Comments: Religious beliefs give no right to discriminate

The lead story of today's Daily Episcopalian reflects the resignation of another clergy member due to a inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of the congregation. The Church is St. James Newport CA and it is a member of the Anglican Province of Uganda, Diocese of Luweero. Here is a link to the story:
Canon Anderson of the American Anglican Council, previous rector of St. James, will replace the rector.

Although this is a limited issue, it begs the question of how APO might work. Neither article makes reference to any involvement of the bishop of Luweero to whom the rector should have reported or what role, if any, he played in the active supervision of his rector. Canon Anderson is under the Church of Nigeria through CANA. No reference is made as to how or why he is assuming control of this church. He would be familiar with its parishioners. Howard Ahmanson, a major contributor to AAC, is a St. James parishioner. Was a decision worked out in Africa? Was there consultation with the parish before Canon Anderson replaced the rector? How, in fact, when a supervising diocese and its ordinary are thousands of miles away, is a parish practically served by its ordinary in a time of crisis? And, how is the ordinary apprised and kept current on issues? Is this a test case to see how APO works "on-the-ground" and how?

Posted by EPfizH at Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 4:05pm BST

It is encouraging that this has reached 'the public square.'

A corrective to some of the more strident words emanating from the Sees of Westminster,Canterbury, York and Birmingham, of late. And which were rather troubling to be subjected to ...

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 5:26pm BST

With regard to NP's poser on the printer and the gay wedding invitation, we might take it further. Which of the following would he regard as defensible?

The refusal to print ordination cards for a woman (on the grounds of a belief in the necessity of male headship?)

A refusal to produce material for a political party to which s/he was opposed?

A refusal to print wedding invitations for a divorcee?

Material for religious organisations other than their own preferred denomination?

The list's a big one, and I do find this end of the argument rather silly.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 6:08pm BST

This is really sad. Guaranteed there'll be the usual attempts to invalidate "the other side" based on this. The there will be the conservatives pointing out how illiberal the "liberals" really are, then there'll be a lot of backing and forthing going nowhere, and everyone'll get all fussed up and irritated, listen less and yell more, etc. That it's Ahminson's parish is surely fuel to that fire. Your very sensible question will get lost in all the to-do, I fear.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 7:07pm BST


Posted by choirboyfromhell at Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 8:58pm BST

"...If I run an adoption agency and believe that it is wrong for children to be adopted by homosexuals, the fact that my views are based on logic, careful study of reports, and an expertise in child psychology..."

I am not sure if my reading is out of context. One thing that does worry me about this statement is the blind spot taht logical careful study of reports and an expertise in child psychology means that one has made rational decisions.

I would refer souls to the Roses' work on culture and paradigms affecting what scientists perceive and test for in scientific experiments. The think tanks that are so busy looking for all the ways that greenhouse gases occur that they overlook the blinding obvious that humanity's technology generates greenhouse gases. The blind spot that said there was no hole in the ozone layer over Antartica for ten years and that it was a glitch in satellite readings...

Warning bells go off every time I hear someone refer to the "ultimate" text or most-researched and/or reasoned considerations.

The only other place I see such hyperboles are court rooms where lawyers are paid to know the precedent case that renders their well-paying client innocent of a major crime, whilst in the next room a child goes to jail for a minor indiscretion.

Indifference to cruelty and/or violence under the guise of decency remind me of Habakkuk’s complaint in 1:2-4

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 10:47pm BST

Hmmmm, so opposing slavery on religious grounds, as people like Wilberforce did, is totally acceptable, but opposing a law requiring one to directly serve those one feels are engaged in immorality is to be forbidden? In both cases the activist feels he is opposing immorality at the expense of those held to be engaged in the immoral activity. Is that a hint of a double standard I smell blowing on the wind? What is the objective standard by which all rational people can see that slavery is horribly evil while ss partnerships are good things to be embraced, or is the law properly set by whoever has the power to get laws passed?


