religion: the art of language?

Allah in Arabic

Allah in Arabic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, these are a bunch of words. All of these words are linguistic units within a particular group of words called the English language.

Newborns cannot make sense of these words, including newborn kittens and puppies. The sounds of words are just sounds to them and writing is just a bunch of obscure shapes in a sequence.

Tetragrammaton scripts

Tetragrammaton scripts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you cannot read the writing of Hebrew or Arabic or Chinese, then you may be able to recognize that being able to see the shapes and even to copy them is distinct from being able to comprehend the message of the writing. We could say that someone who is not literate in a particular form of written code would be blind to the meaning of a message written in that type of coding. We could even use a metaphor and say “for those that have the eyes to see, let them see.”

Ezekiel 12:2 “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.
http://bible.cc/ezekiel/12-2.htm – 16k

Likewise, the sounds of Chinese or Arabic may be incomprehensible to someone who is not fluent in those languages. We could say that someone who is not familiar with a particular form of encoded sound would be deaf to the meaning of a message spoken in that type of coding. We could even use a metaphor and say “for those who have the ears to hear, let them hear.”

English: the tetragrammaton

English: the tetragrammaton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we are talking about the distinction between merely having attention on something and the ability to accurately interpret symbolic codes. For instance, an infant might be able to actually see an object without knowing what it is and what it does.

An infant might be able to say the words “hand grenade,” but can they identify one? Saying the sound of the words and knowing what it is or what it does are distinct. An infant can repeat the label “hand grenade” and may even identify an object as a toy version of a hand grenade, but still not know what it does.

An infant can also repeat even the sounds “God is holy” without any comprehension of any of those English words. Even a parrot can make the sounds “God is holy.”

We will come back to spiritual concepts in a moment. Let’s return to simple physical objects to make sure that the basic point is very clear.

infant

infant (Photo credit: soupboy)

If an infant could identify an object as a hand grenade, would that prove that the infant knows what a hand grenade does? Would every infant who can copy the sounds “cigarette lighter” know what a cigarette lighter does? Would every infant know what a satellite dish looks like and also know what a satellite dish does?

An infant could see these things without knowing what they do. An infant could even learn to label any of those things and still have no idea what they do or how the labels fit the function of the object.

For instance, if you ask a child why an object is called a cigarette lighter, they may produce a strange answer, such as “it is called a cigarette lighter because if you have some cigarettes that are very heavy, this device is used to make them much lighter.” Technically, that is even true, since a cigarette that has been burnt down to the filter is not as heavy as a brand new cigarette.

Knowing what something does is also distinct from knowing how something works. If you had all the parts needed and all the tools to assemble those parts, could you build a helicopter? Would you know how to fix something on a helicopter that is not working?

Mother and infant

Mother and infant (Photo credit: kibuyu)

So far, everything we have reviewed are things that would be already obvious to most anyone, except of course for infants. Next, you may be exposed to something quite radical.

Religion is the study of language. Also, science is a form of religion.

Before we explore those topics in depth, let’s back up to what is already clear. Again, these are a bunch of words. All of these words are in a particular group of words called the English language.

Next, is it possible to see a code without knowing what the code represents? If it is possible to see a code without knowing what the code represents, then it is also possible to misinterpret the code, as in to confuse what the code does not represent for the only possible accurate interpretation. In other words, we can believe in a particular interpretation of code as the right one, but without really being certain.

English: A "Bic type" cigarette ligh...

English: A “Bic type” cigarette lighter Italiano: Un accendino “tipo BIC” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, if we believe in a particular interpretation, but are not certain of that interpretation, we might attempt to persuade others to agree with us about the interpretation. Let’s return to the example of a child who insists that a cigarette lighter is a tool for making heavy cigarettes in to light cigarettes.

Maybe the child knows the words cigarette and lighter and cigarette lighter, but does not actually know what a cigarette is. Maybe the child presumes that if a cigarette lighter is something that lightens cigarettes, then cigarettes must be heavy.

So, there is one false presumption which can lead to other false presumptions. Maybe I challenge the child to lift an entire box of 20 cigarettes. The child lifts up the box and says “well, this is already very light. Are you sure these are really cigarettes? If these even really are cigarettes, then they must have already been lightened by a cigarette lighter….”

Obviously, the child with the false belief may begin to defend their belief, then to accuse others of trying to trick them or confuse them. The child may say “Why are you attacking my beliefs? You should have more respect for my right to believe that cigarettes are fundamentally heavy and that cigarettes lighters make them lighter!”

Believers can get frightened easily. They may defend their beliefs passionately or even violently. They may attack verbally or physically any perceived threat to their beliefs.

