“Accused child witches Jane, left, and Mary, right […] Jane’s mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and Mary.” Source : AP, MSNBC
With Halloween just around the corner, many kids in the US will soon be joyfully donning witch costumes and visiting haunted houses at their local churches. In many parts of Africa, however, the subject of witches is no laughing matter at church.
MSNBC reports that, according to an investigation by the Associated Press, an increasing number of children are being maimed or killed because churches are accusing them of witchcraft. According to MSNBC,
“Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to a couple hundred cases. Over the last ten years, in just two states in Nigeria,
“around 15,000 children have been accused [of witchcraft] and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.”
In many cases, the churches involved are affiliated with churches in the US, who defend themselves by saying that they are unaware of what’s going on. And more local churches are reportedly turning to the practicing of finding witches because it is profitable to them. According to a member of the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network,
“Even churches who didn’t use to ‘find’ child witches are being forced into it by the competition. They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism.”
So if anything, the situation seems to have worsened since I last posted about a couple of months ago. It’s good that this crisis is starting to get into the public light a little more, but that isn’t enough since at least some of these people believe they are doing what God wants them to. Churches in the US, whether directly linked to the congregations that are conducting these literal witch hunts, or just sending missionaries over to Africa, need to spread the message that witch burning and mutilation is not okay.
My hunch is that some church leaders may be shying away from a public campaign against these horrible attacks on children because the Bible actually does say that witches shouldn’t be allowed to live. (Unfortunately for these children, it doesn’t say how to tell when someone is or isn’t a witch.) I would think it’s hard for Christians to tell people to disregard something that is right there in the Bible, without worrying about throwing the whole thing into question. But with thousands of children suffering and dying, I don’t know how they can remain silent.
Exodus 22:18 tells believers that they cannot "suffer a witch to live" (KJV). From medieval Europe to the Salem witch trials and beyond, there have been witch hunts. The most recent front is in Nigeria and other countries in Africa, where children are being abandoned, tortured, mutilated, and sometimes killed because they are believed to be witches.
This isn’t news, unfortunately: it’s been occurring for years now, but the situation appears to be worsening. Not only are adults called out as witches, but more and more children are being called witches and being punished by their parents, who believe witches can bring about bad fortune: "divorce, disease, accidents or job losses ", according to the Guardian . And what is even more deplorable in my opinion is that according to the BBC , even in 2009 the Pope is still campaigning against witchcraft instead of clearly coming out against these witch hunts.
The crusade against witches in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is being led by people who call themselves Christians, from the pastors who are scaring people out of their minds with stories of witches, and charging handsome fees to perform exorcisms, to the parents and community who are shunning, torturing, or killing the witches when they can’t afford an exorcism.
People who do not buy into the witch nonsense are accused of aiding and abetting witches. According to Sam Ikpe-Itauma from the Esit Eket area of Nigeria:
For every maybe five children we see on the streets, we believe one has been killed, although it could be more as neighbours turn a blind eye when a witch child disappears.
Some people will argue that witches and witchcraft have existed in Africa for ages. Yes, but the open and merciless pursuit of witches in the name of Christianity is a much more recent phenomenon. According to the Guardian:
Although old tribal beliefs in witch doctors are not so deeply buried in people’s memories, and although there had been indigenous Christians in Nigeria since the 19th century, it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs. Evil spirits, satanic possessions and miracles can be found aplenty in the Bible, references to killing witches turn up in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Galatians, and literal interpretation of scriptures is a popular crowd-pleaser.
Pastors openly admit that they are fighting against witchcraft.
Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. ‘We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.’
Although he denies charging for exorcisms, reports of pastors doing so are widespread.
The problem is not limited to Nigeria, but is occurring in a number of African countries, including Angola. Here is what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in March of this year
In today’s Angola, Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because – they say – they are sorcerers
At first view, this seems positive: Benedict seems to be speaking out against people who are going after kids and others because they are believed to be witches. Benedict did also say that Catholics should "live peacefully" with animists, according to the Huffington Post (a liberal political commentary site). So what’s the problem?
What’s missing is Benedict speaking for the Catholic Church condemning pastors who, in the name of Christianity, are attacking witches. No admonishment to the local church leaders who are spreading the fear of sorcery, who are tearing families and communities apart, making money off exorcisms, and exploiting the fears that they, as alleged men of God, are helping to create.
