Right by the Numbers

Reading about ancient religions helps to focus the long view. I’m brushing up on ancient Egyptian gods for my Ancient Near Eastern Religions class. Seeing how various gods rose to prominence with the fortunes of their patron kings or priesthoods suddenly struck a chord for modern-day religions as well. Many of society’s most conservative like to think that this is the day of Yahweh (or, not to put too fine a point on it, Jesus). This pre-biblical god has come into his own with the rise of the Catholic Church, following on from the conversion of Constantine, into the post-Reformation development of Evangelicalism. With the superiority of numbers and fiscal wealth, there is no disputing the one true god, is there?

What happens when the ultra-selfish free market consumes itself to a point that other cultures rise above it? Already outnumbered in souls by China and India what will Americans say when Buddhism or Hinduism outstrips Christianity? Is religion proven correct purely by the numbers? Cultural dominance has become inseparable from religious truth for many brands of Christianity. If in doubt, check out Andrew Schlafly’s Conservapedia (if any state would like to take him off New Jersey’s hands, you are certainly welcome). Being the right religion means being the might religion. Somewhere along the way it seems that the message of Christianity has become equated with bullying others around. I think Jesus must have gotten pushed around quite a bit as a kid on the playground.

What's behind that self-satisfied smile, Akhenaten?

When Amenhotep IV became king of Egypt, the priesthood of Amun had grown very strong. Probably in an effort to suppress this powerful rival, the king changed his name to Akhenaten and promulgated the sole worship of Aton. Some like to give Akenaten credit for being a monotheist. To me it seems more likely that the old pharaoh was attempting to show intolerant bullies the way to behave: use religion to political advantage. If the opposition disagrees, shut them down. Problem is, this doesn’t work well over the long term. As soon as the unpopular king died, the former religion reasserted itself and things went back to the way they had been. Tut, tut. Seems like religious bullies never learn.

Im in ur blogz

Translation. The Bible as we know it would not exist without translation. Ours is a culture of convenience — Americans want divine revelation dished out in easy-to-swallow portions in their own tongue. Going through the rigors of learning new alphabets and grammatical systems, not to mention the eerie specter of textual apparatus, are enough to frighten off all but the most stalwart of truth-seekers. This is a good thing. We would never advance as a culture if we all had to spend our time learning actually to read our religious texts as they were written, only to find out that we have no original texts at all. So we trust our translators.

A few weeks back I posted an entry on Andrew Schlafly’s misguided (imho) Conservative Bible, devoid of liberal bias. Since then Stephen Colbert’s interview with Schlafly has been making its rounds on the internet and thousands of people are now aware of the project and its biases. I stand by my original objection that biased translations are unfair representations of the actual ancient texts. But it looks now like I’ll have to be eating crow. A new translation is scheduled to arrive in stores next month, and it looks like it may have a bias. Still, it is a translation that no internet-savvy reader can afford to ignore. Yes, the Lolcat Bible is nearly ready to pounce from the press.

The culmination of the Lolcat Bible Translation Project, over two years in the making, a Bible in Lolspeak will soon be available. Comparing what I’ve seen of the two projects, I think there is more truth in the Lolcat Bible than in the Conservative Bible. I’ve studied more ancient languages than any sane person rightfully should, but I do rely on my able research assistant (aka daughter) to help read Lolspeak. She suggested the title for this post, but the full text reads, “Im in ur blogz, postin mah wurdz of wizdum.” That’s straight from the mouth of Ceiling Cat!

We Don’t Need Another Bible

This podcast addresses the issue of agenda-driven Bible translation. Although all translators, being human, have agendas, typically they are for the advancement of knowledge. The news about Conservapedia’s Conservative Bible Project suggests that progress should be turned back to the first century and fast-forwarded to the Neo-Con agenda. The trend is disturbing because not many Americans have the essential background to assess critically whether Bibles are translated with serious scholarly intent or not. The ten principles of conservative Bible translation from Andrew Schlafly’s Conservapedia are examined.

In Our Own Image

Word is out that Andrew Schlafly, spawn of Phyllis, is working on a new Bible. In a stunning move that will amaze even many conservative Christians, Schlafly has decided that the Bible itself is too liberal. On his alternative to “liberal” Wikipedia, Conservapedia, he cites the ten principles for translating the Bible in a conservative-acceptable way. Unable to attain the lofty heights of rhetoric on Conservapedia’s Conservative Bible Project page, I need to quote verbatim the 10 Commandments of Schlafly’s ideal Bible:

1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level
4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent; Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”; using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

Am I the only one to sniff a strong scent of Orwell here? Principle 1 stipulates that the translation, by converse logic (the kind apparently in favor) should be biased, as long as the bias is neo-con. In principle number 4 we are told that the word “word” has changed in meaning. Suddenly I’m reaching out for the railing – steady, steady! Principle 7: “free market parables”? Here is Jesus made-over in the image of Rush (I Can’t Have the Rams) Limbaugh; remove the kindness and compassion please. Jesus’ only goal is to be the CEO, or at least his only son. The translators reserve the right to remove objectionable material traditionally attributed to Jesus. Even Mr. Rogers could spell Revisionist!

Sure, Bible translators need to give the readership what they want. Thomas Jefferson removed the miracles and divinity claims for Jesus before publishing “the Jefferson Bible.” And he was a president! Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton led efforts to produce the Woman’s Bible, removing masculine bias from the text. Bible scholars, however, do not accept their efforts as original biblical manuscripts. Even the general public knows better. What Mr. Schlafly is proposing is giving a gullible readership a Bible that contains what God meant to say; i.e., if God were me. What is disturbing about this is not that one person is offering his or her own version of the Bible – that’s been done before – but that it is intended to lead the unwary to a vision of Christianity that is new but claiming to be apostolic.

I think I feel a podcast coming on.

Woman's Bible

Woman's Bible

Jefferson Bible

Jefferson Bible