Posts Tagged “christian bible”

Pope Francis Philadelphia 2015 (cropped)This is one story I couldn’t resist commenting on. Not just because it’s about the relatively-unconventional Pope Francis, but also because it concerns Bible translation … which has been an interest of mine since I first learned Biblical Greek during the early 1980s (while I was a Protestant fundamentalist). As the New York Times (among many other outlets) reports, the Pope proposed that the common translations of a portion of the Lord’s Prayer may not reflect the original text (Archive.Is cached article):

It has been a question of theological debate and liturgical interpretation for years, and now Pope Francis has joined the discussion: Does the Lord’s Prayer, Christendom’s resonant petition to the Almighty, need an update?

In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

The text of the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13, with a much briefer version in Luke 11:2-4. Here is the passage the Pope is talking about, from the (Catholic) New American Bible, and in the original Greek:

and do not subject us to the final test (Mt 6:13a)

και μη εισενευκης ημας εις πειρασμον (Mt 6:13a)

The language from Luke, for this particular passage (i.e. Lk 11:4c), is exactly the same, so I didn’t bother quoting it here.

It’s true there’s been some discussion over how best to translate this, and there’s been some dissatisfaction with most of the translations that have been offered.

Even so, the original Greek text does not agree with what the Pope proposes. Nowhere in this is it even implied — much less stated outright — that the supplicant is asking for God’s help when tempted. The original Greek definitely presumes God is instigating the “test.” εισενευκης (eiseneukés) is a form of the verb εισφερω (eisferó), meaning “to lead in, to carry in, to bring in.” Thus, “lead us not into temptation” is an entirely valid translation.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it when Pope Francis bucks Christian and Catholic convention. Few things in this world are in more desperate need of a stern challenge, than Christianity! But I just I can’t get on board with this.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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'One Nation, Under God: Remember, if you don't believe in God, you're not a REAL American. Keep prayer and God in school, where they belong!' / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of GeorgiaI’ve blogged a few times about Bible classes in public schools. The nation’s Christianists have long agitated against the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, which forbid the reading of Bible passages or reciting the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. Even decades later, militant Christianists throughout the country are still fighting back against that decision. They’ve consistently whined that Abington ripped the Bible out of public schools — which isn’t true — and have repeatedly pushed to get more Bible classes in more public schools throughout the country.

The reality is that lots of school systems have “Bible-as-secular-literature” courses. But many of them still run afoul of Abington. An example is the Mercer county, WV school system, which has a Bible course running through many grades, beginning in elementary school. The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit to end Mercer county’s Bible classes this past January (WebCite cached article). The FFRF’s complaint shows how the program’s lessons are more like Sunday-school religious lessons than “Bible-as-secular-literature.” After some wringing of hands over the last few months, as the Bluefield (WV) Daily Telegraph reports, Mercer county schools have decided to suspend the program for a year while they review its content (cached):

Mercer County’s Bible in the Schools program is being suspended for next year, providing time for a review of the optional class for elementary and middle school students.

Members of the board of education approved the suspension last night at their regular meeting.

“Since the Bible class is an elective, I would like to include community members and religious leaders along with our teachers in this process,” said Dr. Deborah Akers, superintendent of schools. “In order to conduct a thorough review, we need to allow at least a year to complete the task. Therefore, I am recommending that we suspend the elementary Bible classes until this review is completed.”

The way the schools got around the law on this is, as I see it, moderately clever. Their “Bible in the Public Schools” program is administered by the school system, but funded by private donations, with those funds paying the program’s teachers. They also say it’s an “elective,” but virtually every student takes it, which is undeniable evidence that it’s not actually an “elective” at all.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph ran a second story to reassure readers this wasn’t necessarily the end of the program (cached). Rather pathetically, it lamented “the loss of jobs” due to the year suspension:

Although Mercer County schools administers the program, Pelts’ group raises money to pay the seven teachers, who will now be out of their jobs at least for next year.

