A British publisher is persuaded that an encyclopedia of Christianity with Christian content is not such a good idea after all.
It is now a commonplace under our governing rubric of multiculturalism to worry about discrimination against any and all religions except Christianity. The irony is, of course, that actual hate speech and actions directed against other religions are extremely rare, while Christianity is considered fair game for criticism and even denigration. In short, Islamophobia is a no-no, but Christophobia is a yes-yes.
A fascinating case of Christophobia is detailed in the March, 2009, edition of the monthly arts review, The New Criterion. In their Notes & Comments section, the editors chronicle a cautionary tale that recalls in its implications the Nazi book-burnings of works by Jewish writers in the 1930s.
The story begins in 2006 with a contract signed between George Thomas Kurian, an experienced encyclopedist of high repute, with the eminent English academic publishing house, Wiley-Blackwell to produce a multi-volume "Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization."
For two years Kurian toiled at this massive task with the help of almost 400 contributors. Over and above the 4,000 entries, covering everything from Bach to Transubstantiation, the reader is introduced, according to the editor's foreword, to a "panoptic" exploration of theology and history, but also to the influence of Christianity on civilization in all its permutations: Music, law, architecture and so forth.
Rebecca Harkin, Wiley's religion editor, was delighted with the result of Kurian's "tremendous undertaking" and said so to him in a rapturous e-mail. The book was scheduled for publication in 2009; early feedback posted on Amazon.com was enthusiastic. With the outlook sunny, Ms. Harkin launched her baby into the world at the November, 2008, annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion.
Then the proverbial ordure hit the fan. Four (please note: only four of many editors and the aforementioned 400 contributors) of the encyclopedia's editorial board members wrote a litany of complaints to Harkin and Kurian. They objected to the "highly negative, even racist characterization of Islam" in the encyclopedia's introduction. They felt Kurian's "malignant assumptions" did "nothing to advance scholarly understanding" and demanded Kurian modify his introduction "to remove the offence thrust at Islam and other religions and to moderate the tone of confrontation and polemic."
Harkin immediately backpedaled from her initial approval to express concern about suddenly "contentious" and "problematic" textual items. And pretty soon, criticism was no longer a question of this or that passage — it had metastasized into disapproval of the whole shebang. Emboldened, the few saboteurs were, according to Kurian, demanding the encyclopedia be denuded of its Christian content (remember the book's name, the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization). They wanted excision of entries such as: "Antichrist," "Virgin Birth," "Resurrection" and "Uniqueness of Christ and Christianity."
From the realm of the bizarre the story now passes into more chilling symbolic territory. Kurian is suing Wiley-Blackwell, noting in an interview with the Catholic News agency that when publishing a book, "you edit the book and then publish. You don't publish the book and then edit." For its part, Wiley-Blackwell has halted production of the encyclopedia. As National Review Online commentator Edward Feser put it, Wiley exercised the John Kerry gambit: They were for publication before they were against it.
Then things got really creepy: Wiley even tried to claw back already distributed copies with a view to pulping them. (They seem to have had second thoughts about that, but the fact that the velvet-totalitarian first thought was to eradicate evidence of a published book is bad enough.) Christophobics — in this case, the useful idiots of Islamism — seem to have hit on a clever strategy for furthering the stealth jihad. And they have avoided the negative publicity around frivolous, but chilling, libel suits against writers who speak truth to Islamism. This method has the virtue of leaving no evidence behind for curious observers to assess.
Sociologist Alvin Schmidt, author of about 70 articles in the encyclopedia, told The New Criterion that never before in his academic life had he "run into this kind of politically correct nonsense." I am sure that from now on, we will all be seeing "this kind of politically correct nonsense" amongst publishers with greater and greater frequency.
Christophobia, and by extension, hatred of Western civilization, is on the march. Can you hear the sound of pulping machines? Or is it the crackling of flames? Whatever. The stench of liberty decaying hangs heavy in the air we breathe today.
Barbara Kay is a columnist for Canada’s National Post, in which this article was first published.