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The Languages of Faith

Which is better, German or English? Latin or Greek? French or Farsi?

Dumb question. Meaningless question. Language is not a competition, except for linguistic chauvinists. Different languages are merely different ways of accomplishing the same end - communication. Every language has its own cultural history, its own distinctive sound, its unique verbal images.

Even within languages, there are wide variations. There are hundreds of dialects within China, for instance. Regional differences in spoken English in the US help tie a person to the area in which he was raised. Personally, I love to hear someone from Scotland or Ireland speak. Their version of my mother tongue is much more musical than what I hear in the States.

Religions are spiritual languages. Which one is better? Christianity or Islam? Hinduism or Judaism? Baha'i or Shintoism? Dumb question. But here you will find people much more willing to express an opinion as to the superiority of their particular language.

We don't hear people talking about the one true human language, except perhaps English speakers. And maybe the French! But people are quick to assert that their faith system is the only true religion. And this arrogant attitude has been responsible for most of the wars in recent history. If there is no "best" physical language, there is no "best" spiritual language either. When we finally learn this truth, we will have reached a new stage in the evolution of the human race.

I recently bumped into an old friend, a conservative pastor. He knew of my journey down the long road into heresy, and had some questions about how we could have started from the same spot and yet ended up so far apart. What I said was somewhat startling to him - God no more cares what religion we profess than what language we speak. Imagine God refusing to let us into heaven because we spoke German instead of English. Heaven is not an English-speaking place. Nor is it a Christian-speaking place. One of the things that got me kicked out of the ministry was my assertion that God is not a Presbyterian! People don't want to hear that.

We are told that in the spirit world people communicate with their minds, without the need for speech. In this format, you know every thought and intention of the one with whom you are communicating. Compared to that, human speech is very inadequate and misleading. The Bible says that on the other side we will know as we are known, thoroughly and openly. Here, we often use words to disguise meaning and intention, rather than to clarify them.

The languages of religion often have political and ego-based agendas. They are not interested in advancing the view that we are all brothers and sisters, regardless of our linguistic differences. They too often preach that God only loves those who speak a particular language. We need to begin seeing religions as wedges of an enormous spiritual pie, a pie which would not be complete without any individual piece, but a pie in which no one piece is large enough to be the whole.

We try to convert people to our religious mother tongue because other languages are seen as threats. If they are true, then my way of speaking about God might be wrong. Yet, we study other human languages for a variety of reasons - to appreciate their culture and literature, to make possible better communication, and to create a closer world community. This is precisely what we need to do with the variety of spiritual languages. Each one of them has something valuable to give us, and because there is only one God, all of those gifts come from the same God.

I heard a program this morning which said that Benjamin Franklin contributed to the building funds of every church in Philadelphia. He did so because he believed that any organization which advanced the common good deserved his support. When we grow up enough to see that French and Dutch are equally valuable ways to communicate, we will have gone a long way toward establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.

Posted 7-04-07

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2007