Salon: “Why is the Bible so badly written?”

Salon publishes and unpublishes:

You mean to say that the article on why the Bible is badly written was badly written?

In all seriousness, you can still read the piece here. It is rather pedestrian and undergraduate – something you would expect to find on The Daily Chrenk, for example, rather than on a proper and respectable opinion site, where you are accustomed to go to find good writing, insight, and originality.

But contents-wise, there is nothing shocking or outrageous in the article to anyone who knows anything about Biblical studies, historiography and criticism. Writes Valerie Terico: “Mixed messages, repetition, bad fact-checking, awkward constructions, inconsistent voice, weak character development, boring tangents, contradictions, passages where nobody can tell what the heck the writer meant to convey. This doesn’t sound like a book that was dictated by a deity.” OK, as I said, rather pedestrian and undergraduate, but pretty much all the things that have been subject to intense debate amongst scholars of theology, history, and linguistics for centuries now. It might be blasphemous for fundamentalists and scriptural literalists, but not particularly controversial otherwise to most people nowaday, whether religious or not.

I don’t claim to have read the whole of the Bible, but I have read large chunks of it. Some of it is beautiful, some of it can get tedious, some of it is of limited contemporary relevance (for example the three thousand year-old dietary rules). You don’t have to be militant atheist to notice various inconsistencies and shifts throughout this rather long book, which after all spans millennia and mixes history, law, theology, poetry and teaching of not one but two world religions. I always recommend to anyone wanting to get into the Bible that they pick up the King James translation, which is the only major work of art ever created by a committee. You won’t be able to avoid some of the textual problems alluded to before but at least you will be enchanted by the beautiful language, something that most of the modern translations, seeking to make the Bible “more relevant” and “more contemporary”, sadly lack.

Now, as many on social media have responded, would Salon do the same for the Koran?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Coincidentally, yesterday I finished reading Bruce Bower’s 2010 book “Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom”, an infuriating and depressing contemporary look at ripping out the heart of the freedom of speech at the altar of multiculturalism. Towards the end of the book, Bower recalls an incident where the British novelist Sebastian Faulks was too frank with an interviewer regarding the Koran: “It’s a depressing book… It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic. It’s very one-dimensional… the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very depressing.” Faulks also criticised the Koran’s “barrenness of message”, the absence of stories (compared with the Old Testament), and its lack of “ethical dimension… no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right track, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough – you’ll burn in hell for ever’. That’s basically the message of the book.”

This is hardly an academic criticism or elegant prose, just one novelist’s opinion, expressed apropos his new book which had some (positively portrayed) Muslim characters. Much worse gets said about the Bible and the Christianity every day.

But, writes Bower, “In response, imam Ajmal Masroor, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Britain, issued a not-so-veiled threat: ‘The consequences of saying things like this could be quite severe.’ The prominent British Muslim Anjem Choudary called for Faulk’s death. Within hours Faulks recanted… [He] agree with Masroor that it was problematic to ‘navigate solo with our own cultural compasses’ and said he ‘would be pleased to learn more about Islam’ and would willingly enter into dialogue with Masroor ‘with a degree of humility and plenty of respect for his religion and his scripture’. Meanwhile the Telegraph story containing Faulk’s original remarks was removed from that newspaper’s website without explanation.”

And there you have it – one can hardly blame Faulks for not wanting to follow in Salman Rushdie’s footsteps, who will be soon celebrating three decades of life under a 24-hour police protection.

In our modern, liberal, democratic society we should be able to openly discuss and debate, criticise and even ridicule ideas, including religious ideas. This is the legacy of the Enlightenment, which was in part built precisely on the idea that Christianity, just like other topics, would too be able to be freely discussed from all points of view. Two centuries later, while Christianity is still very much a fair game, other religions and traditions, particularly of course Islam, are increasingly subject to new de facto blasphemy laws, with the freedom of speech being squashed for the sake of sensitivity and social harmony.

I don’t know why Salon pulled Terico’s piece and I’m quite surprised they did. I’m not threatened by it, and I don’t think I should have a public veto over the public discussion of ideas that I associate with, just like I don’t believe that others should be able to restrict the discussion because it offends them – and because someone might get so offended they will cut somebody else’s head of. The story of the liberation of the individual and their conscience, mind and person is one of the great stories of progress. It’s criminal that our generation is starting to see the roll-back of this freedom, cheered on by the same people who in the past have played such a large role in securing it in the first place.