Hoc Est Scripture Meum

One of my favorite little quasi-apocryphal factoids is the etymology for the words hocus pocus. Though there are several explanations for the root of the favorite invocation of magicians who do the pre-school circuit (ah, how Penn and Teller have fallen), the most convincing root of this term is that it comes to us from hoc est corpus, the Latin words spoken over the Eucharist.

In medieval Catholicism, the elements of the Eucharist were considered to have magical powers...to heal, as a ward against evil spirits, vampires, and Democrats, or even as an aphrodisiac (Eucharist, L. Stookey, p.78). In the absence of any real understanding of what was said or spoken, the peasantry who blindly accepted the absolute authority of the church soon came to ascribe all manner of powers to the church...most of which more reflected their desire for magical control over the world than the reality of a community gathered by God's own Spirit.

So...here we are a six-pack of centuries later, and where has Scriptural infallibility lead us? To a fever-dream fascination with the Bible itself, which often borders on being paganistic. Power is presumed to radiate from the words themselves, because this is God's perfect Word, in which every truth about everything can be ascertained.

Take the popular practice of popping open a Bible and pointing to a verse to gain insight into a problem or answer a question. While occasionally illuminating and often amusing...like discovering, again, that the answer to that problem with your co-worker is to slaughter them and their families and their livestock...this is really not functionally different than cracking open a pack of tarot cards and laying down a classic Celtic Cross spread.

The Holy Bible knows all...sees all...

It's only in this sort of environment that an obscure and essentially irrelevant verse could spawn a book that sold millions of copies...because people believe that it is entirely possible that buried in there somewhere is a prayer that is always, always answered. Of course, the Lord's Prayer is right there smack in front of us...but we know that one already. That's no fun. It's better..more like magic...if it's obscure, hidden, a secret.

That desire fuels the quite profitable industry of Biblical prognostication. You've got the run-of-the-mill end-times soothsayers, who've finally unlocked the symbolic mysteries of Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel, and are eager to sell you their book about it. There are those folks who've used computers to pore through the Hebrew, arranging and re-arranging the letters like a shaman sorting through monkey entrails, and finding that the whole history of the universe is hidden away in there. Or so they say...in their book. People take this sort of absurd speculation seriously, because it meshes with the ethos of literalism.

But this kind of magical thinking tears the Bible from the foundation of its authority, and turns people away from the depth and purpose of these holy stories.