Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bending the Bible towards justice

After one year in publication, theologians are at odds (or disturbed, depending on whose report you read) over The Bible in a More Just Language, more commonly dubbed the "PC Bible."

This version, compiled in German by 50 theologians, is the product of an effort to do "justice to women, Jews, and those who are disregarded," says Pastor Hanne Koehler, who led the team of translators. The result is a Bible that uses inclusive language: instead of "Son" there is "Child," instead of "Our Father" there is "Our Father and Mother," and instead of just male rabbis, there are female rabbis as well (interestingly, Satan is still only male).

Despite the obvious problems with historicity (there were no female rabbis until the 1970s, for instance) and theology (a Mother and a Father God?), I question the efficacy and motives of these efforts.

The Bibel in gerechter Sprache, as it is known in German, is not unique. There are "hip hop" versions (Psalm 23: "The Lord is all that"), the People's Bible (where Jesus multiplies hamburgers instead of loaves and fishes), and the Street Bible ("[Jesus'] supernatural sessions and radical views have made him No. 1 celeb from Judaea in the south to Syria in the north") and the same issues of historicity and theology could be raised. This is Bible bending at its most extreme: actually getting in there and modifying the offensive or arcane bits.

Earlier I wondered if Bible bending may be a step in the right direction; maybe changing the language to be more accepting of women, homosexuals, and other cultures was just a means to a better ends. But when looking at these Bibles, it strikes me as incredibly condescending. Are people so mindlessly dependent on the written words of the Bible that if someone does not spell it out for them differently that they will indulge in bigotry and sexism? Yes, yes, I am pro- challenging every one to think differently but through critical thinking not publishing another version of the Bible. I am not ready to accept that the bending the Bible is the only way to bring about a more just world.

UPDATE: According to a New York Times article published today, Muslims in the US struggle to do the same thing with the Quran as Christians do with the Bible--find space to reinterpret scripture in a more just way.

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