Revising Three

April 02, 2004

I am reading over my revised chapter three to see just how badly I confuse the reader and just how clearly I make my arguments about civil religion.

Along the way I need to decide how specifically to engage with the Roy Moore's of the world. Moore, if you remember, is the Alabama justice who put a shrine to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state courthouse and justified his action by arguing that American law is founded on Christianity.

The interesting thing to me is that Moore used broad almost deist language in making his claims - any religion is Christian religion - and that he combined this broad language and a collection of secular quotes about religion and the law with a text for the Ten Commandments that used the King James translation. He argued that Christianity in General was bound into our legal traditions, and he then exemplified this general Christianity with a sectarian idol.

I argue in chapter three that benevolent organizations - the American Bible Society and so on - were tangible exponents of Justice Joseph Story's argument that Americans shared a common Christianity in general. And, of course, these benevolent organizations were unable to wish sectarian differences away. Even the Bible Society split after Baptists complained about the translation of the Greek word Baptism in Bibles being created for use in India and Burma. If you can't agree on the Bible, you can't agree on doctrine.

And so to read myself as critically as I can.

Posted by Red Ted at April 2, 2004 08:20 AM | TrackBack

I am curious, what was the Baptist problem with the translation of the word for 'baptism'? And when was the American Bible Society founded?

One thing I find ironic is that Judge Moore et al would not consider many of the founders to be "Christian", in the sense of being low-church biblical literalists who suffered a conversion experience and 'have a personal reltaionship with Jesus'. I am not sure how they square the worldview of Washington and Jefferson (hell, even Lincoln) with their strict notion of "Christianity", or why they consider the country founded upon Christianity. A product of late Christendom, yes. Of the west, yes. But not Christian in any sense that Judge Moore would ever use the word outside this specific debate.

Your dissertation sounds interesting.

Posted by: Troy at April 2, 2004 04:11 AM

The American Bible Society was founded in 1816. It is still active today.

The Baptist problem was how to translate the word "Baptism" into other languages. The English Baptism is a phonetic rendering of the Greek term - the translators of the King James Bible simply transferred the word from the old to the new document. The Baptists in India and Burma wanted to use the local vernacular for "immerse" in place of the Greek Baptism. Later English Bibles put out by the Baptists American and Foreign Bible Society similarly used "immerse" where the King James uses "Baptism."

The problem is that Baptism means many things - purify, wash, dunk, cleanse - while Baptists argue that it means immerse. Baptist churches are distinguished from other Christians because they limit the sacrament of Baptism to adults who can recount a conversion experience and because they baptise by immersion in running water. No dunking, no Baptism.

The Baptist translations resolved a dispute about the meaning of the Greek term by fiat, and anyone who learned Christianity from their translation would be dreadfully confused when they encounter a missionary from any other denomination.

So, the Baptists split from the ABS in 1835.

I do hope the dissertation will be interesting. I have been scribbling away on it long enough. Thanks for the votes of confidence.

Posted by: Red Ted at April 2, 2004 08:08 AM

So far your dissertation sounds like something I'd enjoy reading.

Posted by: DFH at April 2, 2004 12:06 PM
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