Believing the impossible 7

Many stories like this one (dated April 19, 2012) can be found on the Internet:

A Sri Lankan woman is currently facing decapitation by sword on a witchcraft charge in Saudi Arabia

Who brought the charge, and why?

A Saudi man complained that in a shopping mall his 13-year-old daughter “suddenly started acting in an abnormal way, which happened after she came close to the Sri Lankan woman,” reports the daily Okaz.

After the local man denounced the Sri Lankan for casting a spell on his daughter, police in the port city of Jeddah found it sufficient cause to arrest the woman.

She was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by decapitation.

For witchcraft.  

Witchcraft and sorcery imply only one measure in Saudi Arabia – beheading. And it works this way in practice: last year in the kingdom at least two people – a woman in her 60s and a Sudanese man – were beheaded on witchcraft charges.

Hugh Fitzgerald writes today at Front Page:

From Saudi Arabia comes the news that the mutaween, the feared religious police under the control of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who patrol the streets and regulate the daily life of the populace, are now being given five-day courses in how to recognize, and then how to neutralize, a small army of wizards, witches, ghosts, demons, fortunetellers in the Magic Kingdom. Apparently it’s a big problem. Why, there have even been reports of leprechaun-like creatures – possibly they’ve wandered down from the Old Sod to end up in the Empty Quarter – who find it great fun to persuade innocent Saudis to break the rules of Sharia. All these dealers in the magical and supernatural will be hunted down, and dealt with sternly, by the Saudi religious police — “sternly” can mean anything from long prison sentences to decapitation.

Such worries are not new to the Saudis, however — the official anti-witchcraft unit within the Ministry of the Interior was first formed in May 2009.

The reason the Saudis are so worried about wizards and witches is that the Saudi people, like other Muslims, are especially vulnerable to the appeal of the occult. Muslims learn from the Qur’an that there exists an intelligent creature (the only other intelligent creature in the universe, according to Islamic doctrine, aside from humans and angels), called the Djinn (or Jinn), whose meddling with humans explains Evil, as well as health and illness, wealth and poverty, that Man as a creature of fate – where everything may be inshallah but is not necessarily hunky-dory — may enjoy or endure.

Evil djinn — not all djinn in Islam are bad – can take possession of people and cause them to behave in wicked ways.

This is not foreign to, but part of, orthodox Islam. Fortunately, there are those who, after appropriate training, can become qualified exorcisers of the evil djinn, using special Qur’anically-approved healing methods. There are also those who have not undergone training to be exorcists and who use methods which have not been approved, and this gets them into trouble with officials even if their methods prove effective. The Saudi witchcraft-hunt offers us a glimpse of the Bizarro-World that we enter whenever we penetrate the world of Islam.

In the West, we hardly bother to denounce those who claim to be witches and wizards, exorcists and fortunetellers, that is, all who lay claim to supernatural powers, because we know, as rational creatures, that they are frauds and fakes, they cannot possibly have these powers. And because we don’t believe any of that stuff, we don’t worry about them in this, our Western world, the dutiful child of the Enlightenment and rationalism. If we punish any fortunetellers or magicians at all, it’s only because they have charged for services we know are worthless and we want them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains. Witchcraft has not been taken seriously, i.e. as effective, since Salem, when outside it was 1692.

But in the Islamic world, magic (bad or black magic and good magic) is everywhere and taken very seriously – i.e., thought to be effective – indeed. In the Islamic world, belief in witchcraft, magic, sorcery of all kinds, is widespread. Fear of black magic is pervasive. Fortunetellers, witches and wizards, exorcists of bad djinn are to be found everywhere. And this is because Magic and the Occult are very much a part of Muslim teachings and Muslim life.

