ALEXANDER DVORKIN: VYBORG COURT'S DECISION FINDING NEW WORLD TRANSLATION EXTREMIST MATERIAL IS HUGE MISTAKE
by Alexander Dvorkin
Pravoslavie.Ru, 22 August 2017
On 17 August 2017 a Vyborg court ruled the translation of the Bible under the title "Sacred Scripture—New World Translation," made by the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses, to be extremist material.
I think few people can suspect me of sympathy toward the totalitarian sect of Jehovah's Witnesses, with whom, as with other sects similar to it, I have been fighting for a space of 25 years already. Nevertheless, I consider the decision of the Vyborg court unreasonable, erroneous, and extremely harmful.
With respect to the Jehovists' New World Translation one may (and must) say much that is uncomplimentary of it. This translation is mistaken, scientifically unsubstantiated, grossly distorting of key places in Sacred Scripture, prejudiced, ideologized, incompetent, completely fraudulent, and so forth and so forth. But it is not extremist! And it still is a translation of the Bible, however distorted. And the Bible, even though distorted, cannot be extremist, which is both obvious to common sense and confirmed by the law of our country.
Modern commentaries and interpretations of the Bible can be extremist, just as is the case for another ancient sacred book. I think that among the abundance of Jehovist literature one can find extremist interpretations of Sacred Scripture (possibly they even are among those of their publications that our courts already have recognized to be extremist). I suspect that extremist commentaries of the Bible are found in another incompetent, self-made translation of the New Testament: the "Restoration Translation" by the head of the "Local Church" sect, Witness Lee. It seems to me that extremely many extremist statements can be found in commentaries to the ancient literary monument "Bhagavad Gita" made by the founder of the sect "Society of Krishna Consciousness," Prabhupada, in his publication "Bhagavad Gita as it is." The same can be said about several other modern commentaries on ancient sacred texts of various religions. Not one of them is immune to manipulators who wish to use their authority for their own extremist goals.
But we are talking about commentaries and not about the text itself, however distorted it may be. Translation can be of different forms: precise and not very, literal and paraphrastic, correct and mistaken, and so forth. Academic specialists—linguists and historians, philologists and theologians—discuss them, eliminate one or another inaccuracy, and criticize forgeries and distortions of meaning. But it is not the government's business to meddle in this polemic. It is not the government's business, in the person of its officials who are not very competent in linguistics, theology, and religious studies, to issue a decision as to which translation is correct and which is not, or which faith is true and which is not. All the more so when the issue is about a government whose constitution proclaims its religious neutrality. The Vyborg court, wittingly or not, cane extremely close to this extremely dangerous line.
And by the way, it was drawn into an extremely crude theological mistake. Here is a quotation of one episode of the legal polemic published in a Jehovist source:
"Analyzing the argument of [expert] Kriukova to the effect that the New World Translation supposedly introduced changes such that the texts refuted the doctrine of the Trinity (about the fact that God and Christ are one and the same personality), [Jehovah's Witnesses lawyer] Novakov read the text from John 8.18 in the Synodal translation. He called attention to the fact that said text will be especially clear to lawyers and the judge inasmuch as it refers to Israelite law in which there was a provision that in a trial only the testimony of two witnesses can have force. In this connection, Jesus says in said text: 'I myself bear witness about myself and the Father who glorifies me bears witness about me.' If God and Christ were a single personality, as this is worded in the doctrine of the Trinity, then there would be only one witness, which according to Israelite law would be insufficient. But Christ says precisely that God and Christ are two witnesses, and that means their testimony had legal force. Said text is evidence that the doctrine of the Trinity is refuted in the Synodal translation of the Bible and not the New World Translation."
Thus it remained in the transcript of the court, which decided to determine which doctrine about the Trinity is true and that it turns out that Orthodox believe that God the Father and God the Son are one person. That is for us neither the first nor the second ecumenical council clearly and precisely enunciated the Trinitarian doctrine of the Orthodox Church about the single substance of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
After all, the next court may use these materials and there, you see, may recognize the determinations of these councils to be extremist.
There already are many translations of Sacred Scripture into the Russian language. And there will be still more. And among them there always will be found those that turn out to be unsatisfactory. But one can also write a complaint against the most precise translation that some citizen does not like, who is accustomed to a different wording in one or another biblical verse and now has his religious feelings deeply hurt. What, will a court again investigate which translation is closer to the original?
In July 2017 the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in our country and confiscated its property. All of it! There is no such organization in Russia any more. The sect lost a substantial part of its possibilities of having influence upon its members. Now it has become much more difficult to assemble files on them and to control each aspect of their life. The possibility of passing financial streams along sectarian channels is also now reduced to a minimum. Representative functions through the use of real estate have been lost. The possibilities for recruiting have been reduced to a substantial degree. Now the flow of new members has come to naught and the departure of the old will be increased monthly. It is just not necessary to interfere in this process.
We cannot forbid people to believe what they want, however much we regret the absurdity of one or another faith. But nobody can eliminate the right of a person to make a religious choice for himself. Now the sect has been presented a unique possibility—to prove that all of its devotees really made their choice for themselves, without psychological influence and pressure of the organization. I am sure that it will not be able to prove this. Let them try to gather devotees in small groups in private apartments and explain the faith in their own words without the techniques and control of the Brooklyn center and to exist without financial inputs and influences from the U.S.A. and so forth. I think this experiment will end with a big crash for the Jehovah's Witnesses. It is just necessary to leave them alone. And we simply need to have patience and to wait, and always be prepared to help those who begin to think about leaving the sect.
Alas, our northwestern law enforcement agencies, having decided to further aggravate the situation, it seems, display zeal not in accordance with knowledge. Having ruled the New World Translation to be extremist material, the Vyborg court actually has devalued its own concept of extremism, depriving the specific term of any meaning. Thereby it has wittingly or not made meaningless all prior decisions of courts with similar wordings. This decision plays into the hands of the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses, just as also other sects and societies that have been previously ruled extremist or which may be recognized as extremist in the future. It causes huge losses to the image of our country and, I am afraid, may lead to a chain of yet more meaningless decisions in the future. All of our enemies have been given fresh new occasion to be able to shout again about "religious persecutions" in contemporary Russia, about prohibition of faith, about the harshness of the law, and so forth. One can say that the decision of the Vyborg court is a gift for all for whom our country is like a bone in the throat.
It remains to hope that the next judicial instance displays wisdom and common sense and abrogates this decision. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 August 2017)
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