Christopher Hitchens & the KJV (2)

More from that article by Mr. Hitchens on the KJV:

A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter? And so bleak and spare and fatalistic—almost non-religious—are the closing verses of Ecclesiastes that they were read at the Church of England funeral service the unbeliever George Orwell had requested in his will: “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home. … Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. / Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was.”

And this:

The Tyndale/King James translation, even if all its copies were to be burned, would still live on in our language through its transmission by way of Shakespeare and Milton and Bunyan and Coleridge, and also by way of beloved popular idioms such as “fatted calf” and “pearls before swine.” It turned out to be rather more than the sum of its ancient predecessors, as well as a repository and edifice of language which towers above its successors. Its abandonment by the Church of England establishment, which hoped to refill its churches and ended up denuding them, is yet another demonstration that religion is man-made, with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts…

But it’s not just the churches that have been “denuded”, and it’s not just the C of E that has been doing this sort of thing, and it’s not only an English problem either. Just read, for example, what Heather has recently posted here about the proposed “Common Core” school curriculum.

On a related topic, an English friend recently mentioned to me that in one respect he sometimes found it strangely difficult to communicate with his teenage children. They are bright, well-informed and doing well at ‘good’ schools. At the same time, he believes that they are not being taught some of what he, or, for that matter, his parents, would have considered to be the essentials of English culture, from the KJV, to Shakespeare, to too much of the country’s history. The result is that the shared assumptions of shared knowledge necessary to underpin so many conversations are simply not there.

A traditionalist, but not an unthinking traditionalist, he recognizes that cultures evolve but this is, he reckons, something else. Heather, I suspect, would agree.

And so, I think, would Christopher Hitchens.

The machinery by which one generation transmits its heritage to the next appears to have been wrecked.

Read these words again:

A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one.

Indeed. And not too much of it will survive for too long.

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