April 20, 2006

My personal history with the KJV-only cult

(Howdy! It has been a few weeks since my last blog entry. No particular reason, just a busy couple of weeks for a number of personal reasons, plus the usual Easter-season busyness. So I'm going to pretend nothing happened, and just pick up where I left off at the beginning of the month.)

Dan Phillips said, in a comment on my previous post on KJV-onlyism:

Candidly, and just 'twixt you and me -- of all the false notions that too many Christians hold, just about the most embarrassingly baseless and indefensible is KJV-onlyism. It just shocks my brain into numbness that otherwise functional folks can not only hold this view, not only publicly hold this view, not only publicly hold and defend this view, but publicly hold and defend this view and vilify others who don't. Maybe I'm missing something, but I simply can make no sense of it.

Neither can I. Over the years, I have learned how irrational KJV-onlyists can get. What's more, I think they are actually getting worse. The standard KJV-only treatment of Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, two 19th-century Anglican clergymen and textual critics, is almost paradigmatic of the downward spiral of KJV-onlyism.

The first time I ever heard of KJV-onlyism was early in 1992 - not long after discovering the pleasures of American shortwave radio, not surprisingly. In those days, the late M. H. Reynolds, pastor of the Fundamental Bible Church in Los Osos, California, had a radio program titled What Does the Bible Say?. In general, what the Bible usually said was to keep clear of a lot of stuff - including, I soon discovered, my own Bible, which at the time was the New International Version. This was all new to me, and I was skeptical in any case, but Reynolds was offering a pack of tracts anyway, so I wrote a letter, asking specifically about KJV-onlyism.

The tract package included articles on the NIV, New King James Version (NKJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and one on "modern Bible versions" in general. It was in these tracts that I first heard of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort. They were named as the men who published the edition of the "corrupt" Greek text on which modern New Testaments are based. However, little (if anything) was said about them personally.

It got worse.

A year or so later, I ventured onto the Fidonet BBS network and the OPEN_BIBLE "echo" (message forum). For the first time I discovered the disciples of the bombastic psycho-fundy preacher Peter S. Ruckman and a more radical (and ridiculous) form of KJV-onlyism. It was about this time I began to research the history of the Bible for myself. I do have to credit the KJV controversy for influencing me to do this, as I probably would not know the Bible as well otherwise.

On the echo, I began to encounter lists of "heresies" that Westcott and Hort were involved in. They were sympathetic to the Roman Catholic church. They were racists. They were Darwinists. And so forth. Usually these allegations unravelled with a little bit of research; for example, the letter used to "prove" that Westcott was a Mariolator actually says the exact opposite when you read it in its entirety. And it was a bit amusing to watch American KJV-onlyists, in trying to claim Westcott thought black people were inferior, citing a letter in which he advocated the then-progressive idea of equal access to education for blacks - in a day when, in the KJV-onlyists' own country, they were still bound in slavery!

It got worse.

At the time, all the Ruckmandroids were gushing about a new book on the market, titled New Age Bible Versions, by G. A. (Gail) Riplinger. This ponderous volume is hackneyed, illogical, and ridden with factual errors, and the conspiracy theory it presents - that all modern Bibles are tools of the New Age movement's agenda to usher in the One World Religion of the Antichrist - strains all credulity. But trying to get hardcore KJVers to even admit there was a mistake in the book was like pulling hens' teeth, and from the vitriol it would create, you'd think I'd said the Virgin Mary was a crack addict.

NABV is also infamous for the way it dialed up the Westcott and Hort-hate. Gail the Ripper claims that they were occultists: that while at Oxford they were part of a group called the Ghostly Guild, in which they participated in séances and other forbidden arts. (In our reality-based universe, the Guild existed for the scientific investigation of ghost lore.) The Hermes club, which they joined to share papers on classical Roman and Greek culture, becomes a nefarious secret society. (You can only imagine what underhanded dealings they were up to in their presentations on Roman ball games, the Latin aorist tense, or the theology of Aristotle!) Riplinger even claims that B. F. Westcott was secretly William Wynn Westcott, one of the three founders of the occult Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. (This important historical fact isn't argued on such nonsensical trivia as actual birth and death dates, of course: no, she draws this conclusion from a quirk in B. F.'s signature.1)

Riplinger's book has probably been the most influential with respect to how KJV-onlyists view the life and times of Westcott and Hort. But it got worse.

A few years down the road, around 1998-99, I heard an episode of a shortwave radio program called "The Prophecy Club" featuring a man named Les Garrett, then an almost unknown KJV-onlyist from Australia. As far as I know, Garrett's only prior claim to fame is the classic praise chorus "This is the Day," which we all sang to death in Sunday school in the 70s and 80s. I was already aware of The Prophecy Club's KJV-only propensities, having heard them feature Gail Riplinger previously. Garrett buys into the same Westcott-and-Hort-were-occultists theory that Riplinger does (one of his books is titled Westcott and Hort: The Occult Connection), but he took the character assassination one step farther than her, claiming that they were personal friends of Charles Darwin. Now, in addition to having their hand in crypto-Romanism and necromancy, they helped out with the theory of evolution too.

But it got worse.

Most recently, on a Fundamentalist forum, a KJV-onlyist pulled out all the stops, claiming:

A bunch of simple greek [sic] does not make you a biblical expert. The fellows who translated MY BIBLE spoke and wrote between 7 and 16 different modern and ancient languages...all of them were FLUENT in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic...yet you hold to "versions" which were translated by a couple of reprobate homosexual lovers (Wescott and Hort by name) who cuckolded thier wives with each other, denied the resurrection, and basically lined up with everything else Origin [sic] said, and were at best able to muddle through thier [sic] Hebrew and Greek (sort of like some other "greek [sic] scholars" I know).

This is the intellectual pinnacle of psycho-fundy argumentation: When all else fails, accuse your enemy of being a homo.

I fully expect that the character assassination of Westcott and Hort will continue unchecked. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me that, ten years from now, if someone claimed that Westcott and Hort held secret occult meetings where they brutally sodomized Baptist women while their babies burned slowly on a fire fueled by KJVs, at least one psycho-fundy will believe it and repeat it with a straight face. This is what happens when ignorant men revel in their own ignorance: they love to hate Westcott and Hort, and they value "defending" the KJV more than they do the truth, and so they continue to outdo each other in telling lies about them in the name of God. Pascal was right: men never do evil so cheerfully as when they do it out of religious conviction.


1 Gail the Ripper does admit that this is mere "speculation" - but she buries this important revelation in one of her myriad of footnotes. Kind of like I'm doing right now.