Posted by Jon at Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 10:48pm BST

Quite obvious really. Slavery exploits one human being for the benefit of another. It has no place for dignity and freedom. Committed same sex partnerships bring pleasure and joy to those who partake in them, and all stable relationships help to contribute to a more harmonious and happy society.

There is no case for gay relationships being 'immoral' based on anything other than what some bloke said in a book thousands of years ago. people are quite at liberty to believe those things, but not to think that those beliefs can outweigh the rights of citizens - some of whom are gay or lesbian, and whose lives and partnerships can only be judged as immoral on grounds which are far from rational.

Essentially, conservative religionists think they should have the right to discriminate against others. I despise conservative religionism, particularly of the Christian variety, but that would not justify my discriminating against someone because of that view.

If you seriously think that you should be able not to serve someone in the civil sphere, then it really does demonstrate just how low conservative christianity can sink.

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 12:40am BST

"The Archbishop will also decry the lack of moral vision displayed by MPs compared to the likes of William Wilberforce, who was instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago."
(Telegraph article)

++Rowan might want to read and comment on this Ship of Fools article:

The author, Stephen Tompkins, contends that as late as the mid-18th century, Wilberforce did not see anything wrong with the slave trade. Wilberforce did in fact rape and torture his slaves. His treatment of his slaves did improve markedly after his conversion, but he continued to support the trade, and only 40 years after that did he stop.

Tompkins feels that it isn't clear that Wilberforce ever suffered the crushing remorse he's depicted as having in the film, Amazing Grace. It is true that Wilberforce was instrumental in abolishing the slave trade, and that the moral vision he (eventually) received from his new-found faith made him do so.

However, I'd still put him behind Gandhi and King in terms of moral clarity. And I'd hesitate to say that Britain's current MPs were inferior to Wilberforce. They are trying to ensure equal legal protections for gays and lesbians. Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean they don't have a moral vision.

Perhaps the proper comparison might be Rowan Williams to William Wilberforce. Wilberforce took several decades to renounce slavery. It might be that several decades from now, Rowan Williams puts his foot down and asks for LGBT people to be treated fairly by their churches and countries.

Posted by Weiwen at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 3:35am BST

Mynsterpreost - you are quite right to broaden the discussion about printers. Assuming for the moment that indiscriminate printing of everything that pays and is not illegal is a moral good, the question is whether the state should force printers to be either good in this sense or give up their profession.

It seems to me logically possible to distinguish the case of printers discriminating against people ("I am not printing your stuff because I don't like the colour of your hair or your sexual orientation") from the case of printers exercising a choice over what to print ("I am not going to help promote this. Come back, if you want to print something different.").

It is furthermore possible to distinguish the question whether printers should be discriminating in what they print from the question whether they should be forced not to be discriminating.

Add to your list brochures promoting young-earth creationism, leaflets denouncing the Church of England, pamphlets extolling the ecological benefits of driving cars, pornographic material etc.

I am not even saying printers should be printing only material which they do not consider harmful. But is it really silly to suggest that printers should have the freedom to make such choices?

Posted by Thomas Renz at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 10:03am BST

Sorry, Jon, but you fail to recognise that religious 'rights' have a mixed track record in promoting morality and human well-being. Your argument would equally well protect those who on religious grounds oppose giving equal rights to people of colour, wouldn't it?

write out one thousand times 'religion does not equal God'

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 10:57am BST

Mynster - I do not need to tell you that freedom is a very important right and should not easily be given up.....even if it is the freedom of others that you may think needs restricting.

Freedom of thought and conscience are under attack for authoritarian political correctness - bizarrely, in the name of liberalism!

Those who restrict freedom, even if they are from the left, are a danger to the whole of society. The state should be encouraged to protect freedom and the dignity of ALL individuals.....or one day you will have made a powerful government restricting freedoms you hold dear.

