The Bridge of Language

Today in a university tutorial, I sat between a woman from Vietnam and a man from South Sudan, and I watched as they had a short conversation, intending to clarify some point about public policy that I can’t even remember now. It struck me that we were all able to understand each other despite our different accents, and all because of English, a language that neither of them spoke as a mother tongue.

They did clarify their point, as a matter of fact, and I was still sitting there amazed that they’d succeeded–not that I doubted their abilities, but because of the sheer complexity of the process: he had to think in his native tongue, translate it into English, and speak it aloud in an accent that would be a different one to the one she would have learnt. She then had to decode the accent, translate the English into Vietnamese, think about it and formulate a response in Vietnamese, then English, and the whole process started again. It took about a minute for them both to exchange words and concepts several times and to find a satisfactory answer; nothing appeared to have been lost in translation; and I just sat there and marvelled at the fact that I too was following it.

I’m just an ignorant Australian, English is the only language in which I know more than forty words, and yet these two humans in front of me were actively thinking and participating in a discussion at a university level in a language which neither of them had a cultural attachment to.It shouldn’t have been, but it felt almost unnatural, in a good way, to see such a bridge between two people.


The atheist and the disappointed individual

You know, I’m kind of tired of the skepticism and atheist movements.

When I first left the fold of Christianity and began to discover things for myself, two and a half years ago now, skepticism was about being open-minded. To imagine there might be another way, to actively stop taking the first thing you heard as gospel truth. I saw wonder in it. I saw possibility.

But for so many, it’s just a new way to be close-minded, embrace a herd mentality, and to look down on others who don’t believe what you believe.

Not everyone. But a lot of people. And a lot of those people seem to strive to be as rude as possible while they do so.

The conclusion I come to is either I’m too humanist and ‘live and let live’ to be a good skeptic, or I’m too tired of people pulling the same stupid stunts no matter their philosophy to be a good humanist.

I believe in most of (if not all) the messages the atheist movement espouses, I’m just sick of the attitude that comes with it.

Australia and Marriage #2 – Threatening to Divorce

Continuing my mini series of thoughts on marriage in Australia, Nick (and Sarah) Jensen, a Christian couple, recently made headlines by threatening to divorce if Australia gains same-sex marriage.

Some people are pretty on board with this…

I’m sure we’ve all heard about these two by now, as it was several weeks ago. But in the flood of internet responses (most of which were either ‘this is disgusting’ or a more satirical ‘gay people threaten not to care’), I saw one key point discussed, but not (to my knowledge) elaborated on.

If the Jensens are telling the truth when they say that they intend to divorce legally but stay married ‘religiously’, they have revealed that their definition of marriage might currently align with the legal definition, but it is not based on that legal definition. They have removed any integrity they had when speaking out on the subject of ‘protecting’ legally binding marriage.

The Jensens have said they will continue to live as husband and wife and have children. I don’t think they’re just referring to becoming housemates and going through with IVF. They’re going to continue to sleep together. Most of the authors of the Bible agree when it comes to extramarital sex–don’t have it. Mainstream Christianity follows this position. As a member of the ACL, Nick Jensen certainly agrees with this (I would assume Sarah does as well).

If they want to divorce but live as husband and wife, they believe they are truly still married, regardless of Australian law. This means they don’t believe that secular marriage law really ‘counts’. Nick is even quoted in this article, saying that he thinks marriage is not ‘a human invention’.

So why should he even care about secular marriage law? Given this inconsistency of definitions, why should anyone listen to what these two people have to say about secular marriage law?

I’m not even trying to ask this as a way to attack them personally–it’s just their rationality that bewilders me. Bearing this in mind, it is astonishing that more people aren’t encouraging them to go through with it. It really is. Especially since Nick Jensen is very active within the Australian Christian Lobby (a fact that somehow didn’t make it to the ears of NT News).

In an ideal Australia, Sarah and Nick would get legally divorced, begin to live together in a legal de facto relationship that had the religious definition of marriage, and would leave the discussion of legal marriage to the people who actually want it, most of whom believe it is a human institution. Everyone’s finally happy. Or, if not, at least we’ve moved closer to a rational discussion about it. In an ideal Australia, that is.

Here, nobody’s talking about this. But here’s the thing: it’s an incredibly good idea to separate legal concepts of marriage and religious concepts of marriage. They’ve been tangled up for years, and anyone with a stake in either definition is quite upset. We would all be a lot happier if this changed. Even if the Religious Right was still upset about LGBT rights*, they would still be able to express their views** and marry in the way that they want to, while people in same-sex relationships would be able to express their love in a way that they wanted to, with the same legal benefits and protections that those of us in straight relationships do.

* which they would be

** just because I believe they’re wrong doesn’t mean they should forfeit the right to free speech