By Contributor Lace Williams-Tinajero
Over the years conversations with people from different religions, atheists and agnostics included, have piqued my curiosity on the direct correlation between language and God.
Here are a few encounters that make me wonder to what extent language reveals the way we think and speak of, believe in, approach and ultimately worship God. One day two Mormon missionaries visited our home and left copies of The Book of Mormon and some pamphlets on family life. Not long afterwards I had a conversation with a Protestant Christian who used portions of the New Testament to argue that God’s will for divorced couples with children is always for them to reconcile. Then I’ve had opportunities to speak with an agnostic who argues how we ‘religious types’ give the impression of having God figured out.
A thought occurred to me. How can you capture a mystery, say a religious experience, with words? The Mormon missionaries who visited had never heard of the word “incarnation.” They did not know what this word meant and that it has to do with Jesus’ virgin birth. For them, the words ‘literal’ and ‘atonement’ capture the essence of Jesus. The example may seem trivial, yet it reveals something important. Incarnational language gives rise to a specific religious context. Such language reinforces what it is exactly Protestants and Catholics believe. Different interpretations of such language bring about the need for ecumenism.
A tension arises when people encounter someone with a different belief system. Before you know it the conversation is about who is right and wrong. What I believe is right. What you believe must be wrong because it’s a threat to my personal belief system. The right-wrong approach has its limits when trying to understand conflicting religious beliefs. Paying attention to language is key for understanding, not converting, one another.
It is clearly the case that sacred texts like The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Koran and other texts are all deemed sacred by their adherents, that each of these texts reflects the divine experiences of its writers. The language of each deserves credit for influencing, shaping and reinforcing entire religious communities and traditions. Religious tolerance is a human construct. We need to understand and relate to one other as fellow human beings, divine ones.