DIVERSITIES OF RELIGION AND LANGUAGE
The plurality of religions is like the multiplicity of languages. Both are divisive. Each ethnic group accepts its own heritage and deems all others pe-culiar. (The moral of the “Tower of Babel” story in the Bible is that diversities of language are a curse upon mankind. And the position that numerous religions are desirable because they give variety to life is foolish in the light of all the misery and misunderstanding that cultic contentions have caused.)
Effective communication is the main issue here, and real dialogue is only possible when one person studies another person’s religion or another person’s language.
Asking which religion is best is like asking which language is best. Each language has some difficult grammar, and by the same token each religion has some bad philosophy. Be that as it may, however, some languages are patently better than others. Some are hard to pronounce, spell, or write. Some are lacking in abstract or technical terms. Some contain too many ambiguous homonyms or idioms. Some cannot be understood without proper voice inflections. Likewise, some religions are too primitive, impractical, antisocial, belligerent, fatalistic, morbid, anti-intellectual, and mythical. Theoretically, therefore, it should be possible for impartial, intelligent judges to select a religion or a language that would best suit mankind as a whole.
However, contrived solutions have not worked. Artificially constructed tongues (Esperanto, Volapük, Interglossa, Monling, etc.) have been offered to the world with little success. Likewise, eclectic, syncretist religions (Theosophy, Sikhism, Baha’i, Masonry, etc.) have not found wide acceptance and have just become new sects themselves.
It should be obvious that deliberately fabricated faiths can never be accepted as vehicles of divine grace, but still every religion can be purified of its grosser elements of superstition, error, backwardness, and autocracy.
Philosophical conversion to a better religion or language is desirable for the individual and the human race. Usually, however, conversion, on an individual or national scale, has historically been based on economic or military pressure. The French language was the common parlance of Europe after the Napoleonic conquests. Likewise, Catholicism was the religion of Mexico after the time of the Spanish conquistadores. As to the present time, English is becoming widespread through economic usage, and Christianity is accorded some esteem as the basis of American culture.
What of the future? Will it see amalgamation or even more diversification? This all depends upon the following factors:
a. Whether one culture or nation becomes dominant in the world.
b. Whether one culture is more dynamic and evangelistic than others.
c. Whether society accepts some contrived solution through higher arbitration by a one-world government.
The evolutionary theory of the survival of the fittest seems to favor the first two of these solutions.
Richard L. Atkins
Simplifying a Language
As of April 1994, the world’s more than 300 million Spanish speakers now have two fewer letters in their alphabet to worry about, a move that won almost unanimous support but disturbed some traditionalists. The Association of Spanish Language Academies, meeting in Madrid for its tenth annual congress, voted to eliminate the “ch” and “ll” letter combinations from the Spanish alphabet.
Words beginning with these letters, which historically have had their own separate headings in dictionaries, now will be listed under other letters. Words beginning with “ch,” such as chico, will now appear under the letter “C,” while words beginning with “ll,” such as llama, will appear under “L.”
The move does not change pronunciation, usage, or spelling. It was taken mainly to simplify dictionaries and make Spanish more computer compatible with English. Pushing for the change was Spain, a member of the twelve-nation European Union. The EU has urged its members to implement measures that aid translation and computer standardization.
QUOTES FROM NEWS ARTICLES:
As a mother tongue, English is spoken by some 345 million people worldwide. Add to them an equal number who use English as a second language, and the same number again who are reasonably competent in English. The result: Some one fifth of the world are English speakers. In many countries today, professional advancement and social prestige depend upon a good grasp of English. (Jan. 1988)
English is already the Latin of the modern age...human languages are vanishing at the rate of one every two weeks. (Jan. 2000)
English has become the working language of diplomacy and business. (Mar. 2001)
THE NAME BARRIER
I must confess that I have trouble voting for anybody whose name I can’t pronounce. I probably speak for a few other Americans when I say that not only should immigrants learn to speak English, but they might also consider anglicizing their names. This is the case in Israel, where everyone who becomes a citizen there must speak Hebrew - and where it is also the custom to take an Israeli name. (I can cite a good example of this practice: Professor Elazar L. Sukenik, a famous translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, had an equally famous archæologist son who took the Hebrew name Yigael Yadin.) Two factors, a common language and citizens with familiar names, are useful in uniting diverse elements of society into one people.
