Ranny Kang

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If the world shared a common language, would religion be obsolete?

Call me crazy, but I have this idea that all religions in essence are all the same. Through the evolution of language and culture, humans have interpreted the same idea differently in order to understand spirituality in the context of their lives and their circumstances. And as human beings, we love to label, categorize and give everything names--Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, etc.--which eventually divides and creates the "other". What if we all shared a common language? I'm not talking English, Spanish or Chinese. I'm talking about love, transformation, peace and acceptance.

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    Aug 4 2011: If you put Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, and Buddah in the same room they would get along well, they all based on their respective texts had the same principles. It's funny how people easily stray from principles whether written or spoken.

    I think if everyone focused on the core principles that they believe in on the most basic level with no interpretations, or exceptions that the world would be a better place.
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    Aug 9 2011: Re:"....... which eventually divides and creates the "other"."
    A sense of 'otherness' is a human one, as Pagel eludes to, and starts at a very young age, perhaps at the point where infants start to develop the concept that they are separate from the mother.
    Research shows the if you take school children and divide them into groups by handing out red shirts and blue shirts, the children cheer on their same shirted teammate, and against best friends, who are not wears the same colored shirt. Take off the shirt and old alliances are once again formed. This is all it takes, a shirt, to "create the other."
    We ourselves are not all love and acceptance. We are divided and conflicted creatures, part "self," a part we embrace, and part "other", and part we deny about ourselves. Otherness is not an external part of the world, it is an internal manifestation that is projected outward.
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    Aug 4 2011: No, I don't believe that a widely held universal language would meld religion together. Religious beliefs are central to many cultures, providing rich cultural history, philosophy and impact on contemporary life style choices. Religions are, at this point in time, too firmly embedded within society to change that dramatically. Taking down the language barrier certainly would open people up to new perspectives and ways of thinking, but it seems highly doubtful in my opinion that dissolving language differences would lead to a global, or even any nation wide agreement in spirituality and philosophy. I believe that it is possible for mankind to one day advance to a point where mostly everyone is educated enough to know that they must accept others and not simply tolerate differences, but realistically that future is far off in the distance. We must start with global education and go from there.
  • Aug 4 2011: I am a religious person, despite how unpopular or antiquated that notion may be at TED. Although I am religious, I can easily see how a non-religious person could have the viewpoint that all religions serve the same purpose in society: to bring about love, transformation, peace, acceptance, hope, etc. However, religions don’t own the monopoly on these traits. Many non-religious people strive and achieve these virtues. Personally, I don’t feel like I need my religion to develop these attributes.

    So what is the purpose of a religion? You question assumes the sole purpose for every religion is to foster these virtues. While these virtues are important elements of many religions, most religious people would agree that their religious beliefs go far beyond love, transformation, peace and acceptance.

    For many people, religions provide answers to important life questions, such as: What happens after we die? What happened before birth? Why do bad things happen to good people? What consequences do my life choices have in my view of the universe? etc. Once again, religion doesn’t own the monopoly on the answers to these questions either.

    To me, one of the key elements of being religious is developing a personal relationship with diety. When you bring diety into the mix, almost every religion has a different idea of diety. A common language would never be able to make everyone believe in the same type of diety. If two people can’t agree on the characteristics of the diety they worship, they can’t have a unified religion. I believe that one of the main reasons we categorize and label the religions the way that we do is because very few can agree on the same definition of "peace," "acceptance" or “diety.” The doctrines, teachings, and philosophies of each religion are unique, and deserve their own distinction, rather than being lumped into the same category.

    That being said, I love the idea of your common language, but it will not replace religion for me
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    Aug 4 2011: You often hear people say that all religions are basically the same and all this shows is that you don't know many religions. While the Yahweh religions (Jewish, Muslim Christian) have some common ground and the enlightenment religions (Buddhist, Hindu etc) have common ground too, there is very little overlap.

    Take the first one you mention - love. In the enlightenment religions the aim is for all forms of emotional attachment to be transcended and dropped and this includes love as much as it includes hate, they are as bad as each other.