Speaking out against "sorcery" while asking for "peace" does not do this; it sends a mixed signal. Instead of clearly telling people to stop attacking witches, his solution to the problem was urging people to convert to Christianity! It’s not enough to say that people should just get along. There should be a call to hold the people responsible for these crimes accountable and to get the word out that such violence is not condoned. In my opinion, until he and other leaders launch a clear public campaign against what pastors are doing to alleged witches in Africa, they are complicit in what is happening.
Please read the articles from the Guardian and the BBC if you want to find out more. The Guardian site also has heartbreaking footage of some of the mutilated children and parents who are telling people to take their children away because they are witches (but often not being able to explain why they know they’re witches, or how to make them not witches). What is happening to these kids is too sad for me to even describe here; hundreds of them huddling up after their parents scald them, burn them, or chase them away from their homes.
Christmas hits home, part II – Suffer, little children
While visiting family over Christmas, there were several other disappointing things that happened involving family members. One involves politics (hogwash), one involves teaching (brainwash), and one involves preaching (whitewash).
* POLITICS (aka hogwash): One thing deserves just a fairly brief mention: somebody suggested that there should be a religion-based party in the US, one based on their denomination, to make it easier to know who to vote for. We already have entirely too much religion in politics. Many Christians even think so. It’s sad that someone, much less a family member, would think that religion should be the main defining point of a party or candidate. Shouldn’t their positions on issues figure in there somewhere? Christians, even within denominations, often disagree very strongly on a number of important issues. JFK, in a famous speech I became (re)acquainted with thanks to the FFRF , stated that politicians should not take their policies from the Pope or any other religious authority. If you’re a Baptist, would you want a Catholic running the country based on the Pope’s dictates?!? Politicians should not use or abuse religion to run for office or run the country. People have a right to their opinion, but I don’t think one religion should be preferred over another, and I have the Constitution to back me up on this one.
* TEACHING (aka brainwash): One of the little kids in our family received a manger scene for Christmas. When his mom asked who the baby was, he knew right away it was Jesus. This cute kid, who is just barely a toddler, can hardly say anything at all, is still learning his numbers, etc. Yet, he’s being taught about Jesus already, so much that he immediately could say who the little baby figurine represented. He’s obviously been exposed to a lot of religion at home or with his parents in church. He went to Sunday School for the first time the Sunday after Christmas. Now I don’t know what they do or don’t teach a toddler in Sunday School, but I don’t think a child should be taught religion before he can even form full sentences or do enough math to figure out that 1 + 1 + 1 equal 3 and not 1 (a little reference to the Trinity there). People should be allowed to make informed decisions about their religious beliefs, and a small child isn’t mentally prepared to make such decisions.
I don’t know what age would be good, but I would think they should at least be in regular school before they can be in Sunday School. (People aren’t allowed to even vote until they’re 18, and isn’t religion an even more important choice?!) Most kids who are indocrinated with Christianity seem to turn out more or less normal, but other people like me who took religion very seriously can be seriously damaged by the threats of hell and suffering or the crazy, warped logic (or lack of logic) found in the Bible. At best, the child is not taught to think critically. "Why do we believe what the Bible says? Because that’s what Pastor says, that’s what your Sunday School teacher says, and that’s what Mommy and Daddy say." "You’re just supposed to believe it and have faith!" etc. Not a lot of people go to Sunday School and then decide to read the whole Bible to find out more. Instead, they just listen to what their teachers and preacher say, go to church, do and say what you’re supposed to, love or be afraid of God (or both) and be duped into believing that doing what your church says will make you live forever, and don’t ruin your chances by asking too many questions.
That’s maybe a cynical way of viewing things, but not an untrue way of looking at it. It may not be the parents’ intent (who are themselves presumably brainwashed), but it is the result. It’s sad to think I have a little relative who is going to be brainwashed by Christianity before he can see through it. Maybe eventually I can "come out" as a non-believer and be an example to him (or at least he might wonder why I’ve been disowned even though I seem like a nice enough person).
