All through the ages, there had been either conflicts or maybe misunderstanding, or misinterpretations of what God said and what people interpreted to be what God has said. This is not any ploy to be for or against people that have claimed that God has directly talked to them. At least, there’s no way to verify their claims accurately. Then my point is that either those so-called messengers of God weren’t attentive enough to hear God clearly or that they were all lying to us. This is why it is important here to discuss this concept which has been the root of religions and what has always been prompting and justifying most of the ways religions handle matters in human societies. In fact, it is obvious that without these claims, we wouldn’t have religions in the first place.
While writing forward for the book by Fidelis K. Obiora titled “Divine Deceit: Business in Religion”, the then Catholic Bishop of Uyo Diocese (Nigeria), Most Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Ekuwem said it without mincing words that the way religion is being sold to people these days, especially in Nigeria was becoming worrisome. Bishop Ekuwem was so worried that some people had successfully deployed religion as means of getting at their own selfish goals.
“In taxi cabs, buses, trains, lorries, etc false gospel is sold. Signposts and roof of living homes and genuine companies hardly outnumber registered but fake churches whose proprietors brew nothing but poisonous doctrines with which they enslave unwary whom they profess and claim they are out to liberate and save”.
Not only J.E. Ekuwem should be complaining about this dangerous dimension that today’s hawkers of religion in Nigeria have been using to indoctrinate and keep the whole people in their churches in total bondage, all in the name of claiming that they can read and interpret the minds of God through the writings of the Bible which they are of course, intellectually ill-equipped to comprehend – we all should also be wary. We all should also show concerns. We also should not fall victims to these religious hawkers no matter the kind of enticing gifts they come with to lure us into their bondages.
Like I said earlier, the concept of “ipsissima verba Dei” has successfully being used all through the ages. Man has always tried to figure out some in-depth knowledge of God and the world around him. Therefore, somehow, the basic belief or knowledge of God is already presumed. On that platform, it is easier to convince people that certain things are to be observed or believed because God has commanded them.
Loosely translated, ‘ipsissima verba Dei’ means “exact words of God”. When some principles of religions, or some reflections or inspired writings done by some people have been promoted to the level of being attributed to as the exact words of God, then respects and privileges accorded to such observances are undoubtedly taken as being sacrosanct.
Conveniently, some sacred scripture authors like the author of the book of Prophet Ezekiel in the Bible, conveniently deployed this means a lot in his writings to convince the people of his time and his current readers that the words he was preaching weren’t his own, but exact words from God. Randomly in the book of Prophet Ezekiel, we could realize how often and many times he used those words to make his prophecy sound authentic and to appear as if they were fresh from the mouth of God directly as Ezekiel spoke. That’s the power of religion, and that’s the power in the use of “ipsissima verba Dei”.
Not only Prophet Ezekiel. A closer look at the Old Testament of the Bible would reveal that more than 1,900 times, the authors of the books of the Bible claimed their message came directly from God. We can get expressions like “thus says the Lord” in both the Pentateuch and the books of the prophets.
Then shouldn’t we be wary of those who might tell us “Thus said the Lord” when actually God didn’t speak to them? By these acclaimed words from God, we are then mandated by our already indoctrinated and prejudiced conscience rather than conviction to obey certain rules of the religion without doubting or verifying their authenticity. But then, the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy 18:22 clearly stated that ‘when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.’
The message of Islam is also undoubtedly being influenced by this type of religious undertone. In her book, “The Trouble with Islam”, Irshad Manji narrated her personal experience through a conversation she had with her Islamic Religion teacher she simply referred to as Mr. Khaki. I only understood it as one of the usual encounters where those being invested with authority to preach or to teach messages of religions are devoid of the in-depth knowledge about what they believe, preach and propagate. According to her:
“The trouble began with ‘Know Your Islam’, the primer that I packed in my madressa bag every week. After reading it, I needed to know more about “my” Islam. Why must girls observe the essentials, such as praying five times a day, at an earlier age than boys? Because, Mr. Khaki told me, girls mature sooner. They reach ‘obligatory age’ of practice at nine compared to thirteen for boys.”
“Then why not reward girls for our maturity by letting us lead prayer?” I asked.
“Girls can’t lead prayer.”
“What do you mean?”
“Girls aren’t permitted.”
“Allah says so.”
“What’s His reason?”
“Read the Koran.”
Whenever I read the above dialog between Irshad and her teacher – Mr. Khaki, it points directly to discrimination for no reason rather than traditional prejudice that has sold such gender-based discrimination and intolerance to the people as proper way of life, and later as the mind and will of God. Mr Khaki has no personal reason why girls should not lead in prayers, neither has he any cogent reason why they should. He only based his discrimination on traditional Islamic dogmas that also has no clear explanations on why such should happen or shouldn’t happen. When someone like Mr. Khaki has been indoctrinated from childhood to accept as true some issues without questioning, then that’s how he would like to dispose whatever he already believed into others without considering the rationality behind his beliefs. He would neither want to hear any contrary opinion to what he believes and teaches. In short, going contrary to that belief is what should attract severe caution or punishment to the unbeliever.
