The madness of magic

Do you ever feel like turning your back on
humanity, just giving up on the entire warped species you were born into?

I confess to occasionally wrestling with
such negative impulses. After a recent viewing of a documentary about the
treatment of “child witches” in Africa, for example, I found it difficult to
accept my membership in such a loony and pathetic club as ours.

The film, “Saving Africa’s Child Witches”,
pulls no punches in showing how many babies and children have their lives
shattered by the evil ignorance of the adults around them.

If you are curious about just how low human
stupidity and cruelty can fall to, this is a film for you. Ostracized,
imprisoned, tortured and even murdered, these “child witches” suffer the brunt
of irrational belief in magic and witches.

In most cases there is no reason at all for
one child to be accused over another. Sometimes it is only because the child is
“different” in some minor way.  Some
desperate parents pay as much as a year’s salary to a preacher who promises to
be able to “cure” children of witchcraft’s grip. Many parents simply disown
their kids and turn them out into the streets.

Africa’s problem with belief in magic and
witches is widespread. A recent article in The Atlantic magazine reports that
more than 40 per cent of the court cases in Central Africa involve witchcraft
prosecutions—as if that region doesn’t have enough reality based problems. But
this is not Africa’s burden alone. The general lack of skepticism in the face
of absurd claims allows irrational belief in magic and witches to run rampant
around the world.

Mobs beat and kill “witches” in rural India
on a regular basis. Meanwhile, in the United States shameless preachers drain
millions of dollars from gullible people year after year in the name of fighting
witchcraft. US politician Sara Palin — widely viewed as a serious contender for
the presidency in 2012 — apparently believes in magic and witches. If you don’t
believe it, watch the YouTube video of an African preacher performing a ritual
on Palin meant to protect her from “the spirit of witchcraft”. Think about it:
a witch-believer who may end up with her own nuclear arsenal. Scary stuff.

Magic belief is present in the Cayman
Islands too. More than a few Caymanians have warned me about the dangers of
obeah (Caribbean-style magic). Every year or so one hears ridiculous concerns
here about the danger of Harry Potter books or the threat of some children’s
movie seducing kids into witchcraft. But here is all that one needs to know
about that: If you don’t want your child to get involved in magic, then simply
explain to them that magic is not real and no modern person should be silly
enough to believe in it.

Several years ago I saw a dead frog with a padlock
someone had clipped through its mouth before leaving it on the steps of the
George Town Courthouse. An old-timer explained to me that it was an
obeah-inspired attempt to silence a witness in court.  It seems someone was undeterred by Cayman’s
laws against the use of magic.

Yes, in case you didn’t know, past
Caymanian legislators actually took the time to legally prohibit something that
does not exist. We still don’t have that conservation law on the books but
magical potions involving bat wings and eye-of-newt are well covered by our
legal system. I wonder how many years one can get in Northward Prison if caught
flying on a broom. But Cayman’s anti-magic laws are not just laughable; they
likely are counterproductive as well. By criminalizing magic, Cayman’s government
encourages belief in the nonsense by suggesting that there is something to it.
Sure, someone may threaten another person or even poison them in the context of
magic but so what? We already have laws against threatening and poisoning people.
Should we also have immigration laws against ghosts and gargoyles who may have
entered the country illegally? Should we have special legislation to allow
fishing for the Loch Ness Monster within Cayman’s Marine Parks? And what about
a zero-tolerance law to finally take a stand against fairy abuse?

It is unfortunate that the memo about the
Dark Ages having ended a thousand years ago failed to reach so many people. For
otherwise normal folks to even take seriously the concept of magic and “child
witches” is tragic enough, but for innocent children to suffer neglect and
abuse as a result of such beliefs is beyond comprehension and unforgivable. But
no one should be surprised. Tragic consequences often follow close behind
irrational beliefs. Foolish and unfounded claims are dangerous because there is
always the likelihood that somebody somewhere will take them seriously and act
accordingly. This is why scepticism and critical thinking are vital to
civilization.

Magic is an unfounded belief you don’t need
rattling around in your head taking up valuable space. And you certainly do not
want to be philosophically aligned with child-witch killers, do you? After
several thousand years of wild claims and crazy stories, no one has ever proved
that magic is real. No one has even managed to produce any compelling evidence.
Can science explain everything? Of course not. However, unanswered questions
should never be used as excuses to surrender one’s mind and jump on board with
Ouija boards, Harry Potter boycotts and witch hunts.

 Guy
is the author of “Race and Reality” and “50 Reasons People Give for Believing
in a God”. Contact him at [email protected]

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