SKEPTIC: Halloween has come and gone, and the witches have all gone back home.
Now I don't know a whole lot about witches. I know that the Wicked Witch of the West was not a very nice person, but that Glinda, the Witch of the North, was beautiful and kind. But I'm a little confused as to the Christian view of witches. I know that the Bible says "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18). I know that Pat Robertson and Sarah Palin apparently believe in witches. And I know that the Puritans were instrumental in bringing about the Salem Witch Trials.
But I was stunned to read recently of the atrocities being carried out in Africa in the name of Jesus. Christian pastors, taking the Biblical exhortation to heart, have been implicated in the torture and murder of hundreds of children who had been accused of being witches. I'm having trouble getting my head around that.
PREACHER: If you want to know more about witches you could probably even meet and interview someone who at least calls himself or herself that in many parts of the world. There would be a great variety, including those that would be considered benevolent, and those that would be considered malevolent by the various cultures that they live in. But, one thing they all would have in common would be their claim that they can manipulate the spiritual world to make things happen in the physical world. The "good" witches might be able to improve the weather or heal sickness, while the "bad" witches would be blamed for illnesses and natural disasters. The reason that the Bible condemns witchcraft is that it attempts to bypass God and tries to employ the cooperation of other spiritual forces to get what is wanted.
In seminary I was privileged to study under a sociology professor who was quite an expert on traditional African religions. He said that it was very common when there was a sickness or some other mishap in a village that it would be blamed on witchcraft. Many times vulnerable children or women would be picked out as the witch causing the problem. So, their deplorable application of Exodus 22:18 has mostly to do with their traditional world view. Here we have the terrible results of syncretism. They just added Jesus on to their old religious system without changing their core values. From the article you refer to, it says that the churches had proliferated so fast that the leadership in the organizations had not kept up with what kind of people were pastoring the churches. When there is poor teaching of Christian doctrines and principles, it is very possible for even pastors to have decided to be "Christians" only for material gain, kind of like the cargo cults in Papua New Guinea except with much more tragic results.
Yes, I am stunned and sickened, too by the atrocities that these pastors committed. As a Christian who believes in the absolute value of these children who have become their victims, I encourage all the church in that part of Africa to wake up to this terrible problem and put an end to it as soon as possible. And, I am sure that the real Christians there are already working hard to help the situation.
SKEPTIC: I can certainly understand how African witchcraft culture plays into the current atrocities, but is there not some sort of heirarchy within the church or a government authority to step in and put a stop to it? Unfortunately, the problem with the government, as seen in the Nightline videos above, is that they claim that accusing a child of being a witch is illegal "unless you have proof" that the child is a witch. Well, gee, that's helpful. I wonder exactly what kind of proof is required. Maybe we should employ the Monty Python method.
The heros in this story are those people who are providing safe havens for these child victims. But where is the voice of the church, either in Africa or elsewhere? Where is the condemnation and outrage? I don't see it.
The problem, of course, is that the Christian religion, with its beliefs in witches, evil spirits, demons, and other supernatural boogeymen, is a perfect fit for scam artists who see an opportunity to marry Christianity with traditional African beliefs for their own personal gain.
PREACHER: Well, I am glad that you realize that African witchcraft culture plays into the current atrocities. Unfortunately the government authorities in the country (Nigeria) where this is happening are having so many problems and many times are so corrupt that they aren't able to even keep up with a lot of the violence and injustice that is happening on a daily basis in their country. Since a lot of these churches are independent, they have no church hierarchy to answer to, or the church hierarchy if it exists at all is much like the government, inadequate and corrupt. I frequently read the reports from missionaries who actually live in this part of the world, and realize that chaos and ignorance reigns everywhere most of the time. There is a lot more bad stuff going on all the time in this area besides these pastors who have mistakenly accused children of witchcraft and tortured them. Then, Nigeria is one of the better countries to be in. I suppose when you are living in an environment where atrocities have become the norm, you just become numb to it. That may explain the apparent lack of condemnation and outrage. However as the news spreads - the date of the news article is rather recent - there will more appropriate reactions and action. I have included this link. It certainly is a start.
I am sure that many of those heroes who are providing safe havens for these children are Christians. There probably would be some good non-religious folks like you, too. I disagree that the problem is the Christian religion. The problem is the greed and ignorance of men. You certainly would disagree too if I said that your hallowed atheism with its belief in molecules-to-man evolution was the problem behind the mass murders committed by the command of notorious fascist and communist dictators in the twentieth century because they also believed what you believe.
SKEPTIC: You seem to have divided the Christian world into "real" Christians and "fake" Christians, and whenever a Christian does anything really bad (like torture and murder) he gets moved into the "fake" column. But I'm assuming that all Christian pastors (even these African pastors) preach the same core Christian message, i.e. the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the atonement that it provides. But then, maybe that's the problem. When you've got a religion that celebrates the torture and murder of its central figure and whose most important icon is a torture device, maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised when some pastors go off the deep end.
By the way, I'm still not clear if you personally believe in witches or not.
PREACHER: You seem to think that Christians invented torture. You certainly know that torture has been practiced all over the world from far back in history in almost every culture. If anything, Christians have been in the forefront of alleviating torture. Those pastors were doing what was just common practice in their culture, not getting their inspiration from the gruesomeness of the cross.
You also seem to be setting yourself up as a moral authority over the Christian religion. I don't think your world view qualifies you to be a moral authority. You can't even prove that torture or witchcraft is really wrong or not.
When you can meet a witch on the street, it isn't necessary to "believe in" them. Whether they have supernatural powers or not is another question. I don't think they really do.