It began as a mild argument about whether one could precede every sentence with “The bible said…” and where I stood was “Not every part of the bible can be quoted as being representative of Christianity, spirituality, or the mind of God”. The person who immediately became my opponent was none other than (Let’s call him X), my fellow Fulbright colleague (also sometimes known, mostly as “pastor”).

His his first response was “You are wrong! You can start EVERY quote from the bible with “The bible said” because ALL the words in the bible are words from God.” Now this argument is very suspect, and never fails to amaze and amuse me because I am familiar with the bible as a collection of texts that include not only historical accounts, prophesies, fables and inspirational writings, but also poetry and personal letters.  As a religious book, it is a document that holds the faith of the followers, but as text, it is also a collection of words on which a certain authority has been stamped by the church as representative of the faith. So I said to him, let me show you a part of the Songs of Solomon, I think it was Chapter 4 vs 5:

“The bible says – to use your word – ‘Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.’ Right?”

“Oh no,” he responds, jumping with all visible agitation, “the Songs of Solomon are not as carnal as you have read it. They are a representative of the love of God to the church.”

What?

“You wouldn’t know,” he continued. “you are not a spiritual person. You are only trying to use your knowledge of books to analyse spiritual things. The Songs of Solomon are God’s message to the church.”

I have heard this argument before, and I like the rationalization given to portray the lyrics of Solomon’s love poems are possessing a higher import beyond their face value. But they are just words. They are seductive lines written by a rich and content king to many of his almost uncountable number of wives and mistresses. They definitely are the least representative of the mind of God to man. I could not imagine Jesus being flattered by reference to women’s breasts as representative of his thoughts towards mankind. No no. So, I told my friend that, and he was really furious. He perspired heavily, shouted, and jumped around so much that with a little push, I feared that he could have fallen down right there.

The argument escalated in pitch and intensity, in the open lobby of the Hyatt Hotel where the four of us stood idling away before our proposed excursion around the city. The more everyone intervened with a point that seemed to punch a hole in our friend’s righteous argument, the more livid he became, shouting this time at anyone “How would you all know? You are not born again. I know because I am. It is a spiritual thing…” And then he added “Everything in the bible is the word of God to us, and I believe them all.”

Here, I asked “Everything in the bible? Even the part that says you shouldn’t eat pork, in the old testament?”

Here he hedges a little, unable to find a right answer, and says that “that’s in the Old Testamant. I will not argue with you. You are not born again. You cannot understand the spiritual things of the bible.” He was livid. The argument took turns and angles, until he eventually stormed out of the hotel to get some air, but mostly to avoid more opportunities to explain why he should be trusted as an authority on a subject that is obviously not mainly spiritual, but practical. We were all supposed to be scholars, free of the clutches of dogma, but it was a moment of enlightenment to discover that we were not all. And it was sad. Here was a particular case of the first ill: “I’m right, you’re wrong” quickly escalating (and degenerating, I should add) to the ignorant condescension of “I’m righteous, you’re dumb.” The last and usually brutal stage of such unchecked arrogance is, as Nigerian Nobel Laureatte Wole Soyinka  puts it clearly: “I’m right, you’re dead!” If we had given to it, who knows how physical the argument could have become (between us two friends no less) on that floor of the Hyatt Regency.

No, not money, fanaticism is sometimes the root of all evils.

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