    Also, it is in the nature of language to diversify and evolve where ever there is social, cultural or physical isolation. It is only globalised media that has kept US and UK English as close as they are.
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      Aug 4 2011: I don't think one has to study every religion to understand the basic principals of a religion. Religion is a set of beliefs and serves as a structure for the community to practice spirituality. It's a system that is controlled by language. And we see it evolve or take different forms as different cultures are exposed to those set of beliefs.

      When it comes down to it, it doesn't really matter what the intention or aim of a religion is because it depends on the human being practicing whatever religion it is and their intention of practicing. So as the person put it below:

      "If you put Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, and Buddah in the same room they would get along well, they all based on their respective texts had the same principles. It's funny how people easily stray from principles whether written or spoken.

      I think if everyone focused on the core principles that they believe in on the most basic level with no interpretations, or exceptions that the world would be a better place."
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        Aug 4 2011: It is impossible to have religion without interpretation. People have a natural tendency to interpret things differently, whether it be a broad concept or something as objective as a color. Such is the reason there are so many different religions. Interpretation is part of what makes us unique, what makes us human.
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      Aug 4 2011: The goal of all religions is the same.
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        Aug 4 2011: I would appreciate it if you would tell me what that goal is? In my Celtic Christian faith it is to bring the Kingdom of God into the world and have people do the things that Ms. Kang is talking about in her post as a way of existence and being. I do not have a deep enough understanding for Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, Hindu, Zen and the other to make an intelligent comment on them.
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          Aug 4 2011: It is about living your bliss.
          A fuller sense of enlightenment
          It is a history of humanities struggle becoming human.
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          Aug 6 2011: imho Religion is made to subdue massive amounts of people into doing what is "good" and to predispose people to think a certain way.
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        Aug 5 2011: Anyone here heard of the Charter for Compassion? Karen Armstrong has made a decent effort to find a commonality, do no harm.
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    Ben Jin

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    Aug 8 2011: I don't know if this is right or not, but isn't this the hippie ideal? Reject branches of religion, and then just basically embrace those core values of human emotion and mind...

    I'm also unsure as to whether the hippie idealism is really "institutionalized", but I know of a fable by Lincoln Steffens, quoted here from Huston Smith's book "The World's Religions":

    "Lincoln Steffens has a fable of a man who climbed to the top of a mountain and, standing on tiptoe, seized hold of the Truth. Satan, suspecting mischief from this upstart, had directed on of his underlings to tail him; but when the demon reported with alarm the man's success - that he has seized hold of the Truth - Satan was unperturbed. 'Don't worry,' he yawned. 'I'll tempt him to institutionalize it.'"

    Har har har. I'm not trying to discourage churches or the establishment of religions at all, but it just SEEMS that institutionalization, or that "love to label, categorize, and give everything names" for religions, as you put it, doesn't always go the way we intend. Without a doubt, ideally, a common language of "love, transformation, peace, and acceptance" sounds tantalizing, but if the world did suddenly follow these ideals, someone, somewhere is gonna start twisting the format out of concept and we'll be stuck in the same position we were before. When it gets to ideals, religions similarly sound just so tantalizing; even the caste system of India sounded pretty decent until it was actually put into effect. Maybe some variety of religions, where we all learn to coexist peacefully, is really where we can learn about peace and acceptance, rather than just one common language and total absence of the number of religions we have today. Acceptance for new things won't exist if foreign things don't exist in the first place.
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    Aug 7 2011: having one language would eliminate more miscommunications, improving the world in a myriad of ways. so lets all learn chinese.
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      Aug 7 2011: yes i agree
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        Aug 8 2011: Recalling Pinker's discussions in the Language Instinct, Esperanto will never be viable universal until children are raised speaking it.
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          Aug 8 2011: That's nonsense.
          The idea of Esperanto is to be a non-national non-ethnic IAL used only for international comunication.
          Esperanto has been used successfully in international congresses for more than 110 years. It was always viable.

          Also there are children raised speaking it, but that's other history.
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        Aug 8 2011: the only reason i chose Mandarin was the fact that it is the most popular language. i do not really have a bias toward any language in particular. Esperanto would be fine but it would take much more energy to implicate.
        i share your opinion that promulgation would be sinful but if we can simply let a language culturally take over then nobodies feeling would to be hurt.
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          Aug 9 2011: "What if we all shared a common language? I'm not talking English, Spanish or Chinese. I'm talking about love, transformation, peace and acceptance."