Posted by NP at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 11:13am BST

Hi Cheryl-

Supposing you reject 'most-researched / reasoned conclusions' as a criterion (not that anyone, surely, would reject it point-blank?). What better criterion can then replace it? For all we are left with then is *less* researched and *less* reasoned conclusions.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 12:31pm BST

Hard cases make for bad law - but where DOES one draw the line? The illegal is simply dealt with. However, the stuff which is the subject of legitimate moral debate (including that which has not been declared illegal) should not, I think, be subject to this hidden censorship.

If the Law were to allow (say) a printer with a large Church contract to turn down material if s/he does not approve of it, could that printer afford to accept work (say) from a source highly critical of religion, in the knowledge that pressure might be brought to bear to make him acquiesce in hidden censorship.

Better I think for the intermediary's role to be protected by law. It may seem an odd analogy, but Albert Pierrepoint said that his hanging of (innocent) Timothy Evans was not on his conscience, since he was carrying out the decision of the jury: it was not his right nor his responsibility to act as some supreme moral arbiter. I think the same applies in this matter.

I don't often use the 'slippery slope' argument, since I feel most of the time we're called to live on it - but I am uneasy about giving what seems like a small right of censorship to an individual which could so easily snowball into a larger, hidden censorship....

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 12:40pm BST

"I do not need to tell you that freedom is a very important right and should not easily be given up.....even if it is the freedom of others that you may think needs restricting."

Like the freedom of gay people to be able to stay in a hotel, or not have some teacher tell their 6 year old that his/her parents are going to Hell? Honestly, NP, why is it that the only freedom that counts is yours? And how is it that you posted that message without stopping to consider how your words apply to you? When society prevents you from depriving others of their freedom, you have the gall to claim YOU are the one being put down. What cheek!

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 1:08pm BST

Mynsterpreost - fair point about the threat to a printer's freedom which arises from being heavily dependent on a single client. It is a forceful argument against certain business strategies but I am not persuaded that it is a strong argument in favour of abolishing altogether the freedom of printers to decide what they want to print.

I take it that you agree that it is at the least a little irksome that printers should be forced to print blatant nonsense, pornographic material or far-right pamphlets which just about manage to stay inside the law (and maybe merely because their legality has not been tested yet).

Posted by Thomas Renz at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 2:14pm BST

"Hard cases make for bad law - but where DOES one draw the line? The illegal is simply dealt with. However, the stuff which is the subject of legitimate moral debate (including that which has not been declared illegal) should not, I think, be subject to this hidden censorship."

The question is difficult. As a translator I have often refused to translate morally dubious texts. Much of my work is for a company selling nutrition supplements. Whenever their cleverly crafted implied claims for the healing properties of their products have exceeded what I think is morally right, I have first advised them of my misgivings and subsequently refused to take on the translation. A recent example includes not providing warnings that products contain nuts when the English product name makes that obvious to English speakers, but the German translation would no longer contain this hidden information.
Another one I took up with them was a recommendation for all cancer patients to take a certain supplement. I had been advised by my daughter's oncology team that one of those ingredients was dangerous for her at certain cycles of her treatment. I suggested to the company to add a disclaimer that all cancer patients should check with their consultants before taking the product. The company refused, so I did not translate that particular document.

What they asked of me was not illegal - was I wrong to refuse the work?

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 2:23pm BST

please ignore my earlier comment. I was confusing William Wilberforce and John Newton - it was John Newton whose conversion never really took until 40 years later.

however, comparing Rowan Williams to John Newton is still valid.

Posted by Weiwen at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 2:39pm BST

Are you not doing the same thing, Ford?

You do not care for the freedom of a printer who may not wish to print material eg from a far right party??

Why should he (or she, before many here have kittens because I assume the printer is a man!) have to print stuff he disagrees with?

Posted by NP at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 4:11pm BST

As an interesting measure of where civil society in the UK is on this issue, take a look at this press release from a major recruitment agency:
City is Gay,Friendly and Proud, Reports Joslin Rowe

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 4:15pm BST

Simply because the right of gay and lesbian people not to be discriminated against comes above that right, NP.

I simply don'ty accept any argument which says otherwise - so you will have to live with that reality. You believe gays and lesbians ahould be discriminated against because its what your homophobic religion teaches. You are entitled to that view. But its not socially acceptable as public policy.

