Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Bible insufficiently anthropomorphic, say animal rights campaigners

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Noah: inclusive saviour of God's creatures,
or just another speciesist shipbuilder?
While the Bible may be one of the bestselling books of all time, it has its fair share of critics, from followers of other religions, to atheists stunned by the sheer brutality of the Old Testament, to those with little interest in endless lists of who begat who.

Now a fresh group is getting in on the Bible bashing, with the animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suggesting that Christianity's holy text is "speciesist". Responding to news that the latest New International Version will use more gender-inclusive language, PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich, who is a Catholic, told CNN that the book will continue to use language discriminatory towards animals:
“When the Bible moves toward inclusively in one area ... it wasn’t much of a stretch to suggest they move toward inclusively in this area. Language matters. Calling an animal 'it' denies them something. They are beloved by God. They glorify God. God’s covenant is with humans and animals. God cares about animals. I would think that’s a rather unanimous opinion among biblical scholars today, where that might not have been the case 200 years ago."
Friedrich would like animals to be referred to as "he" or "she" rather than "it", but Biblical scholars seem somewhat baffled by the suggestion, with David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University telling CNN:
"In gender-inclusive Bible translation the generic terms for humankind, let's say, are then replaced with an emphasis on he or she. Instead of the generic he, you say he and she. I don’t quite see how that would work with animals. Do we need to know the gender of the lion Samson slew? What would it give us there? You could try to specify that, but you would be doing so entirely inventively if you did. It's not in the original language. ... Nothing is made of it in the story. When you get to the point when you say, 'Don’t say it, say he or she' when the text doesn’t, you’re both screwing up the text and missing the main point you addressed."
So it would appear PETA are fighting a losing battle over Biblical speciesism, unless they take it upon themselves to put out a translation of their own. But in the meantime, they might do well to take a second look at the Bible – when a book features a talking snake in the very first section, it seems a little odd to complain about the lack of anthropomorphism.
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