The Rise and Rise of Scripture Fundamentalism

by Damola Awoyokun

Is the Bible the word of God or the Bible includes the word of God? As a non-Jew with an intimate affinity with oppressed classes, I do not read the Bible for absolute facts, I read it for clues. Until the lions learn to produce their own historians, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunters. In writing the Torah, the synoptic gospels, the epistles and letters of the apostles that make up the bible today, the authors did not have in mind a global audience or other cultures besides the Jews and in some meagre parts of the New Testament (NT), the Corinthians, Romans etc. The Old Testament (OT) is totally about the edification of the Israelites, denying, demeaning, desecrating and destroying the other people’s cultures and God in order to raise the stock of their own Yahweh. This is what the Bible is about. What is worse, they would mould God their God in their own image and likeness, shape him according to their own whims and self-indulgence and still present him as the Most High. With ‘thus says the Lord’, the ‘men of God’ pontificated and invited the people to assent to their own idiosyncrasies and prejudices. The authority of the word of God was being used to justify truths and untruths, individual caprices and Israel’s national whims. The fact that God speaks through men is not disputable, but the moment his voice enters the human sphere, it suffers a degree of corruption.

Moreover, it is not easy to know where the objective content of the divine revelation ends and where the subjective biases of the biblical writers and those interpreting it begin. It takes a critical sense to discriminate. Today among the prophets, evangelists, pastors, and other ‘men of God’, statements are being formulated; rules are being manufactured, exploitative tithes are being decreed as being directly transmitted from the throne of God. Thus they require their followers to believe them as articles of faith. They go on further to suppress in their followers, the critical sense by deluding them with the falsehood that reason cannot be used to fathom things of God. Even though this review does not prefer articulating a case for rationalism in the religious domain, on the other hand, it does not wish to stand for dogmatism. Indeed faith alone cannot be used to grasp supernatural and metaphysical realities; it is faith and reason. They are the two wings with which the mind rises higher and higher to the contemplation of truth. They do not despise each other instead they work together and the balance between them is that which is necessary to maintain the critical sense.

In his outspoken essay Yahweh And The Middle East Conflict, serialized in The Sunday Guardian of August 3 and 7, 2003, Yemi Ogunshola’s fulminations against certain aspects of the Bible are not merely the nuts in the kernels that break human teeth; they also bury the kernels in hot embers and dare a person’s fingers to draw them out. Yemi argues that there is a basic harmony between the biblical narratives of war, the unprovoked and merciless slaughtering of other nation’s women and children, usurpation of other people’s lands, and in recent times, the current war project in Iraq and the protracted conflict between Palestinians and Israelis today. That basic harmony is Yahweh, the centuries old invention to justify killing and maiming. He marshals quotes to buttress his thesis that Yahweh is a bloodthirsty vampire local deity of Israelites who authorised “great slaughter”, “utter destruction of both men and women, infants and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” of the enemies of “the chosen people of God”. So that next time “not a man would move his tongue against the people of Israel”. What nonsense!!!

Nevertheless, what is untidy, Yemi does not bother to sufficiently balance his description of Yahweh with the humane NT references to him. This leaves one with the impression that his agenda to demonize Yahweh superintends over his call to defend intellectual rectitude and thoroughness. Although negating his aspiration is of petite concern here, only that it has to be defensible in the court of reason or renounce every claim to existence. There is no conceptual disjunction between the God of now, the God of the NT or the God of the OT. He is oftentimes referred to on the word of Yemi Ogunshola, “Yahweh, the Lord, El-Shaddai, and Jehovah”. Also the essayist does not examine the possibility that the Bible characters and the story writers may be more interested in equating their views and traditions with those of Yahweh, of which evidence abounds, before he joins voice with Nieztche: “Yahweh’s credentials must be re-examined” or “Yahweh must be toppled”.