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 4:36pm BST

sounds to me as though the company in question is leaving itself wide open to legal action at some time in the future, and therefore to dissociate from potentially illegal/unlawful acts falls well within the parameters. It is not 'a matter of opinion' whether the product contains nuts, or whether supplement x is contraindicated. It IS a 'matter of opinion' with regard to things like the gay issue.

Does that make sense?

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 5:13pm BST

NP: an awful lot of the printers I have met are more likely not to want to print something from:
the Labour Party;

This is surely something to do with not stifling liegitimate activity by appeal to vague 'principles'.

In the Early Church, the problem of compromised consciences was dealt with by suggsting that some professions (the military, the theatre) were not compatible with Christian discipleship. Now that updated WOULD be 'Cost of Conscience', wouldn't it!!

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 6:38pm BST

"Why should he (or she, before many here have kittens because I assume the printer is a man!) have to print stuff he disagrees with?"

Which is the debate, how do we decide whose rights are paramount? Do we need to? I would argue that a printer is involved in the publication of the written word, and then we get into areas of censorship. A printer cannot be a censor. Do you think I should be allowed to refuse to print a flier for an Evangelical event, on the grounds that I believe Evangelicalism to be in error, a distortion of the gospel, driving people from the Gospel, and leading people astray? It would be something of an issue for me, actually, but I would print it because I do not believe as a printer I have a right to censor, but I'd have a problem with it.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 6:42pm BST

yes, what you say makes sense.
But how about when the translation is about dubious claims that are written in such a way as to make less educated people believe that taking a supplement will rid them of cancer. Some of the examples are borderline illegal, but not actually so. How about this: A "testimony" from someone who says he has been suffering from cancer and has been getting worse despite top medical care, so he decided to stop his invasive and crippling chemo. Then he found this supplement. After 2 weeks of taking it he felt better. After 6 weeks his tumour has all but disappeared. His doctors are amazed, and although he himself has no proof, he is personally convinced that this remedy helped him".

At no point in this statement is there any claim that the supplement healed the cancer. Spontaneous remissions are a well known phenomenon. And all that man is saying that he is sure the stuff "helped him" - he didn't even say that it healed him. He certainly doesn’t say that his doctors say he is cured.

This is legally absolutely watertight. It is also morally desperately wrong, because it is aimed at people who clutch at straws and will try anything, and are often not linguistically trained enough to spot the nuances in the claims.

What I do at the moment is either "modify" the translation so the claims are less absolute, but that in itself is not morally right because the company pays me to deliver a faithful translation. Or I refuse to translate it outright. Am I justified in refusing to translate such a testimony?

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 9:09am BST

I wonder whether "censorship" isn't too big word to use for the freedom of publishers, printers and translators to decide what they want to get involved in and what not. By refusing to translate something, Erika is not putting the material on an index, she is not necessarily preventing anyone else from translating it...

...she may be loosing money, however - cost of conscience. I am sure some, maybe many, printers, prefer a law that forbids them to act on their conscience or at least creates a conflict of conscience which makes it easier to ignore any qualms about printing doubtful material. But the price is high in my view.

Posted by Thomas Renz at Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 11:30am BST

In the UK the Advertising Standard Authority would probably have something to say about such material, and to refuse to publish such misleading information would be defensible at law, I think - if only on the grounds that being involved in the publishing of such material might make one liable to legal proceedings. My own inclination in UK would be to send a complaint to the ASA about the material.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 12:20pm BST

yes, I could do that.

But the answer doesn't quite address the moral dilemma (which was given as an example of difficult questions).
There is every chance that the ASA would not judge the material to be deliberately misleading. These people have a huge legal department and are generally good at skirting on this side of legality.
What if it was decided that it was legally ok? Would that make my moral qualms redundant?

And what do I do in the meantime, while I have to assume that it's legal, yet I still feel very uncomfortable about it?

BTW - these things crop up only very occasionally, on the whole the company is selling very useful supplements through the appropriate channels and with inoffensive claims about them!

