In the scene leading up to the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor—in the famed TV drama “Game of Thrones”—the light of an epiphany spread over the face of the High Sparrow, in that flickering moment, he recognised that he had underestimated Cersei Lannister’s capacity for evil. But there was no time to dwell on this realisation, as a cache of wildfire blew out the windows, burst through the halls of the Great Sept and engulfed the High Sparrow: the faith militants, the hunted down and soon-to-be-punished sinners, and the spectators, in green smoke.
In appearance there was nothing covetous about the High Sparrow, with unruly grey hair and a simple jute garb—that would allay any patriarchal or material impositions—his commitment to dispense the judgement of the god of the seven, equally, on the high and low born was unflinching and at times laudable. But it was the same unrelenting devotion, the singular irrational pursuit of his ideological dissenters, that blinded the High Sparrow to the indefatigability of malevolence.
As a black evangelical, and a keen student of the humanities, the High Sparrow’s condemnatory rhetoric racked up nineteenth century evocations of Christianity as a tool of oppression and of the empire. As an African, it evoked images of some religious leaders in modern Africa—Nigeria to be specific—whose often-misplaced zealotry blindside them to the disconnection between their actions and the message they herald. With the separation of the church from the state was the belief that structures, or mega structures, were unnecessary, or could no longer dictate the rightness or wrongness of attitudes — a much-needed separation as the biblical message of sacrificial love had gone down under the overwhelming weight of bigotry and accoutrement.
But the symbolism of the High Sparrow supersedes these initial religious representations (I use the word ‘religious’ here loosely, as a more comprehensive understanding of the word edges outside of deity-centred affiliations). Any analysis therefore, of the extremism of the High Sparrow as simply, or exclusively reminiscent of the church in its Victorian form, is blindsided to the religious-like fanaticism expressed in today’s post-modern landscape of sociocultural activism.
Indeed, the High Sparrow is an indictment of these ideologues. His content, and mode of behaviour is illustrative of today’s moral purists or the ideologically possessed. The days of the High Sparrow may be history, his totalitarian modus operandi driven to the fringes or radically diminished—at least in the forms in which it once existed—however, the inconvenient truth is that today’s sociocultural adherents have adopted this pathological model. Like the High Sparrow, they pose as arbiters of good and evil; privy to the supernatural ability of mind-reading, whereupon they are able to discern intentions and motivations of any, who do not conform to an acceptable set of thoughts, or actions.
The ideologically possessed do not believe that they are so consumed. They judge their motivations as progressive, empathic, they see themselves as ‘reluctant good-seekers’, driven to this worthy pursuit by the righteous need to be kind. As self-appointed guardians of the tree of good and evil, they have become the high priestesses of morality, waving the big stick of judgement at those who would not, or do not conform to their code of ethics.
Like High Sparrow, today’s ideologically possessed are caught up in an imagined utopia and disconnected from the frailties of the present existence. They engage militantly with whatever their ideology designates as evil, the punishment for such a crime ranging from name-calling, banishment from the public square, or excommunication or even worse. They ignore or underestimate the true nature of malevolence which is, at the very least psychological.
Excluding the primal and mythological thought fullness of malevolence is a dangerous omission, akin to the fatal error of the High Sparrow. If the ideologically possessed continue with this ‘holier-than-thou-like’ intolerance, malevolence will simply dissolve to the underground and take up a more nuanced form.