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Should an interpreter of religious conversations be a member of the religion involved?

Updated on August 16, 2014
A religious discussion?
A religious discussion? | Source
A political discussion?
A political discussion? | Source

Discussions and conversations

There are discussions between Christianity and Islam on a daily bases. A large part of Christianity evolved in what we now know as the Islamic world. The main language spoken by some of those churches is, yes sir Arabic! The Orthodox Christian Churches are in fact very much alive and well. Notwithstanding some mayor problems in Syria and other countries.

Of course there are discussions between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Christianity, as well as between the Roman Catholic Church and Islam. And I am sure between main line Christian Churches and Islam as well.

As there are different languages spoken by Catholics in general, Italian, Spanish and Latin being the main ones at this time, there must be translators and interprets involved in those conversations. Most of the news items issued by the Vatican for example are written in Latin or Italian, and later translated into English, Spanish and other languages.

It will be impossible for the translators or interpreters to be a member of both religions involved, by the very nature of most religions that would even be forbidden.

Should an interpreter therefore be a member of any of the religious organizations involved in the discussion, or should we look for “independent” interpreters?
An interpreter will always find him- or herself trapped between two opinions, that is the nature of the game. The question is; are we honestly able to represent an opinion that is not ours? Are we able to set our own opinions aside for some time, and represent the opinions of another person or persons, of a religion that is not ours?

There will always be moments during an interpretation session, when you do not agree with what is being said, but can you translate that opinion with sufficient distance and professionalism, or do you have to pass that part of the interpretation to another person?
The same is true for a translator, a ghost writer, a lawyer, and maybe a few more professions that are involved in representing people.

A translator however, may refuse to take on a project if he does not like the opinion or opinions expressed in it, but should be professional enough to be able to translate it in any case.
A ghost writer does not have to agree with the theorem around which he or she writes a Doctoral thesis, they have to be put it into nice, readable words, so professors, fellow students and judges will like what they read. If a ghost writer cannot do that, he or she can decide not to finish the job, and consequently will not get paid.

A lawyer has a way out here as well, in case of a conflict of interest he may ask the judge to release him of his charge and appoint another council; a translator may be able to decline a job offer. An interpreter does not have that freedom, because the problem will arise in the middle of a conversation. It is difficult to foresee a problem in a friendly, diplomatic conversation. And most discussions of e certain level between the religious groups or churches can be seen as diplomatic conversations.

Religious interpreters are especially pressed, because they are, paid or not, most of the times employed by their church or religious group. And churches often see and treat members of other religions as opponents.

Peter and the early Christian preachers did not face that problem, because they 'spoke in tongues' and people from all over the known world could hear their words in their own language. (Acts, chapter 2 in the Bible describes the situation). But the speaking in tongues is also an open discussion in most Christian Churches.

To be a good interpreter you must be able to take a step back from being involved in the conversation. You should not be part of the discussion. In fact you are nothing more than a tool in the hands of two people, or more sometimes, who without you would not be able to understand each other.

There is the influence you have as a facilitator of contact, of a relationship even. You make it possible, but only if you can keep your own opinions and ideas at a distance.

That is in fact what makes the professions so difficult. A translator and an interpreter must represent the ideas of others, without the coloring that their own ideas may give to the discussion.

Only then is it possible to create openings, to open the doors that once existed between the religions, who all believe in one God. History has closed these doors by imposing rules and regulations on believers, that often have lost the relation with reality, like celibacy for example.


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