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 1:13pm BST


I suppose this is part of the 'massa peccati' - the side of original sin which never gets a look in! There is a murky area where moral impeccability is not possible - so in this regard, this particular hard case, you can set a precedent for censorship (with all that might involve) or you can not intervene (and risk some people being misled). Neither is nice. everyone ends up with dirty hands (hat tip Sartre - and Ionesco!), perhaps being aware we have dirty hands is important?

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 2:13pm BST

Oh yes, Mynsterpreost, I know I already have dirty hands! I know I need a forgiving God!
And I feel like you do, that this is a murky area indeed.

With respect to this thread, though, "are we ever allowed to discrimminate based on our moral/religious beliefs", it shows that sometimes there is no easy answer. Merely asking whether something is legal is not enough.

This is where I fully understand Rowan's moral concerns with the principle of legistlation taking the place of an individual's requirement to make moral choices.

That it arose during the SOR debate is sad, because it seemed to paint him in the homophobic corner. Had it been something else, we would maybe not have been so critical.

Would you still say "However, the stuff which is the subject of legitimate moral debate (including that which has not been declared illegal) should not, I think, be subject to this hidden censorship"?

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 3:36pm BST

Erika asked:
Would you still say "However, the stuff which is the subject of legitimate moral debate (including that which has not been declared illegal) should not, I think, be subject to this hidden censorship"?

Yes, I think the area of current serious moral discussion (thus ruling out red herring issues like 'the right not to have theft outlawed') is the most significant and vulnerable area. Voltaire springs to mind.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 6:01pm BST

So, Mynsterpreost,
no "massa peccati" after all? A straightforward "no censureship"? I just translate and pray for forgiveness and that no-one may actually end up making harmful choices because of the product claims I'm helping to spread?

I don't think I can do that, and I think I shall have to continue to either modify the translation, or refuse to work on certain texts.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 27 April 2007 at 9:49am BST

not quite. I am aware of people who have taken the post modern thing and attempted to demonstrate that there is no such thing as 'morality', so I was trying to establish that there are things which are clearly beyond the pale.

I would place the issue you describe in a terrible area of conflict between two competing goods. The 'massa peccati' lies in part in the fact that good should compete in the first place, do you not think?

A parallel example as in the Satanic Verses debate, where the right to freedom of speech clashed with the call to respect the culture of another. The declaration of a fatwa lies outside any concept of 'good', but the moral dilemma concerning the response of others remains.

So an excellent moral case can be made for censorship of dubious information (do you read 'Bad SCience' in The Guardian?). It does not involve subjective opinion in the same way that, say, the gay issue does, but unfortunately a pretty good case can be made the other way. WHichever we do in such circumstances is open to criticism, usually from those with an axe to grind.

I'd subvert the translation too, btw, simply on the situationist principle.

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Friday, 27 April 2007 at 5:45pm BST

"The 'massa peccati' lies in part in the fact that good should compete in the first place, do you not think?"

That's an interesting point.
Freedom of expression vs protecting others from harm seem to be the two competing goods here.
But the "massa peccati" surely lies in the fact that one of those "goods", the freedom of expression, is already tainted by having a morally dubious aim.

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 28 April 2007 at 11:57am BST

Probably worth bearing in mind that different professions have different ethical frameworks and ethical issues. Very difficult or impossible for me fully to appreciate the issues and constraints of other professions.

I think it is important for fellow professionals to talk and receive support from each other.

I had not appreciated that being a translator raised these issues, though I have had to work through translators in an NHS context and that was a revelation to me ! Even within my own field, it is often the case that therapists of different theoretical and technical orientations have difficulty appreciating the nuances and finer points of each others' work !

Translation as an issue links up neatly with problems of the integrity of Biblical MSS and of their meaning and various possible readings. I do not think that 'translation' is fully possible from one language to another, because of nuances, 'tone', association and many vital subtleties. When i have read translations of languages I know, (including 'languages' like psychoanalysis for example) I have often felt that the intended meaning or tone was not sufficiently conveyed.

