By Ty H. Phillips
In 2015 a group of women were stripped, bound, raped, burned, beaten and slowly killed because they were believed to have been witches.
This belief in such utter nonsense seems unfathomable to a western mind. However, in more than 18 countries across South America, Egypt, Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Congo and more, belief in witchcraft is widespread.
Each year, literally hundreds of boys and girls (mostly young girls and women) are hunted down, tortured, raped, mutilated and dismembered in the crazed hope to root out and extinguish the sin of witchcraft. The sin of murder and torture is of course overlooked, as we shall suffer no witch to live.
We are dealing with more than tribal mentality and fear, but systematic disregard for human life through a literal interpretation of Abrahamic traditions. While these actions may have taken place on a smaller scale within these same cultures hundreds or thousands of years ago, the introduction of Abrahamic traditions has created a launching pad for ramping up behaviors like this.
That islam and Christianity have been not only complicit in, but a part of these atrocities can be seen again and again in how late the church—but never the mosque—has been in apologizing for the systematic hunting down and torture, mutilation and dismemberment of homosexuals and albinos. This is because the holy scriptures of these traditions promulgate a widespread belief in such facile idiocy as witchcraft, demonic possession, original sin and the like, thus creating an us vs. them mentality that is already rampant in tribal minds.
The easy answer is of course, to place blame on this continued atrocity on the religions that sweep in, decimate the existing social structure and leave behind a little understood religious text that seems to do nothing aside from the support for killing the ‘other.’
There is more to it though.
What is necessary is not a revamp of existing religious traditions. It is not an issue of catching them up to western customs and capitalist mindset, which in itself just another way to erase the ‘lesser’ of us, but rather a real education.
We need the wisdom of fact, not a knowledge of fable if we are going to change the world.
We need to teach an overarching respect for life—not just human life, but life in general. We can’t teach others right from wrong because the good Lord said so. We need to educate both them and ourselves on the plights of all nations and peoples and instill a sense of deep understanding of our unity as a species instead of our links as a culture.
This isn’t to say that culture is an issue. I am oft seen parading around in a kilt, tossing a heavy log, in memory of cultural games of a bygone era. Culture can be bonding and wonderful, but more important is our understanding of our plights as a whole, as a species, as a planet and deep felt sense of responsibility for each other and for the planet in which we live.
The witch hunts are but a symptom of a widespread disease of lack of education and empathy.
Change requires work not religion. It requires a willingness to shed our attachment to cherished beliefs in order to obtain solid facts. We need to be willing to let go our notions of mass indoctrination in hopes of saving souls while we leave them with less than they had when we arrived.
Leave your scriptures at home and take your engineers, your doctors, your scientists and your educators. When we are doing what we should in order to truly help—to facilitate growth and openness and warmth—it is our actions that will speak for our traditions not our bibles and Qurans. These pieces of paper would be better off made into proper sanitation for young women instead of used as excuses for mutilate their genitals at first menses.
So, the issue is one of religion, but also a lack of education.
We are so easy to sweep under the rug the intimate relationship religion has with social destruction and degradation and to cut the needed funds and positions of those truly needed (teachers, engineers, scientists etc.) so that it does not disturb the outlook we have of our sacred cow; those dearly held beliefs that set up our cognitive dissonance to reject all criticism.
We cannot provide religious indoctrination without education and fall back on the line of our scriptures not being literal. We clearly see that the outcome of a non-humanistic view of them leads down one path. History has shown this to be an unarguable truth. Without secular and humanistic ethics influencing the larger body of religious doctrine, religion becomes the path of persecution for all outsiders.
It demands conversion and punishment for apostasy.
When we circle back to the opening issue of witch hunting, we see not only support and encouragement in this activity, but also, according to Abrahamic traditions (all of them) it is demanded by holy writ. The Old Testament demands that witches be put to death, along with homosexuals, those who work on Saturday, and a long list of other imagined infractions to God.
The Quran, while not stating that sorcery or witchcraft is punishable by death, does state that it is hated by God and punishable—low magic less so than high magic (of course there is no mention that neither magic is actually real). However, the Sunna and the Hadith, the records and sayings of the prophet Muhammad and what sharia law is based upon, do demand that practitioners of witchcraft and sorcery be put to death. The religious heads of Islamic countries are also widely known to find minor infractions of anything worthy of killing people.
The New Testament finds a clever way of referring to all rebellion from accepted doctrine as witchcraft and for the first time brings in the notion of Hell, burning and eternity, and we see the craze of witch-burning begin here.
So what happens when you subsume a culture that is already superstitious and leave them with nothing aside from fears of hell, demonic possession, and to their minds (and many in the mainstream aside from prolonged protest) a literal interpretation of scripture? You set up a system of fear that demands that women stay subjugated to men and when they infract upon or disobey, an excuse to call them witches and to further, torture and kill them in an attempt to save their eternal souls.
It is time to take the sacred cow and place it in the fire.
We have for far too long, turned a blind eye in an attempt to feign tolerance, compassion and cultural acceptance, to abhorrent teachings and actions that foster these outrages against human life.
We need to teach the need for warmth and selflessness, the pursuit of higher education, reason, science and continued skepticism of all things deemed holy. It is time for a moral ethic to take the forefront in saving humanity from itself instead of excusing genocidal teachings in order to save the soul, at the expense of humanity and the earth itself.
It is time.
Editor: Dana Gornall