Someone recently was telling me about the difference between "high-ramified language" and "low-ramified language" in talking about religion. When you talk about religion with "high-ramified language," you use terms and expressions that are clearly religious. But the problem with speaking in this way is that those terms and expressions might be obscure to those outside of the speaker's particular faith tradition, or might have ambiguous meanings. Communication can be hindered. Those outside of the speaker's faith tradition may feel excluded. Miscommunication may happen.
Low-ramified language is a translation of those concepts into simpler, clearer language that connects with belief-systems beyond the speaker's own faith tradition.
The point of our discussing this was not to argue that one kind of language is better that another. It simply depends on context. Within your faith tradition, speaking in high-ramified language is appropriate. When speaking to broader audiences, it is often better to use low-ramified language.
As we discussed this distinction, I came to realize that I very often try to speak in low-ramified language, because that is the way I can speak about what is meaningful to me in ways that are most likely to connect with what others find meaningful, regardless of their different faith traditions (or lack thereof, if anyone can be said to lack a faith tradition altogether -- but "faith" is a high-ramified term, so it depends on how you define it!) These just are the settings I most often find myself in. During other parts of my life, I was heavily immersed in Quaker subculture, living in Quaker communities and such. Now, when I attend Quaker gatherings, I do feel a strong sense of "coming home" and being able to "speak my native language," a highly-ramified Quaker language. It is a relief!
But I have had so much to speak the low-ramified language that this has now become my default way of speaking about ideas and experiences that I myself regard as religious.
In fact, I may sometimes be too successful in this -- so successful that people can miss completely how deeply religious I actually am. Once I was criticized because my drafting of our Meeting's State of the Society Report made no explicit mention of God. I felt that the presence of God pervaded the document, and so I was a bit taken aback. But I dimly realized then (and much more clearly realize now) that such a document really can and should use what I now realize is called high-ramified language, and so I changed it accordingly. More recently, I have found a site where my blog is listed not among Quaker blogs but in a kind of extra listing that the lister described as not being religious or political! I do regard my blog as intending to speak to those who are not Quaker and who may not regard themselves as religious, and so maybe I should take this as an indication that my use of low-ramified language is highly successful!
But it points out a problem of low-ramified language. While low-ramified language is good in its capacity to forge connections across different belief-systems, some might mistake such language as language that is not religious at all. If the person you are communicating with is "allergic" to religious language (a concept I heard Johan Maurer use when he came to speak at a Yearly Meeting I was attending a few years ago), then that person's not interpreting your language as religious can be good: it can facilitate communication, where highly-ramified religious language may have blocked communication. Rhetorically sensitive religious people can "hear" the religious connotations in low-ramified language. But there remains the possibility that religious people who are less rhetorically sensitive might so miss the religious connotations of your language that they regard you as non-religious or even anti-religious -- and the problems of high-ramified language (the possibility of miscommunication) reappear in inverse form.
My advice then: rhetorical sensitivity is a virtue among both speakers/writers and listeners/readers. To speak/write with rhetorical sensitivity is to be aware of your audience and adjust your own terminology in ways that are most likely to facilitate effective communication. To listen/read with rhetorical sensitivity is to (a) be aware that the speaker/writer might be doing this, and adjust your own interpretation of their language accordingly, or (b) be aware that the speaker/writer might not yet be skilled in rhetorical sensitivity, or just might not be fully aware of all the variations of belief among the audience, and so it can be helpful to try to be open-minded in your interpretation of that person's use of language.
5 years ago