Sunday, 12 December 2010

Miserable secularists and the state

My eye was caught by this story; 'Secularists attack day of Bible readings on Radio 4', regarding a decision to devote a large part of one day's broadcasting to celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. There will be 28 segments of 15 minutes duration, interspersed with The Archers, Shipping Forecast etc.

I'm sure the militant atheists will not be throwing up barricades, but the National Secular Society can always be relied upon to provide a contrary quote:
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, criticised the decision to give so much time to the Bible readings.

"It is fair enough to have a programme devoted to it, but the coverage is so excessive it beggars belief," he said.

"The BBC is supposed to be for everybody, not just Christians, so to devote a whole day to a minority, which is what Christians now are, is unfair to other listeners who may want something different."

Now, the man can hardly be expected to say anything different, given his position. However, whether you like it or not, the King James Bible has had an incredible influence on the English language, and its anniversary is well worth celebrating. I doubt that Sanderson would object to Shakespeare taking over the airwaves in the same manner on a similar occasion. His statement about Christians being a minority may be true, but you don't have to be religious to recognise the great poetry and power in this work, and rejecting the King James Bible, as an Englishman - if not also as a native English speaker from somewhere else, is almost an act of auto-deracination. Let me add to this point by citing George Orwell's essay 'Politics and the English Language', where he quotes from the King James and then renders it into a parody of the 'modern style'. Orwell was not, I don't think a Christian, but this did not prevent him appreciating the clarity and beauty of the language.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. ... It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

Of course, this is an issue because it is the BBC that is doing it - the state-run broadcaster. It reminds me of the problem inherent in state institutions intended to cater for everyone; it leads to a struggle over whose particular interest will prevail. The same struggle is seen in the school system. Better to abolish such quasi-monopolies and let the unfettered market provide for the diversity of consumers. That said, Terry Sanderson strikes me as a miserable bastard, and I don't care if he finds it 'unfair'.


James Higham said...

Great post and key points made. It is not about religion per se or one particular one but about our traditions - that man is a prat.

Trooper Thompson said...

Ta. I feel a little sorry for people who think like him. To me, they are repudiating their own history.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the man complaining about the KJV has ever taken the time to read it first. If he's never read it, then he's ignorant of what he is complaining, thus his arguments not well rooted or based on clear knowledge and understanding. He just sounds mean, ignorant and vindictive like a lot of arguments these days that lack substance.

Caedmon's Cat said...

Excellent post! This is typical of the mantras we're used to hearing from these miserable secularists. The problem is that they're never satisfied - and won't be until the last reference to Christianity and the last Christian are expunged from society. But Tertullian rightly said: ' the soul is to the body, so are Christians to the world.' Without salt, the meat rots.
Btw, if Shakespeare were read on the BBC, it would have to be a bowdlerised version to suit these gentlemen, as the Bard's plays drip with scriptural references and concepts..

Trooper Thompson said...


he doesn't need to - he can just tune in to Radio 4!

Thank you CC. Try not to lose your saltiness!