Author Tom Sine tells a story about his first encounter with Ron Sider's book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. It made him mad.
Sider's book suggested that money was a major theme of the Bible. Tom knew better. He had read the Bible. He read it every day. Like any good evangelical, he had committed big chunks of it to memory. It might mention money a handful of times, but mainly it was about other things, stuff like sin and lust and idols and praying and what not.
So Tom went back to his Bible, angrily, setting out to disprove Sider's claims. And suddenly he noticed something he had never noticed before. Money is a major theme of the Bible. It's everywhere in that book. And the Bible, it turns out, has far more things to say far more often about the poor than it does about, say for instance, sex.
This was a revelation. One biblical word for such a revelation, such a pulling back of the veil, is "apocalypse." That which had been hidden is revealed and the whole world is changed, remade, replaced, reborn.
Tom Sine had the grace to welcome this apocalypse, to embrace it. But not every reader is receptive to such revelations.
I suspect that a similar apocalypse lies behind the creation of the Conservative Bible Project. Someone caught a fleeting glimpse of what that book has to say when read without the filtering lens of what it is expected to say. It may even have been, as in Tom Sine's story, an angry attempt to disprove what some radical prophet was claiming it said. However it happened, for a moment the veil was lifted and there it was — the law and the prophets, the sheep and the goats, the stark binary clarity of 1 John and that pervasive, terrifying, overwhelming insistence that nothing else matters to God if we fail to respond to neighbors in need with a tangible expression of love.
This revelation was unwelcome.
The folks at Conservapedia wanted no part in the new world promised by this apocalypse. Their response to it, instead, was something like a scene from Douglas Adams:
They flew out of the cloud.
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.
For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.
"It'll have to go."
The folks at the Conservative Bible Project caught a glimpse of something too big to accommodate in their tiny little comfortable framework and so, unable to accept it or even to allow or recognize it, they've set about turning it into something else.
It's an audacious project for a group of people who self-identify not just as Christians, but as "Bible-believing" Christians (that is, Real, True Christians) — people who proudly differentiate themselves by declaring their "high view of scripture." The only way to reconcile that sense of identity with the project of rewriting the Bible is to pretend that their problem is not with the Bible itself, but with the supposed distortion of it perpetrated by evil, feminist, intellectual, tree-hugging, gay-loving, baby-killing, liberal translators.Correct that distortion and the problem will go away and that scary glimpse of whatever it was they thought they saw there for a moment when the veil was lifted will cease to haunt their sleep. A bit of "retranslation" and they can be rid of that liberal notion that loving one's neighbor encapsulates the whole of the law and the prophets.
Among the many humorous aspects of this undertaking is the CBP organizers' confidence that this project will be easy. They hope to harness the power of wiki to quickly produce a new translation. An army of homeschoolers, they are convinced, should be able to accomplish this in a matter of months.
Some of those footsoldiers may well work as quickly as they imagine. The gruntwork of the Berlitz barbarism they have in mind as "translation" doesn't require much thought or care. And this project is easier than most translation, because the translators already know ahead of time what it is they're going to make the text say.
But I also think that army of homeschoolers is going to have more than a few deserters. I suspect this project will, for many, become a matter of a little learning being a dangerous thing. Alps on alps arise, and apocalypse upon apocalypse. The text will speak for itself. It's not going to lose this fight. The Conservative Bible Project, I suspect, will come to work as a subversive virus, creating far more converts from than to its cause.
– – – – – – – – –
As for the redundancy of satire in this case, which we discussed in the previous post, I'm not yet willing to surrender. The ridiculous must be ridiculed. That is part of our sacred duty to the truth, and not to do so is to sin by omission.
When something like the CBP comes along and we realize the impossibility of outracing it, of getting ahead of its own headlong pursuit of absurd conclusions, then we are obliged to ridicule it by creating a parallel track, starting a new line of thought alongside it.
The most fitting response to the Conservative Bible Project thus might be something like the Conservative Shakespeare Project. The words of the Bard, after all, have also been tainted by the hands of devious liberal translators (and actors) and thus will also need to be remade, re-edited and rewritten to ensure that they are fully compatible with the pro-market, anti-government perspective of the Conservapedia.
We clearly need a new folio in which, for example, the quality of mercy is strained.