The Occult – the Djinn – transmitted by the Qur’an, helps to explain the widespread belief in other kinds of sorcery and magic in the Muslim world. But it is not the whole explanation for that belief. The heightened vulnerability of Muslims to the promise and threat of assorted wizards, fortunetellers, sorcerers, and exorcists, as compared to the sturdy resistance of rational Western man, is to be explained also by the more general effect of Islam’s encouragement of the habit of mental submission, and its punishment of skepticism. A good Muslim never questions any of the teachings of Islam, and the observant Muslim state (as Saudi Arabia certainly is) punishes those Muslims who dare to demonstrate the least display of skepticism (the end-point of that skepticism is apostasy, punishable by death). The result is that Muslims, even without the whole business of the Djinn, inhabit a mental universe of encouraged credulity.

Well, not all of that is true. While it is important to remember that the Enlightenment was confined to the West – and that it did not touch Islam – it did not abolish Western superstition. Christians continue to believe the impossible. They believe that a virgin gave birth; that God is both One and Three, and all-human at the same time as being all-divine; that “Jesus” walked on water, brought a dead person back to life, and performed various other impossible feats; that he himself came back to life after being dead for three days; that he now lives eternally in a physical heaven … The list of magic events and conditions in which Christians believe could be very long.

In addition to which, many Christian denominations, including Catholics, do practice exorcisms. So do most of the organized religions. Commonly, a ritual is performed, a priest says this and that, and at the end of it a claim is made (often if not always ) that “an evil spirit” has been expelled  from a person who was “possessed” by it.   

Christianity and Judaism draw a firm distinction between “magic” and “miracles”.

We fail to see the difference.

Posted under Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Religion general, Saudi Arabia by Jillian Becker on Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tagged with , , , ,

This post has 7 comments.

Permalink

Blood sacrifice in spring 5

Easter in our day disguises with its bunnies, prancing lambs, and chocolate eggs, an ancient savage ritual of religious superstition, when the fertility gods were propitiated by the sacrificial spilling of blood, so that the earth would yield crops to sustain human life. The living beings sacrificed were variously animals, children, priests who represented divinities in human form. The Christian idea of a god-man sacrifice in the Easter season is far from unique.

In 1875, Kersey Graves, a teacher and farmer born of a Pennsylvanian Quaker family, published a book titled The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors. He rejected Christianity but did not become an atheist. The book is not a scholarly work, but a literary curiosity.

Among his “sixteen crucified saviors”, the one whose legend bears most resemblance to that of Jesus Christ is Krishna – which he chooses to spell “Chrishna” in order to make it look more like “Christ”. He lists hundreds of similarities between the stories of Chrishna and Christ, among them these:

  • Each is miraculously born of a virgin (Mary, Maia)
  • Both have an adopted earthly father, in each case a carpenter
  • Each new-born child is visited by shepherds and wise men, directed by a star
  • In each story a tyrant orders all first-born sons to be put to death (Herod, Cansa)
  • In each story mother, child, and adopted father escape by fleeing out of the tyrant’s reach
  • Both in early youth dispute with learned men and win the argument
  • Both when grown retire to a wilderness
  • Both are baptized in a river
  • They preach similar sermons about love, forgiveness, and humility
  • Each has a favorite among his followers (John, Arjoon)
  • Each heals a leper and many others
  • Both cast out devils
  • Both bring the dead back to life
  • Each performs miracles including enabling his disciples to net a harvest of fish
  • Both denounce wealth
  • Both have a “last supper”
  • Both are put to death by crucifixion as an atoning sacrifice (nailed to a cross, nailed to a tree)
  • Both are crucified between two thieves
  • In both legends the earth is darkened when they “die”
  • Both resurrect and ascend to heaven
  • Each is the cult figure of a new religion and declared to be a savior of mankind
  • Both are believed by their followers to be God incarnate

One of the amusing parts of the book, and suitable for today – this being “Good Friday” – is his chapter on The Atonement, in which he writes:

No innocent person has a right to suffer for the guilty, and the courts have no right to accept the offer or admit the substitute. An illustration will show this. If Jefferson Davis had been convicted of the crime of treason, and sentenced to be hung, and Abraham Lincoln had come forward and offered to be stretched upon the gallows in his place, is there a court in the civilized world which would have accepted the substitute, hung Lincoln and liberated Davis? To ask the question is but to answer it. It is an insult to reason, law and justice to entertain this proposition.

