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"Eat Your Fingers Off" and Other Errors in Translation

Pastor Charles

Yep. That's what a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad in China read like. Literally, "Eat your fingers off." How did they arrive at this? Bad translation. Probably by someone who's first language wasn't Mandarin Chinese. Of course, they really wanted their ad to read "Finger lickin' good," their famous tag line. That's not what they got.

There's a similar error in translation between worldviews, too. It reads like this: "All roads lead to God." People with what is most often the best of intents try and translate between religious worldviews using the equivalent of Google Translate to move between spiritual belief systems. The result? Garbled gunk.

In the desire to look all-accommodating and gloss over differences between our spiritual viewpoints, the adage instead offends all sincere religious viewpoints.

How do we know this?

Take a minute and think about it: Are the "roads," i.e. religions or spiritual practices and pathways, of each religion describing the same ultimate destination? Hindus are seeking through thousands of reincarnations to be merged into 'Brahman,' the ultimate reality we refer to as "god," yet the Hindu concept is genderless, unconscious and impersonal. Buddhists state that belief in a personal god is one of the greatest causes of suffering and seek to be set free from this. For them, we're each made up of five elements that disassemble at death. There isn't anything of the person left, and no "god" is involved in the process or waiting at the end. Muslims believe they will never meet and know Allah, not even in paradise: He is unknowable, too transcendent to ever stoop to converse with us. Meanwhile Christians are looking forward to personal union - meeting and eternal fellowship - with the personal God, the only creator, sustainer and redeemer.

As soon as we look beneath the veneer of the thought that all roads lead to God, we easily discover it can't be true no matter how well meaning or sincere we are in our belief. When we hold sincerely to such a thought, we are sincerely wrong.

And that's a tough thing to take. I cringe a bit even writing it.

So how do we as followers and imitators of Jesus respond to our friends and others who make this claim?

Since we follow Him who is "the way, and the truth and the life," we, too, must stand for truth. Yet we need to do so in the same peace-promoting way that our Example did: With love and grace.

To do that, you don't need to become a world class expert in all religions. I know I'm not. Nor do we even need to become amateur experts, though it is helpful and healthy to know and learn more about our friends' and neighbours' belief systems. Instead, we simply need to learn two basic questions. These two questions help us delve deeper conversationally, non-offensively with others in relational sharing.

First, when someone makes a worldview statement like "All roads lead to God," or another, ask the broadest of opened ended questions: "That's an interesting thought... What makes you say that?"  Be honest and genuine in your inquiry. Seek to understand what your friend is saying. Don't trust your own jumps toward conclusions, as often that first impression is a bit off. Really make sure you understand what they're saying. Once you've got that, move on to the second question.

"Okay. How did you come to that conclusion?" Here we use another open ended question to continue deepening our friendship and understanding. And here we're seeking the foundation level elements that under-gird our friend's thinking on their worldview assertion. We're looking for the factual evidences which can be tested and examined.

Don't be surprised, however, if your friend either doesn't know what those facts are, or if they give a generalized response such as "well isn't it obvious?" No. To someone else, it may not be 'obvious' at all. The goal here is to gently get our friends to look at their own assumptions and often unsupported thoughts they're holding on to.

And now, where do you go from here?

Having prompted your friend to do most of the talking, now you've earned the right to be heard. Ask another question, "Can I share with you what I believe?" And then be salt and light, sharing your own worldview based in Jesus. Lift Him up, and as you do, your friend will be drawn to Jesus, too.

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Going Deeper extra: To read more about these two diagnostic questions, read Greg Koukl's book on apologetics called Tactics. You'll find it practical and useful in all areas of conversation!