God’s Will: A generous translation

Generous translation can help us bridge different view points. For example, take this group of mysterious or sacred expressions:

  • God’s will
    • Arabic: ‘iiradat allah / إرادة الله
    • Spanish: la voluntad de Dios
    • German: Gottes Wille
  • destiny
  • fate
    • Spanish: destino
    • Arabic مصير masir
    • German: Schickasl
    • Japanese 運命 unmei

My religion-free readers will automatically disagree with the idea of “God’s will”. Similarly they may also see divine control wrapped up in words like “destiny” and “fate”.

But, let me ask you religion-free folks — Do you agree with my following two soft claims?

  • Claim #1: We can never fully understand the complexity of what happens in our lives.
  • Claim #2: We have far less control of our lives than we can possibly imagine.

Now, to religious or spiritual readers, do any of you also agree with those claims?

For those who do agree, both groups would naturally agree for very different reasons. I contend that though their reasons for holding the claims may be different, they may share similar emotional reactions to these claims such as awe, wonder and/or humility.

It is for this reason that I suggest to religion-free folks that when they hear a believer say words like “God’s Will”, “fate” or “destiny” that they begin by generously translating them to yourself to mean:

“Of course we can never fully understand the complexity of what happens in our live and we have far less control of our lives than we can possibly imagine.”

This generous translation may allow both groups to share emotional agreement even though they surely both have very different cognitive maps. This generous translation will perhaps offer a dialogue bridge of common insights if you choose to discuss these issues further, or just move on in your days peacefully.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “God’s Will: A generous translation

  1. Nope, don’t see it in the least — probably because I do not tend to look at such things in an academic or reductionist way. Also because I appreciate the poetic potential within language in a non-patronizing fashion. Your proposed formulation is dry, pedantic, and opinionated. Whereas what you are deigning to substitute for is alive, expansive, and open-ended. There is no ‘awe’ preserved whatsoever in your formulation; it is dead.

  2. @ stolzy:
    You’ve some excellent points there. I may edit the post to make sure to address those points. Here are things I have not said in the post (so as to keep it short, perhaps — but if the reader click on the “generous translation” link, they might be there too):
    (1) This post is meant more to offer translations for those who consider themselves religious-free or non-superstitious or non-spiritual. It is meant for those who interface with those who freely use these expressions and assume that others share their sensibilities.
    (2) These translations should be kept to one’s self because indeed to the “believer” types, they may come across as “dry, pedantic and opinionated” or as “academic” or “reductionist”. They are meant to help the religion-free folks try to enjoy some part of what their conversation partner says without necessarily either dismissing it as nonsense nor arguing against it.

    Those said, I offer a thought to you:
    Many believer-types (call them as you will), see those who don’t buy into their world as dry, closed-minded, unenlightened, damned-to-hell, reductionistic and many more such words — the worst being obvious. They can not translate our statements so easily because their god(s) see us as doomed which is far worse than seeing someone as a bit too superstitious.

    Questions for you: Do you agree with the following two observations:
    (A) we can never understand the complexity of what happens to us fully
    (B) we have far less control of our lives than we can possibly
    If so, perhaps you can see that you may have some shared view of the world even with some of those you consider “reductionists”, no? Even if they are still damned.

  3. Krishanu Bhattacharjee

    You cannot give what you do not have, you can only give what you have. Sabio Lantz’s generous translation offers insight to others into his own cognitive map which he shares with many others. However it doesn’t really fulfil its original intent – make a bridge to another cognitive map. That would be the task for someone who has crossed the river (so-to-speak) and knows the map for either territory.

  4. @Krishanu Bhattacharee
    I think you are mistaken on my “original intent”. My intent is not to show your cognitive map — and we all know that each religion and philosophy have their own unique (and usually exclusive — as you illustrate) maps. Instead, it shows TWO insights that two different maps may have in common — the bridge.

    So I if you are following, try to answer my inquiry I just made to the last commenter, then dialogue may be easier. Neither of you cared for dialogue at all, it seems. But you, like many religious people, feel you have “crossed the river” so dialogue is pointless unless you can ferry others across.

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