Gospels according to Cheney

Posted: Monday, October 19, 2009

So we may soon have ourselves a conservative Bible. Besides Fox News, I mean.

This new Bible is from Conservapedia, a Web site that bills itself as a conservative alternative to the perceived liberal bias of Wikipedia, the user-edited online reference.

You may judge Conservapedia's own bias by reading its definition of liberal: "someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self-centered reasons. There are no coherent liberal standards; often a liberal is merely someone who craves attention, and who uses many words to say nothing."

For the record, Wikipedia defines conservative as a word referring "to various political and social philosophies that support tradition and the status quo, or that call for a return to the values and society of an earlier age. ..."

Now, having protected unwary Americans from - ahem - Wikipedia's bias, Conservapedia founder Andrew Schlafly (son of Phyllis) tackles perceived bias in the Good Book. He proposes to correct the Bible by creating a new translation based upon 10 principles, including: concision (as opposed to "liberal wordiness"); an emphasis on "free market parables" and the exclusion of "liberal passages" he says were inserted into the original text. One such would be the well-known story of the adulterous woman brought before Christ by a crowd eager to see her punished; Jesus says the one without sin should cast the first stone.

As biblical scholar Bart Ehrman demonstrates in his book "Misquoting Jesus," that passage and others were indeed inserted into the Gospels - by copyists whose transcriptions were once the primary means by which Bibles and other books were disseminated. We're talking about the era before the printing press, i.e., pre-15th century, so apparently, "liberals" have been at this a long time.

Of course, conservatives are not the first folks to recast the Bible in their own image. Oxford University Press was justly ridiculed in 1995 for a PC Bible whose touchy-feely innovations included gender-neutral language so as not to offend women and a ban on phrases like "the right hand of God" in deference to southpaws.

But if Oxford's excesses resulted from a misguided attempt at inclusiveness, the forces guiding Schlafly are less benign. He is part of an ongoing crusade to delegitimize any institution, any information source, any inconvenient "fact" that contradicts conservative beliefs. Rather than trust those beliefs to stand or fall in the free market of ideas, some conservatives now apply a kind of intellectual protectionism. So now you have your conservative newspaper, your conservative radio station, your conservative university, your conservative "facts," and, apparently, your conservative God, and you may build yourself a conservative life in a conservative bubble where you need never contend with ideas that challenge, contradict - or "refine" - your own.

But here's the thing: When no authority can be regarded as unimpeachable by both right and left, when no fact can be universally accepted as such, when anything you prefer not to believe is automatically dismissed as a product of "bias," you impoverish intellect and render informed debate impossible.

You may think Dwyane Wade is the best there is and I may prefer Kobe Bryant, but if we can't agree they both play a game called basketball, if you say it's basketball but my conservative dictionary tells me it's actually checkers, then we can't even have the debate; our assumptions are too fundamentally incompatible. We live in different realities.

As in the recent spectacle of Americans shouting past each other like Martians and Venusians arguing in Farsi.

Conservapedia's effort to remake Jesus of Nazareth in the image of Dick Cheney suggests a future filled with more of the same. A conservative Bible?

Lord, have mercy.

• Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.



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