This post is inspired by cartoons and comments on David’s Hayward’s blog “NakedPastor“. David is an ex-pastor and an unchurched ‘Christian’ who uses his art to illustrate how he wrestles with being an expat .
Religion & languages hauntingly share many properties such that, understanding the sociological, philosophical and evolutionary properties of one, helps to immediately and deeply understand principles in the other. Many of this site’s posts revolve around this theme and I hope to one day integrate my thoughts on this issue. Perhaps due to my rich, deep, personal familiarity with religion and language I am observing the deep insights of “consilience” — E.O.Wilson’s notion that all knowledge must be united at a deep level . Or, more cynically, maybe this is merely the cognitive illusion of a mind that tries to vainly connect everything it touches. Either way, below is one more piece of speculation on the possible intimate connection between religion and language.
Some people intentionally leave their mother country because their newly adopted country offers something better for them. Yet amongst these expats, some have a great amount of difficulty learning to adapt to their new foreign home — they don’t learn the language, the gestures nor the customs. They tend to stay isolated or largely relate only to their own ethnic communities.
On the other hand, a smaller proportion of expats drench themselves in their new culture: learning the foreign language well, adopting many customs to some degree and having native friends with whom they interact using almost exclusively the local language, customs and values.
Religious believers may demonstrate a similar pattern when they leave their churches, synagogues, mosques or temples for complex, painful reasons. These folks are leaving behind something they once considered highly undesirable. After leaving, some of these religious expats will fully enter the world of nonbelievers but some, may still be more attached to what they left than they realize and stay while staying isolated from their former community of believers also don’t feel comfortable mixing with nonbelievers– they end up living in a self-created purgatory. Like cultural expats misfits, they are critical of both cultures. They are often hoping to one day find a perfect congregation or denomination where they will again fit in, or they just give up and awkwardly exist in their new no-man zone.
Both the language example and this religious example contain two types of people — those who immerse themselves and those who remain isolated. I wonder if these two types of individuals are the result of temperament differences. Perhaps some folks are more adaptive risk takers than others. Perhaps some folks are broader in their ability to find pleasure and happiness. Perhaps some people are more parochial by nature and though they feel an important need to leave a homeland or faith, due to their temperament they will have great difficulty creating an integrated new life. Of course we all may virtuously rationalize our lives in non-temperament terms, but I wonder how much we really understand ourselves.
- “Expat” = (wiki) short for “expatriate”: a person residing in a lengthy time in a foreign land. Often confused with a non-existent word: “ex-patriot” and with connotations expat does not have. An expat can still be a patriot of their motherland. [etymology: ex- “out of”, patrie- “native land”; patris (Gr) “fatherland”, patros – “father”.]
- See another post on the notion of conscilience, here: “Meta-thought and Theology“,