“Right now, the loss of jobs for our teachers is heartbreaking,” said Pelts. “Our primary and immediate emphasis is to honor and show appreciation to our Bible teachers.”

The group raises almost $500,000 a year to pay for the program.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a staggering sum of money for a private fund to raise, just to pay for Bible classes in one Appalachian county. As of 2015, Mercer county’s population is a mere 60,000 or so. I can’t imagine those residents can consistently raise half a million dollars a year, just among themselves. It doesn’t seem plausible. Outside groups must be paying for this program.

If I may crib from my earlier remarks on this topic: As someone who’s studied the Bible, both as sacred and secular literature, I don’t dispute that “Bible-as-literature” classes add value to public schools. There’s no doubt whatever about that! Biblical allusions are common in other literature and art, and some of the Old Testament books serve as tremendous examples of etiology. Kids can certainly use this as a foundation for understanding other works.

The problem I have with public-school Bible classes is, I don’t trust the people — generally, devout Christians — who create curricula for, and teach, them. Many are motivated by a desire to proselytize. Even if they set out with the intention of keeping these classes completely secular, will they be able to resist the temptation to turn them into religious instruction? The ardency with which some of them have pressed to get such classes into public schools makes me question how truly committed they are to a secular approach to the Bible. I particularly find it suspicious that half a million dollars is spent annually, in little Mercer county, WV on this effort. That kind of money makes the whole thing appear very suspicious.

Photo credit: Austin Cline, Licensed to About.Com; Original Poster: University of Georgia.

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Gutenberg Bible, Lenox Copy, New York Public Library, 2009. Pic 01Note: There’s been a little news about this; please see below.

The people of the great Bible Belt (or should I say, Bobble Bay-elt) state of Tennessee are at it again. Because their precious Christianity is under attack or something, they’ve decided they need to act to protect it. What Tennessee needs, they think, is more God. Toward that end, as NPR reports, the TN legislature has approved a law to make the Bible the state book (WebCite cached article):

In what is believed to be a first, the Bible could be adopted as a symbol of Tennessee, after the Legislature narrowly approved a bill designating “the Holy Bible as the official state book.” The measure now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Critics called the proposal both unconstitutional and sacrilegious,” Nashville Public Radio reports [cached]. “They also pointed out there are many versions of the Bible, none of which are specified in the resolution.”

The Senate version of the legislation, HB 0615 [cached], was sponsored by state Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, who noted the importance of the Bible in Tennessee’s history — both in its role as a historic record of important family milestones and as the heart of the state’s multimillion-dollar Bible-printing industry.

I’m not aware that the presence of well-known religious publishers in Tennessee required the state government to make the Bible the state book … but what the hell could this cynical, godless agnostic heathen possibly know about anything this important? Southerland dismisses the obvious state promotion of religion angle inherent in this story:

Responding to criticisms of the bill, Southerland said the Bible is not only about religion but also about ethics, economics and other matters. He drew part of that response, he said, from a study Bible.

“What we’re doing here is recognizing it for its historical and cultural contributions to the state of Tennessee,” Southerland said.

Lots of books have made “historical and cultural contributions to” Tennessee and other states. That doesn’t mean the state should actively promote any of them. If a book has made enough of a “historical and cultural contribution,” then no recognition should be required at all!

The law doesn’t state which Bible, exactly, is the state book. Theoretically this means it avoids sectarian conflicts (since Catholics, for example, might object if a Protestant Bible version were to have been named the state book). But it would still seem to exclude Jews, as well as anyone else who doesn’t revere the Christian Bible. So it does have a sectarian effect nonetheless.

Tennessee’s governor and attorney general have both expressed reservations about this law, so it’s not clear it will be signed or implemented. A similar effort died in Lousiana. But even if it dies, the TN legislature shouldn’t have wasted its time on this religiofascist lunacy.

Update: It turns out that passing this law was a waste of time. Governor Bill Haslam vetoed it (cached).

