Religious teachings reinforce belief in witchcraft

Monday April 26 2010

I wish to comment on the lead story in the Daily Monitor of April 20 titled ‘State of Witchcraft’. The article cited a survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre in which it was found that 20 per cent of Ugandans believe in witchcraft or the protective power of sacrifices to spirits or ancestors. That’s about six million Ugandans.

Why does belief in witchcraft persist?
I’m inclined to think religion reinforces belief in witchcraft – and by this I mean the belief that witchcraft (black magic) is actually able to yield real effects, regardless of whether one chooses to partake of it or not.

The majority of Ugandans are Christians (over 80 per cent). Christian doctrine holds that there are forces of good and evil, with ‘God’ and his ‘angels’ representing the good side, and ‘Satan’ and his ‘demons’ representing the evil side. It is believed that that ‘Satan’ is constantly attempting to thwart the will of ‘God’ through demonic possession, demonic harassment, by attacks on a person’s thoughts, relationships, or life with ‘God’. This struggle between the purported good side and evil side is called ‘Spiritual Warfare’ elaborated upon by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-12: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Every Sunday Christians are told that witchdoctors are agents of ‘Satan’, and ‘demons’ are the evil spirits witchdoctors use to place curses and inflict suffering upon believers. Many a church service is devoted to exorcisms and other rituals intended to ‘protect’ the flock from ‘demonic possession’ resulting from witchcraft. Why? Because believers have been told repeatedly that it is only by ‘accepting Jesus’ that they will obtain ‘protection’ from witchcraft.

One would think a rational person would easily dismiss witchcraft, and other fancy stories of ‘spiritual warfare’, as childish superstition. Astonishingly, many educated Ugandans believe that these things are real. They do so not because they have encountered any good evidence or have analysed it critically, but because their religious beliefs require them to accept such claims as true, if not highly possible.

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Many believers feel that asking them to concede that witchcraft doesn’t work, is like asking them to denounce one of their core religious tenets. The same applies to adherents of Islam, and of any religion or belief system that includes as its core tenet the view that a ‘spiritual realm’ exists.

Of course, once one thinks outside his religious box and applies critical thinking, he or she will quickly realise that witchcraft is all one big joke which no rational person should take seriously. The problem is, how many of us are critical thinkers?

There is an amusing true story from Nigeria in which a goat was placed in a jail cell because police thought it was a car thief that had turned himself into a goat in order to elude capture. While this story made me chuckle the first time I heard it, it depressed me when I thought about it later. “You mean grown ups believed that the thief had magically turned into a goat?” I kept asking myself. This madness has got to stop, and sanity, rationality and common sense must be restored.

Anyone who thinks witchcraft works should contact me and collect two million shillings upon a successful demonstration of this so called black-magic.

Mr Onen is a member of Freethought Kampala- a social forum for Freethinkers
jamesonen@gmail.com

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