* PREACHING (aka whitewash) I have another family member who will soon be ordained. I will name this person Pat, for the purposes of this blog. Since I once considered this route myself, I am very sympathetic to Pat and find we share a lot in common. So I have been curious as to what sorts of things Pat believes in terms of the nitty-gritty of religion, and how Pat will preach. I got a good sample of it over Christmas, since the family went to service on Sunday and Pat delivered the sermon. I didn’t know until fairly recently that for many denominations, you don’t have to be ordained to give a sermon. Pat is well on the way and was invited as a guest minister for Sunday. I was actually almost looking forward to going to church, to satisfy my curiosity as to whether Pat would be a kinder, gentler love-and-peace sort of minister or more of a traditionalist, fire-and-brimstone type.
The result was somewhere in between, but the message of the sermon simply infuriated me. It may have been the worst message I’ve ever heard in a sermon. I say "may have been" because I don’t know what sort of craziness I heard as a kid. The few sermons I’ve heard as an adult and after deconverting have been surprisingly tame and overall positive. Not this one.
To give Pat credit, it did something that I accused most Christians of not doing normally: linking Christmas with Easter. The reading was Matthew 2:1-16 , and was apparently what is normally taught the Sunday after Christmas. But Pat’s take on it was an interpretation that is inhuman, inhumane, and for lack of a better word, crazy. The fact that several family members thought it was a good sermon shows how much people just can’t get past the idea that they have to accept the Bible as the truth, no matter what atrocities are commitment or what flimsy excuse, or lack of any excuse, is given for it.
In these verses, we find out how King Herod supposedly had all children (presumably "just" the boys, but it doesn’t say) under 2 killed in Bethlehem in an attempt to have the rumored son of God killed. Herod figured having all kids under 2 killed should make sure God’s son was killed and that Herod’s power would go unchallenged. But Mary et al. had fled to Egypt (to fulfill prophesy, according to Matthew), so Jesus was spared. The lesson was that even though Christmas is a season of joy, we have to remember why Jesus came down to Earth. We sinners are responsible for Jesus’ coming to Earth and dying on the cross because, like Herod, we want to be king instead of God. We put our selfish desires first and God second. We are selfish with our time and think and say bad things (soon-to-be pastor Pat gave the example of us not wanting our life from last week to be displayed on film to the congregation). But in spite of the fact that we all do this, God still loves us anyway, so much that Jesus would come down to Earth and die for us. That is the reason we should be joyous on Christmas.
There is so much wrong with this sermon, and I am getting so upset again, that I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll just do bullet points
* Why Jesus came down to Earth: God decided he wanted to send him here. Instead of just forgiving our sins, God the father was out for blood. He wanted someone to pay, and that someone was Jesus. He took on human flesh so he could suffer in our place and appease the bloodthirsty father.
* We want to be kings instead of God: The continual use of lord and king to refer to God is appropriate, but people don’t think behind this. In America, we got rid of kings centuries ago because no one should have to put a king ahead of what is important for the people. Why should we put God’s desires first? What should matter is what’s important for people, not some ruler (divine or not). I’m not saying that people aren’t too selfish, but the whole idea that we should devote ourselves to Christ the King is very harmful. People should not be taught unquestioning obedience to anyone or anything. Wouldn’t it be a much better idea to teach people compassion and justice instead of being taught to serve a master? Then maybe we wouldn’t have so many killings in the name of religion, or in the name of blind obedience to one’s leaders (I was just followin’ orders).
* We don’t want our lives displayed on movie for all to see. The old make-people-feel-unworthy trick. We humans are horrible beings that think and do disgusting things. We should be ashamed! We don’t deserve to live! This is a very negative vision of humanity, that I still have trouble shaking sometimes. Yes, humans do, say, and think horrible things, but they also do very positive things. Why don’t we put up a film of all the generous, kind, and thoughtful things congregants did in the past week, and then do a reel of all the good things God or Jesus did this past week. We haven’t heard from God in almost 2000 years, so the second half of the presentation would be rather short. Some people have undoubtedly done good things in Jesus’ name, but Jesus hasn’t bothered to show up in millennia.
Some would argue that Jesus does good things: save kittens from trees, etc., but just doesn’t show himself to us (he’s too camera shy? Yahweh would have to pay him more if he had a speaking part?). But if we’re going to say he does good things, then he obviously either does bad things as well or lets bad things happen. Let’s show all the bad things that people in the congregation did in the past week, and all the bad things God did or let happen in the past week. I’ll betcha God’s total active or passive wickedness is much higher than the whole congregation put together.