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Open BibleGiven what happened in Paris over the past week, it was inevitable, I suppose, that a bunch of angry Christofascists would respond with what amounts to an outcry of “More Jesus! More Bible! More Christianity!” Down in Mississippi, deep in the heart of the Bible Belt Bobble Bay-elt, the AP reports via ABC News, plans are afoot to make the Bible the “state book” (WebCite cached article):

Mississippi is the birthplace of William Faulkner, Richard Wright and recent U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. However, some lawmakers say they want to look beyond the secular literary world and designate the Bible as the state book.

At least two bills are being filed during this state election year to make the holy book a state symbol.

One is from Republican Rep. Tracy Arnold of Booneville, who is the pastor of a nondenominational Christian church. The other is from Democratic Reps. Tom Miles of Forest and Michael Evans of Preston, who say they have promises of bipartisan support from more than 20 colleagues.

Their intentions, of course, are perfectly noble, and not an effort to proselytize; we know this because … well … they pinky-swear:

Miles told The Associated Press on Monday he’s not trying to force religion — or even reading — on anyone.

“The Bible provides a good role model on how to treat people,” Miles said. “They could read in there about love and compassion.”

Enough already. I have to call bullshit on this. Not that there’s no love or compassion in the Bible … there is, some anyway. A little. Here and there. The problem with the Bible is that it has a far larger amount of cruelty, hatred, and violence. Horrific, cosmic-scale, raging cataclysm-type shit. Let’s have a look at just a small sampling of it, shall we?

  • YHWH drowns every living thing on the planet (Gen 6-7), sparing only 2 of each animal and 8 human beings. All because of “the wickedness of man” (Gen 6:5) … which the reader is led to believe must have been pretty horrific, but since the nature of that “wickedness” is never mentioned, we have no way actually to know what it was. Such is YHWH’s “love,” I guess.
  • YHWH later magically slew Er the son of Judah for (again!) unstated “evil”, then magically slew his brother Onan because “he wasted his seed on the ground” (Gen 38:7-10). Yeah, that’s “compassion” all right. Oh yeah.
  • YHWH also staged one of the worst atrocities since the Great Flood when he afflicted Egypt with a series of devastating plagues, slaughtered all the first-born in the land, and then wiped out one of the largest armies in the ancient world (Gen 3-14). Yup, that’s “love.” No doubt.
  • YHWH then tells the Hebrews to conquer Canaan — as an expression of his love for the Canaanites, I suppose. In the process he orders not just one (Ex 17:8-18:16) but two (1 Sam 15:1-9) genocides of the Amalekites. Definite “compassion” there, no?

OK, enough of this. I can’t take it any more. This is as far as I could get in relating stories of Biblical “love” and “compassion” without vomiting. Note, I left out of the above list the manner in which Sodom and Gomorrah were “loved” (Gen 19:1-29), not to mention Lot’s wife. Someone will, I’m sure, inform me that I left out “context;” for instance, Sodom & Gomorrah deserved to be wiped off the face of the earth and reduced to an ashen ruin because its citizens were “inhospitable,” and that the Amalekites were slaughtered to the last infant because they’d insolently fended off the Hebrew migration into their land. Sorry, but those defenses just don’t stack up to the sheer amount of violence perpetrated; if “inhospitability” were enough to raze cities in fiery holocausts, there would be none left anywhere, and a nation defending its territory is generally not considered a crime worthy of a genocide. And don’t even get me started on why Lot’s wife needed to be changed into a pillar of salt — because that whole thing is just ridiculous bullshit, period. So pardon me if I don’t buy the whole “context” protest. I’m nowhere near stupid enough to fall for any of that.

The only reason representatives Arnold, Miles, and Evans could plausibly say the Bible teaches only “love” and “compassion” is if they never actually read the thing. Which, of course, is probably the case, since as I explained long ago, nearly all Christians have never actually read it and haven’t a fucking clue what it truly says.