Truly, Joshua and his accolades should be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is no way they can wash themselves clean. Afterall all is not fair in warfare. Yemi however does not convince his critical readers whether Joshua being authorized by the value system of the Israelites those days committed these crimes or that God’s signature was first on those brutal killings before it became their value system; or that since the biblical yarns were written several years after they happened could it be then that it was the writers that historicized the stories to the forms in currency? It is not only Joshua, even David, the harp of God, is another warrior for the divine word. “ Yahweh killed Og the king of Bashan, killed Sihoh king of the Amorites”, hence, “his love is eternal”. Nonsense. David continues in Psalms 136, “he gave their lands to Israel as inheritance, his love is eternal”. Even Elijah. Because Yahweh proved himself to be ‘superior’, the next thing was to go and murder, not convert, the worshippers of Baal. How again could somebody promise God that if he gives him victory over his enemies, he would sacrifice the first person he meets on his way back home? That person happened to be his daughter. He did sacrifice her in thanksgiving to God. Also, granted God did retract later, but why would he demand the blood of Isaac from Abraham? And we do not find these criminal because God or the bible is concerned? Yet these are being inscribed into subconscious mind.

The belief that anything is right if it finds reference in the Bible or Koran is enhancing the rise of scripture fundamentalism. We have to understand the limitations of these religious scriptures. There’s need to be a mark of their limits and the probe of their extended possibilities, especially in contexts other than those that first gave rise to them. Each book in the Bible was written with its own particular end in view and has its own particular meaning. Those texts exist in a context; therefore they must not be used out of context. The spirit and the letter of these scriptures are so much vulnerable to being inverted in their origins, twisted in their interpretations and perverted in their applications to support faddishness. Needless to say, the nexus between a religion, the bad behaviours and violence carried out by the adherents is scripture fundamentalism.

However there are some factors specific to the rise of scripture fundamentalism. First, that the scriptures being word of God or text from Allah are free from error. Two, that the scriptures are impervious to reason or the critical sense. Three, reading the scriptures outside their origins, objectives, political exigencies and historical circumstances. Four, when a scripture-based religious mode of worship has a strange talent of creating mass hysteria and mass intoxication common to Pentecostal movements nowadays. Five, disdain for religious freedom and cultural pluralism. Six, ignorance. Enslavement begins with ignorance. Seven, mind-closure. Eight, that the human purpose and vision in life should be based on absolute pleasure and comfort, dominion and power to ‘conquer the earth’. This has made, especially Christianity to be an organized capacity for lies, dishonesties and fraud that somebody could stand in front of the church to be giving testimony that she deposited N1 500 in the bank and later when she got back for another transaction she saw N15 000, telling the congregation that its God’s work and the congregation accepted this fraud without a squawk. What is ominous, they were even clapping and praising God’s beneficence. Or what about somebody justifying her divorce on the grounds of “spiritual incompatibility” claiming to have prayed with faith and have received illumination from the Holy Spirit? Or a man killing his mother because she was allegedly a witch impeding his ‘God’s anointed progress’ still citing excuses in the bible? Or someone who declared that it is a sin for him to vote for another person when his pastor is in the presidential race? Or those that are insisting that let no one raise his/her voice against pre-marital sex. Let us all agree that it is good. Afterall, the bible says whatever you agree on earth shall be agreed to in heaven?

In politics and civil governance, religion must be very wary not to overstep its competence. It must always function at the other side of power. Indeed we need good governance but to achieve this, it is morality flowing from the religions that we need not the religions themselves. No power is God given. Politics must remain secular. Negating this is with the aid of the Koran or Bible is scripture fundamentalism. Nigeria, for instance is not God’s will. Lord Lugard willed it, and it was. But the nation is not wrong because someone willed it or a God did not will it. If bad or good things are happening to this country, they have no relations to the scriptures. This is a fact that one Martin Ben Simon Ukegbe, a divine warrior for the sovereignty of Biafra ought to bring himself to understand. In justifying his project, he vilifies those who are in the habit of praying for Nigeria for wasting their time, ‘pray not for this nation’, he writes, ‘do not help it in anyway. This is the counsel of the Lord…Even if Moses and Samuel, (and the) great prophets famed for their intercession should stand before God and plead for Nigeria, he would not change his mind concerning the determined disintegration of (this) amalgamation (of 1914)’. No doubt, Ukegbe belongs to the fanatical realm. He calls Nigeria a rogue state, an embassy of hell and continues,

‘Right now in heaven, in Elohim’s register of nations there is nothing like Nigeria. What we see are Arewa republic, Oodua republic and the Christian Republic of B’Ephrayim’ (Biafra).

