All love

  10. Many thanks for the responses.

    I don’t know about other people but I always forgive people who hurt me. That is what I was taught.

    I know all the major religions have faults and have committed many bad things throughout history, including Christianity, no doubt about that.

    I bumped into this website quite by accident and find it quite interesting in light of so many unpleasant things being said about Islam.

    Based on reading many of the articles, I find Islam to be quite fascinating, actually.

    I live in the Caribbean and we have no Muslims here.

    Thanks all

    • After reading your post, I feel regret for being too harsh in my responses. Qur’an tells early Muslims when they were cruelly persecuted and had nowhere to find refuge. God said if life becomes unbearable from persecution and the earth become too tight around you then go seek refuge among those people who say “We are Christians” for I have put mercy in their hearts”.. Then there is whole chapter on People of catacombs regarding persecution of early Christians and a chapter on Mary mother of Jesus (as) her piety and the virgin birth.. The early Muslims did escape harshness of persecution across the sea to Abyssinia where Christian Emperor Negus ruled who gave refuge to persecuted Muslims. Among the refugees was Prophet Mohammad’s (saw) daughter, his son in law Usman and cousin Jaffer (May Allah be pleased with them).
      It was not all bad between us.. Quran named Christians and the Jews “People of the Book” and instructed Muslims to treat them kindly. It was later when Crusaders came and attacked Muslim territories that centuries old conflict in shape of mutual mistrust and hatred began and tit for tat started which is still going on unfortunately..
      Sincerelly
      HAMID A KHAN

      • Agree with the spirit of your comment. However, the word Christians is not mentioned in the Quran as far as I know. The Quran calls them Nasara or Nazareens. Their is a huge difference on what happened to Christianity from when it moved from early Nazareens who followed Jesus (as) the Prophet and One God to the trinity brought about by Saint Paul when Nazareens changed to being Christians. God is certainly not a Pauline Christian. He is the one who sent Jesus (as) whose apostles were Nazareens, monotheists admired by the Quran.

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