Tag Archives: central african republic

Superstitious minds

Witches have all but bogged down the court system of the Central African Republic. It’s what happens when a population is steeped in superstition. Graeme Wood writes in The Atlantic that 40 percent of all the cases heard in CAR courts are witchcraft case. Compare that to drug cases in the United States, which make up about 12 percent of all cases.

Superstition is an awfully powerful thing. Here in the United States, we had our own tussle with witchcraft. Remember Salem? That, of course, was nothing compared with the Roman Catholic Church’s Inquisition.

The Roman Catholic Church invented black magick, dontcha know. They did.  A German inquisitor named Heinrich Kramer wrote a treatise in 1486 called Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Malefactoresses — bad girls, or witches in the parlance of the day) that explained what it all was.  Of course, Kramer himself was denounced by the Inquisition four years after his tome was published, because, apparently, the torture he recommended went beyond even what the church was will to do, and he failed to stick to established demonology.

Even so, Malleus Maleficarum was pretty much the handbook for witchhunters for nearly two centuries after its first publication. The book was republished 36 times between 1487 and 1669.

Sound familiar? Think about it just a little — the church started this madness, this Inquisition, but even when it determined one of its staunchest adherents had gone a little too far, it was too late. Things got way out of hand, way fast.

Kramer musta been a kind of Republican prototype, because he was awfully obsessed with sex. That and bad girls.

All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.

I could think of a reason or two he might come to that insatiable idea, but he probably wouldn’t agree any more than men do these days.

But anyway, Gutenberg having done his thing just 30 years before Kramer wrote his book, it took off like wildfire. Between that and the medieval press, which was a little like Faux News, witchhunting quickly became a very popular pasttime. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Catholic Church was a little ticked off about the Protestant Reformation at the time, or that scary activities like astronomy, philosophy and medicine were pulling Europe out of the Dark Ages. And we know what conservatives are like in times of change.

Now before you get all excited, I’m not saying that there’s a direct correlation between conservatives and the crazy people who found witches under ever thatch roofed home that housed a bad girl. But you gotta admit, there were some similarities.

This being the time leading up to the Enlightenment, which those scary activities aforementioned were integral in, there was naturally a hard push against any kind of progress because, well, change is very frightening, especially to people who, for whatever reasons, can’t see that their lives pretty much suck and progress might actually help them. Or, of course, the fat cats who run the place, like the church and the corporations which, incidentally, got their start in the 14th century.

But change happened anyway, culminating with a couple of very famous revolutions that put the kibbosh on another bunch of fat cats, the monarchy.

And then started the swing back the other way, bringing us to where we are now. And while we may have done in the power of the monarchies for the most part, the church and the corporations have grown stronger.

The Catholic Church still has its problems with Protestants, of course, but they’ve joined forces on the superstitions that hinder growth and progress. Used to be that Christians believed that Jews had horns and such, and while they don’t really think that much any more, they still believe their way is the only right way. Evangelicals talk a lot about being supportive of Jews and Israel, but they’re not telling the whole truth. The only reason — and I really mean that — that they’ve got this Holy Land obsession is Armageddon. They’re actually looking forward to that, although I suspect, if the Rapture really does happen, they’ll be awfully surprised at who stays and who goes.

Well, there is that whole Jesus Christ thing too, I suppose. But it’s the end of days that really gets ’em going.

Superstition. I’m not talking about not walking under ladders or wearing your lucky socks every time you go out on the baseball diamond. Religionists like to claim that superstitions are just “old wives tales” (back to Kramer and his thing about women), but really, an awful lot of their own belief fall smack dab in the middle of category superstition.

Superstitions are just beliefs based on nothing — no knowledge, no reason, no experience. Like maybe that same-sex marriage will destroy heterosexual marriage or Barack Obama is a Muslim socialist.

Fear causes superstitions just like fear caused the Inquisition. There are plenty of causes of fear, too, but in these cases it almost always boils down to one thing. Fear that you may be wrong.

I ask myself every day, sometimes several times a day, “What if I’m wrong?” The difference is that I’m not afraid of it. I’ve been wrong many, many times in my lifetime, and no doubt I’ll be wrong a couple of times more before it’s over. But witchhunters, and conservatives, can’t bear that thought. And the best way to make sure you never have to face the possibility you might be wrong is to destroy what might be right.

It’s not even a conscious thing, or at least it rarely is. The 19th century Democrats concept of “Manifest Destiny” — wherein it was the destiny of the white people of the United States to own the whole continent, never mind that it was already occupied — was a completely unconscious manifestation of the superstition that Europeans were vastly superior to every one else. Interestingly enough, that idea fell out of favor around the time of the Civil War. But it’s still here — Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, all pushing the idea that it’s our destiny to promote democracy around the world.

All while they worked tirelessly to destroy it, because really, what could prove them all more wrong that a true, strong democracy? Where would the church be in that? The corporations? And maybe monarchies weren’t such a bad idea after all.

Superstition. It’s not always what we think it is. And sometimes, it’s the exact opposite.