Back in 1803 the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, wanted to do something other than merely receive divine intelligence (in the form of the canonical bible, for his time the King James version of the scriptures). He wished to interrogate and comment on the “word of God” to mankind, a rather modern impulse.
Being the champion of the individual’s freedom to believe as s/he wishes, Jefferson decided that he would go through the gospels and remove any interpolated nonsense that biased editors and religious authorities had put into the synoptic gospels. In his preface, Jefferson explains that he has tried to:
“strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”
If you are interested in Jefferson’s redaction, here is a link to The Jefferson Bible. And here is the Google Books link to the Jefferson Bible.
For his efforts, Jefferson was reviled by traditional religious authoritities, who held that “all scripture is inspired by God.” (And the authorities know this because the Bible tells them so.)
Jefferson’s ideas were ahead of their time. They posited a world where individuals would subject any proposed belief to a careful test of scholarship and reason before accepting it–a world in which citizens would be life-long learners, independent of creed, and possessed great libraries.
Today Jefferson’s world has in this way been realized: even the lowliest ditch digger, provided he is wired, has a library at his fingertips like Jefferson’s at Monticello. (Incidentally, Jefferson’s collection became the backbone of the Library of Congress, a wonderful collection for the people, and the legislative link between citizens and their federal representatives is called “Thomas.”
Jefferson would recognize and commend, I believe, the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, a read-write web collaborative creation, a Christianity 2.0 Bible wiki that allows skeptics to comment upon and interrogate the received “word of God.” Apparently, the Muslim holy book and the Mormon’s are held up to the same examination, but as I was raised by Bible-believing protestant christians, I cannot comment on them.
The annotated skeptic’s Bible is in the tradition of American author Mark Twain, who reviews the Bible in Letters from the Earth:
It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.
The very architecture of their site reveals a critical stance toward the “good book” that challenges authoritative interpretations. The annotations on the site fall into categories of fail: Absurdity, Injustice, Cruelty and Violence, Intolerance, and Contradictions.
Truly God-seeking people should rejoice in this potential can of web 2.0 disinfectant, since by recognizing and dismissing the false, we come that much closer to the truth. Web 2.0 interactivity would understandably upset those whose position depends on the continuing ignorance of those they oppress.
The wikiness moral? Just as “the powers that be” in organized religion are feeling their status eroded by the 2.0 Bible, so authorities entrenched in the Education-industrial Complex are feeling the ground shift beneath them in successes like Wikipedia, youtube.edu, and TED. And just as real spiritual seekers have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a Skeptic’s Bible, so educators who truly seek better learning for kids should be pleased with, not reactive against, the technologies that fuel this education “reformation.” After all, the printing press was the potent media engine of the protestant reformation), and not all the Jesuits in the Spanish Inquisition could stop it.
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