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Do Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God?
September 1st, 2013
03:26 AM ET

Do Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God?

Opinion by Jeffrey Weiss, Special to CNN
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(CNN) - Pope Francis surprised Israeli and Palestinian leaders last month when he invited them to a special prayer ceremony at the Vatican this Sunday - not least because religion has often been the source, not the salve, of the region's conflicts.

Still, Pope Francis offered his "home" - the Vatican - as the perfect place to plea for some divine assistance, and Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dutifully agreed to attend.

"The Pope has placed it in this perspective: Prayer is like a force for peace,” Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin told Vatican Radio.

"We hope that there, where human efforts have so far failed, the Lord offers to all the wisdom and fortitude to carry out a real peace plan."

But Sunday's special ceremony at the Vatican raises an interesting question: When Francis, Peres and Abbas bow their heads in prayer, will they be talking to the same God?

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.

Not academic

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.

Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf recently 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.”

Prothero writes:

“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 9/11 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 Francis invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders to Vatican peace talks

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 of Vatican envoy to Malaysia.

Shortly after he arrived there last year, 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 were 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.

Points of disagreement

So what do the “Abrahamic” religions disagree about?

Among other things: the purpose of humanity, the relationship of God and humanity, sin, forgiveness, salvation, the afterlife, Jesus, Muhammad, the calendar, and the religious importance of Abraham himself.

Plus the nature of God.

Any summary will leave out enormous nuance. Internal divisions within religions have fueled some of the worst examples of human violence. Consider the long and frequently bloody history of troubles between Catholics and Protestants or the growing death toll of Muslim-on-Muslim attacks.

But there are common elements about God widely accepted in each tradition.

Judaism

Start with Judaism, since it came first and established roots that carried into the other two.

Jewish tradition teaches that there is one and only one God, creator of everything, and He established physical and moral laws. As Judaism’s preeminent prayer says: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

This God walks and talks directly with His creations – for a while.

Eventually, He chooses one particular nomad (Abraham) to father a mighty nation that God sets up as an example to other nations.

This God likes the smell of burning meat and demands other extremely specific physical offerings as evidence of obedience and repentance. And He gives His chosen people a particular set of laws – but doesn’t mind discussion and even argument about those laws.

A famous rabbinic saying implies that every word in Judaism’s sacred texts can be understood in 70 correct (but related) ways. And human reasoning can even trump divine intention. (No kidding. It’s in the Talmud)

This God judges His people every year. Tradition says he’s willing to accept imperfection, as long as it comes with repentance.

He’s big on obedience, not so much on faith. He’s not nearly as attentive to the behaviors of non-Jews. (There’s a famous Jewish joke with the punch line “Would you mind choosing somebody else once in a while?”)

Tradition holds that there’s a World To Come after death where moral accounts will somehow be settled. But this God is vague on details.

Christianity

The most obvious differences in the Christian God are the traditional teachings about the Trinity and Jesus. God is three separate persons who are also one. How? Christianity says the Trinity is a “mystery” of faith.

According to Christian tradition, God begets a son who is somehow also Him but not Him to atone for Original Sin. He sacrifices that son though a brutal death and thus achieves humanity's salvation.

But the son, who also is God, rises from the dead. And that sacrifice redeems eternally all who accept and believe in it. Faith, not behavior, is the essential measure of salvation.

This God is willing to vastly expand what it means to be among His “chosen people.” He’s also willing to cancel many of the laws that had applied to that chosen group for this expanded membership.

Orthodox Jews say that God prohibits them from eating a cheeseburger; Christians say God has no problem with them wolfing down Big Macs.

Unlike the Jewish God, whose instructions are almost all about this world, the Christian God is focused more on eternal salvation: heaven and hell.

Finally, for this God, much of the Jewish scriptures (which are all God’s word) are actually about foreshadowing Jesus. Including Abraham.

Islam

The Muslim God is a bit more like the Jewish God.

There is no Trinity in Muslim tradition. Jesus was a prophet, but no more divine than other prophets.

God has never has had anything like physical attributes and has no gender. (Some Muslim commentators say that the noun “Allah” is masculine, but only in the way that all nouns in some languages include gender.)

Muslim tradition holds that God wants one thing from humans: Submission. The word “Islam” is defined as “submission to the will of God.”

For Muslims, all true prophets in Jewish and Christian traditions were actually Muslim because they knew to submit correctly to God. Differences between Muslim, Jewish and Christian interpretations of God are due to errors that crept into the other two faiths, Islam teaches.