So translating from Christian languages and dialogues for each other --- or for beyond the churches, is bound to be fraught with difficulty -- technical and moral. Look at how the attempts of say Bultmann and Tillich have fared , or their popularizer John Robinson. Or the neglected work of HA Williams.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Saturday, 28 April 2007 at 1:56pm BST

Yes, translating is fraught with difficulties, and most are not moral problems!
With NP insisting that the bible is literally true, I have recently been thinking of the complexity of translating something apparently simple as “man shall not live by bread alone” into Japanese. I don’t know how the official Japanese bible has solved the problem, but I can look it up if anyone is interested.

Bread is not the staple food of Japan but a modern import, although getting more and more common and less exclusive. Still, using the literal translation for bread would make it sound a bit like Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake”, especially if readers know they are reading an ancient text and infer from that that ancient values are placed on the items mentioned.

The staple food in Japan is rice. There are two possible translations for rice, ko-me, which are the grains you buy, or go-han, which is cooked rice. Clearly, you “live” by the cooked food, unless you’re involved in the growing or selling or rice, so it would be obvious to use go-han for “bread”. However, go-han is also the generic word for “food”, which may or may not put an altogether different slant on your translation.

Now, you can spend a long time debating which word replicates most closely the nuances of the original text, and in this case, whichever we use won’t seriously compromise the text in question. But it serves to show that there just is no simple and faithful translation even for the most obvious texts. They all reflect the choices of the individual translator, his or her understanding of the nuances and cultural background of the original words (what else would you base your evaluation of appropriate translation, or better, transference on), and your evaluation of the cultural meaning of the possible translations in their target language.

Inspired? Yes! Inerrant? Never!

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 28 April 2007 at 7:30pm BST

Erika; I think both carry seeds of corruption, or at least potential to corrupt. When does protecting another from harm drift into paternalism and infantilisation of the other (the sort of thing which early C20 intellectuals felt about educating oi polloi)? And freedom of expression which begins as the heart responding to the unique call of God is equally open to distortion and self-aggrandisement.

Just a thought.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Saturday, 28 April 2007 at 9:03pm BST

Well, it seems to me that "daily bread" is "daily food".

Look how meat (sheep or goat) is substituted by bread in the Seeder meal!

So "go han" gives both aspects. Ko me doesn't.

(note that we do not know exactly how to translate "daily" - this day, tomorrow or every day)

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 6:47am BST

I hadn't thought of the translation of "daily", what a fascinating problem! As we say "give us today our daily bread", I think we can probably exlude "tomorrow" as an option - but then, I don't know the original text!

The "bread" game goes further than that, though.
Man doesn't live by bread alone.
I am the bread of life.
As you said: Give us today our daily bread.
And, most of all, scooping them all up in one sublime act: breaking bread in Holy Communion, where the bread has now become the body of Christ.

In British culture we have "earning a crust" and being the "breadwinner", which moves the image well beyond mere food, and brings it in the realm of "give us our necessities".

In German this still applies to an extent. There is no breadwinner, but there is one's employer, the "breakfast roll provider".

The imgagery surrounding the word "bread" in our culture and in our whole understanding of scripture is potentially entirely different than in other countries.

Or would you have Japanese churches break "food" and Innuit Christians break "fish"?
Fish, as a staple, of course havin completely different biblical images associated with it - I will make you fisher's of men.

A translator of the Bible would have to decide which of these symbolic meanings may have been inherent in the original text, and how relevant that may be for a modern translation.

And I know that for a linguist like you the example of "bread" is comparatively banal compared to the many real difficulties associated with the translation of ancient texts.

But it strikes me that those who read the New Testament in English with "our Lord's words written in red", and who believe the Bible is literal truth, need to start to think about at least some of the linguistic issues arising out of the translation even of a simple and obvious word like "bread".

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 9:52am BST

I agree that every good contains the seeds of corruption.
But that is not the same as saying that every good IS corrupt.
The problem only arises when one of those seeds begins to grow.