In our country, Slavic and Oriental names are especially difficult when it comes to pronunciation. What do you do with names like Crzyznci or Zbdnyzyck? What of Deng Xiaoping? And is he Mr. Deng or Mr. Xiaoping? And even though Germanic names are generally acceptable, such oddities as Heller, Fuchs, Kuntz, and Lipschitz have proven to be sources of constant embarrassment. And since a name like Braun is mispronounced in America, it would be better to convert it to Brown and thereby retain its proper Germanic pronunciation. Likewise, an American Indian with the name Running Fox could become just Fox or Reynolds, and Brave Wolf could be just Wolf or Rudolph, etc. Unfortunately, there are some black citizens who are headed in the wrong direction when they choose Arabic names that make them out to be foreigners.
Now, personally, I enjoy the study of languages, and I always strive for proper pronunciation. So, it makes me cringe to hear Latin mangled in our courts and Greek and Hebrew mispronounced in our pulpits. I think that when a speaker choses to use a foreign word in his discourse, the burden is on him to either use it correctly or not at all. But with regard to names, it is simply not possible to learn the proper pronunciation of the names in all the 328 language groups in this country. And as long as that is the case, odd-named people will not fit smoothly into our society. They will remain on the outside, isolated from the best jobs and from meeting their fullest potentials.
In times past the problem was usually resolved at the immigrant’s port of entry, where his interviewer helped him select a new name. Being “reborn” to new citizenship, it seemed natural to mark the event with a new name that best suited him to the new life upon which he was entering. (Note: That option is still open to people who become naturalized citizens; they are given a form that allows changing their names at the time of the swearing-in ceremony.)
“Far away places with strange-sounding names” may be intriguing, but to be saddled with a a cognomen that must always be spelled out when introducing one’s self is a great nuisance and a life-long burden that would be best avoided. The Roman alphabet and the English language are now the accepted means of communication around the world. Nowadays nearly a fifth of the world’s population are English speakers. English is currently the international language of diplomacy, commerce, science, and aviation. And its further spread is ensured by its universal use on the Internet. Thus, it is a fact of life that professional advancement and social prestige depend upon a good grasp of English.
In the words of Woodrow Wilson, “A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular group in America has not yet become an American.” So, if we are to become “one nation, indivisible,” it is vital that the language barrier of this American Tower of Babel be demolished and all persons of foreign extraction be assimilated quickly and completely into our society. This will promote the prosperity of our nation and all its citizens.
Richard L. Atkins
THE TOWER OF BABEL
The story of the Tower of Babel in the Hebrew Scriptures is an ætiological myth, i.e., a primitive theory purporting to explain the phenomenon of the diversity of languages. It comes from a time when ancient religions were teaching that there was a natural enmity between gods and men. The Flood stories in many lands were from this mindset - that the gods wanted to do away with mankind. Also, the Greek myth of Prometheus’ stealing fire from heaven and giving it to mankind, because the gods refused it, reflected this enmity. This was also the thinking behind Pandora’s box - a case of divine treachery.
The Tower story also taught the lesson of retribution for the sin of hubris, human arrogance, which was a common theme in mythology (cf. Arachne, Niobe, Lot’s wife, and Uzzah - who dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant, 2 Sam. 6:6).
Ancient Hebrews assumed that the original language of Adam was Hebrew and that the languages of the nations were corrupted from it. The Jewish Talmud designates Hebrew as “the Holy Language.” It specifies that when praying alone, a Jew must employ Hebrew, but in a congregation he may use any language. The reason for this is that when he prays alone, he needs the intervention of angels to persuade God to listen to his prayer, and angels know only Hebrew. When he prays with a congregation, however, his petitions go straight to God, who understands all languages.
One curse of multiple languages was that the prayers of foreigners might not reach God. Another curse was that they could not cooperate and perform phenomenal feats or marvelous deeds, like building a “skyscraper,” because this could arouse divine jealousy.