The Muslim God, like the other two, initially demanded that Abraham sacrifice a son. But the Muslim God wanted Abraham’s son Ishmael, not Isaac, who Jewish tradition holds was offered as a the sacrifice.

The Muslim God also designated, from before the world began, a perfect man to be his final prophet: Muhammad. God’s perfect truths are found only in the Quran and in the sayings of Muhammad, the hadiths.

And the Muslim God, like the Christian God but unlike the Jewish God, will welcome believers to paradise and condemn many non-Muslims - exactly which ones is a matter of much discussion - to eternal torment.

Final answer

So do Christians Muslims, and Jews, really all worship the same God?

In two major volumes on the subject recently published by scholars from various faiths and traditions, including Volf’s, the most inclusive response from these scholars is basically: Yes, and it’s our God.

This is not a new way of answering the question.

In 1076, Pope Gregory VII wrote this to a Muslim leader: “We believe in and confess one God, admittedly, in a different way…”

But like many other religious leaders on all sides of the argument, Gregory insisted that his version of the Almighty is the one whom the others are unknowingly and incompletely worshiping.

A less exclusivist set of religions might shrug off the differences. But all three claim to have the only “True Faith.”

So do all three faiths actually worship the same deity, whether they call him God or Allah or Adonai?

God only knows.

Jeffrey Weiss is an award-winning religion reporter in Dallas.The views expressed in this column belong to Weiss. A version of this story first ran in September 2013. 

CNN's Daniel Burke contributed to this article. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • History • Islam • Judaism • Muslim • Religious violence • Torah • Vatican

soundoff (7,438 Responses)
  1. John Sharp

    I can not believe that rational people are still trying to discredit Darwinism. Even Pat Robertson admitted it was the truth.

    You can't seriously be stupider than Pat Robertson.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:01 am |
  2. M.

    Reblogged this on AMariiaam and commented:
    I really really like this one! (:

    September 1, 2013 at 6:58 am |
  3. Tim

    It's actually very simple: humans are not the construction of god; god is the construct of man, a father figure. Religious is about observing certain tenets of behavior (or morality); Religion is about power: my god is stronger, my sect is the true one, and my god tells you what to do through me (I am better than you).

    September 1, 2013 at 6:57 am |
  4. Dan W

    All the theists on this page are really trying to reach out and connect with their fellow human beings, it's the atheists who have come here to cause problems and diagnose believers with a mental illness. If you dont believe, don't click on articles about God. If you can't help it, maybe you should think about that. The opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy. People who hate are still putting in a ton of energy into poisoning a connection, apathy ignore the connection. If you don't believe in God, then don't, and maybe not click on links where the conversation is about the comparison and contrast between 3 religions. If you aren't suffering from a twisted love for your Creator, then ignore Him, ignore His believers, their works about the Creator, and don't click on links that go to an article where the assumption is that there is a God. If you want to argue with theists go to twitter and post on #Atheism

    September 1, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Sorry, Dan – we speak out to counter the evil and violence that religion has done, and continues to do, in our society. it is for everyone's ultimate good that religion is outed for what it is – a delusional belief caused by and nurtured by thousands of years of brainwashing.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:59 am |
      • jungleboo

        Thank you.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • Karloff

      But I do believe, Danny–I believe in rational thinking, reason, and science. It's about time you theists give up your claim on the word "believer."

      September 1, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  5. revJan

    The only way anyone can answer this for themselves..(which there is a true answer) is ask God ...because if you truly seek Him with ALL YOUR HEART... you will find Him. This way ..the debate will end. YOU will know the truth and the truth will set you free...

    September 1, 2013 at 6:56 am |
    • Dan W

      Amen.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:58 am |
    • thinquer

      Does your faith allowing involvement in human killing aka war? If it does, that's the problem postulated here. Jesus would not do it, so his followers shouldn't either.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:59 am |
  6. thinquer

    The answer is "No", otherwise they would not be killing each other. More insight to the answer can be found in 1John 5:19.
    The majority of people are not using the Bible for their code of conduct, hence the killing and every other type of wrong human behaviour. I like Jehovah's Witnesses – they don't go to war or harm fellow humans for any reason, whether they share the same faith or not, and they conscientiously follow and teach the Bible. Although not perfect, they are setting a great example for the rest.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:54 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Hey! I used the Bible as my code of conduct! But the judge and jury didn't buy my defense that God commanded me to take my unruly children to the edge to town and stone them to death! Sigh! What's a deluded murderous religitard to do?

