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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The failure of literalism.

So, despite my recent banning I have not completely given up on my surveillance of Conservapedia, though I concede that it has become less detailed. Nevertheless, I do keep an eye on Andrew Schlafly and his coterie of whackjobs and giggle along with their lunatic ravings. Few of their ravings, however, are more lunatic than this gem, which has of late grabbed Schlafly's attention like a facehugger. And like a facehugger, this obsession is laying an egg deep within Schlafly's abdomen that may, someday, emerge amidst a fountaining eruption of gore to reveal itself as a slime-dripping monstrosity that is inimical to all life. I refer, of course, to Schlafly's new Conservative Bible Project.



So what is the Conservative Bible Project? Well, to understand, you first need to grasp the essence of the "problem" as explained by Schlafly:

As of 2009 there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following 12 conditions:

1. Full use of conservative terms as they develop; modern English translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer."

2. Conveying evil with its proper liberal language, such as using the term "gamble" rather than "cast lots."

3. Excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story.

4. Avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language.

5. Not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the English translation that supplanted the KJV in popularity is written at only the 7th grade level.

6. Explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning.

7. Including notes that credit the young ages and open-mindedness of the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels.

8. Use modern political terminology, such as "register" for a census rather than "enroll."

9. Not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell.

10. Dealing with liberal or random dilution of the meaning of biblical terms, like the term "word" in the first verse of the Gospel of John.

11. Use a concise and dignifying style, such as use of "who" rather than "that" when referring to people and also use glorifying language for the remarkable achievements.

12. Recognizing that Christianity introduced powerful new concepts that even the Greek and Hebrew were inadequate to express, but modern conservative language can express well. [some changes made in order to conform at least half-heartedly to English punctuation]


In other words, the bible contains (in Schlafly's view) stuff that is supportive of non-conservative viewpoints. This is obviously wrong, since anything non-conservative is evil, and the bible can't be evil, so therefore we have to "fix" the bible. No, I'm not kidding in the slightest, and don't even get me started on point twelve where we basically get the argument that the bible was originally written in languages that couldn't express the concepts in the bible itself. I am forced to wonder, if that's true, how the hell we'd ever know? Direct revelation to Saint Schlafly, I guess. In any case, Schlafly actually proposes a number of "approaches" for carrying out a conservative mauling retranslation of the bible:



Or, in plain text:

Here are possible approaches to creating a conservative Bible translation:

Identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as "government", and suggest more accurate substitutes.

Identify the omission of liberal terms for vices, such as "gambling", and identify where they should be used.

Identify conservative terms that are omitted from existing translations, and propose where they could improve the translation.

Identify terms that have lost their original meaning, such as "word" in the beginning of the Gospel of John, and suggest replacements, such as "truth."

An existing translation might license its version for improvement by the above approaches, much as several modern translations today are built on prior translations. Alternatively, a more ambitious approach would be to start anew from the best available ancient transcripts.

In stage one, the translation could focus on word improvement and thereby be described as a "conservative word-for-word" translation. If greater freedom in interpretation is then desired, then a "conservative thought-for-thought" version could be generated as a second stage. [Once more, some punctuation and capitalization was corrected]


So, in other words, Schlafly wants to go through an existing English bible, line by line, and excise and replace all words he thinks give the wrong impression. If a parable seems to suggest that conservative philosophy is wrong, well, then it should be removed or reworded to give it the "full free-market meaning." If that isn't good enough, he thinks we can just go through and paraphrase the book to produce a "thought-for-thought" translation, which is problematic both because it implies that Schlafly has cognition in the first place, and because it implies that he has a telepathic link with Jesus. Technically, I suppose, a lot of people claim to have a sort of telepathic link with Jesus, but most of them don't claim to be able to take dictation through it.

Probably my favorite part of this festering bucket of spit is his list of advantages to a conservative bible online:



Or, to quote Schlafly with my commentary mixed in:

There are several striking advantages to a conservative approach to translating the Bible online:

Participants learn enormously from the process.


Specifically, they learn not to have anything to do with Conservapedia.

Liberal bias - and lack of authenticity - become easier to recognize and address.


How, exactly, since you're just planning on rewording an existing translation?

By translating online, this utilizes the growing online resources that improve accuracy.


I think I heard that excuse before when I busted a student for downloading his term paper.

Supported by conservative principles, the project can be bolder in uprooting and excluding liberal distortions.