Towing the line of his brother fanatics in every religion worldwide, who believes that they have an exclusive right of interpretation over the scriptures-since it must remain a closed text- he says, ‘anybody who is not convinced about this truth should link up with the heavenly information network for understanding: pray that your eye of understanding would be enlightened.’ In conclusion, he reminds us of their notorious ruse: ‘blessed are those whose eyes (can) see.’ Since his followers lacked the critical sense, the ability to ask questions, difficult questions, and since they want their eyes to be blessed, they would force themselves to see something when there is there is nothing to see actually.

The whole newspaper, The Exodus of the Biafran quest, reeks of ethnic inferiority complex, religious bigotry and arrant fundamentalism: connecting Biafran self-determination cause to Zionism to give Biafran Zionism, the story book ‘holy Bible’ is going to be their constitution, their Senate: the elders of Zion; then prayer cards to actualise this dream etc. Certainly, this aberration drew nourishment from the paradigms outlaid in the Bible. Somewhere their Bible says that only 144,000 from the twelve houses of Israel would be saved. Hence fans of what The Exodus represents sat down and started connecting their ancestry to Israel: Iruka is the son of Nwokocha who is the son of Madueke who is the son of Okafor, a grandchild of Joseph and the cousin of Abraham our father in faith and Emelike the elder brother of Adam… Let politics remain impervious to religions jargons and motives. The ultimate consequences of such unholy mixtures are not always palatable. They damage the religion and the politics.

In another vein because of the myth of Israel being the chosen people of God, anything they do has the backing of God or again because their Bible says any nation that fights them, God will fight them, hence everybody and race has to be their friend no matter what they do. So people like Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University could infer that right now, criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism in ‘effect’ if not in ‘intent’; taken to be a challenge on the existence of the state of Israel. Or that as events now unfold, criticizing America, Israel’s main ally or hating George Bush automatically labels you a terrorist or fuels those who are!! Such labels aim to define the perimeters of the publicly acceptable domain of speech by setting limits on the speakable. The call for boycott of joint research with Israeli academic institutions, cutting cultural ties with them, stoppage of business with companies that sell military hardware to Israel to which Summers devoted his criticism, is quite commendable.

The Western media had been passing out grotesquely prejudiced news to the world about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because it is dominated by Jewish influence but not the academia and the province of arts that are spearheading the global protest against Israeli barbarism: state terrorism, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, occupation etc. The campaign, which started in European universities, has exploded in strength and has spread to Canadian, Australian and American campuses. It is quite good that the ivory tower reminds itself of its traditional spirit of safeguarding moral principles as an intellectual responsibility. As the Columbia university statement reads: “The decision to launch a divestment campaign comes from our hope that moral pressure from the international community could be an effective means of encouraging political transformation [in Israel and Palestine].”

Monstrous American made tanks and bulldozers have wiped out (still are) houses, agricultural lands, schools, hospitals, mosques, archaeological and cultural heritage sites; families have been destroyed, there is endless poverty and suffering. 65% of Palestinians are unemployed; schools, hospitals, universities, businesses are under military pressure with American tanks placed in the frontage of those remaining. All these, have been universally acknowledged, would be impossible without America’s economic largesse and military aids running to tens of billion of dollars given to Israel annually. There is no reason why this campaign cannot spread to Africa because Africans, in the spirit of solidarity, are active supporters of freedom and human rights of the Palestinians. Moreover, this is one of the campaigns that helped collapse the evil regime of apartheid in South Africa and is drawing inspiration from it.

Infact from the historical characteristics of the Israelites, if the Egyptians had not enslaved them, they would have enslaved the Egyptians and justified why Egypt, a land of skilled and sophisticated people, and a land of ancient technological marvel, must be their annex should they still insisted on going to their promise land. Because they were about the violent expropriations of what is good in the name of their Yahweh.

