Children in Nigeria being accused of witchcraft.

In Nigeria, children are being accused of witchcraft and being handled in a way that would make the inhabitants of 17th century Salem lurch.

The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him – Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.

Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

First, I don’t think it can be argued that the influx of Christianity to Nigeria has not held primacy in creating this problem.

Second, the response, as always, will be that these people get faith all wrong (even though the bible is explicit in its command on how to deal with witches).  We’ll be admonished to ignore the deleterious actions inspired by faith and to focus on the beneficial ones.  But neither are “right” because they both inherently praise the wrong priorities.  As long as people are performing good or evil because of god’s supposed will, rather than caring far more about how those things affect other humans, we have a problem.  In the bible, god tells people to murder their own children, so you can’t blame someone for thinking god would order them to do some pretty heinous stuff.  As long as obeying god is more important than looking out for others, evil will always use religion to slip past our compassion.

This illustrates why religion cannot be acceptable: because it has no brakes. As long as people are willing to commit any travesty because they think some god may want it, there can never be a limit to the amount of evil done with the excuse of “god’s will”.  We’ll always be told, in reaction to modern day Abrahams and Jephthahs attempting to carry out god’s will, that faith gets people to do good things as well.  So what?  Religion moves people to both malice and compassion (for all the wrong reasons), which makes it a moral crapshoot.  Some people land on charity, others land on killing their enemies or suppressing the rights of good people.  This is not a good way to go about managing morality in our world.  I can’t help but feel that the same people who point out that religion sometimes lands people on kindness should also be defending gambling as a societal good because it makes some people rich, as though we should ignore all the people who go broke.  Some people win the lottery, but that doesn’t mean you should invest in it.

Reason married to compassion is what will consistently make a better world.  Using faith in its stead will always hinder our efforts to be better.

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