* One important thing that was not explained in the sermon was: why did all those innocent toddlers in Bethlehem have to die? Couldn’t God have struck down Herod instead of letting him kill all those kids? What purpose did their deaths serve? Why should they be killed and baby Jesus spared? God’s responsibility for allowing these deaths was whitewashed by the message of us being unworthy of his love and sacrifice. But what of the sacrifice of those little children? We don’t know how much a 2-year-old or so deity can do, but I would think he or his father could have just stayed in Bethlehem to ward off Herod’s men, or persuade them not to kill those kids.
Jesus, son of the all-powerful God, being carried off to Egypt and letting those kids be slaughtered is nothing short of an act of cowardice . If Jesus was too young in his human form to know better, then his father should have done something about it. It’s inhuman for God to have let those babies die, it’s inhumane to have let them and Jesus be killed just because God was still upset about our sins, and the reasoning behind the whole thing is absolutely crazy. Allowing the mass slaughter of children is not justifiable, which is why Pat, either consciously or unconsciously, chose not to dwell on the most striking and appalling part of this story.
And yet, I heard more than one person say that this was a good sermon. It explained nothing about why Jesus had to come to Earth or why the children had to be killed. It unnecessarily ruined the joyous mood that many certainly had going into church on the Sunday after Christmas by telling people how bad and unworthy they are of God’s love because we don’t love God enough and we do or think bad things. I really doubt that made most people "joyous" as promised. Perhaps ashamed and falsely grateful to God for dying for and forgiving us. But I guess that’s what people expect sometimes from a sermon. I think I may have just been lucky in the few recent sermon’s I’ve heard.
Fortunately, I’ve read that it’s pretty unlikely this massacre of the innocents actually took place historically. But the fact that it is being taught as the gospel truth and being used to brainwash people into submission to a supposedly merciful God is so disappointing and frustrating. If God were really merciful, he wouldn’t have let those children be killed. If God were really loving, he wouldn’t have needed to send Jesus to Earth on Christmas to suffer and die on Easter, he would just forgive us and love us as the imperfect beings we are. Does Pat truly not see what is wrong with all this?!
So I am deeply upset by the fact that one of my relatives will be teaching hundreds of people (and probably thousands over a lifetime) lessons like this one. I’m sorry that I probably sound really upset about all this, but I was really hoping Pat would have a more enlightened take on Christianity than "You are not worthy, bow down to your master." or "You’re a very bad person, but God loves you anyway even though you don’t deserve it." or "The slaughter of children while Jesus was safe elsewhere is okay because Jesus was coming to die to save wretched old humanity." Pat delivered the sermon very well: very filled with what appeared to be genuine emotion. If only people of Pat’s intelligence and talent could work towards improving humanity instead of beating down children and adults alike with the same old myths.
The King James version of Luke 18:16 reports Jesus as saying "Suffer little children to come unto me". This "suffer" is in the olden sense of "allow" or "let". But by perpetuating violent, morally harmful stories such as these among adults, and teaching them to kids too young to know what a horrible story this is, I feel that "suffer, little children" would be an appropriate motto for Christianity. Let’s hope someday children won’t have to suffer because of their parents’ religion and can make an informed choice as adults whether or not they want to listen to this crap.
I’m continuing with Genesis 7-8 right away since it continues the flood story. Noah and the Ark is considered a fun kids’ story. I used to think so, too, when I was a kid. God saving all the animals! One of my favorite songs was (and is, for different reasons now) "Rise and Shine". But how does the sanitized song compare to the "real" thing? Let’s see!
(PS I can’t find authorship for this song, and there appear to be a number of variations out there; if I find the original or the authors, I will list them here. Here’s a similar version on YouTube. )
CHORUS: Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory, children of the Lord.
Yes kids, you are God’s special children! … What did you say, Timmy? Are children of the Lord the same as sons of God in Genesis 6? Where did that question come from? Well, I guess so, we’re all sons and daughters of God because he loves us! Okay, let’s continue with the song now!
1. The Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.” Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.” “Get those animals out of the muddy, muddy, children of the Lord.”