Superiority, at whatever cost, at others expense, pursued with religious zeal is a mode of thought that the scriptures have bequeathed as a legacy because people have deemed them as error-free hence everything therein deserves irrevocable submission of loyalty and faith. It has consolidated itself in an ideology that partly sustained Nazism where the Jews were the victims, now they have become the subjects meting the same on the Palestinians. It is this same ideology that is updated in the works of US policy intellectuals like Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, Charles Krauthammer etc. It is this same ideology that is at the heart of the western foreign policies in the Middle East, policies whose knowledge of Arab civilization is scarcely authentic and heavily defective. Just as a scarecrow is assembled from bric-a-brac and made to stand for man, so is the western knowledge of the Arabs and other races were assembled from the bric-a-brac of what they feel and made to stand for the Arabs and others.

In his book Clash Of Civilizations, Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington peddled this same ideology that looks like a fungus spoilt soup of okro that refuses to draw: there is a chosen, superior civilization (the west), further clashes with other non-western, particularly Arabic civilization would always abound. His book then offers itself as an oracle on what the West must do to continue wining. (Wahala wa o!) If others are not ready to comply with the west, they must be denied the right to exist through means like the war on terror. The west must be the producer of civilization; others must become a prisoner of it. The equality of all civilizations is an inalienable social right of nature. And this ought to be the basis for coexistence amongst all peoples and civilizations. Every progressive civilization has been a fusion. No culture or civilization is born to exist by itself. A civilization that now barricades itself is a Yahweh of soviet power that must fail. Throughout history, talk of the pure race, and ‘my better’ civilization has only led to mass murder and savagery. We should not forget the perspectives of Auschwitz. The pure has never existed. Every culture learns from another in order to be internally transformed for the better. To become whole, everybody, every civilization needs the other. To believe otherwise makes one falls into an immense procession of fanatics now headed by George Bush that already includes Maitasine, Bernard Lewis, Bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld, Ariel Sharon, Condolezza Rice, ayatollah Khomeni, Ben Ukegbe, the Talibans and other modern incarnates of Old Testament characters.

Do we need a clash? Must the biblical history be always about clash? Why must some want to dominate others? Why should human and diplomatic relations not be about wearing wedding gloves instead of boxing gloves? Is it that since soviet communism has collapsed then another enemy has to be invented in the Arabs or Islamic ‘fundamentalism’? President Ronald Regan in 1985 after meeting with the heavily bearded, heavily turbaned Afghanis, leaders of the Mujaheddin, in the White House, brought them to the luscious lawns of the Rose Garden. Standing “shoulder to shoulder” with them, Regan told the eager bank of international cameras and microphones, ‘these GENTLEMEN are the MORAL EQUIVALENTS of America’s FOUNDING FATHERS.’ (My emphasis. Read this repeatedly, in the light of US war on terror on whom? Secondly, to know why the US would continue to be fanatical and belligerent since we now have clues to its founding fathers’ minds!) On the local level, would the religious relevance of the bible or even modern Christianity fall down when there is no enemy to fight, that one has to be invented always? In professional life, why must people invent enemies in their colleagues through spurious competition and be invoking all the noxious aspects of the bible in order to place themselves on OT war footing and see themselves spiritual consequently?

In the final analysis, the belief that anything is true if it is found in the scriptures should begin to fade out. The scriptures should be revised to be an open text for spiritual renewal and moral growth only. It is disturbing when they are seen as sacrosanct untouchables free from the stains of errors. With the combination of uncritical citation and endless repetition, cynic passages are used to justify whatever power is in power simply because a person, a race, or a civilization is riding on the back of the tiger. The time will soon come, surely, when it find itself in the belly of the tiger. Scripture fundamentalism panders to the base interests of a person or civilisation. It leads to bad doctrines that whistle around like evil spirits. Bad doctrines lead to bad conduct; bad conduct leads to an inverted civilization at everyone’s peril.

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1 comment

Francis Obimma May 26, 2007 - 10:35 am

Great writeup; incisive and educative. But mind you, the Igbo people (Biafrans) do not feel an iota of inferiority complex! Or do you mean superiority complex? For starters, I do not know any tribe/tribes superior to the Igbo people.


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