Dear Friends and Members of the United Church of Norman-UCC
What if Religions Were Like Languages?
I had a chance to attend a symposium on religious pluralism at Oklahoma City Community College, where I teach religion and philosophy part time. It became obvious that there was a tension in the room. This came from having two opposing viewpoints in the room. And they largely talked around each other. Let’s call the first view point universalism and let’s call the second view point, exclusivism.
The presenters and most of the students made clear that they were universalists of a sort. They claimed all the religions were largely the same, that they all lead to the same path, that it is important to focus on our commonalities and not our differences. The exclusivists wanted to sort out which religion is correct and which religion is false. A few really wanted to pick a fight with Islam.
Every time some objection was raised about a particular religion, the universalists, would go back to the need to live together, be neighborly, love one another. But the discussion never advanced as a result.
Now I’d much rather live in a world with universalists than I would with exclusivists. It allows us to live peaceably with our neighbors in a diverse world. But I’d shift how we accomplish this end.
Suppose, as a thought experiment, that religion was like a language. It is the discourse we have at hand to get on in the world. Would it be possible to go with either universalism or exclusivism?
Is it the case that all languages are the same? That they all have an essential unity? That to learn about other languages, is not to be involved in the particulars, but find where they come together? I’d argue no. You can’t get a hold of a language without knowing the particulars, the uniqueness, the specific features of what makes it the language that it is.
Not that learning about overlaps is irrelevant, Danish and Norwegian do overlap. It is just that without the particulars, you won’t discern much of the overlap and the differences. You have to study language in the particular.
But could you say that either French is true or German is true, but they both can’t be true? No. The best criteria that you could come up with is adequacy. Does the language describe well the world? Does it have flexibility? Does it through its phrases, vocabulary, capture something about the world that we should be attentive to?
And does language change? Yes they do. And are older versions of the language truer than the current one? No, of course not. Now you can know more about the present language if you know its history and development, but there is no pure form of the language. When you start learning a foreign language, you start with how people of that language speak now.
OK, let’s insert the word religion here. I get the impression that the universalists would have us all speak Esperanto, the artificial language that takes from many major languages to make a melting pot of words. And the exclusivists, I presume in the room at OCCC, want us all to speak Christian. But both don’t create a context for religious diversity.
Instead I would propose, as many religion scholars have proposed, a third way. It’s called pluralism. We celebrate the many religions. We really have a better sense of the world with more religions, not less. But if we really want to understand other religions, we don’t just celebrate them in the abstract. Nor by just rushing off to Holy Texts to determine the true version of the religion.
You study religion by diving deep into a tradition and as it is practiced. And we assume that such an encounter will change us, that we’ll see something new in the world as a result. That’s a good thing and should make for peace among religions. We wouldn’t worry which religion is true or not. We would worry in what ways religion can be humane, can be adequate to human life, in their rich particulars.
It is those particulars, that we’ll focus on for this Sunday’s service as liberal Christians. We will also be celebrating communion, which all are invited to participate.
Rev. Dwight Welch
July 16th Sunday
Garnett Teakell will lead an adult education discussion at 9:45 a.m on Latin American Christianity. At 11 a.m we will celebrate communion during our worship service.
July 23rd Sunday
Garnett Teakell will lead an adult education discussion at 9:45 a.m on Arminianism
July 30th Sunday
Dwight Welch will lead an adult education discussion at 9:45 a.m on the UCC’s Reformed heritage.
We’re discussing chapter 6 of Chris Haye’s new book A Colony in a Nation at Nancy Logan’s home 3200 Summit Bend at 7pm.
Resident and Shelter Needs include soap, cleaning supplies, furniture, diapers. Kitchen Needs are dry sealed foods. Care Packets for the homeless include deodorant, self care products, snack foods
Is being held with Memorial Presbyterian Church 601 24th Ave SW Norman July 24-July 27th from 6-8pm. Snacks, Bible stories, play,c rafts and lessons are focused on the importance of food in our life.