Dec 31, 2007

Distant Early Warnings

Online Edition, Vol. IV, No. 6: October 1998

Distant Early Warnings

Blasphemous Bible Series

A brash young publisher’s effort to repackage the Bible as a series of ten paperbacks with introductions by contemporary British writers has been met with the threat of a lawsuit under British blasphemy laws. The jazzed-up Bible series is to be published October 1, 1998 by Canongate Books of Edinburgh, Scotland. The author of the introduction to the book of Revelation (Apocalypse) calls it "a sick text", and God in the book of Job is called a "frivolous trickster" by another.

Although the traditional King James Version was used unaltered for all books in the series, the introductions have led a religious book distributor, Paul Slennett, to refuse to distribute the Bible books and to threaten Byng with a lawsuit under a British law banning "blasphemous libel". The blasphemy law was last used successfully twenty years ago, when a woman named Mary Whitehouse sued Gay News for publishing a poem suggesting that Jesus was homosexual.

The publisher of the series is 29-year-old Jamie Byng, son of the Earl of Stafford, step-son of the Chairman of the BBC, and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. Byng, who has been described as an "aristo-hippie", arrived at the faltering Canongate Books six years ago and used family connections to secure financial backing and take over the company. He has garnered attention by publishing "hip, cutting-edge" works, such as Trainspotting, a novel about aimless, heroin-addicted Scottish youth that was made into a popular film.

Authors of the two most controversial introductions are Louis de Bernieres and Will Self.

Mr. Self called the Apocalypse "a sick text" whose "vile obscurantism" is "the very stuff of modern, psychotic nightmare". He describes God and Christ as " brutal", "fickle", "bombastic", maniacal", and "abusive". Mr. De Bernieres, in his introduction to Job, says that God is "an unpleasantly sarcastic megalomaniac", a "frivolous trickster" who "botches up the reparations when he decides to make them", and adds that God must either be "a mad, bloodthirsty and capricious despot", or "we have been inadvertently worshipping the devil".

Some introduction writers are known to American readers, such as Doris Lessing (Ecclesiastes), and mystery writer A. S. Byatt (Song of Solomon).

(Information from the London Electronic Telegraph and Ecumenical News Service was used in this report.)

Language in the Gender Blender

In the English-speaking world, feminists have long demanded the elimination of gender-specific terms in favor of neutral ones, replacing "actress" with "actor", "chairman" with "chair" (after "chairperson" proved too clumsy), and "manhole" with "maintenance hole" (although news anchors, alas, persist in using "mankind".). Now comes word that in French, which, unlike English, has words that are gendered — that is, have masculine or feminine endings — feminist demands have been exactly the opposite: to create neologisms with feminine endings to replace words that traditionally had masculine endings, or were neuter.

An article in the Nando Times, an online news service (no longer online), details the fight waged against the new, feminist-inspired terms by Maurice Druon, Secretary of the conservative Academie Francaise, which has long opposed the "pollution" of French by Americanisms.

M. Druon’s ire was roused by the current French government, which has ruled that formerly masculine titles must be feminized to accommodate the sensibilities of feminist officeholders. Thus, "Madame le Ministre" has become "Madame la Ministre", "directrice" (feminine) has replaced "directeur" (masculine), and a "conseiller" (adviser) is now a "conseillere".

M. Druon blames American influence, using Quebec as a "staging area" for what he considers politically correct language pollution from "angloricain", his own neologism for the Anglo-American language. "Do we know where this fashion of feminizing titles was born? Certainly not in Canada, but in the United States. Canada was only contaminated through geographical proximity".

The opposite feminist strategies for different languages brings to mind Friedrich Nietzsche’s comment near the end of his life: "I fear that if we still believe in grammar we have not yet gotten rid of God".

Rochester bishop reassigns dissident priest

In a case that garnered wide attention from the secular media this summer, Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, New York, reassigned a controversial priest who reportedly offered unconditional communion to non-Catholics, blessed same-sex couples, and allowed women to "concelebrate" wearing priest-like garments.

The priest, the Reverend James Callan, has remained defiant, saying in an August 29, 1998 story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, "I plan to take the same values and work toward the same goals. I hope wherever I go I will be joined by women and men in leadership positions. I hope to have a complete gay ministry and openness to everyone at the Communion table". Father Callan has been reassigned to Our Lady of Lourdes, Elmira, as resident priest. He had complained that he was being exiled to "Saint Purgatory’s in the Boonies" when the diocese told him he was to be assigned to a rural parish.

The reassignment, reported to have been insisted upon by the Vatican, resulted in criticism of Bishop Clark by proponents of women’s ordination, same-sex unions and other issues with which the Bishop himself has often been associated. Regarding his conversations with the Vatican, Bishop Clark said in a news release posted on the Rochester diocesan website August 19:

"In order to discharge the responsibilities of my office I need to be able to hold privileged the contents of a certain range of conversations. Among these I would include those I hold with representatives of the Holy See, other bishops, our priests and pastoral ministers. I would include in that privileged category personnel issues, matters of conscience and the like. I need to have that kind of room in such conversations and so do those who are party to them."

Bishop Clark said that the diocese had adopted a 12-year retirement rule for priests appointed after 1983, and that it was therefore "not unreasonable" to reassign Father Callan, who had been pastor at Corpus Christi for 22 years.

In 1997 Bishop Clark performed a special Mass (at which police guards were present) for homosexuals and lesbians that received wide publicity. In his homily on that occasion, which was later posted on the Internet with his permission, Bishop Clark apologized to homosexuals and asked for their forgiveness. He also said that "the bible is used in ways that are not life-giving, but destructive as it’s quoted about gay and lesbian people" and urged listeners to "learn from the human sciences the research of which has yielded a lot of new information that I believe we have not as yet integrated into our knowledge and values systems".

(Bishop Clark’s homily may be accessed on the Internet at:



The Editors