Saturday 1 September 2012

Private beliefs lead to public harm

Religious belief is a private matter. If people want to believe in some kind of god, that's their affair, and nobody else's business.

Unfortunately it doesn't work out like that. Listen to this edition of BBC Radio 4's Beyond Belief, in which Ernie Rae talks to two people who believe in witchcraft (and, incidentally, one who doesn't).

Here's the blurb from the BBC website:
Ernie Rea explores the relationship between African churches, witchcraft & child abuse with expert guests: Pastor Mahele Tangata, pastor of a Congolese Church in North West London; Romain Matondo, Co-ordinator for the Congolese Family Centre; and Dr Richard Hoskins, an expert on witchcraft-based child abuse cases. The Metropolitan police reports that it has investigated 83 'faith based' child abuse cases involving witchcraft in the last ten years. A belief in witchcraft is common to some traditional African religions and to some elements of Christianity; but accusing children of witchcraft seems a comparatively modern phenomenon. Where does it come from? What can be done to prevent it? And are the churches concerned doing enough? 
It's horrifying to hear Mahele Tangata's unsubstantiated assertions. Richard Hoskins attempts to counter him on his own ground by questioning the pastor's interpretation of scripture, but it's clearly not working. Here we have yet another instance of unsupportable beliefs leading to serious harm, which then gets soft treatment because the whole business is insulated by faith.

Asking "...are the churches concerned doing enough?" is a bit pointless. The churches concerned are peopled by those who believe witchcraft is real, otherwise this problem wouldn't exist. The other churches — the ones that are not concerned — are just that: not concerned.

Children are being abused and in some cases killed because of irrational, unsupported beliefs. This is one of those instances when it isn't enough to point out the illegality of actions derived from wrong-headed beliefs. The beliefs themselves need to be called out, and those religionists citing them as justification for abuse should be hauled before the courts.