          I think the original topic was discussing not verbal languages but more... emotional languages.
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    Aug 5 2011: There is a very simple answer to this question: "NO"
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    Aug 4 2011: William while I appreciate your insight I cannot help but think that your opening line of "if you put...." would be a great lead in for a comedy sketch.
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    Aug 4 2011: You idea has been tried many time but so far with very little success. This does not mean it is a bad idea and not worthy of trying again I think we just need to find out what did not work and try to do it differently. The love culture of the 60's turned into the me generation of the 80's or yuppies. There I think the weakness was the fact that it was tried as an escape not a total change, Language had a common root according to linquistic experts and they have even gone so far as to trace the geographical origin to the middle east. Love, transformation, peace and acceptance are hard to define as languages. I think of them more as ideas, moral guides, emotional states, choices and goals. My definition of language is that it can communicate ideas of solid nature as well as more esoteric, ethereal, mystical nature. It allows you and I to share ideas with a common understanding. My definition may not be the best but it is the one that I can understand the best. Sorry if this is confusing not my intent.
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    Aug 4 2011: Great thought, but I am certain it would not work. My daughter and I speak the same language, but still manage to be worlds apart in belief. Thankfully, our mutual love and respect keeps us from harm.
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    Aug 4 2011: Religious is basicly Hope. They are all the same, they fullfil the same needs... therefore they will never be obsolete!
  • Aug 14 2011: As long as we don't have a convincing answer to the question, "what is the purpose of life?", religion will be here. It doesn't seem we are going to figure everything out in the near future because I am not ready to be bored.
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    Aug 10 2011: The things you speak of, "love, transformation, peace and acceptance" are not replacements for religion. They are lofty goals, but lofty goals are not the only purpose of religion. In the sense of structured religions, they were the government before government that created the rules of social interaction. Even today, religions still provide a cultural glue which binds it's members into a more or less cohesive entity larger than any individual member. Many years ago when I was confirmed into my parents faith, I recorded a "ChuchEx"card. I was told that if I presented this card to any church of that faith I would be welcome there. That is the first reason your ideals cannot replace religion. The second is fear. Many religions function as a sort of posthumous insurance. The idea being if you live according to our rules, when you die, you go to a better place. Living with unaffiliated ideals guarantees a good life, and that is imminently desirable but, you miss out on the insurance. For millions, that will be a deal breaker.

    Cheers, Winston
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    Aug 9 2011: its funny how that is the world of democracy today is playing peoples emotion for support, than making lots of back room deals. if i had to guess not much emotion is involved in the deals, just way too much logic.
    its a nice example because it shows the two sides to emotion (which is extremely undefined in this discussion).
    I love you all.
  • Aug 8 2011: What purpose do religions serve? Jerome Berryman, creator of "Godly Play", asserts religions are language systems that helps people make meaning out of their own existential limits (being alone, threat of freedom, meaning of life and death) in community. So it seems to me that until basic confines of our humanity disappear, humans will continue to seek ways to make meaning with others about those confines. Let's face it: there are things we can KNOW and there are things that are ELUSIVE to our knowing.

