Christian Radio Fans the Flames of Witch Hunting

Christian Radio Fans the Flames of Witch Hunting April 21, 2014

A few years ago, I wrote about the horrible “witch children” craze in Nigeria. Like the witch hunts that once swept through America and Europe, this one is fed by sects of fanatic evangelical preachers, inflamed by Western missionaries, that believe in a miracle-drenched, demon-haunted world – and teach that people, including children, can be possessed by evil spirits, and that the only cure is to torture or kill them.

One of the worst of the lot is a Pentecostal preacher named Helen Ukpabio, who claims, among other things, that any child who screams, cries or gets sick is a “servant of Satan”. She’s visited the U.K. to preach to friendly congregations, promising help to those being attacked by witchcraft or, bizarrely, by “mermaid” spirits. Human-rights groups like the International Humanist and Ethical Union have called on the UK government to ban Ukpabio from returning to the country.

It was in the context of this controversy that a UK-based Christian radio station, Premier Radio, posted this horrifying question on their Twitter page last week:

This is the most hideous example of the “just-asking-questions” meme I’ve yet seen. It implies that they’re not taking sides on whether children can be demon-possessed witches, but that they consider this an issue where reasonable people can disagree, and that we should thoughtfully weigh both pro and con answers.

I reposted their tweet and added a sarcastic note:

In the meantime, Premier Radio was being attacked by other rationalists on Twitter. Here’s what they posted in response:

That link goes to a page, “37 Bible Verses About Witches“, whose first line is the notorious Exodus 22:18: “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.”

Right after they posted that, they responded to me:

Obviously, the question arises: if you don’t condone killing, why don’t you, considering that you believe witches are real and that you follow a Bible which tells you to kill them?

It’s not clear what alternative “interpretation” they had in mind here. If you believe that witches don’t exist and that demonic possession was a superstition of an earlier age, then you’d have good reason to ignore the Bible verses about killing them. But Premier Radio’s spokesperson, as they just stated, does believe in witches. So why the disconnect?

They offered one more justification, which was the most unbelievable of all:

This is saying that dead and tortured children are a price worth paying for “spiritual healing” – that the manifest harm these witch hunters do has to be balanced against the wholly unverifiable, unmeasurable “spiritual” help they offer, as if one could cancel out the other. We’d never tolerate a surgeon who performed life-saving operations, but killed a patient on the table every once in a while, just on a whim. And these missionaries don’t even have the thin excuse of doing some measurable good, as that hypothetical surgeon could claim in his defense.

This story sums up every reason why I, as an atheist, object to religion as a destructive force. These ancient witchcraft superstitions, which by all rights should have been banished to memory long ago, are being kept alive in the modern era by people who have no excuse for not knowing better. And the overriding need to preserve those superstitions warps their moral compass, persuading them to judge intangible goods as more important than all-too-tangible evils.

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