I intend this to be short. I hope I am successful. I didn’t plan to write this. However, I saw some post on my Facebook timeline, so I have decided to put a few thoughts here. The posts I saw on Facebook was about the killing of a supposed witch. I followed up on the story. I read a single article. This is the link .You can check the story out yourself. The piece is very well written, and the goal clear. The writer goes to the source of the problem- the believe in the superstition of witchcraft and that someone can, remote control, bring problems your way.
I am going to tackle that problem. I am not going turn away from the elephant in the room. I am going to argue that witches probably don’t exist. After which I will argue that it probably doesn’t make any difference if you agree with me or not, so far as you don’t go about killing them, although I think one is better off without this superstition in the first place.
Why Are Witches?
In René Girard’s book, The Scapegoat, he begins by presenting a narrative about the killing of Jews in Italy during the plague. The people at the time believed that the Jews were responsible for the plague. The writer does this by analysing the work of one Guillaume de Machaut, a writer at the time who kept a chronicle of events. Ignoring the discrepancies in Guillaume’s work, it is clear that he believed the Jews caused the plague. This is funny in hind sight.
A powerful idea René Girard presents in his works, aside from his theory of mimesis, is the phenomenon of scapegoating. What does scapegoating mean? It’s not that complicated. When a society is in crisis, it usually looks for someone (this could be a group) weak, blames that someone for troubles, and usually exterminate her. This is how groups usually fight decay- with violence against the weak. For the group will be thrown into chaos if it’s to face it’s own corruption, or accept that it doesn’t have answers. I find this idea true. A biblical example is how descendants of Saul were handed over to the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21.
If you will be honest, you will admit that sometimes some stubborn people are blamed more than they deserve to be blamed. Sometimes, we participate in the blaming and shaming too. It’s in hind sight that we think, heck, all those of us doing the shaming are not perfect either. So there’s this human temptation to make scapegoats of people way beyond their offence. I am not saying that when someone is being shamed for something he has done, he is being automatically made a scapegoat. I think, however, that the phenomenon is very old and more common than we might care to admit, and we must try to fight off this tendency if we are to have an open society.
It is in my opinion that good old scapegoating is at work when people are accused of being witches. When things don’t go as well as planned in people’s lives, they want to hold someone responsible instead of looking at themselves. It’s usually the weak old woman in their village who becomes the victim, as seen from the murder in Northern Ghana.
Although in this particular case, the murderer is a traditional ‘healer’, often people commit such crimes and justify it with Exodus 22:18, which says that witches shouldn’t be allowed to live. We can’t be guided by such standards in our modern world. Besides, how does one identify a witch? Naval Ravikant usually says that if you make a rule, the ideal is to be able to hand it over to your enemies to implement. If someone can subjectively determine that you are a witch, anyone can be called a witch.
As a Christian, I consider such an act unchristian. This is not something Christ will do. In the New Testament, it’s clear that there is a difference between people who are possessed and demons who possess them. Christ didn’t kill witches. He cast out demons! As humans, we need to keep widening our circle of compassion. Compassion is not only preached in the New Testament, but also in countless verses in the Old Testament, an example is Ezekiel 18:7, where people are encouraged to feed the hungry, among other things.
Although I don’t believe in witchcraft, I don’t have a problem with people who believe it so far as they live and let live. I believe that those who are called witches are usually those with pathological problems, and they really do need medical help. My view is the same for people who claim, themselves, that they are witches. Perhaps the more reason for mental examination. I don’t deny that there is evil in the world. I believe that we create evil. We also have the potential to be good. In fact, it is our nature as humans beings to be good. The fact that we are able to live in complex societies is nothing short of a miracle. I repeat- what we believe is not as important as what we do. The same way we reveal our preferences by going to the hospital instead of only praying, like an atheist will do. Let’s be atheistic about witchcraft. I will end with my favourite New Testament writer.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world- James 1:27.