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Down from Puritanism

8 October 2009

Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah is the Word of God, and one of the aims of Orthodox school systems is to teach young Jews to read that text in its original Hebrew. Even in the non-Orthodox strands of Judaism, religious education is “Hebrew school”; there is a cultural recognition that the Bible is that Hebrew book on the rabbi’s shelf.

Muslims believe that the Koran is the Word of God, and one of the aims of Muslim religious schools is to teach children to read it in the original Arabic. If I recall correctly from a class I took a decade ago, Muslims in Third World countries where Arabic is not anyone’s native language try to memorize verses of the Koran in the original Arabic, even if they don’t have the time or resources to advance their Arabic literacy beyond that point.

A certain stream of Protestant Christianity believes that the Christian Bible is the “literal” Word of God. Once upon a time in America—when the Puritans ruled Massachusetts with an iron fist—these Christians, too, believed that it was important for a believer to read these sacred texts in their original languages.

This attitude has fallen by the wayside. I used to entertain myself by striking up conversations with Christian evangelists on street corners, and I have been amazed at how consistently incurious they tended to be about the original version of the text they held sacred—how content they were at letting Greek and Hebrew literacy be the province of some small elite who could be trusted to translate everything for the masses. Well, I keep telling myself, I shouldn’t judge Christianity by Jewish standards. It’s not like they have to live by hundreds of commandments whose precise meaning is teased out by the exegesis of individual letters of the text.

Then I came across the Conservative Bible Project, an effort by Andrew Schlafly1 to create a translation of the Bible that is free of that dreaded Liberal Bias. I personally thought that being able to read a text in its original language is a necessary precondition for translating it, but perhaps I am too blinded by my Liberal Bias to realize that such formalities are not necessary. Or perhaps Schlafly is just a blithering idiot. Observe how he is pwn3d by his betters in both Greek and Hebrew literacy, and doesn’t even seem aware of it.

If you are not a blithering idiot, then depending on your religion or lack thereof, this project is cause for sorrow or snark. Cheap shots aside, though, you have to wonder: once someone takes this “I’ve made up my mind and don’t bother me with the facts” attitude towards his own holy scriptures, what does this say about his trustworthiness—or his readers’ credulity—on any other topic under the sun?

And consider how lucky this man is to live in a country where the First and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee his freedom of religion. The Puritans would have burned this guy at the frigging stake.

1 Andrew Schlafly is the principal author of Conservapedia, one of the top 50 conservative Web sites, and also the son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. Glenn Greenwald’s snark about meritocracy in America is hereby incorporated, as if by restatement.

via Crooked Timber