I read an article by Elsa Tamez last night that discusses four different ways to read and interpret the bible in the modern Americas. She lists the four basic paths as Legitimizing, Rejection, Popular, and Syncretic. Rejection is where the indigenous population simply looks at the bible and hands it back to the missionary saying “thanks but no thanks.” The Syncretic reading is where the indigenous population looks at the bible and sees patterns of its own faith tradition reflected giving way to such traditions as Santeria for example.
But it’s the other two I want to talk about: legitimizing and popular. You can think of them as “The Conqueror’s Bible” and “The Conquered Bible.” You can find the article itself in a collection called Voices form the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World. Here’s the cliff’s notes version.
The Conquerors Bible tells us why the colonization of the Americas and the crimes committed against its native populations was not only a good thing, but was the perfect will of God. The Conquered Bible talks about how the oppressed and the most marginalized of people will be delivered by God. It is, essentially, the hermeneutical lens which gave rise to Liberation Theology.
Put so simply, it is easy to take the first reading of the bible and dismiss it as an anachronistic relic of an age long since passed. However, in light of the recent race relation conflicts that have sprouted up around the USA when racism itself was thought to be an anachronism, I wondered is it really? And the answer is “no.” Here’s the proof.
Spiritual Warfare: the message is clearest when you have crazy charismatics like me talking about spiritual warfare. What is the message we deliver? God will make sure you win. He will help you take the giant’s head. You will be his instrument to stamp upon the head of the serpent. “wherever the sole of your foot treads I will make yours.” I mean pick any given passage from Joshua or the battles that David fought and you will have a pretty good idea of what a conquering bible sounds like.
Prosperity Gospel: the idea that God wants nothing for us so much as he wants our prosperity is, in my own opinion, absurd in itself, but it is also a sign of the Conquering hermeneutic. (if you don’t know what that word means you should really click the link above.) God has chosen us, US to be the chosen and the blessed among all the world. The rest of the world, those who are poor or marginalized, are either sinners or else simply not chosen. In many cases of the prosperity gospel, the poor’s “inability” to receive God’s blessing (and prosperity) really is their own fault.
Christian Domination: There is a difference between Dominion and Domination. Feel free to use google to figure that one out. But as I look at the activity of what is become known as “the Christian Right” or sometimes “the Evangelical Right” I don’t see Christians living the life that Jesus has called us to. Rather I see Christians who have interpreted Christians who have interpreted “I am the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6) or “Go and make disciples of all the world” (Matthew28:19) to mean that Christians are supposed to be running the world, and anyone who disagrees is a heathen who needs to be converted at all costs.
And what’s really depressing about all this? I just as guilty as anyone for doing this – for reading the bible in a way that validates my own assumed privileges and gives me an excuse to ignore the suffering of the poor and marginalized.