Needless to say, getting up in front of a legislature … and a state … to pronounce the Bible the “state book” could be construed as public piety, which is something Jesus clearly, specifically, and unambiguously forbid his followers ever to do. Not that these people are aware of that — even if that injunction is contained within the pages of the very Bible they want their state to venerate (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)!

Photo credit: Ryk Neethling, via Flickr.

Hat tip: Raw Story.

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Bible-openThe nation’s Christofascists continue relentlessly using government to promote their dour religionism. It’s a tired refrain, but it’s a campaign these people simply will not let go of, no matter what happens and no matter how illegal it may be. The latest example comes from the Bible Belt (er, Bobble Bay-elt) state of Louisiana. As the Associated Press reports via WWL-TV in New Orleans, a bill naming the Bible Louisiana’s state book is moving through the legislature’s machinery (WebCite cached article):

Lawmakers are moving ahead with a proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana’s official state book, despite concerns the bill would land the Legislature in court.

A House municipal committee advanced the bill Thursday with an 8-5 vote, sending it to the full House for debate.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, said he sponsored the proposal after a constituent made the request. But Carmody insisted the bill wasn’t designed to be a state-endorsement of Christianity or a specific religion.

“It’s not to the exclusion of anyone else’s sacred literature,” he told the House committee. Again, later he said, “This is not about establishing an official religion of the state of Louisiana.”

The illogic of Carmody’s claim is hilariously laughable. He actually thinks people are going to believe him when he says that making the Bible Louisiana’s state book can’t possibly be construed as an “exclusion” of other holy works. To the contrary … of course it’s exclusionary! Of course it promotes Christianity over other religions! What else can possibly be the result of such a pronouncement?

Deciding that “the Bible” is Louisiana’s “state book” leads inevitably to the question, “Which Bible?” There are many Bibles to choose from. The original bill specified that the official “state book” was to have been a particular copy of the Bible in the Louisiana State Museum, one which happens to be a King James translation (cached). But that specification was removed from the bill, I assume because it would have opened up a sectarian can of worms. After all, the King James Version was first written for the Anglican Church in order to help sever it from Catholicism. So selecting that particular Bible as Louisiana’s “state book” could have been offensive to Catholics, not to mention Orthodox or other kinds of non-Protestant Christians. Gee, how nice of Carmody to have been that accommodating, no?

Given that Louisiana is a religionist state with a fiercely religionist governor, I expect this bill will pass and become law. There are lots of Bible-worshippers there who’re desperate to use their state government to promote more Bible worship.

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Caleb Kaltenbach, via Fox NewsTodd Starnes at Fox News is furious. That, of course, is normal for him, as it as for every other militant Religious Rightist. They live in a perpetual state of sanctimonious rage over … well, something. Based on a tip from an equally-outraged California pastor, he condemned the Costco warehouse chain for insolently labeling the Holy Bible as “fiction” (WebCite cached article):

What do the Bible, “The Hunger Games” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have in common? All three are works of fiction, according to the booksellers at Costco.

Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach made that shocking discovery last Friday as he was shopping for a present for his wife at a Costco in Simi Valley, Calif.

“All the Bibles were labeled as fiction,” the pastor told me. “It seemed bizarre to me.”

While this may seem “bizarre” to the pastor and to Starnes, it doesn’t seem at all “bizarre” to me. Unlike the vast majority of Americans, I’ve actually read the Bible. From cover to cover. In several translations, and in Greek (which is the original language of the New Testament, and the form of the Old Testament as most of the earliest Christians knew it). It is most definitely “fiction,” no matter how fervently any Christianist thinks otherwise.

Starnes then narrates the tale of poor Pastor Kaltenbach traipsing through a Costco store and its corporate bureaucracy, demanding an explanation and removal of all those insolent stickers from all of their Bibles in stock. Starnes also quotes Kaltenbach lampshading his own martyr complex:

“On the one hand Christians should not yell out ‘persecution’,” he said. “We aren’t living in Iraq or Iran. But on the other hand, I believe that we do need to stand up for our faith and we need to be vocal about our concerns.”