When I look critically on these, I only see a tradition that has segregated and alienated some groups of people for reasons they (the people that observe this tradition) could no longer logically explain. They only resort to self-pity defense by pointing back to such tradition as only referential answer or single valid authority to explain why they observe what they observe in their religious tradition. How can a tradition explain what it had no reason from the beginning to condemn?
Of course, going back to Qur’an as she was told to find the reason why girls should not lead in prayer is like riding on merry-go-round. No valid answer could be offered in such circular motion until the inquirer decides to jump out of such enclave to search for truth elsewhere. If Qur’an condemns that, then it might have some reasons, but if it doesn’t have reasons, then why do they still observe that. If it has reason, can the reason be justified beyond common sense knowledge?
Personally, I have been also been caught in this kind of web with fruitless rhetorical arguments and always at the end of the discussion would get the same kind of admonition like “read your Bible”. But how could one seeking interpretation of a source being referred back to the same source as only solution or viable clarification of his confusion or query? Of course I asked ab initio because I found out clearly that the Bible has no valid or convincing or unbiased answers to my questions. This is because the Bible can’t answer my questions openly, with no bias or completely out of prejudice without first contradicting itself by destroying the basic foundations of its first assertions.
“Read your Bible” or “read your Qur’an” has been a way to brush aside what could have been talked about. What if I had read and failed to understand, or failed to get a convincing answers from the scripture? This is one reason why I never liked dealing with dogmas. Dogmas in religious circles are not there to explain anything, rather they are there to force the sentiments of those that designed such dogmatic beliefs down the throats of each and every member of the religious community – leaving them with no option of questioning or reexamining what they are being indoctrinated to believe. It is take it or leave it scenario.
And then there must be interpretations and there must be varying opinions and then fainting voices of those that refuse to agree with some of the interpretations, and the re-echoing loud voice from afar of those who have found out another ways of interpreting the same thing (no matter how wrong their former fold might take those interpretations they propagate). When we disagree on one way perspective of dealing with something, we immediately create rooms for various ways of doing the same thing. This created all these confusions we have today in Nigeria churches where it is even easier to open and manage churches today than to manage any other kind of business.
Fidelis K. Obiora being fully aware of the dangers of unguarded religious indoctrinations and proliferation of Christian churches today in Nigeria said:
“…most Nigerians have taken religion as their shop with exploitation, deceit, mercenary acts, sweet tongue and misinterpreted Bible as goods in the shop. Commercial evangelism has dominated and permeated the greater percentage of Nigerian Christians. It has scattered it like wolf among the sheep with its weapon as money. Many Nigerians converting the Holy Bible as their tool have become instantly famous business men and women. Religion have become a lucrative business. Evangelism has gone commercial”.
In an undoubtedly vulnerable society like Nigeria where greater percentage of the religious adherers are not educated enough to logically present their versions of arguments for or against the teachings of such religions, then it is left totally in the hands of these commercial pastors, preachers and other leaders of the religious groups to dictate the tones and dance-steps of their followers. Whatever they interpreted, their followers swallow them without asking questions, in fact doubting them and their ideologies (no matter how dangerous they might be) is tantamount to doubting God and thereby challenging God’s divinity.
Then we can no longer doubt the authorities that these religious leaders have over their followers. They control their minds and are in a good positions to tell them what to tolerate and what to fight against in the name of God. Then their followers, seeing nothing but the voice of God in their interpretations of religions, give the religious leaders undue and unnecessary supports, either out of curiosity, out of devoutness, or out of fear of hell fire which they had been pre-indoctrinated to believe that anything they do that doesn’t match with the decisions and teachings of their religious leaders would eventually lead them to hellfire.
Frankly speaking, I think we would be better off without some of these religious dogmas that are fashioned to control how we think and how we react to certain issues in our everyday lives. Allowing religious dogmas to control almost the lives of its members is typically dangerous because that is from where intolerance is bred. The dangerous dimension of ipsissima verba Dei implies that no one has reason to doubt whatever he has been told that was revealed by God.
What if what God has said is nothing else but what we or some people have put in the mouth of God? What if our words are only way to know the mind of God? What if we have been living in deception all these years? What if our God is so perfect that He cannot descend so low to use the imperfect languages of man to communicate His mind? These are questions in the hearts of many, not only the agnostics but greater percentage of religious adherers who use reasoning to moderate what they believe in. But religions have their own peculiar way of using more indoctrination to make them shut up.
Religious dogmatism is dangerous because it is undoubtedly one of the clearest source of religious radicalization. Strictly speaking, without dogmatic impositions of some religious principles on the religious adherers, a lot of issues that religions teach today would have been out for open debates, dialogues, investigations and invariably most of them might not pass through any sincere thorough logical scrutiny.
Religious dogmatism still want us in the 21st century to use principles and basic knowledges of those that lived more than 6000 years ago. This is always where most religions have a lot of clashes with radical thinkers in this modern era. It will never be easy to bend down a modern man to accept outdated pronouncements made by men controlled by both prejudices and intolerance during the era they lived, some thousands of years ago.
 Obiora F.K (1998), “The Divine Deceit: Business in Religion”, Optimal Publishers Agbani Road, Enugu-Nigeria, Pg. xiii.
 Irshad Manji (2003), The Trouble with Islam, St Martin’s Press N.Y., pg. 24
 Ibid, Pg. 88.
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