      September 1, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • Dan W

      Life is a prison, death is parole and the journey home. Remember the apple?

      September 1, 2013 at 6:59 am |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

        I don't remember the apple, but I understand that Eve had quite the pear!

        September 1, 2013 at 7:02 am |
      • jungleboo

        This is the crux of your insanity Dan. "Life is a prison."

        With an outlook like that, it is no wonder you cling to such gibberish. By despising the magnificent reality which we experience together on this Earth, you do a dreadful disservice to anyone who would think your strange words are somehow "sanctified".

        Life is most certainly NOT a prison. It is a spectacular ride through the cosmos as a thinking, feeling, physical experience, creating and retaining memories, loves, hopes and dreams. Your little "prison gospel" appeals only to people who have failed at the most basic understanding of Life and its stunning beauty.

        But then, you probably are quite comfortable sitting among those who would agree with you without an argument.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:32 am |
      • Hobo Banana

        so get out of jail, dude! If you really believe this, why haven't you offed yourself? Unless you have another unfounded belief that you're some kind of bodhisattva who's come back to lead the rubes to enlightenment? (*whoops*, wrong religion...)

        September 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Dave

    There are two basic ways to control the mass of people.

    1. With force and violence. (Militarily)
    2. Control what they believe. (religion)

    September 1, 2013 at 6:52 am |
    • Everyone is wrong...

      and so science is therefore a religion.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  8. Billy

    There is no god get over it. The world is in a war about some imaginary being. The world is not flat either.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:51 am |
    • thinquer

      Atheists are also involved in the killing. Faith in evolution is not the answer to violence.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:56 am |
  9. Reality

    As a starting point for new members:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?

    res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel – not one shard of pottery."

    September 1, 2013 at 6:50 am |
    • Reality

      And to finish the topic:

      Again for the new members:

      Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e. the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:54 am |
  10. Bernard Webb

    This is like asking "Are all of Santa's elves the same height?". The question itself contains an absurd assumption and is thus ill-formed.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:50 am |
  11. Navin Jay

    Christians God is money. Plain and simple

    September 1, 2013 at 6:47 am |
  12. RealWorld

    people believing in "God" can be a great thing....do they think they know what is going on? yes. Do they actually know anything about our universe and higher beings.....nope.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:39 am |
    • Colin

      Those that follow God know what God has given them. All Truth and Wisdom come from God. What has been taught about the universe and higher beings God has gifted to men.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ real world: I recall a group of religious fellow – oh, 19 or 20 of them – who believed in god, and did something they thought was very good, and some other people who believed in that god thought they did something good, but then there was a group of people who ALSO believed in god who thought that what the first group of god-believers did wasn't so good. These conflicting belief systems kind of bumped against each other on September 11, 2001.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:51 am |
  13. Colin

    allah is not the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob,allah is not the God of Christ,allah as a god is an idol, allah is an abomination.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:37 am |
    • Atheist Colin

      The Christian trinitarian god is the most ridiculous of the three. Convoluted Christian theology leads to the absurd situatuation that Christians have to believe that a being capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies impregnated a Greco Roman Jewish virgin with himself to given birth to himself and then sacrifice himself to himself to forgive the original sin of a couple we now know never existed.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:41 am |
      • Colin

        Since you do not know God your assumptions are no more than the opinions of others you have adopted and parroted. There is no honest or original thought in your comments.

        September 1, 2013 at 6:48 am |
        • John Sharp

          OMG, and yours are original. The fact that you said that without realizing yours are simply ideas parroted for 2,000 years is comic.

          September 1, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Colin, you DO understand that a lot of Muslims would say exactly the same thing about your god, right? And they would use the same rationale and basis for doing so, right? Why is your claim any better than a Muslim's claim?

      September 1, 2013 at 6:42 am |
      • Colin

        muslims and you can be wrong if you want to be. When one knows the Truth your lies are of no consequence.

        September 1, 2013 at 6:46 am |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

        @ Colin: Let me rephrase what you just said, from the Muslim perspective:"Christians and you can be wrong if you want to be. When one knows the Truth your lies are of no consequence."

        So, again, why is your claim or any higher value than the claim I just made?

        Bottom line: neither claim is of any validity. Believe what you want, but please don't state it as a fact. Doing so really smacks of arrogance.

