A very distinguished journalist used a very ill-considered metaphor today, illustrating just how far we white folk have to go in rooting out deep-seated prejudices that may manifest themselves despite our own best efforts. While considering the relatively small polling gap between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote of Mr. Trump, “Every week he manages to stain his character a deeper shade of black” (my emphasis).
This metaphor suggests that misbehavior makes you blacker. In a time when being a large black man instantly gets Terence Crutcher labeled “a baddude” by an observer in a helicopter, we white people must pay more attention to the metaphors we use. Continue reading →
Okay, so that headline sounds like it should appear in the Babylon Bee, but hear me out. I’m referring, of course, to the recent announcement that the latest revision of the English Standard Version has now become the pretentiously titled Permanent Text. Quite a few criticisms have been leveled at the ESV’s revision committee and its publisher for this move, and I agree with almost all of the criticisms that I have seen thus far.
So I’m not writing to disagree with any of those criticisms, but to point out the importance of typography.The first blog post I read criticizing the petrification of the ESV text was Scot McKnight’s “The New Stealth Translation: ESV,” in which the following passage appeared:
The question arises because Steven Anderson, who founded and preaches for the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, attracted attention a couple of weeks ago for positing this metaphorical equation against LBGTQ individuals in the wake of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Specifically, the Friendly Atheist (Hemant Mehta) has drawn attention to a recent sermon in which Anderson ranted, “LGBT. They’re sodomites. They’re dogs. That’s what the Bible calls them: Dogs. DOGS!” To conclude his post, Mehta himself claims, “This is faith-based hate speech. You can say it’s not loving, you can say you disavow what he’s saying, but you can’t say the Bible has nothing to do with it.”
More properly, you can’t say that Anderson’s reading of a 400-year-old translation of the Bible has nothing to do with it. But before we go blaming the Bible for Anderson’s hateful sermon, let’s see if Anderson is accurately representing the Bible.
Spoiler alert: He isn’t, although he thinks he is; a problematic translation coupled with a misapprehension of the relationship between side-by-side verses has misled Anderson into misunderstanding his source. But demonstrating that is a process requiring several detailed steps. There is no shortcut and no tl;dr version. Also, please note that my purpose here is to investigate the meaning, translation, and use of two biblical verses—not to articulate a general biblical theology of sexuality, which takes a lot more work.
The internet (I heard on Grammar Girl that the AP Stylebook says you’re not supposed to capitalize “internet” any more) experienced a flurry of virtue signaling this past weekend as netizens (does anyone still use that word?) reacted to the interrogation of Guido Menzio for doing complex math on a plane. Now, of course, what happened to Professor Menzio was completely inappropriate and unacceptable. And, of course, I would hope that I would not mistake an Italian-American doing calculus for a terrorist. But the situation made me stop and ask myself whether there are categories of people that I tend to prejudge based purely on outward appearances? Honesty would compel most of us to answer “yes.” I can’t honestly say that my initial reaction to a scruffy teenager with half of his boxers showing above his jeans is the same as my reaction to a well-dressed businessman. And it’s amazing how many netizens decrying the other passenger’s snap judgment about Menzio jumped straight to “dumb blonde” jokes, based solely on a small detail about her own appearance. Prejudices, biases, and snap judgments abound. They go hand in hand with phenomena like pereidolia and hyperactive agency detection, and were probably adaptive behaviors at some point in human history. At any rate, despite my best intentions, I still have a lot of work to do.