Believers may resist the idea that they may have made a simple mistake in language. They may assert the inherent or fundamental truth of their presumption. They may gather together and adopt a particular form of fanaticism as the only right form of fanaticism. However, they will never call their own fanaticism fanatical. They may call themselves fundamentalists, but how many call themselves fanatics?

Different groups of fanatics can splinter off because of tiny disputes or large disputes. Catholic fundamentalists and Protestant fundamentalists call each other fanatics and attack each other. Then, they may band together as Christian fundamentalists to go on a crusade to save the world from Islamic fundamentalists. Those Islamic fundamentalists may have been warring against each other with the Sunnis violently opposing the Shiites.

English: Rabbits around a waterhole at the myx...

English: Rabbits around a waterhole at the myxomatosis trial enclosure on Wardang Island in 1938. National Archives of Australia: barcode – 11145789, series accession number A1200/19. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fundamentalists generally are attacking some group as the enemies and rescuing some other group as the innocent victims. For instance, fundamentalists may want to save the cute little rabbits from the terrible snakes, at least until the rabbit population balloons and becomes such a huge problem that the rabbits are the enemies and breeding snakes for release in to the wild is identified as the solution to the problem of an overpopulation of rabbits.

Also, fundamentalism is a normal developmental stage. I was a fundamentalist, fanatical supporter of the religion of Santa Claus when I was 3. I was totally sincere. I was totally convinced. I was also totally wrong- or at least slightly inaccurate.

I might have got in to a fight with someone else over which was more important: converting people to the religion of Santa Claus or rescuing people from misconceptions about the true meaning of the words “cigarette lighter.” Furthermore, whatever was most important to me when I was 3 obviously should be what is most important to everyone else, right?

JackNSanta_1950s

JackNSanta_1950s (Photo credit: ctmoraga)

What if perception varies based on perspective? What if the backyard looks different from the porch and from the roof? What if what is most important to me is actually not fundamentally or universally most important, but is actually just most important to me, at least in a particular moment?

What if the core of the story of ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah details the dangers of fundamentalism? What if the core of the story of the prophet Jesus also repeats the teachings of Isaiah and expands on them, then Mohammed and others elaborate even further? What if some people focus on other elements of those stories or make up different stories?
Which is more true: when Jesus says something, quoting Isaiah, or when Isaiah says the same thing, or when Jacob says it or Moses or Mohamed or you? What if King James writes down something that Mohamed may have said (translated of course): does that make it suddenly authoritative?

Well, there could be a variation in “authority” or “energy” depending on the spiritual development or understanding of the person speaking. One person might be repeating words without any direct comprehension or direct experience.

One person may speak words as innocent repetition or as an arrogant fundamentalist believer or from faith. Faith does not require fear or defensiveness or animosity. Someone speaking from faith does not need to competitively ridicule people who present alternative interpretations.

Semana Santa 2011 - Jueves - Observando

Semana Santa 2011 – Jueves – Observando (Photo credit: Daniel Rocal)

Does someone with faith have contempt for someone who says that a cigarette lighter is a device for lightening heavy cigarettes? Someone with faith may quickly recognize the misinterpretation and have compassion for confusion or even for belligerent fear. Someone with faith does not frustrate themselves trying to convert others to their ideas or ideals or idols or idolatries.

Someone with faith cannot be exhausted by their faith. However, someone with the blind faith of belief (which is actually not what I mean by faith) can misinterpret words, confuse labels and meanings, argue over interpretations and misinterpretations, defensively justify their sincerity and passion and arrogance, then cultivate animosity and frustration and exhaustion.

Apparently around 5,000 years ago, an ancient scripture called the Mahabharata was written in the area now known as India. The content may have been passed down through oral traditions for quite a while prior to that, but humans really only developed writing quite recently (in terms of the timeline proposed by most anthropologists). Apparently that scripture was translated in to Hebrew and eventually became the first portion of what many people know as the Old Testament. In other languages and at other times, the core messages have been repeated, with varying degrees of clarity and precision.

If someone insists on a different historical sequence or that the same idea in Hebrew, Arabic, and Chinese cannot be the same idea because those are different languages, they may be a fundamentalist. I actually do not really care about the historical sequence in particular. Anyone who focuses on some particular alleged version of history over the practical value of the teachings about language that religion offers us may be a fanatical believer.

Beware of them. Don’t condemn them. You’ve probably made the same kind of linguistic errors and conceptual mistakes. As time goes on, some of them may be open to waking up from the dream of their fanaticism and you may be able to assist in their disillusionment (the ending of false hopes) and developing clarity about the reality of language and labels.

wrong label
As for science as a religion, I may address that another time in more detail. One obvious example is the belief that “the earth is flat,” whether it is a “religious” belief that people are willing to kill over or just a “scientific” belief that people are willing to ridicule others for considering. All beliefs are political. All beliefs are also economic. Most fundamentally, all beliefs are linguistic.

