Translating God

When I think of “God,” I translate that to mean “Energy of the Universe” and I am perfectly happy holding a conversation about “God” because I have translated an understanding to which I can relate. “God” does not translate into “Heaven” or “Hell” or “Angels” or “Trumpets” for me — I instead think of an unfillable empty space.

Translating God

As well, when I hear “Allah” or “Buddha” or “72 Virgins” or “Wicca” or “Satan” or “Big Bang” or “Space Ship” I translate those ideas into “Energy of the Universe.”

I feel comfortable listening and trying to understand everyone’s religious or scientific point-of-view because all those ideas — to me anyway — translate into a greater energy that is larger and more powerful than us. Recently, a friend of mine told me it was unacceptable to make those translations equal mark-for-mark because the belief systems I am translating are specific and coveted in a particular context:

Translation does not, and cannot, apply.

“When a person speaks of God and Jesus and Heaven and Hell,” my friend said, “Those are very real people and places. Hellfire that burns eternally against your skin is a fact for true believers, so when you say you ‘understand’ or let them think you also claim what they are relating because of your ‘translation’ — you are actually misleading them into thinking you are with them.”

I don’t understand what difference it makes if my belief systems include all belief systems under the “Energy of the Universe” ideal — but I guess there are others in the world who are more literally minded than I am and who narrowly believe in a specific “Devil” and in the niche of “72 Virgins” and in a literal “Witchcraft” — and for me to “go along” with claiming to understand them via a silent and invisible translation is something that mystifies and wounds. I thought I was just being open-minded.

34 comments

  • I think you would be interested in Marcus Borg’s works. He is a Christian theologian who has done a lot to open up this idea of a new paradigm in Christian though–away from the concrete, materialistic, and teleological Christianity of popular understanding into a new, humbler paradigm that suggests a commonality between all faiths–God–though all faiths are understood uniquely through their cultural and historical experiences and myths.

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  • Thanks for the info, Sandy. Marcus Borg sounds like an interesting mind to read!

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  • David- You and your friend can both be right. One difficulty with the pre-quantum scientific/rational viewpoint is that it tends to lead people to believe there are “facts,” while there is most likely, interpretations, depending on the vantage points.

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  • This is an interesting question.
    I know from my religious upbringing that we are made in the image of God. God is like us, but I doubt he or she looks like the pictures of the old guy with the beard we all grew up seeing.
    I also know from the scriptures that Love is the most important force in the universe. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13 NLT.
    I always have a feeling of Love when I think of God. Whenever I’ve had a “moment closest” with God, it has always involved a feeling of great love and peace.
    I’ll have to check out Borg’s works. He sounds like an interesting writer.

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  • fred –
    The point my friend was making is the beliefs I am “translating” are not beliefs to the people who hold them — they are “realities” and I am misleading them by not accepting their reality and by translating it into a universal belief instead.

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  • Hi Chris!
    Yes, I agree with you — but my friend would claim that I am not really agreeing with you — I am actually being a fake in my universal translation of God into “energy” and Love into “warmth.”

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  • Hi David,
    I sent an email to some friends of my from my Cursillo group to alert them to the discussion since many of them have spent more time and energy pondering these sorts of questions. If you see some new visitors, it might be them. :)
    I wonder if organized religion sometimes gets the meaning of God’s Love wrong when the focus becomes “us vs. them” or “this procedure vs. that procedure” rather than a more inclusive view of all humans being on a quest for spiritual truth and a search for a relationship with God and his Love.

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  • open minded?
    are you talking about a borderless mesh allowing all concepts to pass without holding on to any encountered truth?
    or perhaps you mean interacting with common experiences amongst God concepts, in the cosmic wash, translates into truth that you enjoy grasping?
    can you elaborate?

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  • Hi Chris!
    Thanks for the push into your Cursillo group! That’s a fine way to get fine, new, intellectual, eyes on our posts!
    You may be right about the confusion and the division between “us vs. them” because it can insult people and place them on the defensive when accusations posing as questions are presented.

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  • Hi David- A lot seems to fall into place when one realizes all words are “reification.”

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  • Smart advice, fred, thanks!

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  • questions that hone the truth may also feel like accusations. be not affraid. God is not a concept. God is a reality and He loves you, me, and all people.
    God wants a relationship with you, but it is your free will to seek a relationship with God.
    please continue your search beyond your current translation. ask your questions. you are accountable.

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  • Does it really matter what anyone believe as long as there are tolerance for each other’s paradigms? What is a belief but a conceptial paradigm populated with archetypal symbols of various kinds? What is a name of a god but an Egregore, a channel of energy. A point of focus. How can we imagine that which is beyond our comphrehension? God is infinite, God is love …
    How many even know what love is?
    We can only have a relationship with what we can be intimate with, not an abstract concept. So if we speak of a relationship with god how would one define that which you are having a relationship with?

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  • Wow. I think that is a very healthy way of looking at different religions. It’s hard not to judge if someone believes something that you don’t but the way you look at it…as “Energy of the Universe”….makes it easy not to judge. Good for you! I’m going to start thinking of relgions/gods/etc. like that as well. :)

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  • yes, it does matter what anyone believes because it is belief that teaches tolerance. it is belief that defines and refines us like gold in the crucible. paradigms differ, but what is important leads to the truth, and the truth does not leave you empty, but with a deep peace. and in that peace exists compassion.
    how can you know what an orange is if you have never tasted, smelled, or seen an orange? if you never experienced an orange and then someone told you all about its color, its flavor, and how juicy and sweet and good it is, would you say that is a beautiful concept but I can’t imagine it? would you seek it out? can you imagine what a wonderful explosion upon the senses an orange becomes when first encountered?
    that you can not have a relationship with what you do not know does not mean that you can not begin a journey of discovery. That your past and current experience has not led you beyond what you can conceptualize does not mean you can not know a reality exists.
    a desire for an orange may or may not be required.

