Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Conservative Bible Project: Not Just Dumb--Really Really Dumb

Another week, another sign that the end of the world is nearly upon us.

In the last couple weeks, a few good friends have brought to my attention the existence of a group calling themselves the "Conservative Bible Project." Members of the project have decided to produce a new version of the Bible--one that will be free of a liberal bias that project administrators claim has snuck into more recent translations of the text. (The New York Times's Paul Krugman was onto this story last week.)

The Conservative Bible Project has found a home at conservapedia.com, an online, open-source encyclopedia designed to provide members of the right with a haven from the liberal bias of wikipedia. Yup. Seriously. The liberal bias of wikipedia. Suck on that one for a while. ("Suck on that one for a while": a sentence that, for the record, you probably won't find on conservapedia.com.)

In any case, this project is so inane, so backward, so anti-intellectual, so dumb, and so asinine that you have to see it to believe it ... here. Go ahead. You know you want to. Just come back when you're done.

As the originators of the project argue, modern translations of the Bible are filled with "liberal" errors, additions, and mistranslations--many of which were promulgated by damn academics. These errors hide the Bible's true conservative message. Thus, project administrators are promoting a ten-step revision process that involves, among other things, "utilizing powerful conservative terms," "excluding later-inserted inauthentic passages," and, best of all, "expressing free-market parables." You heard right: Jesus as free-market capitalist.

It's all so ridiculous that I can't decide whether to laugh or cry. But let me cut through the chatter and tell you the three dumbest things about the "Conservative Bible Project."

First of all, the Conservative Bible is not a new translation, per se. Indeed, in their statement of purpose, the creators champion the work of "English language linguists." What is an "English language linguist," you ask, besides an embarrassing redundancy? Well, let me explain ...

The Conservative Bible Project members are not working with the text in Hebrew and Greek--the languages in which the Bible was originally written; instead, they're starting with the 1611 King James Version of the Bible--a fetish object for fundamentalist Christians. (The KJV is a beautiful, groundbreaking translation of the text, but scholars' research methods have come a long way in the 400 years since its publication, and we have much more accurate Bibles available today.) Then, they are changing words and dropping passages from new translations that do not conform with either the KJV or the aforementioned ten conservative guidelines.

So what do "English language linguists" do? They take texts and arbitrarily fuck with things they don't like ... not based on original-language research or cultural knowledge or archaeological advances, but on personal, political bias. (Sorry to be vulgar ... this stuff really pisses me off.)

Second, project administrators argue that their new Bible will root out "socialistic terminology [that] permeates English translations of the Bible." Such language, they continue, "improperly encourages the 'social justice' movement among Christians." Socialist translations of the Bible? I bet that damn Obama had something to do with it!

But this brief bullet point marks a maddening ignorance of the difference between "socialism" and "social justice." For political scholars, "socialism" basically marks a system of government with increased central (or federal) control. For religious scholars, "social justice" is very different: it's a desire to help the poor, to aid the oppressed, and to fight inequality. So when Jesus says that you should give your coat to the man who does not have a coat, he's advocating for social justice.

Social justice is the ethical core of all the major religious traditions, from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism, and the Conservative Bible Project's efforts to expel it from the text aren't just dumb--they're a little bit evil.

Finally, a brief perusal of the early "revisions" of Genesis reveals this dilly of a change in 1:11: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its baramin, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so." I remember God making light, and day, and even fish of the sea. But does anyone else not remember God creating "baramin" in the beginning?

Well, without getting into stupid detail, "baramin" is a piece of terminology developed by young earth scientists--basically creationists with a pretty new name--to talk about the way God made the earth. (Creationism is the theory that the world was created not by a big bang that occurred billions of years ago, but by God, just as Genesis tells us.) So in inserting the phrase "baramin" into Genesis, project administrators are essentially making the creation story, well, more creationist. That's like stacking the deck when you've already got four aces. Or like changing The Origin of the Species to make it more Darwinian. Stupid.

So I close my post on the Conservative Bible Project hoping that you and I will never hear from them again, but knowing that we almost certainly will ... as for me, I'll get back to serious discussion of the Bible next week. Complete with unnecessary liberal content.


  1. Can you find someone on Conservapedia and propose a debate? I'd pay to see Bible scholars (such as yourself) and Bible "scholars" head-to-head.

  2. I think a debate is neccessary. In the name of social justice!

  3. I've had two people who should have known better use the term "socialism" and by it refer to increased federal control of society. They have assumed, in its use, that of course everyone would know the undesirability of such things. So the word itself is its own criticism. Socialism apparently includes anything that has to do with "justice," helping the poor, seeking equality, resisting discrimination of all kinds. There seems to be the sense that socialism is always something forced upon people by a foreign despotic power.

    Such self-focused "conservatism," when doing such things as redacting the Bible for its own purposes, takes a step toward fascism. It is all to easy to demonize the "liberals," or Obama, the poor, etc. Like the treatment of the Jews throughout history and in the exile (your next blog) anyone who is not a conservative can be treated in any manner desired.
    I have found my teaching and preaching targeting the weakness in Biblical knowledge of "liberal" church members who then are victims of a "Sunday schoolish" understanding of Bible and religion.
    As to debate head to head with such folks...it is a waste of time...even though people today like to see opposing forces matched up to have at it. It is time to educate "liberals," not convert "conservatives."

    The Pious Pastor


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