In other words, it can just make shit up.

The project can adapt quickly to future threats from liberals to biblical integrity.


By doing what, exactly? Banning them from the project website?

Access is free and immediate to the growing internet audience, for their benefit.


Because it's so damn hard to find a free bible these days.

The ensuing debate would flesh out -- and stop -- the infiltration of churches by liberals pretending to be Christian, much as a vote by legislators exposes the liberals.


You heard it here first, kids: you cannot be Christian and be liberal. I expect all the liberal Christians in the audience to turn in your Jesus and become, I don't know, whatever?

This would bring the Bible to a new audience of political types, for their benefit; Bible courses in college Politics Departments would be welcome.


As long as that Politics Department was at Bob Jones University.

This would debunk the pervasive and hurtful myth that Jesus would be a political liberal today.


Indeed! Jesus would never say anything hurtful to the conservative cause like, say, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Also: Schlafly and I are clearly not using the same definition of "debunk."

Okay, so, laughs aside, is there any particular reason why I bring this up? Well, yeah, actually. See, the thing is if you were to ask Schlafly he would say he is preserving or recovering the "true" meaning of the bible with his nonsensical retranslation. Yet, I think most of us agree that he isn't at all concerned about retranslating faithfully, and is really just interested in placing the most conservative spin on the bible that he can. It isn't about what the apostles meant to say, it's about what they should have said if they were trying to support Schlafly's case. And in the event that Schlafly were to complete, and publish, this drivel, doubtless most people who happened upon it would not realize that they were reading a jaundiced text. And for children brought up using such a bible... well, it would just by The Bible, now wouldn't it? I frankly doubt that Schlafly will succeed in this since the bible is very long and he will no doubt soon be distracted by a shiny object. Nonetheless, I think the very proposal of this effort is an example in miniature of the failure of biblical literalism.

The bible is a book that was written over a period of centuries by multiple authors and then was transcribed, translated, retranscribed and retranslated throughout even more centuries. Throughout that period, how many of those translations and transcriptions included little tweaks made to advance a specific viewpoint? In other words, how much of the modern text is in effect an accumulation of numerous small retranslations of the type suggested by Schlafly? I doubt we could ever know, and yet the likelihood that the texts we have today are, indeed, perfectly faithful translations of the originals is so small that it beggars the imagination. Unless you're prepared to assume that god preserves the correct meaning with each translation,* there is no alternative but to assume that the bible has been so deeply changed through the centuries that its literal words today are to its literal words then as a sentence is at the end of a game of "telephone" to the same sentence at the beginning.

If people want to read and try to follow the "wisdom" of the bible, that's fine with me.** At the same time, though, I think incidents like that should provide a caution that knowing the words of the bible is no substitute for using your judgment.


* Admittedly some people do claim this, although they then have to deal with the existence of numerous different and presumably incorrect translations coexisting. Much as the correct answer to Pascal's Wager is "Which god?" the correct answer to a supposedly incorruptible bible is "Which bible?"

** I put wisdom in quotation marks because, while the bible does contain wisdom, it also contains an awful lot of nonsense that has in the past and continues to produce suffering in the world. Unfortunately, however, we don't all agree on which parts are which.

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2 Comments:

Blogger scripto said...

Man, Andy's mom really fucked him up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 5:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several comments on specific sections:

1. "5. Not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the English translation that supplanted the KJV in popularity is written at only the 7th grade level."

- I went to a highly conservative Christian school, and we were required to buy the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. Apparently we were learning liberal drivel, but it certainly didn't feel that way!

2. "11. Use a concise and dignifying style, such as use of "who" rather than "that" when referring to people and also use glorifying language for the remarkable achievements."

- Is dignifying a real word???

3. "In other words, the bible contains (in Schlafly's view) stuff that is supportive of non-conservative viewpoints. This is obviously wrong, since anything non-conservative is evil, and the bible can't be evil, so therefore we have to "fix" the bible...I am forced to wonder, if that's true, how the hell we'd ever know?"

- EXACTLY. And, more specifically, how the hell would we actually know about "H"ell?

4. More generally, as with most things (the scientist in me hesitates to say all) Andrew Schlafly, I am stunned by his hubris. Of COURSE Andrew Schlafly will be able to complete a translation from the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts to construct his conservative bible. Sure...

5. I completely agree with Scripto.

-D's Wife

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 12:54:00 PM  

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