Religious leaders are powerful. But religious leaders with access to scriptures which are predominantly text-based are even more powerful. Factors accounting for such power include:
- Limited access to such scripture devices via the privileged status of their interpreters;
- Socio-economic, material, and psychological privileges enjoyed by scriptural authorials; and the
- Ideologization of the problem of evil.
Limited Access to Scriptural Devices and Interpretive Apparati
By nature scriptures are open to various interpretations, depending on the use to which users are prone to deploying them. Scriptures do not interpret themselves. Believers in scriptures utilize interpretive tools to forge agenda, personal or impersonal, such that what is written is made to do, to justify, that is, what the scripture interlocutors want scripture to do for them. Of significance is the consciousness of interpreters in their mining ability of the text and its derivative.
Let us use the case of Deuteronomy 22:5, A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this” as case in point. Another fine example the use of scriptures is Boko Haram, the world’s deadliest terrorist group. With the former, some people groups and cultures in Africa (and in the USA) privilege the male hegemony by tweaking and latching on to the interpretation which makes the interpretation of the text mean only as it pertains to modes of dressing when in fact the cultural contexts of the text means much more! Some church organizations (Deeper Life Bible Church and Mountain of Fire and Miracles for illustrations) dwell on the dressing-related interpretations, thus undermining or ignoring the justice-related interpretation which the text might actually have meant originally.
Our other example of inscriptive scriptural apparati and destructive privilege, Boko Haram and its brand of Islamic Sunni ideologies, a genocidal combination of primitivity, reek further than even al-Qaeda’s Osama Ibn Laden would have approved! Not that Boko Haram represents the worst of humanity’s killing machines, as Steven Pinker tells us in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. That Boko Haram’s crave for blood has not been surpassed in recent history remains a fact. But, nearly everyone is now agreed on the fact that the Nigerian violence-oriented environment created most suitable atmosphere for this terrorist group to breed.
Like the Islamic Boko Haram, uncritical interpretation of Christian scriptures, have potential for abuse and power intoxication.
Next is the socio-economic, material, and psychological privileges enjoyed by scriptural authorials. Not all religious authority live in material or economic affluence. But nearly all in such category unquestionably enjoy the psycho-social benefits of their influence. Whether religious leaders know it to admit it, or not, they have influence when they issue interpretations, or “Thus saith” utterances, and when they do not. Recognition of their status by their followers commences the journey to being manifestations of the divine among men. A case is the Nigerian Bishop David Oyedepo, who after landing a supposed female member of his congregation a divinely sanctioned holy slap, still received mighty applause from the several thousand seated congregants. It was a holy super bowl!
Ideologization of the problem of evil
The problem of evil has been with mankind for a long time. Different creation accounts provide multiple narratives and perspectives to what happened that led to the genesis of evil. No one needs to look far before they realized how deeply troubling our situation is in this modern time.
For many religious people around the world, there are two forces, both of which are in combat one against the other. The force of good and the force of evil, the interpretation goes, are in constant wrestling. Most times, the forces of good, represented as light prevails. The evil or darkness forces could sometimes temporarily win, but eventually their victory is always known to be Pyrrhic.
What is interesting with scriptures is that all interpretive sides believe they are on the side of goodness, on the side of the force of good, that the divine deity is on their own side. Seldom do we hear of either side owning up and accepting that their end of the interpretation is erroneous. Always, construction of enemy identity is other-ness, where a divine necessity is deemed to have been laid upon their shoulders to vanquish the foe.
On the whole, it appears that indoctrinations of any kind are precursors to fundamentalisms and violence. And combined these enable scripture users to justify why all they perpetuate in such guise is really not of their own doing, but a divine mandate authorized by the power coming from the scriptures which they have just interpreted.