Sunday, April 10, 2011

In The Beginning Was The Word

Irish Presbyterianism must be one of the starkest religious faiths in the world. The pews are wood, there are no statues of saints or Madonnas, there is no incense, you don't kneel, there are no ecstatic visions, there are no earnest young people with guitars, you won't find a cross in any Irish Presbyterian church and there are certainly no moving/disturbing depictions of Jesus in the midst of his passion. Services can initially seem pretty dull. Psalms are sung (psalmody) followed by eighteenth century hymns and a solemn sermon, but then you get the Biblical exegesis and for me as a kid this is where things picked up. The Minister and sometimes the Elders read and analysed the King James Bible and the King James has some of most beautiful language and arresting imagery anywhere in English literature. I was thinking about this as I read Christopher Hitchens's latest piece in Vanity Fair which is a loving look at the KJB. No this isn't a deathbed conversion from the world's most famous atheist, it's an appreciation of what someone once called "the only worthwhile thing ever done by a committee." The prose of the KJB is so wonderful and rich and sturdy it has never been bettered. Even today novelists like Cormac McCarthy are largely in its thrall. I for one have no time at all for any of these modern translations and so called improvements. I mean can this be improved upon?

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;

Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.

I have always liked what George Bernard Shaw puts in the ironic mouth of Henry Higgins: "Remember [Eliza] that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon."
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You can read the Hitchens piece in Vanity Fair, here.
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But you know, even the word has its limits...if you want to know how to really get people back into the churches take a look at this: