Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teh LOL Cat Bibl: Reflections Called Forth by a Spoof

It appeared on Facebook, where all manner of stuff does, in a discussion about a particularly inane edition of the NIV featuring pictures of puppies, apparently because the Bible is not that exciting without images of cute juvenile dogs. Then someone posted a link to it on its own. It was This.

“How terrible” the poster said. “Is this for real or a joke?” a comment asked. But really, that does not represent the issue here. Yes, it is “for real” in the sense that (unlike the 'Gay Bible' article from 'Dead Serious News'), this is a real thing, it can be purchased (always a sign that a product exists). But no, it is not 'for real' in the sense that anyone actually believes that it represents the actual meaning or text of the original Biblical manuscripts. Yes, it is a joke; it is not meant to be taken seriously. But it actually exists, having been created in a Wikipedia-style manner, meaning that no one person had to do very much work.

So what are we to make of Teh LOL Cat Bible? First of all, with the greatest possible respect, it is not a “legitimate translation” by any means, quite simply because it is not a translation at all, unless you hold the 'LOL speak' that it is in to be a language, in which case it would be a secondary translation (there being no evidence at all that the original languages were used). No, it is a paraphrase that renders the English Bible (probably from a variety of translations) into a humorous idiomatic English. In that respect it would be no different from 'TheWord on the Street' except that unlike that book it does not actually take itself seriously. Cockney Rhyming Slang Bible? We have one of them. Good as New was a project that sank without trace, but actually produced books (I have seen and handled one, so I know it was not just a joke) in which 'Peter' became 'Rocky'.

Which raises the question (this is the proper idiom); how far is it proper to 'contextualize' the Bible text? Teh (I have just tried to type that three times, each time my brain auto-correcting to 'The', isn't the human brain amazing) LOL Cat Bible is just a bit of fun; it is certainly trivializing the Bible, but it is not meant to be taken seriously. Good as New was meant to be taken seriously. That worries me far more than a silly joke; by throwing the canon open again (Good As New did just this), the Bible is far more trivialized than by any LOL Cat fanatics, or Spike Milligan (The Bible According to Spike Milligan) being silly.

More seriously, translations are not paraphrases; they do not involve anachronisms. The Welsh New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd said that in his opinion Romans 12:2 could be rendered “Don't try to be with it”, but he would never dare render the text that way. Now, I disagree completely with Dodd on his refusal to use the word 'Propitiation' in the Bible, but that is a theological matter. Until very recently we were all agreed that the phrase “with it” had no place in the Bible, and not just because ministers by virtue of their office can never be “with it”, nor should they try to be (You may watch 'Iron Man', but do not try to talk to the Kid's club about the movie). No, it is because the Bible was not written yesterday, and to put it into modern slang is just wrong on a number of levels.

Teh LOL Cat Bible is, when all is said and done, a little piece of humour. But it raises questions that it never meant to raise. We live in an age when there are far too many books in the English language claiming to be, either implicitly or explicitly, versions of the Bible. They range from the Revised English Bible, a wonderful British effort that because it does not belong to any American Evangelical publishing house is doomed to obscurity (I received my copy from the hands of Hugo, Bishop of Thetford, and so I have an affection for it that it really does not warrant), to the New NIV, owned by the mighty Zondervan (subsidiary of the Murdoch Empire), to the Holman Christian Standard Bible, owned by the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention who have no business producing Bible Versions at all, however good the end product may be.

What Teh LOL Cat Bible does is point out the inherent ridiculousness of the project to produce a niche Bible translation for every group. The people behind it no doubt did not intend it, but Teh LOL Cat Bible is a perfect satire of our over-saturated Bible market. In a world where professing Christians of all stripes are modifying the Bible the way some people modify their cars, Teh LOL Cat Bible challenges us to think about what we are doing.

It's a funny world, and sometimes it takes the court Jester to tell the king that he is behaving like a fool himself. The Evangelical World needs Teh LOL Cat Bible to get it to wake up and see what it has been doing to the Word of God that it so professes to value. The inerrancy controversy gave us the NIV; will the final legacy of the NIV be a veritable Babel of Bibles, in which the voice of God is drowned out by the conflicting voices of those claiming to be its interpreters?

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