The view that Christianity and Islam are more similar than different is mainstream within the Muslim community. And though many Americans live in areas with relatively small Muslim populations, that’s likely to change in coming years. It’s important to be ready to engage our Muslim neighbors in meaningful conversations about our faith. A helpful first step in any such conversation is to explain just how pessimistic Christians are about human nature.
“Christianity and Islam worship the same God and are fundamentally the same at their core.”
I regularly encounter this assertion in my church-planting efforts in Dearborn, Michigan. (Dearborn has the distinction of having the highest concentration of Arabs in North America.) Most commonly I hear this phrase, or one like it, coming from the mouths of young Muslim men and women. Their intentions are wonderful. They’re trying to bridge the gap between our cultures and religions. Indeed, there’s much need for mutual understanding and respect between our faiths.
However, this assertion comes from a misunderstanding of the foundational principles of Christianity.
“I’m curious,” I often say. “What’s the ‘core’ that Christianity and Islam share? What makes our religions so similar?”
“Well, at the end of the day,” the response usually goes, “we’re all trying to live the best lives we can to please God and get into heaven.”
“What if I told you,” I reply, “that Christianity is far, far too pessimistic to believe that? In fact, I think Christianity is the most pessimistic religion in the world.”
Pessimism at the Heart of Christianity
This response often piques curiosity. They genuinely want to know why I think Christians are so pessimistic. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Them: “What do you mean, Christians are pessimistic?”
Me: “Well, you said we’re all trying to please God. Christians don’t think that’s possible. Because of sin, we’re entirely incapable of pleasing God.”
Them: “So how in the world do Christians think people end up in heaven?”
If you’re not careful, you might mistake a question like that as an evangelistic opportunity.
I jest, but it should be noted: this isn’t a difference merely between Christianity and Islam. Our deep-seated pessimism about human nature sets Christianity apart from nearly every other worldview. Most non-Christian faiths and philosophies offer various strategies for striving toward perfection (or at least adequacy). Only Christianity insists we must throw up our hands in utter defeat at any attempt at self-justification.