Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live

Yesterday the Saudis beheaded a woman for sorcery.

I kid you not; read the story here. And while you're reading it, don’t forget that (1) we are the Saudis’ friends and allies; (2) Islam is the religion of peace, and deserves to be taken seriously as a worldview; and (3) it is the responsibility of governments to protect the souls of its citizens from the evil actions of people in league with Satan.

I’m (almost) speechless.  Every time I think that humans have plumbed the lowest depths of medieval zealotry, I find out that I’m wrong.  What’s worse, I’m quite certain that American Christians will be outraged at the bloodthirstiness of the Muslim judges who sent this woman to the sword, while simultaneously not batting an eye when people like Rick Perry tell them that gays in loving, committed relationships are going to be tortured in horrific agony for all eternity by direct orders from The God of Love.

A while back one of my coworkers sent me an article on the history of witches.  This article was about how when the weather turned fairly miserable during the Little Ice Age (1350-ish through 1650-ish), it was a trigger to a rash of witch-burnings.  Apparently first the Catholics, but then (and especially) the Lutherans in Germany, took the climatic alterations as a sign that the locals were selling their souls to Satan, who was making it rain on the parades of the holy.  Of course, the only way to fix the weather was to torture and kill anyone who was odd or ill-tempered or mildly mentally retarded, so they put thousands of said individuals on "trial" (not that these were legal proceedings in any sense of the word, as the verdict was "guilty" as soon as the accusation was made), and the majority were burned at the stake.

Now, am I missing some part of the logical sequence here?  There's a bad storm; roofs leak, trees fall down, maybe even a few people get killed.  And your response is to toast old Mrs. Hassenpfeffer?  This is supposed to take care of the problem?

Of course, all of this would just be a historical tragedy, a crazy and regrettable thing that our distant ancestors did, except for the fact that I'm not all that sure that your average modern day human is thinking much more clearly.  There are the aforementioned Saudis, whose so-called religion is deserving of about as much respect as the Ku Klux Klan.  But wait, they're from the Middle East, and everyone knows what a hotbed of craziness that is, right?  We're Americans; we are more rational than that.

Right.  Sure.  So explain Pat Robertson.  The fact that his skull seems to be filled with cobwebs and dead insects has unfortunately not disabled his mouth; remember when he said that Hurricane Katrina was caused by "god sending his wrath upon the godless people of New Orleans" (never mind that Louisiana is one of the most heavily Christian states in the US), asked god to "smite Dover" (the town in Pennsylvania that voted creationism out of the science curriculum -- fortunately for the people of Dover, apparently god was otherwise occupied that day), and claimed that he can leg press an automobile?  Okay, the last part was harmless; but tens of thousands of people listen to him, and I don't think it's just for the entertainment value.  So you've got a guy who's a certifiable fruit loop, and there are people in the United States who believe whatever comes out of his mouth.

Remember when John McCain came under fire during the 2008 election for calling the late Jerry Falwell an "agent of intolerance?"  Now, I'm not a big McCain fan, but he nailed it that time.  Of course, the Republican base cried bloody murder, and McCain had to backpedal like mad and finally make nicey-nicey with Falwell.   Intolerant?  No, not Falwell, leader of the former "Moral Majority," who stated, "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."  By far my favorite Falwell quote, however, is, "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools.  The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.  What a happy day that will be!"  Well, Jerry, I'm glad you thought you'd enjoy it.  Me, I'll be living in Ecuador.  And lest you think that Falwell's views died with him, allow me to point out that at least two of the current presidential candidates -- Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann -- are Jerry Falwell's spiritual children, openly espousing Dominionism and a collapse of the church/state barrier.

And we’re supposed to give these people respect, to treat them as if their views were somehow reflective of reality, to handle their religious ideologies with kid gloves?  Bullshit.  If the Saudis' bloodthirsty, medieval zealotry is worthy of scorn, then so is the nonsense spouted by the likes of Robertson, Falwell, and those who follow them.  Why is one of them a travesty, but the other a glorious religion?  If my Invisible Friend tells me what to do, it’s perfectly reasonable; if your Invisible friend tells you what to do, it’s ridiculous, a pagan superstition, possibly blasphemous.  Maybe it’s even inspired by Satan -- just in case you felt the need to supplement your Invisible Friend with an Invisible Enemy.

Okay, so I sound hostile and cynical.  Maybe I am, although I really do try to avoid cynicism if I can.  I just am constantly astonished at how, despite our veneer of technology and civilization, most of us are still not much further along than Ogg and Thak, sacrificing mammoths on the altar of the Thunder God, and bashing the other cavemen on the heads with clubs when they say the words of the Mammoth Sacrifice Rite in the wrong order.

1 comment:

  1. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, sorcery is a ridiculous charge. On the other hand, if she was charging people money to do magical healing, she was probably responsible for some premature deaths of people who went to her instead of to a physician (maybe after they went to her they could no longer afford the physician!).
    I don't think the death penalty is appropriate for anything, since it's too hard to correct a mistake and doesn't seem to have any additional deterrent value compared to long prison terms. But if you're going to execute people, medical frauds aren't a bad place to start since they are, in effect, serial killers.