The ambiguity of language

Judas I   Saturday, October 16, 2004, 22:24 GMT
Language, as most people know, is ambiguous. It has a multiplicity of meanings. It is impossible to have one meaning, so I am asking you how can religion - the bible, the koran etc., have meaning? I am telling you it has not.
gdf4d4   Sunday, October 17, 2004, 16:42 GMT
Religion is a mental illness.
Ed   Monday, October 18, 2004, 02:44 GMT
Oh, I see some of us are headed to hell
Jim   Monday, October 18, 2004, 02:54 GMT
What do you mean, Judas I? What do you mean?

"One plus one equals two." Can there be any ambiguity here?

Why not move the religious slant to this topic here?
Hythloday   Monday, October 18, 2004, 17:54 GMT
Au contraire, I think language is central to religion, seeing as most are written down and transmitted (like a virus) in language.
Steve O   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 15:13 GMT
I also wonder how anyone can believe in a religion written down in 'sacred texts' hundreds of years ago when anyone with half a brain knows that language changes over time. Whatever was meant at the time is certain to have changed by now, so how can anyone believe in the supposed 'inherent truth' of texts like the bible and the q'ran? It's ridiculous, if you ask me.
Judas I   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 19:42 GMT
Me too. And translations are notoriously unreliable. How can anybody believe in something which has been translated from language to language and eventually into modern English over hundreds of years? Only the gullible can believe in them.
Hythloday   Wednesday, October 20, 2004, 15:19 GMT
Good point - the bible has been translated a countless amount of times from other languages into English and from Old English into Middle, Early Modern, Modern and Late Modern English (not to mention the various Old, Middle and Early Modern dialectal versions). No translation, as anybody who has attempted to translate from a foreign language into English will know, is ever 100% accurate. So, what do we have? A multiplicity of possible meanings. Seems to me that everybody is singing from a different hymn sheet.
Tolkien   Wednesday, October 20, 2004, 21:26 GMT
I believe that you must also take into account the different (and often opposing weltanschauungs) of the people who wrote parts of the bible. (I'm thinking, in particular, of the new testament.) As anyone who is familiar with CDA (Critical Discourse Analysis) will know, all forms of language - from religious texts to the blurb on the back of candy wrappers - is political, so we must remember that each of the gospels (and perhaps much else) is skewed towards the political ideology of that particular writer. We can never get at the truth because there is never a single truth. There is a multiplicity of truths, because that is the way we see the world, and that is the nature of the language we use - it shifts, contorts and, ultimately, distorts.
Easterner   Sunday, October 24, 2004, 09:26 GMT
I have studied Koine Greek and I think the Greek text of the New Testament is plain straightforward most of the time (Koine was the lingua franca of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, being used by most people there), and I would say there are only a few concepts that may be open to dispute. It is subsequent interpretations that have complicated matters the most. It is slightly different with Old Testament Hebrew, there are more ambiguities there, which is partly due to the fact that we don't have decisive evidence of proper usage, and the language of the individual books shows a lot of variation with the progress of time. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has shown, however, that the texts have not been much distorted, because the copiers who handed them down followed very strict rules.

As for translations, I have found them quite unanimous at most points, with slight differences only, but the King James Version is unnecessarily high-flown at some points in my opinion, the German and Hungarian versions I know are a lot closer to the original plain language most texts are written in, and follow more closely the literary styles of the individual books. As for reliability, there is more textual evidence to ascertain the reliabilty of the individual books than there is for most texts of Greek philosophers from a slightly earlier age.
Easterner   Sunday, October 24, 2004, 09:37 GMT
Just one more remark: in connetion with the Bible or the Qur'an, valid assumptions as to meaning can be drawn from the original sources, whatever these assumptions will be. Translations are only secondary, and should be regarded in the same way as translations of literary works, because they require some interpretation from the part of the translator. Part of the original meaning will always be lost in translation. On the other hand, I found reading the original texts a lot more refreshing experience than reading explanations or interpretations harping on the meaning of individual words. Taken as a collection of literary works, the Bible is the sum of the religious experience of all of its writers, and to make any judgement on it we should take it as a whole, not getting stuck on this word here or that word there.
nic   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 08:35 GMT
As said Easterner about and, if you had an excellent knowledge of latin and litterary arabic, some people are absolutly abble to read and interpret some very old books. Multiplicity of intrepretations has nothing to do with religion, it can be the same in philosophy, history... It has nothing to see with translation but only in our predisposition, disposition of interpretation.