Warehouse E

Burning Witches

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Religious Intolerance A Bloody Scar In The Human Experience

By James Donahue

The horror story about a rampaging mob in Kenya that murdered and burned 15 women accused of witchcraft then moved from house to house, torching village homes, was just one more chapter in the bloody history of religious intolerance.

While the news reports were somewhat vague, there is little doubt that the hatred that sparked that deadly raid leading to the killings had its roots in Christian dogma that teaches “believers” to avoid anyone that practices acts of sorcery and association with familiar spirits. Such people are considered “an abomination” to the God of the Old Testament, and thus to all who follow the teachings within the Holy Bible.

As Kenyan writer Martin Kimani explained the power of the church among the illiterate people: “Millions of Kenyans sway to the power of the spirit. We bewail the presence of evil spirits and deadly witchcraft. We pray for angelic rescue and for mountains to be moved through faith. We see children possessed by demons and others by God. We speak in tongues and crawl on our bellies in the grip of an otherworld that for moments is as real as the one we live in physically.”

Superstitious natives, spawned by stories passed from household to household, blamed neighbors of casting spells that brought hardships on their own lives. Elderly women known to have certain “abilities” as seers and healers now were being blamed because certain children in the area were having difficulty in school, or another neighbor's cow mysteriously died.

It was told that a “death list” was found in a school in the Kisii Central District, containing names of alleged witches living in the community. When it came, the swoop by the vigilante group Sungusungu brought an orgy of killing in at least three villages. When it was over, an estimated 15 people, mostly women, were dead. They were either burnt to death or cut into pieces for participating in witchcraft.

More than 50 homes were torched, some of the people living in them were unable to escape and burned alive while trying to hide from the mob of some 100 raiders.

In his commentary, Kimani wrote: “It must take a powerful conviction to be willing to kill, one so logical and inexorable that the killer is willing to forgo the biblical commandment to love his neighbor as himself. He is seemingly transported to a plane of understanding and action that allows, nay perhaps even demands that he act in ways that he would normally consider to be horrifying and wrong.”

Indeed, the bloody church inspired crimes of history, including the Salem witch killings, the inquisition, the murder of Joan of Arc, and even the contemporary Iraq war pitting Christians against Moslems, have their roots in religious intolerance.

The horror stories of Catholic priests and even protestant ministers who rape young children, the serial killers like John Wayne Gacey who raped and murdered young men in the name of Christ, the Texas mother, Andrea Yates who drowned her children in the bathtub so they would not grow up and lose their chances to go to heaven, are all examples of people following an ancient, outdated and very wrong spiritual path.

That the Irish Catholics and Protestants waged war against one another for years, as did the Christian and Islamic residents of Croatia, the Moslems and Jews in Palestine, and Taoists and Buddhists in China, the Hindu and Moslem people in India and Pakistan, and now the Christians and Moslems in Iraq, are all radical examples of a world gone haywire due to religious intolerance.

If religion was to have been a means for us to find God, and to learn how this God would have us live full and rightful lives, how can it be that we have so many different religions that are in such conflict with one another?

Perhaps it is time for religious leaders from around the world to sit down together and collectively consider this as an international problem that must be in some way fixed. We suspect there are many areas in which the teachings of Mohammad, Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna are more in agreement than their followers might think. What would be wrong in placing an emphasis on these similarities, and setting aside the differences in the interest of world peace?