Religion, Language and Culture  – Part One

Religion contributes to life within any culture by providing an explanation and reason for existence. Religion also brings people together under one umbrella while providing hope, and sometimes confidence, for a positive future. Religions shape the way people see themselves, others and the world around them.

An important, but seldom considered factor, in shaping a world view is the language a person uses. Words have power and generate internal images of how something is supposed to be whether we are conscious of it or not. Once the power of words is understood, it is easier to understand the attitudes and assumptions within a culture based on their language.

Take the word puppy. What did you visualize? A Great Dane, a Yorkie or a Shepherd? Now take the word snake. What did your snake look like? Did you see a beautiful hood on an upright snake? Was the snake green and on the ground or did you feel afraid of the image in your mind? The word ‘puppy’ usually brings a smile to the lips, whereas the word ‘snake’ does not. This shows how languages, by defining qualities affect and shape attitudes within religions and cultural norms.

   For example, in Western cultures naming gender is important because of the judgment assigned to each gender. Another factor to consider are the ideas of separation and wholeness. In Western cultures separation is important. Separation exists between Politics, Science and Religion or mind and body, and of course between males and females. In the Eastern languages there is more of an attitude of wholeness, a unity between Science and Religion. In the West the information necessary to assume talents or traits in the statement “I see a person” is unavailable, because there is no stated gender. Not all languages have built in either/or judgements, or bias toward one or the other gender.

  For example, Sanskrit is such a language and does not inherently apply an either/or judgement to the phrase “I see a person”. Why not? Because the language recognizes the merging, and necessary blending of genders without specifically naming the individual presence of each gender. The same merging occurs between concepts of matter and spirit or consciousness. The picture below, which will seem foreign to many, shows the lack of separation. It is a picture of an energy form, depicted as a God and Goddess: Shiva and Parvati.

In many of the Western languages the name ‘Shiva’ pulls to mind the male side of this picture, while the presence of the Goddess Parvati, the divine Mother, is ignored. The dismissal of Parvati does not occur in the Sanskrit language because Shiva is not imagined as being alone. Rather, in Sanskrit Shiva is seen as being complete only with his help mate. No God, or energy, is able to achieve anything, without his or her other half, better known as Shakti. Likewise, Parvati, as powerful as she is, she can create nothing without her Shakti, known as Shiva.

The power of unity, whether it is between genders or matter and spirit is lost. Why? English, German, those broadly called the romance languages, are filled with ideas of judgement, and gender evaluation carrying images of separation, rather than wholeness and respect.

  Western languages emphasize male importance in the act of procreation but forget to acknowledge that seed without a fertile field to sustain the seed will come to naught. Elimination of the importance of female energy has been diminished in the West through our languages, as well as other factors.. The same principle applies to age. In the East, age is revered, not so in the West. 

  The result of unifying science and religion will be the topic of the Part Two