Opinion by Jeffrey Weiss, Special to CNN
(CNN) -- Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other in several nations, most notably in Syria's escalating civil war.
Coptic Christians churches are being torched in Egypt.
In Israel, what passes for peace talks has restarted after years of murder and brutality.
Religion is a common thread in each conflict. But why? Don’t these folks worship the same deity?
After all, Jews, Christians and Muslims all trace their faiths back to a fellow named Abraham, whom they all claim was chosen for special treatment by the Almighty. Why can’t they all get along?
The “same God” question is one theologians have hammered at for as long as there have been enough religions for the query to make sense.
The question is hardly academic, though. In fact, a number of politicians, religious leaders and scholars have expressed hope in recent years that a convincing answer on the God question might dampen the violence committed in His name.
Last year, for example, Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf edited a book titled “Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue.”
In the introduction, Volf explained why the title question matters:
"To ask: ‘Do we have a common God?’ is, among other things, to worry: ‘Can we live together?’ That’s why whether or not a given community worships the same god as does another community has always been a crucial cultural and political question and not just a theological one."
On the other hand, there’s CNN Belief Blog contributor and Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero. His book on this subject is titled “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World.”
“For more than a generation we have followed scholars and sages down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world where all gods are one … In fact this naive theological groupthink – call it Godthink – has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clash of religions that threaten us worldwide.”
In the world of politics, President George W. Bush asserted the unity side of the argument more than once in the years after the 9/111 attacks -- often as a way to deflect accusations that America was at war with Islam.
Bush told Al Arabiya television, “I believe there is a universal God. I believe the God that the Muslim prays to is the same God that I pray to. After all, we all came from Abraham. I believe in that universality.”
Pope John Paul II drew from the same rhetorical well several times.
“We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection,” he first said in a speech to Muslims in Morocco in 1985.
Looking for a more recent example? Consider the plight earlier this year of the new Vatican envoy to Malaysia.
Shortly after he arrived there, Archbishop Joseph Marino said that is was fine by him that Christian translations of the Bible into Malay use the word “Allah” for “God.”
“Allah” is, of course, the Arabic word for God and is found in the Quran. The Christian translators explained that since most Malaysians are Muslim, it’s the word they’re most comfortable with and therefore the best choice for the translation.
But many Muslim authorities in Malaysia are furious. They say Christians are slipping in the familiar word as a way to convert Muslims. And conversion of Muslims is all but illegal in Malaysia.
There’s a lawsuit ongoing about the translations. Marino had to apologize for pushing into Malaysian politics.