Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Please Let This Be a Joke...

So I've read about the Conservative Bible Project from a couple different sources. My first reaction was to hope it was a joke. My second reaction was to pray fervently that someone, somewhere would jump out and yell "Gotcha!" But alas, it was not so. It appears to be entirely serious.

If you don't have the time or inclination to read the website, I'll sum up: basically, the creators of Conservapedia (which, until now, I've never been entirely sure was not itself some sort of very subtle satire) have decided that all modern Bible translations are too liberal, and that the best way to remedy the situation is basically to paraphrase the King James Bible in such a way as to better reflect their own socio-political views.

The interesting thing is that at first blush the description I just gave might seem harsh, but after having read the description, I'm not sure that they would disagree. They actually seem fairly open about their political agenda.

But here's the thing: first of all, the Bible is between 2 and 3 millenia old, and as such naturally defies simple classification according to 21st century American (or, more broadly, Western) socio-political categories. In other words, the Bible is not - and should not be seen as - entirely "conservative" or "liberal" by our standards, because the Bible was not written according to our standards.

Second, it is perfectly true that certain socio-political or theological biases will creep into a translation of the text. It's only natural: translation is an inexact art, requiring the translator to make choices based on his or her best evaluation of the underlying text. Such choices cannot be completely divorced from the person making them. As such, a person's translation of a passage - particularly a difficult or controversial passage - will reflect that person's own views to a degree. Though steps can (and should) be taken to moderate this effect, it is not realistic to expect to eliminate it entirely. This is why translations done by committee (as nearly all modern translations are) are superior to those done by individuals or small groups - various biases ideally tend to cancel out, allowing a better view of the text itself. The problem, though, is that these folks are not, as nearly as I can tell, just attempting to eliminate a supposed "liberal bias" in modern translations (which, as far as I can tell, is not there anyway, broadly speaking). They are trying to replace a perceived liberal bias with a conservative one. Attempting to eliminate bias is one thing, intentionally inserting it is just mucking with the text, and is completely unconscionable.

Also, there is no apparent concern with faithfulness to the text, but rather with ensuring that the text support a socio-politically conservative viewpoint. For another, the words "Greek," and "Hebrew" are not to be found until near the bottom of the page (where recourse to the original languages is treated basically as plan B). What we have instead is the statement that much of the problem, as they see it, can be corrected "simply by retranslating the KJV into modern English."

So basically, this is a modified form of King James Only-ism, overlaid with a hyper-conservative socio-political perspective. What these folks, well-intentioned though they may be, are doing is not correcting anything. They're modifying the Bible to make it more palatable to them as conservatives, and I don't know any words strong enough to express how wrong and absurd that is.