Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 25: What If Adam had not Eaten an Apple?
that we have forgotten are illusions.
-FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900)
So significant is our dependency on, or addiction to, narratives that no less than author and linguist Lin Yutang (1895-1976)—the son of a pastor who once prepared for the Christian ministry himself—wrote in The Importance of Living (1937): "the entire structure of the Christian belief hang upon the existence of an apple. If Adam had not eaten an apple, there would be no original sin, and, if there were no original sin, there would be no need of redemption." Of course, we would have lived happily ever after. Furthermore, as if Lin had not rubbed enough salt in our deepest wound, he wrote: "when Adam and Eve ate an apple during their honeymoon, God was so angry that He condemned their posterity to suffer from generation to generation for that little offense but that, when the same posterity murdered the same God's only son, God was so delighted that He forgave them all."
To be fair, narratives that are structured in the Bible and the Qur'an should not be taken literally, and were initially communicated orally after, not during, the alleged events occurred. Indeed there were no voice recorders or minutes of meeting when God spoke to Moses or Muhammad, let alone witness statements under penalty of perjury. Obviously, sketchy details were written down and filled in by second-, third-, or even fourth-hand sources—each with their own personal agendas—many years or even several decades (if not centuries) later. After a time-span of two thousand years (in Christianity) or thirteen hundred years (in Islam), it's quite impossible to know the truthfulness of critical details.
The existence of the Gnostic Gospels—about 54 ancient texts based upon the teachings of several Christian leaders between the second and the fourth century AD—for example, are not officially recognized by the Vatican. What is excluded tells us as much as what is included, and indicates that the Bible is actually a collective project written by many hard-core ideologists and enthusiastic propagandists. Not coincidentally, the word propaganda derived from an office later created by the Catholic Church in 1622 called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith) to suppress the reformation movement.
Thus we expect that to verify the truthfulness of newer 19th- and 20th- century narratives that are framing Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism, Jehovah's Witness, or Scientology would be much easier, as they occurred less than 200 years ago. Good luck. Each of these newer religions are also shrouded in the same—if not even higher levels of—secrecy and mystery. As stated in Part 8 (Correlation between Religion and Morality: Illusion or Reality?), the majority of organized religions derive from secretive cults. Cults evolve into sects, then sects evolve into religions, before splitting again into various denominations. History repeats itself.
Take The Book of Mormon for example, which according to Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) contains the very words of Yahweh as personally revealed by an angel named Moroni to him in the form of golden plates. (The plates were eventually lost by Smith under dubious circumstances). According to Smith, the Book was originally engraved on golden plates in unknown characters comparable to some kind of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Moroni, the last prophet who contributed to the plates, buried them in a hill in present-day New York, then returned as an angel to earth in 1827 to reveal the plates' location to Smith, and requested him to translate them into English. Since Smith himself was functionally illiterate (more on this later), this translation assignment might very well be the first case when a project manager failed to investigate a translator's qualifications properly.
Since we all are humans and love stories anyway, let's delve into two paragraphs about The Book's background as told by British literary critic and l'enfant terrible Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) in his God Is Not Great (2009):
"(Joseph) Smith refused to show the golden plates to anybody, claiming that for other eyes to view them would mean death. But he encountered a problem that will be familiar to students of Islam. He was extremely glib and fluent as a debater and story-weaver, as many accounts attest. But he was illiterate, at least in the sense that while he could read a little, he could not write. A scribe was therefore necessary to take his inspired dictation. This scribe was at first his wife Emma and then, when more hands were necessary, a luckless neighbor named Martin Harris. Hearing Smith cite the words of Isaiah 29, verses 11–12, concerning the repeated injunction to "Read," Harris mortgaged his farm to help in the task and moved in with the Smiths. He sat on one side of a blanket hung across the kitchen, and Smith sat on the other with his translation stones, intoning through the blanket. As if to make this an even happier scene, Harris was warned that if he tried to glimpse the plates, or look at the prophet, he would be struck dead.
Mrs. Harris was having none of this, and was already furious with the fecklessness of her husband. She stole the first hundred and sixteen pages and challenged Smith to reproduce them, as presumably—given his power of revelation—he could. (Determined women like this appear far too seldom in the history of religion.) After a very bad few weeks, the ingenious Smith countered with another revelation. He could not replicate the original, which might be in the devil's hands by now and open to a "satanic verses" interpretation. But the all-foreseeing Lord had meanwhile furnished some smaller plates, indeed the very plates of Nephi, which told a fairly similar tale. With infinite labor, the translation was resumed, with new scriveners behind the blanket as occasion demanded, and when it was completed all the original golden plates were transported to heaven, where apparently they remain to this day."
As famously stated by Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), who was Hitler's Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda: "(i)f you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." His boss was too ruthless to not exploit this vulnerability one step further. In Mein Kampf (1924) Hitler declared: "In view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, the masses more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little one."
Believe it or not: the bigger the lie, the more believable is the narrative!
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter