On Conspiracy Theories and Christianity: Part 4, Cracking the Bible Code

In Part 2 mention was made of the Scofield Bible and the role it played in promoting dispensational beliefs. But beyond the end times beliefs themselves, the Scofield Bible illustrates a particular way of seeing, using, and coming to understand the Bible. This view of the Bible and method of biblical study also promotes belief in conspiracy theories by turning the Bible into a puzzle that needs to be solved or a code that needs to be cracked.

As Mark described in our Facebook Live chat, scholars describe the approach illustrated by the Scofield Bible as a "flat hermeneutic," a way of reading the Bible that is common among evangelicals. A flat hermeneutic ignores Biblical genres (like how poetry is different from history or law or gospel or apocalypse or epistle) and the textual context of Biblical passages, smoothing out the textures of Scripture to treat every Bible verse as equal in import and value. This leads to an "atomization" of Scripture, where individual Bible verses are isolated to stand on their own, each verse a bit of data to be accounted for, a puzzle piece or clue. Making sense of the Bible then becomes arranging these verses or making connects between them until a pattern or picture emerges. Bibles like the Scofield Bible aided in this as Andrew Gardner apty summarizes:

Resources like the Scofield Reference Bible allowed Christians to search out connections between Bible verses with similar themes through “cross-references.” Reading Scripture and unlocking its secrets became an intricate quest as passages from one book of the Bible were sought to provide clues for understanding other passages.
Bible study became sifting through and making connections between seemingly disparate Bible verses, a verse from the book of Daniel the clue used to unlock a puzzle in the book of Revelation. Approaching the Bible in this way became an exercise in code-breaking. Students of the Bible were to follow the clues, hopping from verse by verse, until the puzzle was solved. I'm reminded of the scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind, about the mathematician John Nash and his struggles with paranoid schizophrenia, when Nash's wife enters his office to find it full of magazine articles linked by threads illustrating the paranoid "connections" he'd made between news events. The cross-referencing of the Scofield Bible was just like those threads in John Nash's office. 

That analogy illustrates how a "flat hermeneutic" promotes conspiratorial patterns of thinking and modes of perception. If you're unfamiliar with QAnon, the anonymous Q's postings on the internet are enigmatic, open to a wide variety of interpretations. After a Q "drop" followers begin to crack the code, looking for connections and threads of association between Q's cryptic, gnomic statements and world events and news, especially the actions of Donald Trump. When connections with a Q drop are discovered they are shared by YouTube personalities, called QTubers, who have huge followings. Each QTuber is their own Scofield Bible, sharing cross-references between Q's statements and world events. 

Now, here's the point. To outsiders, it might seem that hunting down Q's clues to uncover "the truth" would seem, from an epistemological perspective, a wholly bizarre means of discovering truths about the world. And yet, for evangelicals raised on discovering the truth by solving the puzzles of the Bible and linking them to news headlines, this process of discovering the truth in QAnon wasn't bizarre at all, it was a strategy that was familiar, tested, and trustworthy. When you've spent your life cracking the Bible code cracking the codes of QAnon comes naturally. 

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