Or not?

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 10:22am BST

"Innuit Christians break "fish"?"

Interesting question. In the larger view, how do you speak of sacrificial redemption in a society that has no knowledge of such things? The Maya were apparently open to some aspects of Christianity, since their native religion had numerous images of the holiness of blood, and they even had a form of "baptism", with quite different meaning of course. The issue of the Inuit language is interesting. The Lamb of God is a powerful image replete with symbolism. How do you convey this to people who have no knowledge of lambs, much less that there might be some spiritual benefit from the killing of one? The phrase was translated, so I understand, as "God's precuious thing that looks like a caribou calf"!

Posted by Ford Elms at Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 1:34pm BST

This is not just in the UK. There's a piece in yesterday's Washington Post - "Conservative Black Pastors Fight Bill on Hate Crimes".

Posted by lapinbizarre at Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 5:15pm BST

Yes, Ford, that's the kind of difficulty I was trying to talk about.

Of course,"the lamb of God" is only a powerful image in societies where that kind of symbolism developed. It has no symbolism outside those cultural frameworks.

A good translator would have to have a comprehensive understanding of the word to be translated, and then transcribe it effectively into his mother tongue so that people reading it would at least get an approximation of what we mean.

However, assuming that "shifting the blame onto an innocent creature" is a universal human tendency, I have to assume that every nation has its own way of expressing this.

And, of course, I have to also assume that the translator will not just be influenced by his knowledge and personal interpretation of theology and of his target culture, but that he will also receive divine guidance through which the Spirit ensures that the message is still intelligible after the translating process.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 6:02pm BST

Agreed - but you could argue that one consequence of living in a flawed universe is that two good imperatives can compete, whether or not those imperatives are flawed themselves.

Apropos the discussion of 'bread' I commend a study of the A/S 'hlaf' and its various derivatives and compounds - 'hlaford', 'loaf-guardian' = 'master', 'hlafaeta', 'bread-eater' = 'dependent'.

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Sunday, 29 April 2007 at 7:52pm BST

Smokescreens - yes, we all know that translating is difficult.

But the problem the AC has is that TEC is translating "do not" as "do"

Posted by NP at Monday, 30 April 2007 at 8:35am BST

"yes, we all know that translating is difficult"
You do? Good! Then at least we can now get away from the pretence that the bible is literal truth! Thank God for that step forward in our conversation.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 30 April 2007 at 9:58am BST

Agreed. So the question is who makes the decisions as to which good imperative has precedent over the other in individual, tricky cases. Or better, who decides which competing good is showing seeds of corruption in individual, tricky cases.

Bearing in mind that the democratic legislative process is time consuming and clumsy, and decisions often have to be made quickly and pertaining to one particular case.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 30 April 2007 at 10:02am BST

If anyone is still interested in the complexities of translation, the Guardian carried a good article on Saturday:,,2066927,00.html

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 30 April 2007 at 11:51am BST

Yes, Erika - but translating is not so difficult that you can translate "do not" to mean "do" just to justify what you want to do anyway

Posted by NP at Monday, 30 April 2007 at 1:09pm BST

Do you remember the philosophers Vroomfondel and Majikthise in 'Hitchhiker'? "What's the point of us sitting up all night discussing whether there is a God if next morning your machine gives us his address?' (or words to that effect).

It's in this desperately difficult areas that ethicists earn their living!

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Monday, 30 April 2007 at 1:29pm BST

"TEC is translating "do not" as "do""

Thou shalt not kill.

It isn't Thou shalt kill if the government tells you it's OK. Now who in this instance is guilty of translating "do not" as "do"?

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 30 April 2007 at 1:51pm BST

thank you for remdinging me of Vroomfondel and Majikthise!

I agree that ethics is an incredibly difficult field.... but I'm not so sure we're allowed to sit back and leave it to the professionals alone.

For me, Freedom and Responsibility are among the jewels of Christianity. I can't ever point to someone else and say "he made me do it!".