Wasn’t it nice, children, for God to warn Noah about the flood? Otherwise Noah and the animals would have gotten all wet! …What’s that, Timmy? Why was there a flood? Couldn’t God have stopped the flood and eliminated the need to build an ark and save the animals? Umm…be quiet and sing!
2. So Noah, he built him, he built him an arky arky Noah, he built him, he built him an arky arky Made it out of gopher barky, barky, children of the Lord
Noah was a great builder! Do any of you like big boats, too? … What’s up now, Timmy? … No, I don’t know what gopher bark was, the Bible doesn’t say. It must have been some magical material because it was strong enough to hold all the animals, and Noah and his family! … No, it’s not impossible to build a vessel like the one described in the Bible, and even if it was God can help people do things that seem impossible! Okay? Now, let’s go on!
3. The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies, Animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies, Elephants and kangaroosies, roosies, children of the Lord
Wouldn’t that be fun to go on a big boat with all those animals? It would be tons of fun, just like a big old zoo! … Now what, Timmy? … Yes, it does say in Genesis 7 that Noah took seven of clean animals and birds. That’s a pretty smart question for a 5-year-old! …What does "clean" mean? Well it means that they weren’t dirty, I guess. Just like you’re supposed to be nice and squeaky clean before you go to church! …No, God wouldn’t have drowned you if you forgot to clean behind your ears, don’t be silly! Moving on…
4. It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies Rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies Nearly drove those animals crazies, crazies, children of the Lord.
Forty days is a long time to be in a boat, isn’t it kids? But I bet it was still fun! … What do you want now, Timmy? … Well, yes I guess you could say the verses about the flood give different numbers that seem contradictory, who told you that? And where on Earth did a 5-year-old like you learn the word "contradictory"? You’re driving me crazies-crazies with all these questions! … Well, yes all the other animals that weren’t on the ark did die in the flood … Well, no the animals didn’t do anything wrong. … Yes, all the people died, too, except Noah and his family, because God saved them! … Why’d he kill the rest of humanity? Because they were bad and God wanted to teach them a lesson, but Noah was a good man. … What do you mean he was a drunk who liked to lay around naked? Where do you get such crazy ideas?!?! …Stop crying, Sally, Timmy doesn’t mean it! Now just be quiet kids and listen!
5. The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy Sun came out and dried up the landy, landy Everything was fine and dandy, dandy, children of the Lord.
After the flood, God sent us a beautiful, sunny day to show us everything was okay!! You again, Timmy? … I guess there would be dead carcasses everywhere after the flood dried up. … Yes, and dead people everywhere. … Yes, I’m sure it smelled really bad. … Well, besides that, it was fine and dandy, and it was nice and sunny again! Stop interrupting!!! And Sally, quit pinching your nose!
6. The animals, they came out, they came out by threesies, threesies. Animals, they came out, they came out by threesies, threesies. Dogs and cats and chimpanzeesies, zeesies, children of the Lord.
You see kids, then all the animals could come out and play again! … Yes, Timmy? … They came out by threesies because all the mommy and daddy animals had a baby! … Um, you can ask your mom how that happens. … Is that why God had Noah put seven storks on the ark? I guess that would make sense, thank you Timmy! … You were being sarcastic? How do you even know the word "sarcastic"? We’re almost done, so just be quiet!!!!
7. Now this is the end of, the end of our story, story. This is the end of, the end of our story, story. Everything is hunky dory, dory, children of the Lord.
That’s the end of … What it is NOW, Timmy?!?! … Yes, it was honky dory, why do you ask? … Well, the Bible says God did feel bad about the flood, yes… No, that doesn’t mean he made a mistake! God is perfect! … Yes, God did promise never to flood the planet again. See how nice God is! … Well Katrina was different. … No they didn’t deserve it because they were all gay, where did you hear that? … Your mom said that? Well, you’ll have to take that up with her, then.
Well, that’s it, kiddies! Time to go out and live like God’s little children! … This is the last time, Timmy, now what do you want to ask? … Well, yes, people still sin. … So what did it solve to kill all those people and animals, then?!?
I give up!!! I’ve had it!!! Either you go Timmy, or I go! God, where’s a flood when you need one? Calgon, take me away!!!