        September 1, 2013 at 6:54 am |
    • M. callahana

      Wow, that was helpful. If one posits that there is only one God, then, if someone is praying to a god, regardless of he name and attributes, then by definition it is the one true God. Since the muslims are praying to the old testament God they are praying to the one true God. Colin honey, I sincerely hope you are not going around giving scandal by telling folks you are a christian will in the same breath spewing the kind of nastiness you just wrote. The factbthat some muslims are bending the teachings of the Koran to fulfill their needs does not makevtheir whole belief sat wrong, it makes them apostate. In the samevway that any christian who preaches that God hates gays or muslims or whtever is apostate. Picking only those tenets that you like while ignoring others is in fact APOSTACY.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:04 am |
  14. Colin

    Given that we create the gods and assign to them the personalities we choose, the question of where does one god stop and another god start is a purely academic exercise. You might as well ask whether Cinderella and Snow White are the same personage.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:37 am |
    • Colin

      A"god" is an idol and of no importance to the question. God on the other hand is His own person and intimately knowable.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:49 am |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    September 1, 2013 at 6:35 am |
    • John Sharp

      Actually prayer has been scientifically proven to not work.

      But we knew before that talking to an imaginary friend in your head wasn't going to provide any help.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:37 am |
      • Colin

        Modern science is on the wrong road. Scientific conclusions are swayed to the personal prejudice of mistaken men.

        September 1, 2013 at 6:41 am |
        • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

          Yes, Colin, like that silly "The Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around" bit of science.

          September 1, 2013 at 6:43 am |
        • Colin

          That was an error by science in the past that we have learned was a false assumption. As God reveals Truth to man we learn more Truth. The current lies of modern science will be just as ridiculous in time to come.

          September 1, 2013 at 6:52 am |
        • John Sharp

          Too funny... Science is about the search for the truth.
          Sorry the truth contradicts your fairy tale book.
          But attacking the messenger only points out how false your beliefs are.

          September 1, 2013 at 7:24 am |
      • M. callahana

        Prayer in fact does work but it doesn't get god to give us what we want. What it does is get us to focus on our needs and settles ones agitation. Prayer is for focusing on the infinite, putting things in perspective. Everything else is begging.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:10 am |
        • John Sharp

          Stating prayer in fact does work, does not make it so.
          Please forward the factual evidence. You know like we all demand when using a new drug. We need the evidence to prove it works or we won't take it.
          Send the studies that prove this statement to be true.

          September 1, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • The Shammy

      Yeah I'm sure many young boys prayed for their priest to stop abusing them. But they must not have been good christian boys and God ignored them.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:37 am |
      • Colin

        You comment on what you have no knowledge of. As you said I'm sure. Guess what you cannot be sure of what you claim, unless you know your opinion is worth squat.

        September 1, 2013 at 6:39 am |
  16. newton

    Wow, it's pretty early in the morning to have a religion debate, even if your on the East Coast. Maybe everyone is in Europe.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:34 am |
  17. Yudhisthira Mahabharata Jr

    "Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear
    Except, Brenda, that people do exactly what you suggest: they go in to a room, talk to their god, and come out convinced absolutely and unequivocally that their god has commanded them to, for example, fly hijacked jets into buildings. Or they drown their children in a bathtub. Or blow up schools. Or invade Iraq."

    observer has a point. all xtards kill, murder, rpe like sam stone

    September 1, 2013 at 6:31 am |
  18. AtheistHuman

    Yaaaaaawn... Boring!

    September 1, 2013 at 6:28 am |
  19. Hugh_Mann

    Buddhism is a Major Religion, but they do not worship a God, at all

    September 1, 2013 at 6:28 am |
    • Dan W

      Buddhism is the Humanism of Hinduism. It is the 'how to be a better person' without God in it. They believe in a system of reincarnation and enlightenment, which denotes a Creator by default. Hinduism believes in Atman and Brahman. Brahman is the divine ground, the unified whole, the one.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:05 am |
      • S-3B Viking

        Dan,

        You know nothing of Buddhism.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  20. I AM G-D

    Xians and jews worship the same G-D only.

    Muslims are pagan. Allah ( pronounced as I Lie) is a pagan ancient Mesopotamia fake,

    September 1, 2013 at 6:22 am |
    • Joseph Bleaux

      How very very stupid.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • Tranq

      Funny you should say that LoL.
      Because the word Israel which is the other name Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him) was known by & is not & never was the name of a place in Palestine.
      I was saying funny enough because the Hebrew/Aramaic word Israel translates to the Arabic word of Abdullah !
      Isra= servant of
      el = Allah.

      What a spectable of ignorance LoL

      September 2, 2013 at 10:38 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.