And in my small day to day quandries I haven't got the time to read and digest all modern ethists, even if I wanted to. There are areas where we're just on our own.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 1 May 2007 at 9:22am BST

'I'm not so sure we're allowed to sit back and leave it to the professionals alone'

Quite so. 'I was just obeying ethicists' is no defence for a morally autonomous being. All they can do is give us some guidance as to why we're doing what we're doing. The buck must always 'stop here' at the level of the individual's moral response. 99% of the time it's straightforward, of course.

I suppose I'd call into play the old conscience argument, that when we have done as much as we can in weighing the rival merits of two incompatible but ethically valid positions, we may choose to jump one way or the other in the knwledge that our decision is ethical — but the other one would have been as well.

There is the extra twist in your profession, of course, that if the company making misleading claims in English claims those claims are not misleading, it is perfectly correct to ensure that the unfortunate ambiguities of the English, which might, quite unintentionally, lead some to suppose that rose quartz crystals at £50 a throw combat the spread of AIDS, for example, are corrected in the (say) Flemish copy.... The very defence that a firm uses can be turned against it....

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Tuesday, 1 May 2007 at 6:15pm BST

What a wonderfully inspired defence!
You've made my day:-))

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 1 May 2007 at 7:06pm BST

erika said
You've made my day

Compared with me, neither Machiavelli nor ++Abuja could run the proverbial whelk stall.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 2 May 2007 at 1:46pm BST

Come on Ford - you are doing what some others on TA do and putting words into opponents' mouths. Have I said I favour the death penalty????

Also, as you know, two negatives do not make a positive case.....because someone else sins, does not give me an excuse to sin - does it?

Posted by NP at Thursday, 3 May 2007 at 9:09am BST

It isn't about you, nor the death penalty, it's about the Church! You are not the Church! The Church long ago said that Chiristians could kill others if the state, or the Church, told them it was OK. This isn't about putting words into your mouth. I have no idea what you think of the death penalty or the war in Iraq for that matter. I do know you think this "gay business" is some new thing, and that the Church has never compromised the Gospel before, that this is the first time the Church has ever said that a "do not" actually means "do". I am merely pointing out that it has happened before, yet you seem to be able to tolerate that quite well.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 3 May 2007 at 11:31am BST

but forward - that argument does not work, does it?

there has been hypocrisy in the past so let us be hypocrites now?

we have to agree what we think is right and then stick to it....even the ABC sees this now and we have Sept 30th comingas well as a Covenant to prevent the kind of mess and distraction TEC has caused in the AC since 2003....we have to have some order and stop this nonsense of saying it is unAnglican to not see all views as legit and

Posted by NP at Friday, 4 May 2007 at 8:36am BST

"there has been hypocrisy in the past so let us be hypocrites now"

No, of course not, but stop pretending there has not been hypocrisy in the past! The trouble then though is that your argument about "rebellion" and "innovation" and "compromising with the world" is weakened.

"we have to agree what we think is right and then stick to it...."

Anglicans have traditionally seen this very broadly. Many others in the past have thought like you. They all ended up outside Anglicanism because this is not the way the Anglican Church thinks. We accept that there are many mutually exclusive but sincerely held beliefs as to what is right. For my part, I would want you Evos to start venerating icons and the Blessed Sacrament, to repudiate PSA as anything other than one way among many of understanding the Atonement, to ordain women, to start invoking the Saints, and I would certainly demand devotion to the Mother of God. I would also demand you give Scripture its rightful place in Holy Tradition, and cease your Bibliolatry. If you want to be part of some group that thinks itself pure and in full possession of the truth, Constantinople is waiting. I find it very attractive, actually. If I'm going to be part of a group that demands conformity of belief in all its members, I would want to conform to Holy Tradition, not 500 year old innovations. Despite their ensnarlment in Imperial politics and the devastation this has wrought, the Orthodox still retain what seems to me to be the right attitude when it comes to the faith and our relationship to God, something that is the exception rather than the rule in the West.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 4 May 2007 at 1:05pm BST
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