Do the world’s sacred texts need the Thomas Jefferson treatment?

He would've got around to The Jefferson Sutras, but he was too busy inventing the dumbwaiter.

He would’ve got around to The Jefferson Sutras, but he was too busy inventing the dumbwaiter.

An outfit called Humanist Press thinks so:

In addition to Jefferson’s text, “A Jefferson Bible For the 21st Century,” includes what its editors consider the best and the worst of the sacred texts of other world religions — the Hebrew Tanakh, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist sutras and the Book of Mormon.

The assumption here, of course, is not humanist, but Protestant, although it may surprise the editors at Humanist Press. Because who else would assume the knowledge necessary to evaluate texts as vastly different and complex as the Buddhist sutras and the Book of Mormon?

“I can read the texts as well as anyone with an armload of degrees,” (Humanist Press director Luis) Granados said. “A passage that talks about slavery as a good thing, I put that in the worst. If someone wants to disagree, then fine.”

Perhaps “take your academic degrees and cram them” is not the right message to be sending by an organization that claims in its manifesto that “knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation and rational analysis.”

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10 Responses to Do the world’s sacred texts need the Thomas Jefferson treatment?

  1. ChrisB. says:

    I look forward to their next endeavor: removing metaphors and symbols from novels, short stories and poetry. Because if something isn’t literally true . . . well then that’s just not rational!

    Way to go Humanist Press!

    Also, that “virgin birth” bit that old Tommy J. removed was likely the result of a mistranslation.

  2. Mike the Heathen says:

    Let’s face it, the only thing Jefferson did different was to make his edits physically. The vast majority of human take only what they like from religious texts and ignore what they dislike.

    • Susan Campbell says:

      And that process has gotten me through many a dark and lonely night. But you’re also assuming that people tend to approach the sacred text literally, and I’m not sure the majority do — maybe just people from my own, blighted pew.

  3. Dan Blinn says:

    I’m an active AHA member, but I would have to agree that they sometimes tip towards the sensational and the provocative in an attempt to garner attention and recruit members. This has sometimes compromised some of our loftier aspirations. I think that the “armload of degrees” quote is somewhat out of context, though. The purpose of the publication is to encourage critical review and debate on the positive and negative aspects of what many consider sacred texts, and I’m all for that. And, encouraging debate is altogether consistent with humanistic values, as humanists recognize that moral values evolve under the influence of human experience. Many of the “worst” parts of the bible illustrate quite well how how our modern values differ from those of antiquity.

    (copied from my comment on Susan’s FB page)

    • Tom Breen says:

      I think my problem with the approach is the notion that all you need to be able to understand the Quran, the Bible, the sutras, etc. is literacy in English, which is the original language of none of these works, except the Book of Mormon (and not even then, if you accept the Mormon account of how it came to be). What are the most common interpretive frameworks Muslims use when reading the Quran? How has the understanding of the Bhagavad Gita changed over the course of Indian religious history? How is the Jewish understanding of Torah different from the Christian conception of inspired scripture and the Muslim notion that the Quran is an aspect of God? Sitting down with translations of all these works and drawing up what’s essentially a set of double-entry books on them will produce nothing of genuine value. The assumption that anyone literate in English can evaluate these works without further context, study, and guidance is fundamentally a Protestant notion, one of the ways the Reformation has sustained itself, albeit secretly, within the larger structure of American culture. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s an arrogant and fruitless enterprise at heart.

  4. Mike the Heathen says:

    So the assumption that anyone literate in contemporary English can evaluate the U.S. Constitution without further context, study, and guidance would be arrogant and fruitless? Sweet! I’ll be sure to explain that to the next person who prattles on about how “well-regulated militia” means “register your guns.” Thanks, Tom!

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya

    • Tom Breen says:

      “So the assumption that anyone literate in contemporary English can evaluate the U.S. Constitution without further context, study, and guidance would be arrogant and fruitless?”

      That’s exactly right. It’s why we have a vast hierarchy of credentialed and licensed experts who alone are qualified to accurately interpret the Constitution. You and I can interpret the Second Amendment any way we want, but our interpretations are totally insignificant because we’re not federal judges.

      “Yabba dabba doo.” – Frederick Flintstone

    • ChrisB. says:

      Actually there is a pretty strong parallel. To really understand the Second Amendment, one must be able to frame it within the historical context within which it was written. For example, the importance of keeping slaves under control:

      http://www.saf.org/LawReviews/Bogus2.htm