Monday, October 19, 2009

A New 'Conservative' Bible?

This is another alarming development (link here) on how far some groups will go to modify the sacred text to something more 'conservative.' For those who are interested, there is another site that is setup against Conservapedia called, Liberapedia.

As part of their movement to protect themselves against liberal ideas regarding the Holy Scriptures, the group, Conservative Bible Project intends to sanitize some of the difficult parts of scripture, either by re-phrasing the meaning or to remove them completely to make it more palatable to the 'conservative' mind. Using 10 translation 'guidelines,' they seek to produce a new English Bible translation in the spirit of the King James Version. I find it hard to take sides but I think they (Conservapedia and Liberapedia) feed off each other. Remove one, and we see the other disappear as well. As far as the Conservative Bible is concerned, I feel the project is flawed.

There are several problems I have with this approach.
1) Do we Need a New One?
There are already many English translations. Rather than a totally new one that updates the language used, they decided to do more. Using a lens they called 'conservative' guidelines, it seems more like an antithesis of modern versions. In other words, their main attraction is not the 'conservatism' per se, but the anti-liberal identity.

2) The word 'Conservative' is confusing
There has been too many different usage of 'conservative.' In the US, this has been overly politicized to the point that people allows the label to do their interpretation for them. When a person says he is a conservative, do they mean the religious right? Do they mean the politics of the Republican party? Do they mean the fundamentalist stance of groups such as the KJV-adherents? Are they talking about groups led by figures such as, Jerry Falwell or organizations started by people like James Dobson? Maybe, it is best to do away with this word altogether, until we can define it clearer for the masses. For that matter, the word 'liberal' too can be a confusing term.

3) Labels Distract
The moment a label is put on the Bible, the interpretation has already been done. There is a need to ensure that the Bible's literal words do not get diluted in any way, but communicated as clearly as possible.

4) Breadth of Translators
I am suspicious of any translation that weighs itself on simply one or two denominational bias. Without the input of diverse denominational and non-denominational persuasions, the translation will be poorer, theologically as well as historically. Incidentally, the key person behind this project is Andrew Schlafly, an attourney and a teacher. I do not know where he gets his theology from.

5) Omission
This will be my sharpest critique. How can one omit Bible verses that is based on one's level of acceptance? Sanctification yes, but not sanitization just because it sounds bad. If it is based on scholarship or archaelogical fact finding, maybe we can see some logic. However, omitting parts of Scripture as if they are so sure they are 'inauthentic' is a big decision. Is it a step of faith or folly? This leads me to the next point. Are they guilty of being too 'liberal' themselves?

6) Too Liberal Themselves?
Ironically, while the project attempts to battle 'liberal bias' with this initiative, it casts the light back on themselves whether they are actually being too liberal with their re-interpretation of Scripture. After all, going to the opposite extreme is a common tendency practiced by the human species. The Examiner comments that even the Bible is too 'liberal' for the Conservapedia folks.

7) Re-phrasing Biblical Words
Any re-phrasing will always result in a change of meaning. Translators walk on a tightrope of contextual meaning. Are they more concerned with the meaning THEN or meaning NOW? 

In all fairness, not everything they do is wrong. I am not trying to say that every verse they translate is blown out of proportion. We need to be careful not to swipe them too unfairly. What I am saying is that, if they brand themselves as the defacto standard of conservatism, they would have done the Christian public a disservice, as I doubt they speak for the majority of people who call themselves conservative. 

Still, I struggle to see merits in this project. I think they are sincere in what they do, but I could not agree with the way they justify their translation choices. Somehow, the project reminds me of the way some people defend the KJV Bible to the point that they slam all other versions. For me, we need to adopt a humble heart as we read God's Word. Translators should not be exempted as well. In fact, for those of us without knowledge of the original languages, the next best thing is to take several translations and let each version illuminate us on the fuller picture. If anyone insist on only ONE translation, itt is like riding on a helicopter and looking down at the top of the Egyptian pyramid and conclude that the pyramid is rectangular in shape.


1 comment:

Rosie Perera said...

This site is run by a couple of individuals and gets way more press in the "liberal" blogosphere that loves to ridicule fundamentalists than it does among "conservatives." I don't think it's very influential, so I wouldn't worry about it. They are not scholars and they don't know the original biblical languages, so they are doing the "translation" starting from the KJV as their original and trying to update the language and avoid confusing or liberally loaded terms. It's worth a laugh. Look at their discussion of trying to pick a better term than "Holy Ghost" -- what they settled on ("Divine Guardian") is ludicrous, though the debate is still ongoing.

Even a self-identified conservative commentator at Beliefnet thinks their project is "crazy": Conservatizing the Bible

Some of the comments on this blog post about it are quite enjoyable to read. I particularly like this one:

Dropping "forgive them for they know not what they do" is probably a Very Bad Idea. I think these translators particularly need that verse to be in the bible!

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