In addition – we say – to its being a really nasty thing to do: to make others feel guilty by inflicting agonizing punishment on yourself when it is they whom you accuse of doing wrong.

Kersey Graves goes on:

The doctrine of the atonement also involves the infinite absurdity of God punishing himself to appease his own wrath. For if “the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Christ bodily” (as taught in Col.ii.9), then his death was the death of God – that is, a divine suicide, prompted and committed by a feeling of anger and revenge, which terminated the life of the Infinite Ruler – a doctrine utterly devoid of reason, science or sense. We are sometimes told man owes a debt to his Maker, and the atonement pays that debt. To be sure! And to whom is the debt owing, and who pays it? Why, the debt is owing to God, and God (in the person of Jesus Christ) pays it – pays it to himself. We will illustrate. A man approaches his neighbor, and says, “Sir, I owe you a thousand dollars, but can never pay it.” “Very well, it makes no difference,” replies the claimant, “I will pay it myself”; and forthwith thrusts his hand into his right pocket and extracts the money, transfers it to his left pocket and exclaims – “There, the debt is paid!” A curious way of paying debts, and one utterly devoid of sense. And yet the orthodox world have adopted it for their God. We find, however, that they carefully avoid practicing this principle themselves in their dealings with each other. …

But we find, upon further investigation, that the assumed debt is not paid – after all.

When a debt is paid, it is canceled, and dismissed from memory, and nothing more said about it. But in this case the sinner is told he must still suffer the penalty for every sin he commits, notwithstanding Christ died to atone for and cancel that sin.

Where then is the virtue of the atonement? Like other doctrines of the orthodox creed, it is at war with reason and common sense, and every principle of sound morality, and will be marked by coming ages as a relic of barbarism.

We hope so. But let’s keep on with the chocolate.

A wisp called Wanda 0

Harmless nonsense, for the most part, is what goes on in the Vatican now, and it can be quite entertaining.

From the Telegraph:

The late Pope John Paul II could be beatified within months, setting him on the path to full sainthood.

The mayor of Rome, who would play a pivotal role in organizing the event, said the beatification of John Paul is expected to take place “at the latest” by 2010. …

Vatican observers say the most likely date for the beatification would be April next year, on the fifth anniversary of the popular Pontiff’s death.

Beatification precedes canonisation and involves a complicated process including the verification of miracles attributed to the person being considered.

A miracle normally takes the form of the curing of a disease or affliction which has no scientific explanation. A second miracle is then required for sainthood.

In John Paul’s case, the miracle under consideration is said to have taken place when a French nun was cured of Parkinson’s disease.

The process leading to sainthood usually takes decades, but Pope Benedict XVI launched the beatification process for John Paul just two months after his predecessor’s death on April 5, 2005.

However, a wisp of a shadow threatens the proceedings:

During the summer, the former Pope’s spokesman said the beatification process would not be delayed by the publication in Poland of correspondence between John Paul and a female compatriot.

Wanda Poltawska, who was one of a handful of people by the Pope’s bedside when he died, published a book with extracts of letters that she exchanged with John Paul, whom she met in 1962 while he was in Krakow. It is due to be published in Italy in February.

There is no suggestion that they had a romantic relationship, but some Roman Catholic Church officials were reportedly annoyed that she had “exaggerated” her friendship with the late pontiff and that the relationship would have to be scrutinised as part of the beatification process.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who ran the Vatican press office for 22 years, said there was no special connection between Mrs Poltawska, 88, and the former Pope.

Posted under Christianity by Jillian Becker on Monday, November 2, 2009

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

This post has 0 comments.

Permalink