This is a clever trick of propaganda. Ostensibly, Kaltenbach (and Starnes) are admitting this isn’t “persecution” of them as Christians … yet, nevertheless, by stating this, the clear implication is that it is “persecution.” How nice!

These guys really need to grow up and get over themselves. First, this isn’t Christian persecution. Christians in the U.S. aren’t being persecuted at all. It’s not happening … anywhere. And no amount of sanctimonious fury by Religious Rightists can ever change that.

Second, Starnes and Kaltenbach assume, in this case, that their Biblical-literalist view of the Bible is that of Christianity as a whole; thus, marking the Bible as “fiction” is an attack on all of Christianity. But this isn’t true. Not every Christian denomination takes the Bible literally. There really are Christians in the world willing to accept that some or all of their Bible is, in strict terms, “fiction.”

Lastly, I note that Starnes works for Fox News, which thinks businesses should be free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, free of regulation. Yet, here he’s presuming that he and Pastor Kaltenbach should have authority over how Costco labels its Bibles. In what universe is this consistent? I smell a whiff of hypocrisy here … the very sort of hypocrisy that their own Jesus ordered them never to engage in, and which is clearly and unambiguously condemned within the pages of those very same Bibles over which they’ve got their knickers in a knot. Boo fucking hoo, babies.

Photo credit: Caleb Kaltenbach, via Fox News.

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MohlerPerhaps the most influential single theologian in the US is R. Albert Mohler. As the head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he’s the doctrinal custodian of the Southern Baptist Convention, and thus serves as one of the commandants of the Religious Right. I’m not sure why they thought they should do it, but CNN published his idiotic apologia for the Religious Right’s relentless war against gays (WebCite cached version):

Are conservative Christians hypocritical and selective when it comes to the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality? With all that the Bible condemns, why the focus on gay sex and same-sex marriage?

Given the heated nature of our current debates, it’s a question conservative Christians have learned to expect. “Look,” we are told, “the Bible condemns eating shellfish, wearing mixed fabrics and any number of other things. Why do you ignore those things and insist that the Bible must be obeyed when it comes to sex?”

Unfortunately, despite having posed it, Al doesn’t actually answer this question. Rather, he rationalizes avoiding an answer altogether. I’ll let his dodges and swerves speak for themselves … if you can stomach reading it.

What I would like to point out, is that Al — even though he’s a strict Biblical literalist — factually lied about what the Bible says:

Some people then ask, “What about slavery and polygamy?” In the first place, the New Testament never commands slavery, and it prizes freedom and human dignity.

In reality, the New Testament most assuredly does support slavery. It does so more than once, in fact. Read on:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Eph 6:5-6).

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. (Col 3:22)

I’m astonished that a supposed expert on the Bible such as Al Mohler would have said something as clearly and demonstrably untrue as this … but he did, nonetheless. Did he really think no one would notice his lie? Did he really think that people like myself, who have actually read the Bible (not only in English, but in other languages, including the original κοινη Greek of the New Testament), would not have been aware of this? Did he really think people are that fucking stupid? My guess is, he did think he’d get away with it — largely because he’s preaching to his own choir; other Southern Baptists would have taken him at his word and not questioned his statement. Regardless of his presumption of being able to get away with it, though, Al’s lie earns him entry into my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

It’s obvious by now that America’s Christofascists have to resort to lying about their own religion in order to support their hateful rhetoric. I’m not sure where in any of Jesus Christ’s own teachings they discovered the mandate to lie about him, but I’m sure they must have found it. Somewhere. I haven’t managed to find that chapter and verse, but Al and his cohorts must know what it is. I wonder if they’ll deign to divulge it to the rest of us “mere mortals”?

Photo credit: james.thompson.

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