When a belief is recognized as just a belief, that is wisdom. When a belief is mistaken for an absolute truth, that may be the original meaning of the word idolatry, as in delusion, as in what in the Sanskrit language is called maya. It means a mistake in language, a confusion, a misinterpretation, an error, an inaccuracy, as in “missing the mark” or “missing the point.”

Deuteronomy 29:4 But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to
understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.
//bible.cc/deuteronomy/29-4.htm – 15k

Romans 11:8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor

, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY
//bible.cc/romans/11-8.htm – 17k

Mark 4:23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” …
//bible.cc/mark/4-23.htm – 15k

Mark 4:9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” …
//bible.cc/mark/4-9.htm – 15k

Acts 28:27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they

For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they
have closed their eyes–so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear
//bible.cc/acts/28-27.htm – 19k

Luke 14:35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile

thrown out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” …
//bible.cc/luke/14-35.htm – 16k

Matthew 11:15 He who has ears, let him hear.

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
//bible.cc/matthew/11-15.htm – 15k

Matthew 13:15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they

For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they
have closed their eyes–so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear
//bible.cc/matthew/13-15.htm – 19k

Jeremiah 5:21 Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who

Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who
have ears, but hear not. You have ears, but you cannot hear.
//bible.cc/jeremiah/5-21.htm – 15k

Matthew 13:9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” …
//bible.cc/matthew/13-9.htm – 15k

Matthew 13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the

their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
//bible.cc/matthew/13-43.htm – 16k

Luke 8:8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and

It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said
this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
//bible.cc/luke/8-8.htm – 17k

Job 13:17 Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what

Hear ye my speech, and receive with Sour ears hidden truths. Hear
attentively my speech and my declaration with your ears.
//bible.cc/job/13-17.htm – 14k

Mark 8:18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?
Having eyes, see you not? and having ears, hear you not?
//bible.cc/mark/8-18.htm – 15k

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4 Responses to “religion: the art of language?”

  1. shakilakhtar Says:

    “Apparently that scripture was translated in to Hebrew and eventually became the first portion of what many people know as the Old Testament.” This is news to me.The other day recently I read that many verses from the bible have been copied in some Hindu scriptures! I know there are a number of stories in Old Testament that are also repeated in the Qoran, how it came about? you may say humans walked thousands on miles, learnt new language and translated, but one may also argue the ONE Supreme being overseeing all and saying same things to different peoples at different times..? Allah says in Qoran He sent warners to all the peoples in each era. take your pick.For what I am trying to say I eantrest you to visit my blog
    http://shakilakhtar.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/surah-fatiha-and-gayatri-mantra/

    • jrfibonacci Says:

      The stories of prior deities like Osiris and Mithras are repeated in the New Testament (as well as within the broad category of the “Christian” tradition that is not part of the New Testament). I do not know Sanskrit and I have no interest in verifying the ideas presented. However, it is clear that the Arabic name Ibrahim and Hebrew name Abraham are very similar to the older Sanskrit name Brahman.

      Clearly, similar ancient myths are dispersed throughout the planet. How such consistency came about is perhaps an intriguing question for some. The idea that is presented in this blog is even more inclusive: all languages are branches of a single process, which I could label life or religion or not label at all.

      • shakilakhtar Says:

        I love your broad outlook and agree with Brahman, Also there are others, Manu (Noah) same story of flood etc in Hindu and in Bible and in Qoran there are few others. You are right, language may be the starter. Perhaps Aryans from the Cocacus spread most of the ideas in India and in the middle east.

    • jrfibonacci Says:

      Human language can be studied as a single process, just as humanity can be studied as a single process, just as primates can be studied as a single process, etc. The single process that does not exclude any process can be called Tao or Brahman or Allah or God, as in the Complete One or Holy One.

      If the Aryans came from a distance and migrated in to India, as has been promoted by European theorists, so be it. My research in to the subject, which has not been extensive, discovered no evidence supporting that claim and lots of evidence indicating that a dry river bed in North India was the location of the civilization that produced many of the ancient scriptures. Apparently, the Europeans may have made up a lie to promote their imperial aspirations. I do not exactly know when the idea that the Aryans were Caucasian was started, but apparently the theory is only a few hundred years old, but has had the benefit of enormous propaganda through public schools and so forth. Some of those Europeans may even try to convince you that they invented breathing.

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