Most of us never bother to examine how much Judeo-Christian beliefs inhabit every aspect of our language. Given that we all use a common language to talk about religion, most of us never bother to think about how much of our religions is inherent in our everyday speech.
For example, the phrase, used so often, "God damn it". What does it mean, on a literal level? Well, the person who says the phrase is asking, or to be more grammatically forthright, telling God to consign someone or something to Hell for all eternity. Pretty brutal, huh? Now explain "Gosh darn it". The second phrase is considerably less (pardon) damming than the first, is it not? But why? How? Unless one has the relevant cultural background to understand the angrier, more aggressive phrase, they can not, not really, understand the latter.
For those who may be reading and who don't know by now, I'm a language teacher. I teach English primarily to Japanese students, but also, on occasion, Chinese, Korean, Brazilian, and other South American students. It is my job to explain some of these phrases and situations to those students who wish to know (it is not generally a part of any syllabus I teach, but some more advanced students will ask about them). Further, I need to do so with an open mind and without letting any discussion devolve into argument, or, (again, pardon) God forbid, theology.
If a student should ask me when we are out of the classroom, mind, I will happily discuss just about anything, inside the classroom, however…
Late last week a student, who has been in the process of converting to Mormonism asked if I could explain the word "fundamentalism" more clearly. I did so and we had a brief discussion about whether or not Mormonism was a form of fundamentalism. The conversation ended with me stating that that was an individual judgement call one needed to make for his or herself. Then I changed the subject, discussion closed.
Later, I overheard the student explaining to another student some of the principal beliefs of Mormonism, including the idea of Baptism for the dead, and the idea that in some context, Jesus and Lucifer could be considered brothers. I nodded politely as I walked past and went home.
That same evening, I met some of my friends for a late night coffee. I mentioned the conversation I had overheard and this sparked a debate amongst my friends and myself as to whether or not Jesus and Lucifer are brothers. Now, it should be mentioned that my friends and I all come from fairly standard Judeo-Christian backgrounds but from various English speaking countries. Also, none of us has been inside a church, save for weddings and funerals, for years. Decades in one case. And yet, as the debate wore on, voices were growing more and more heated, people were getting angrier and angrier and friendships were on the verge of being shattered.
And this is my point – why? We were arguing over the tenents of a doctrine that none of us believes in or follows. But the ingrained ideas, reinforced by our cultures over lifetimes were still so strong that it could cause such strife. And the same thing seems to be happening today, all over America. People are arguing for things they believe in, but if you ask them why they believe, they are at a loss to answer. It is just what they have been taught to believe by family, friends, school, and the unity of the English language.
It seems like it has been a long, long time, since I have seen religion do much more than divide people according to different sets of conditioned responses, like so many Pavlovian subjects grouped in separate cages.
Shouldn't religion do just the opposite?
At any rate, for those who have read this far, thank you very much. Appropriate comments are welcome, those who want to berate, preach, or spout derisive non-sequiters ought to go elsewhere.