Back in our December 2009 issue, we published a While We’re At It needling Conservapedia, the curious online home of the Conservative Bible Project. The underpinnings of that project, it seemed, stressed conservatism first and Christianity second. Sneering leftist hermeneuts, it’s furtively alleged, read liberal biases into Scripture, a state of affairs calling for a conservative solution not in hermeneutics but in an equal and oppositely biased exegesis of the biblical text:
. . . the Conservative Bible Project sets out ten guidelines to shape the proposed retranslation. Some of these include an emphasis on “powerful conservative terms” such as “volunteer” instead of “comrade,” “resourceful” instead of “shrewd,” or, in another case, a decidedly pragmatic substitution of “gamble” for “cast lots” to effect guilt-by-association with gambling. Even free-market principles should be brought out in the text, the Conservapedia writers insist—especially in Jesus’ “economic parables.”
One of Mark Shea’s posts today brought to mind another manifestation of this misordering of first principles—what Pope Leo XIII called “Americanism” in his 1899 apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, as Shea points out. As the letter suggests, it’s one thing to be patriotic, but quite another to be “American first, Christian second.”
From the foregoing it is manifest, beloved son, that we are not able to give approval to those views, which, in their collective sense, are called by some “Americanism.” But if by this name are to be understood certain endowments of mind which belong to the American people, just as other characteristics belong to various other nations, and if, moreover, by it is designated your political condition and the laws and customs by which you are governed, there is no reason to take exception to the name.
But if this is to be so understood that the doctrines which have been adverted to above are not only indicated, but exalted, there can be no manner of doubt that our venerable brethren, the bishops of America, would be the first to repudiate and condemn it as being most injurious to themselves and to their country. For it would give rise to the suspicion that there are among you some who conceive and would have the Church in America to be different from what it is in the rest of the world.