    (Godly Play is a way of spiritual guidance for children to become fluent in the Christian language system and enter adolescence open to the future while being fluent in this tradition of meaning making in community. It is based on the Montessori method of education and the 2000 year old Christian liturgy.)
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    Aug 8 2011: Well as Chad pointed out, the English-speaking Christian world gives you a hint. Look at European religious history and how reformed churches rised from Catholicism. Nowadays Church of England followers still have a misrepresentation of catholicism, where Catholics are seen as more conservative in particular.
    Also, and perhaps more importantly than historic and modern examples, recent research in psychology highlights how as human we tend to be compelled to believe in supernatural. See Jesse Bering ("The belief instinct") for this (http://www.jessebering.com/the-belief-instinct.php). As for recknoning that generalized free-thinking would free the world of religion, it's a fallacy that we all tend to embrace: the thought that we're just humans, therefore compelled to believe, is threathening and easier to wash away by thinking it's all about culture / education / free-thinking... whatever is controllable.
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    Aug 5 2011: I wish your concept were possible but even within the English Christian culture and language there have been so many "new" religions started that do not tolerate each other, even after 1800 in America, Shakers, Mormons, Seventh day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses just to mention the larger groups. Religions on one level trend to be a means for groups to identify and help the "members" compete against the "other". Now if the unifying higher principles that you and most of us can see at the origin of most religions remained the strongest motivation your concept could work.
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    Aug 4 2011: Thank you Christopher for your insight. I appreciate you time. We do struggle to become human and in the process make mistakes and hopefully learn from them.
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      Aug 10 2011: That is a statement I must question. To say that we "struggle to become human" is meaningless rhetoric. We ARE human. What we struggle with is our culturally ingrained interpretation of what that should mean. Every time you talk about becoming human, you deny your own humanity, and by extension that of every person who fails to meet some arbitrary and ill defined goal. I may struggle to become the person I wish to be, but I face that challenge not to "become" human, but because I already am.

      Cheers, Winston
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    Aug 4 2011: Getting along well is not the same as having the same beliefs and the principals of Moses and Buddha are very different.
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    Aug 4 2011: Why a common language should make religion obsolete?

    Are not in different counrtie people speaking same language & part of same culture already following different religions? If that similarness with in country haven't made religion obsolete , why it will do it globally even if the whole globe transforms in to one language and culture.

    Other than language & culture , it's more possible for science to make religion obsolete if everyone become more scientific in their thoughts due to connectivity. But that also not happening. Many are having both in their practice. Many more taking all advantage of science than denying science clinging to religious thoughts.

    So I don't really see a reason for this idea to become a reality.
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    Aug 3 2011: It sounds nice but there is still room to wiggle in philosophy.

    Take determinist view on the world
    a free will view.

    Religion as we know it would be obsolete but you'd still have those pesky church of epistemology clergy starting wars!!!
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      Aug 4 2011: I got chya. I'm still playing with the idea. I don't think religion will ever be obsolete as long as there are those who aren't able to think freely. People will still need someone to think for 'em. It's not a bad thing. It works. It's when it doesn't that scares me.
      • Aug 4 2011: Ironic that in your question you state that "as human beings, we love to label, categorize and give everything names" and here you are lumping all religious people into the group of those who "can't think freely or need someone to think for them."

        Your assumption that those who are religious can't "think freely", or that they need "someone to think for 'em" is quite naive. Many religious founders were some of the most free-thinkers of their time, and many noted scientists were religious. To imply that the following weren't "able to think freely" is preposterous.

        - Copernicus
        - Sir Francis Bacon
        - Galileo
        - Descartes
        - Newton

        On the flip side, many scientists reject religion. We have great thinkers on both sides of the argument. It's comments like yours that are divisive, non-peaceful, and non-accepting.

        If you want people to embrace love, transformation, peace, and acceptance, you can start by not belittling those who do not share your views.

        I'm sure you dislike people cramming religion down your throat (I know I do). But I find it equally annoying when people spreading the notion that all religious people can't think for themselves and they can't think freely.
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          Aug 4 2011: She did not say "All religious people can not think freely"
          What does it mean to be a free thinker?
          To make choices independent of other people's observations and commentary?
          To be creative?

          When I lock myself away from the world I am often limited in my breadth of creativity; my mind gets stuck on certain concepts, I find myself repeating meaningless phrases (such as "sixteen pounds of bacon") and I fail to see beyond the horizon of my shortcomings. But when I'm with other people or have an outside catalyst my mind flows far more freely.
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          Aug 4 2011: I didn't mean to say it in a spiteful way. And I didn't say it to belittle anyone. It's the same thing as an educational institution. Why pay thousands of dollars or get yourself into a lifetime of debt when one can create a curriculum themselves? Because it's a structure. It's a system that works. Why reinvent the wheel when we don't have to? This is how I see religion--the same way I see education, the same way I see marriage, the same way I see all things in life. I'm not against it. In fact, I appreciate it. I just think it's important to explore what I choose to believe--and see whether it's something I truly believe or if it was something I was conditioned to believe.