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Does Christianity Reinforce the Belief that Witchcraft Works?

On Monday 1st March 2010, The New Vision (the government newspaper, and one of the countries leading dailies) published a story about how charms and other accessories related to witchcraft were found at the headquarters of the National Forestry Authority:

Fear gripped the National Forestry Authority headquarters in Bugolobi in Kampala yesterday when fetishes were discovered in a senior manager’s office.

The juju, as the stuff is locally known, was stacked in a plastic bag in the ceiling. The offices house the acting director of finance and administration, Hajati Aidat Nandutu.

It was not clear who hid the fetishes in the ceiling and for how long they had been there.

What exactly was it they found?

On close scrutiny, the plastic bag contained mysterious herbs, coffee beans wrapped in dry banana leaves, brown powder, dead fireflies and bats.

At first I was impressed by what I thought was a display of rational skepticism by the acting executive director, Hudson Andrua:

Andrua said he was not bothered by the juju.

But then he said:

“Being a God-fearing person, I cannot be scared by the witchcraft”

OK, so he actually does believe that witchcraft works, only that he believes that ‘God’ magically ‘protects’ him from its effects.

Ugandans generally believe that witchcraft works. To be clear – many, especially Christians, will claim they would never partake of it because to them it is ‘Satanic’. However most are almost certain that it is able to yield effects.

His next statement said it all:

Andrua said the management would invite pastors and bishops to hold prayers at the premises to exorcise any demons there.

The majority of Ugandans are Christians. Christian doctrine holds that there are forces of good and evil, with ‘God’ and his ‘angels’ representing the goodside, and ‘Satan’ and his ‘demons’ representing the evil side. It is believed that that demons are constantly attempting to thwart Good and the will of ‘God’ by demonic possession, demonic harassment, by attacks on a person’s thoughts, relationships, or life with ‘God’. This struggle between the good side and the evil side is called ‘Spiritual Warfare’ elaborated upon by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-12:

  • 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Many Christians take verses like these very seriously, and believe them to be literally true. For them, ‘Satan’ is a reality. According to Wikipedia:

  • Major traditions of Western Christianity — including Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant — acknowledge a belief in the reality (orontological existence) of a fallen angel known as the Devil and Satan. This affirmation is reinforced in the writings of the Church Fathers, in the Councils and Creeds of the early Church, and in the later confessional documents of some Christian denominations.

To Ugandans, the very existence of witchcraft affirms the belief that this is true. Every Sunday Christians (mainly in ‘Born Again’ churches) are told that witchdoctors are agents of ‘Satan’, and ‘demons’ are the evil spirits witchdoctors use to place curses and inflict suffering upon believers. Many a church service is devoted to exorcisms and other rituals intended to ‘protect’ the flock from ‘demonic possession’ resulting from witchcraft. Why? Because believers have been told repeatedly that it is only by ‘accepting Jesus’ that they will obtain ‘protection’ from witchcraft.

Different Christian denominations in Uganda place varying degrees of emphasis on the tenets of ‘Spiritual Warfare’ (in Uganda, the current Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, is on record to have said many people in the country were consulting demons). Out of all the Christian denominations, however, it would seem that it is the Pentecostals that place the greatest emphasis on it.

demons2-1Careful… witchdoctors are unleashing demons unto you!

One would think a rational person would easily dismiss witchcraft, and other fancy stories of ‘Spiritual Warfare’, as childish superstition. Astonishingly, many university-educated Ugandans believe that these things are real. They do so not primarily because they have encountered any good evidence, but because their religious beliefs require them to accept such claims as true, if not highly possible.

So, to answer the original question, does Christianity reinforce the belief that witchcraft works?

YES – and so does any other religion (e.g. Islam) that posits the existence of ‘evil spirits’.

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Comment by Secular Sue on March 11, 2010 at 3:58am
Wearing charms is also reprehensible.

unless it's a crucifux...
Comment by Vicky Borman on March 8, 2010 at 4:10pm
This reminds me of a conversation I had with my Catholic mom a while ago.

She met one of my Wiccan friends and confused her pentacle necklace for a pentagram. After my friend had left my mom asked me why she wore a pentagram. I explained that it was a pentacle and was the equivalent of wearing a cross necklace for her. My mom proceeded to tell me how silly it is to think that witchcraft actually works. Then I showed her the the spot in the CCC (the giant book of all Catholic dogmas) that says that it does work and informed her that going against the established dogmas is heresy.

Right off the Vatican's website:
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.
Comment by James Onen on March 8, 2010 at 3:25pm
Thank you all for your comments.
Comment by Secular Sue on March 8, 2010 at 1:17am
A christian I know claimed that, after a funeral, owls appeared to several family members of the deceased, who had been a bird watcher. The believer excitedly claimed the deceased was "working his magic". I wanted to quiz him about that but he was grieving and it wasn't the right time. I still want to ask, does he believe dead people have power over animals? Or that dead people turn into animal spirits? How does that line up with christianity?
It goes to show how christianity encourages magical thinking.
Comment by Daniel W on March 7, 2010 at 7:13pm
This makes sense, in context of your other posting. There are many people in the US who beleive that devils or demons, or 'forces of evil' exist too, although belief in witchcraft itself is probably quite rare.

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