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  • Hi Sophia –
    I think my friend would answer you by saying, “If you do not believe your skin will be on fire in Hell — literally on fire for all of eternity — if you are a Sinner, then you cannot say you understand the concept of sinning, going against God and an unrepented death.”
    I sort of understand the point because I translate Hell into an idea of disappointment and wrongful living — my friend tells me you are “misinterpreting” that idea and that’s why Christian evangelicals and atheists and other religions will never get along. They don’t value the same idea sets in the same way.

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  • Hi Brit!
    Welcome to Urban Semiotic and thanks for the comment!
    I don’t want to get tethered up in Devils and Virgins and Sinning and other fundamentalist beliefs because they are not facts in any non-religious state of observation — they are fanciful meanderings that provide no basis in scientific or medical significance beyond “believing.”
    I much prefer the human whole than the stratification of between different religious belief sets.

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  • Sorry for the delay in response – have been trying to find a specific article to back up and illustrate what I say. However it is not to be.
    I feel very much the same was as David about the “energy of the universe” – I also feel that it is up to us as individuals as to how we embrace this and manifest it as personal belief. We all do this according to our individual circumstances and mindsets.
    “Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people’s suffering. On these lines every religion had more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal.” The Dalai Lama
    There is a concept – called the Golden Rule which can be found in all major religions – in Christianity this is accepted as “Do onto others as you would wish them do onto you.” The Wiccan Rede is “An it harm no one, do what thou wilt” .
    Source (and for the golden rules of other religions) http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm
    It is only when people believe their is the one true way and that there can be no other way that we run into problems.

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  • Thanks for the comment, Nicola!
    I don’t know how we will ever be as one as a people of the world with these religious differences dividing us.

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  • Sadly nothing unites better than a common enemy – I guess it will take something like “The day after tomorrow” or “War of the Worlds” or maybe “Independence Day” to really unite the world – ie something bigger than religion.

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  • It’s just so sad it takes the threat of an enemy to unite us.

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  • Its sad – but unfortunately a fact of life. The one thign guaranteed to unite disparate groups of people is a common foe – especially one that is bigger/more powerful than them.

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  • I just hope that “common foe” doesn’t become the USA or the UK.

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  • That is a very real danger – especially if you start looking at the birth rate statistics of certain nations.

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  • Right! Our sworn enemies grow stronger while we grow weaker and less vibrant. It’s the whole pendulum thing again.
    How long did the Roman Empire last? Weren’t they strong and invincible? What conquered them?

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  • Mark, indeed the truth shall set us free. The truth leads us beyond boundaries of conditioned beliefs to experience that deep inner peace. Within that deep inner peace compassion becomes a natural extension of the experience. Belief is indeed the beginning point of experience, for what one believe defines one’s experience which serves as our crucible. Yet some belief leads to arrogance and intolerance of other’s beliefs and only after bitter experience can look upon others with compassion. If of course one stop looking for blame on the outside.
    I love your metaphor of the orange. For indeed the only way to really know what an orange is, is to eat it, to experience the taste and texture and then it becomes a part of you. There are some that will go further and say that when you eat the orange you must become the orange, only then will you truly know what the orange is. And what will move you to taste the orange, to begin the journey to experience the taste? As you say first one must have the desire, or the curiosity to taste it. Others will eat it only because they are afraid that they will become ill if they don’t. Or even that they will be rejected if they don’t, or worse be killed if they don’t. Still others will look upon this and say, “All of you just imagine that you are eating an orange, there is no such a thing. Where I come from there are no oranges and we are perfectly happy and healthy. We eat other things that gives us health and joy.”
    Then there will be even others that see people fighting over, and killing each other because of how an orange should be eaten and what is the correct name to call it, who will shake their heads and say. “ If that is what happens in order to eat an orange then I’ll rather go without.” Then there will be even others who simply eat the orange for the pure joy of it, not caring what it is called or how one should go about eating it. :]

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  • Hi David
    I will say to your friend, Indeed I do not understand, for can the devils in hell cause more pain and suffering than that which I see already being caused here upon earth by those who condemn others to a life of eternal hell by their own wrongful living, ignorance and greed? Surely we could all agree that all life is sacred, and we have no right to make others suffer simply because we think we are more worthy of life? Surely we can all agree that that the highest good we can do is to strive to live each day with the purpose of becoming a more conscious, more tolerant and more compassionate loving person. The reason for striving to do thus does not matter, as long as we do.
    As for the common enemy … In Africa we have a saying, “Whether you shoot a zebra in the black or the white, the whole animal still dies.”

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  • To play Devil’s Advocate a little here…
    How are the ‘real’ hellfires or angels a believer hears/feels any different from what a schizophrenic might experience? They sound the same to me.

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  • Hi Sophia!
    I agree with you and I share your philosophy. I guess my friend is trying to say to me — don’t translate. Take the “Hellfire” at their word and if you don’t believe in flames charring your skin, don’t pretend you do via translation.
    Love the zebra saying! A perfect fit!

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  • Hi Ben –
    You ask an interesting question! I do not know the answer.

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