Is the Chinese leader a Jeffersonian or a Tolstoyan? Well, not quite, although there are some similarities.
Thomas Jefferson had a selective approach to Scripture: some of it was acceptable to him, some wasn’t. So he clipped the acceptable passages out of the Bible and pasted them into a notebook, thus creating his own Scripture and turning himself into the fifth evangelist.
Tolstoy did a much more extensive job. He set out to produce the gospel of “Christ the materialist”, as he once described it with appealing frankness. To that end, he merged the four gospels together, expurgating everything transcendent, miraculous and sacramental.
The resulting book, known in its abridged form as The Gospel in Brief, had a massive influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein. As a foot soldier during the First World War, he carried Tolstoy’s gospel in his rucksack, claimed it kept him alive, and drove his comrades to distraction by reading excerpts from it on any pretext.
Hence Tolstoy can be rightfully called the sixth evangelist, although he regarded himself as the only reliable one. Yet Xi has outdone him, Jefferson and any other scriptural critic who has ever found scripture in need of streamlining.
For those chaps merely got rid of the passages that didn’t agree with their view of God and man. Xi goes them one better by wishing to rewrite the Bible chapter and verse in accordance with the tenets laid down in Mao’s Red Book. If the new version says something diametrically opposite to the original, then so much the worse for the original.
The complete new translation hasn’t yet shone its light on the infidel world. So far we’ve been regaled with one passage only, dealing with “a woman taken in adultery” (John 8: 3-11).
If you recall, the scribes and Pharisees, who wanted to stone the woman in accordance with the Law, wondered how Jesus felt about that prospect. That was yet another trap they laid, hoping to catch the impostor in defying scriptural dogmas.
“But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
On hearing that, they “went out one by one”, leaving Jesus alone with the woman. “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
Such is the traditional text that doesn’t substantially change in any Christian translations, and there are many. The essence remains: though perfectly capable of meting out divine punishment, Jesus treated the sinner with divine mercy.
That doesn’t quite work for Xi, and one can understand why. Showing mercy to sinners, heretics and apostates isn’t the most salient virtue of communists in general and Chinese communists in particular. Their natural inclination, as first worded by Mao’s Red Guards in the 1960s, is to “smash their dog heads” – just as that adulterous woman’s head would have been smashed had the Pharisees had their way.
Hence St John’s version of the event had to be modified ever so slightly, and Xi’s translators are up to the task. They’ve shown their unique understanding of Christ and Christianity by having Jesus say: “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.”
To protect the law from that gruesome fate, Jesus then stones the woman with his own hands, presumably using the technique perfected by the Red Guards.
Xi must have looked at the new version and seen it was good. The Gospel of Christ the Communist is off to a flying start, looking to soar higher than Tolstoy’s Gospel of Christ the Materialist ever did.
On second thoughts, perhaps Xi is neither a Jeffersonian nor a Tolstoyan. He’s closer to the second-century Gnostics who produced the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas. That book portrays Jesus as a child, and the portrait isn’t exactly flattering. Little Jesus routinely murders other children for bumping into him, spilling his water or committing similar sacrileges.
If Xi’s translators neglected to include such excerpts into their own gospel, perhaps there’s still time. Somehow one feels that the Gospel of Christ the Communist would be incomplete without showing that Jesus had homicidal tendencies practically from birth.
I hope that the Vatican will endorse the new translation as a possible, if perhaps not yet mandatory, version. After all, it has just renewed its 2018 agreement with China, giving the communists a role in episcopal appointments.
That constitutes flagrant betrayal of the underground, which is to say real, Catholics for the benefit of the obedient house-trained Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The former are tortured and killed; the latter are magnanimously allowed to celebrate mass glorifying the Communist Party.
This path is well-trodden: having murdered some 40,000 priests and God knows how many parishioners, the Soviets then allowed the Orthodox Church to continue its mission — provided it was willing to act as essentially an extension of the security services (an arrangement that miraculously survived the Soviet Union).
I can’t wait to see the complete translation. After all, unlike some other religions, Christianity wasn’t vouchsafed to us all at once. It’s a living, which is to say evolving, religion, and who’s to say that Xi wasn’t touched with divine revelation? Certainly no one who wishes to stay alive in his bailiwick.