We’ve been hearing rumblings all around the blogosphere, from news tips to tweets to comments on our stories, submitted by progressives worried about conservatives trying to rewrite the Bible in their own political language. Because we so value our readers concerns, we looked into it.
The effort, called the Conservative Bible Project, comes from Conservapedia, a right-wing online “encyclopedia” founded in November 2006 by Andrew Schlafly, son of conservative activists John and Phyllis Schlafly. Conservapedia itself seems to have been inspired by an intense anger from perhaps being rejected by Wikipedia. Its own thread on Wikipedia has this to say about the site’s supposed political bent:
Wikipedia shows a systematic bias in that tiny proportion of articles which treat controversial issues. It ignores its own [Neutral Point Of View] policy when it allows contributors to “delete well-referenced information” merely because it comes from a scientist who holds a minority view. It would only be a violation, if the article used the information to give a false impression of the proportion of scientists adhering to that view, but liberals use “undue weight” like a sledge hammer. They are either unaware or unconcerned about their bias.
Wow. Bitter anyone?
To be fair, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s entry on Conservapedia:
Conservapedia is an English-language wiki-based Web encyclopedia project written from an Americentric, conservative Christian and predominantly young earth creationist point of view. It was started in 2006 by lawyer and social studies teacher Andy Schlafly, son of conservative activist and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly. He stated that he founded the project because he felt that Wikipedia had a liberal, anti-Christian, and anti-American bias.
The site specifically markets itself as a learning tool for homeschoolers (Schlafly is a homeschool teacher, though he holds no teaching license nor training in pedagogy), but the main goal seems to be the assertion of a political position, rather than an educational resource. Aside from being openly anti-science, the vast majority of Conservapedia’s promoted threads are strikingly partisan.
For example, the “Liberal Hypocrisy” thread prominently features a photo from President Obama’s inauguration and this caption:
Liberalism is supposed to include the caring for the environment, as demonstrated here following the innauguration [sic] of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. One hundred tons of trash was [sic] removed from the National Mall in the days following.
The site is certainly right-wing, with featured articles on communism (in which they put William Ayers at the very top of the list of “notorious communists,” above Fidel Castro, Karl Marx and Mao Zedong), feminism (in which a modern feminist is identified as someone who refuses to bake, and “detest[s] women who are happy in traditional roles, such as housewives”) and global warming (which the thread defines as a “myth… promoted by liberals seeking greater government control over the production and use of energy, which is a substantial percentage of the economy”).
But the site is not really conservative in the true sense of the word, what with its thirst for changing the current meanings of words in our socio-political landscape. Indeed, the word “conservative” generally conveys a resistance to change and new ideas, making the creation of a new Bible, inspired by Republican ideals, a strange thing to happen on “Conservapedia,” at least from a etymological point of view.
Conservapedia founder Schlafly, who described himself as an amateur religious scholar in an interview on the radio program “Liberaland” Wednesday, told host Alan Colmes that even the word “government” is a liberal term that should be stripped out of the Bible, and suggested a suitable synonym could be “tyranny.” He also admitted in that same interview to not having read the Bible in Greek or Aramaic, yet still insisted that the original text was conservative, and that each of the English “translations get increasingly liberal.”
Despite the lofty goals, as of this week none of the Old Testament threads had even been set up with the original verses (strangely, the only Old Testament thread that had been created, Genesis, was nominated for deletion today). But a few New Testament chapters were close to completed. One of these is a letter from Paul to Philemon, one of the shorter of the apostle’s many correspondences that made it into the Bible.
Some of the translations appear to be simply using more modern language, such as turning this final sentence of the King James Version of the chapter:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Pretty harmless stuff, really (although the explanation for the change, that the phrase “‘your spirit’ is anachronistic today,” seems to miss the point, ignoring the fact that the 2,000-year-old text itself is “anachronistic today”).
In contrast, the first few entries on that same page are overtly political, suggesting that a modern reading of these particular Bible verses connote “socialism” and anti-war sentiment with the words “fellowlabourer” and “peace” respectively.
The mere existence of this project shows that the Bible is truly a Rorschach test, wherein the truth is in the eye of the beholder. The many versions of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the many different sects of Christianity splintered all over the world, testify to that situation as well.
Feeling the need to go back and change the Bible to suit one’s own image of the world is not only an example of feelings of moral superiority, but it is truly antithetical to conservatism and fundamentalism. Indeed it is Biblical activism to the nth degree, and if the shoe were on the other foot, conservatives would be screaming about liberals trying to re-write God almighty himself.
This effort also shows the fear harbored by conservatives that students and religious people might learn something about the teachings of Jesus and actually apply it to their lives. Jesus, as described in the Bible, was a radical liberal who held such outlandish beliefs about equality and social justice that it actually got him killed by the defenders of the status quo (i.e.: the conservatives of the day, to use the word in the traditional sense).
The fact that Schlafly is trying to, as he told Colmes today, “peel back the liberal bias” of the Bible and overlay his own worldview on top of those teachings is truly laughable. It’s understandable that progressives, especially Christian ones, would be worried and appalled by the attempt. However, Schlafly is preaching to the choir, and the people who will absorb this stuff would have ignored all that silly social justice and love-thy-neighbor stuff in the Bible anyway.
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