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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Burning down the house

I try to be kind, I really do.  I listened patiently to the student in my Critical Thinking class who told me with great enthusiasm how well astrology worked, and how it has "recently become much more scientific" in the way astrologers construct their charts and predictions.  I refrained from guffawing in the face of the woman who, while visiting my home, informed me that my dad's rock collection had "very powerful crystal energies."  I didn't even give so much as a snort when an acquaintance told me she had been in psychic communication with her pets.

I know that if I'm working toward my stated goal -- to foster skepticism and rationalism -- then from a methodological standpoint, it works better to argue from a logical, scientific perspective than it does simply to bellow laughter at one's opponent.

Still, it's hard sometimes.  Take the case of the naked Wiccan arsonists.  (Source)

Aftab Mughal, of Nottingham, England, had been feeling as if his life was becoming increasingly negative -- he was under stress, and things just "weren't going right" for him.  So he went to visit his friend, Terence Williams, to ask for advice.  Williams, a Wiccan, said that Mughal needed to participate in a ceremony to cleanse him of "negative vibrations," so they set up the ritual in Williams' apartment.

First, they walked around burning white sage sticks.  But this didn't seem to do enough to remove the negativity, in Williams' opinion.  So the two took the obvious next step, which was to set fire first to some pieces of paper, and then to a wooden broom.  Amazingly enough, this also had no effect on Mughal's mood, so Williams came up with an innovative solution: both men needed to strip naked and burn their clothes.

Have I mentioned that all of this was taking place inside Williams' apartment?

Firefighters were summoned by neighbors when they saw smoke billowing out of Williams' window, and one fireman banged on the window to get the two men's attention, because they seemed not to care that the apartment was basically on fire and the room they were in was filling up with smoke.  Firefighters broke in the door and tried to get Williams and Mughal to leave, but the two nude Wiccans ran upstairs to get away.  The firemen followed them, and finally forcibly removed both men from the burning apartment.

Once outside, the firefighters tried to get Mughal and Williams to cover up with blankets, but they threw the blankets on the ground and basically capered about in the all-together, apparently not caring about the negative vibrations they were inducing in passersby.

The end result was that the pair was charged with arson, and the case went to court last week.

The prosecuting attorney, Siward James-Moore, said, "Aftab Mughal, as far as he was concerned, he didn't think the ritual was one that made him fear for his safety and he was bemused when the fire brigade arrived." James-Moore himself seemed more than a little bemused by the whole thing, and added that when a fireman tried to get the two Wiccans to leave the apartment, "The flames were licking around Mr. Williams' ankles at that stage.  He was staring right through him."

Ultimately, Mughal and Williams pleaded guilty to arson, but because the judge considered that the fire was caused by "stupidity, not by malice," they received no jail time, and were sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid community service.

Okay, now while I was reading this, I tried to maintain my sense of decorum, I really did.  I attempted to hold firm to the attitude that these men were only acting out of their seriously-held religious beliefs, and as such, I should be tolerant and understanding.  But when I got to the part about the firemen attempting to get them to cover themselves up, and their tossing the blankets to the ground and running around outside naked while the firemen chased them, I have to admit that my reaction was, and I quote:  BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA *falls off chair*

I mean, really.  You can argue the benefits of religious beliefs from a number of angles -- that religion has incited people to perform acts of great altruism, that it has inspired beautiful art and transcendent music, that it has given people hope in the face of desperate times.  Unfortunately, though, religion has also fostered some pretty bizarre behavior.  And I maintain: whatever your criticisms of the scientific view of the world, rationalism has never incited anyone to dance around naked in his apartment while it was on fire.


  1. I've known a fair number of Wiccans, and while many of their beliefs strike me as rather wacky, I can't see any of them setting an apartment on fire for a ritual.
    Running around naked outside, sure. Burning incense, yeah, but if they were going to have that much fire, they'd find some place out in the middle of nowhere.

  2. Among the many questions I have about this story, one that floats to the top is this. Why was it necessary to remove their clothes before aerating them on fire, if concern over possible negative effects of flame was otherwise absent (e.g. In their decisions to light a blaze initially, evade rescuers, etc.)?

  3. Although... A severe burn might have put some of his problems in perspective and given him a shiny new outlook on life.

  4. Heath +1

    What ritual do you perform to remove the negative energies around you while you're in a burn ward?

    Burning cleanses through destruction. If you have negative auras surrounding YOU, burning your clothes will only "cleanse"... your clothes. Wouldn't you need to burn your person in order to "cleanse" yourself?

    Burn off your nose to spite your face auras.

  5. Running around naked outside is its own reward.