More on Demon Belief

CN: Demon belief, witchcraft accusations, child abuse, extremist religion

I have a number of passions that I relate to my atheism. Obviously my feminism and LGBT advocacy are major parts of the things that I write about because I feel incredibly strongly about them and they play into the humanist impulse I try to exhibit.

But there’s another thing that regular Conversationalists will recognize in my activism that I am incredibly passionate about.

There are no such things as demons.

None. I can count the number of demons in the world on no hands. If I had a pound of demons and a pound of feathers, which would weigh more? The pound of feathers because the other is entirely make believe.

Why am I so passionate about this? Well…

This doesn’t even focus on the women accused of witchcraft (side note: nobody is hexing you and casting black magic at you) who are forced from their homes or killed every year. This is just a small sampling of the children that are called witches or are considered to be possessed. The most depressing part is at the end where the guy who is supposed to be helping kids who were abandoned because their parents thought they were being influenced by demons admits that he absolutely believes that kids can be possessed and you can tell because they have wide eyes or distended stomachs.

Why do I consider this particularly interesting timing? I rarely watch broadcast news, preferring to get most of my news online, but I’m visiting my parents and saw a story on the news about the increase in support for the Catholic church in Africa, specifically Ghana.

One of the things they mentioned toward the end of the clip, though, that stuck with me, was the idea that many people turn to the church because they are poor and in need of medical care, and the government has utterly failed to provide that, so the Church has stepped in to do so. It reminds me of an interview that Jerry Coyne recently did in an Israeli publication. He talks about his book and his general opposition to religion, but he specifically mentions this at one point.

Maybe to some extent. The fact is that welfare states are less religious. I am neither a Marxist nor a diehard opponent of capitalism. But there has to be a certain degree of higher-level intervention to create a healthy society.

Some say it will never be possible to be rid of religion altogether, because, they claim, it does supply human needs. But I believe those needs can be fulfilled, as they have in many European countries, by oversight and by social guarantees. Look at Scandinavia. Three hundred years ago it was religious − the whole of Europe was religious − and now it is largely secular. Why? Because there is a well-functioning society there, in the sense that they have medical insurance and help for the needy. In such cases people do not need to turn to God.

I would suggest that this is the flip side of that argument. In places where people are starving or dying from lack of medicine, if nobody is there to provide it, what could they possibly lose by throwing themselves into worship of a divine creator who loves them and will help them in exchange for loyalty? When you have no other options, sometimes a Hail Mary is your best play (pun!).

The Sensuous Curmudgeon took exception to Coyne’s suggestion

We humbly suggest that Coyne’s [sic] incorrectly presents us with a binary choice — it’s either science and atheism within a redistributive welfare state, or else it’s creationism and religious fanaticism, driven by income inequality. But we think there are more alternatives. For example, consider the Founding Fathers who made the American Revolution.

The Founders lived two or three generations before Darwin published his theory, but they were, for the most part, utterly rational and scientific — Ben Franklin being our favorite example. They compromised about slavery (an error that was later remedied), but otherwise they made all the right choices for the creation of a free and prosperous nation — including property rights and a free enterprise economic system. They had no concept of a welfare state, and if anyone had suggested such a thing we’re confident they would have rejected it. They were (to coin a phrase) Enlightenment driven. With all due respect to Coyne, we suggest that the Founders’ model for society is a credible alternative to that of the European welfare state. Within that context, science is strong enough to prevail.

and if you take a look at the comments on that thread I was less than convinced as to the accuracy of some of his assertions and found a lot of it empty rhetoric. To be clear, I have a lot of respect for the Curmudgeon in regards to his work on pointing out the follies of creationism, but when it comes to economics, he far too often relies on slogans and idealized histories, and I think he’s presuming Coyne to be saying something he isn’t.

That being said, I think that the examples in Ghana and the great harm that a belief system tainted by faith in malevolent spirit beings that take over children, causing parents and preachers to beat, starve, mutilate, and abandon those children can create, demonstrate why it’s important that we care about social issues as well as theological ones.

At this point, I’m specifically pointing to those in the “atheism is just not having a belief in god, stop trying to bring in all this other stuff” camp. Yes, you guys. If that’s what you want to do, go right ahead. Your help would be appreciated, but it’s hardly needed. However, the evidence continues to pile up that faith spreads in places where injustice is high, especially extreme faiths that perpetuate that injustice. If you consider it worthwhile to try to get people to abandon non-evidential beliefs, then combating social disparity is a necessary step toward doing that.

People who understand the basic underpinnings of the world as less likely to turn their frustrations on their children and the old women in their town. Those who have regular access to medicine aren’t nearly as predisposed to assume that their sickness is caused by a demon in their kid’s stomach. And there is far less chance that somebody who isn’t starving will listen to a preacher tell them that their energy is being sapped by their witch great aunt and warlock nephew.

There are no such things as demons, and the more people who aren’t grasping for an answer, any answer, to their troubles, the more people who will understand that.

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2 thoughts on “More on Demon Belief

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