On Religious Language and Transcendence

Here’s another Facebook comment, this one expressing something of my view of religious language:

I don’t think any human language is adequate. But I think that language which points towards and is drawn from the deepest, most meaningful, and most self-transcending aspects of our own experience is more adequate than language which reflects human experience at its most shallow, most narrow, most clearly constrained by our worst imperfections and biases.

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  • Ian

    Here’s a thought to (good-naturedly) troll you with on your visit to Blighty.

    Progressive Christianity is, at root, a narrowing of language, a giving up of the quest to express the inexpressable in exchange for language acknolwedged to be inadequate.

    Rather that draw on the deepest, most meaningful language you yourself could muster. Rather than discarding traps of words and thoughts that fail to express the universe as we know it, much less any greater reality of which it is a part.

    It says: settle for the same old language, in the same old structures, regardless of whether it accurately expresses the reality you seek. Because it is old, it is traditional, it is what your culture expects. It is what you’re familiar with, what your friends do. Come and form man-shaped idols out of the infinite sacred, call them Jehovah, Jesus, The Holy Spirit. Worship them as proxies for something far greater and more worthy.

    What a shame to glimpse what transcendence could be, and willingly wrap it in such profane language.

    [Flowery language is, of course, part of the troll, but the sentiment is pretty much why I wouldn’t choose to be a Progressive *Christian*. But meant light-heartedly.]

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    I agree with Ian.

    I feel that Progressive Christians (in the USA — my only experience), do understand how they keep their language narrow. And I don’t think they realize how this choice of keeping “God Language” is their way of cheaply buying “Christian Priviledge” in America and a comforting view of themselves.

    God-Talk is an intentional narrowing of language for specific reasons — conscious or not.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      Sorry for the delay in replying. I actually disagree. I think that the word “God” is one of the most powerful symbols that English-speaking human beings have come up with. Simply substituting something less meaningful and trying to fill the neologism with new meaning is not always successful. Symbols are powerful precisely because they come to resonate at levels beyond the verbal.

      And all language narrows and confines, as the Taoist tradition in particular highlights.