Witchcraft and Magical Thinking

What is religious ritual except witchcraft? You are performing rites with no practical purpose, in an attempt to influence the future outcome of earthly events by either begging from a god (or angel, or demon, or saint, etc) – or else by symbolically replicating the outcome you want by dropping blood where you want rain or dressing up as the animal you want to kill – or else by sacrificing (“making sacred”, i.e. killing or destroying) an animal, child, or other valuable object.

Not all circumcisions are successful

So Abraham hears voices in his head. God tells him to sacrifice his son. He’s ready to do it, when he sees a ram caught in a bush, and the voices tell him to kill that instead. Lucky for the boy. Then God says he’ll make a deal with Abraham: worship Him only, and He’ll favor Abraham’s descendants as the Chosen People. (Seems like a good deal. It’s not being offered to anyone else. Except somehow every people on earth seems to think it’s more special than the others.)

And to prove they’re still committed to the deal, all Abraham’s descendants – forever – have to have their foreskins cut off. Which is a better blood-offering than actually killing yourself or one of your family. But this God is definitely one of the gods that likes to see a bit of blood.

And Abraham, being the first, circumcised himself. Nowadays we would just assume he was insane.

And then there are people like this man in British Columbia who figured things weren’t going right with the family because he hadn’t had his son circumcised. The doctors wouldn’t do it now that the boy was four. The man botched it. The son was hospitalized and is damaged for life. The father was convicted and jailed, and it was noted by the court that he had tried to circumcise himself a couple of years earlier.

So he’s just a lunatic, you say. (But not that different from Abraham.) You can’t apply that criticism to trained religious practitioners, you say.

Strictly speaking, the father is meant to do the circumcision if he’s able, but there’s always someone willing to be paid to do it for you. So there’s the Jewish practitioner, the mohel. Orthodox Judaism prescribes circumcision as a religious ritual, to be performed according to strict Talmudic laws. According to those laws, the mohel must suck the infant’s bleeding penis with his mouth. (How Abraham achieved this isn’t explained.) So when a mohel has a sexually transmitted disease like herpes, might there be a risk? Here’s a report of a two-week-old boy who died in New York, thanks to his mohel.

It’s not just uneducated people whose magical thinking leads to witchcraft and deaths. A religious education can be just as dangerous.

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Unasked questions: Is God circumcised?

Genesis 1: 26-27 “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: (…) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.”

Circumcision. Making yourself less like God.

Men are created with foreskins. Therefore God has a foreskin. Therefore God is uncircumcised. Therefore God is not a Jew or a Muslim. (Christians haven’t been required to be circumcised since Paul hijacked Jesus’ movement and turned it into something for Gentiles.)

So why do Jews and Muslims (and others) vandalize their likeness to God? It seems irreligious. But maybe it’s just a very small kind of self-sacrifice; God required it of Abraham’s people as a sign of the Covenant – something very personal, and less drastic than killing your own son. In which case, Halleluia!

Dissing various religions

Each of the major monotheistic religions appears to have had the intent of the founder overturned by his “followers”. Judaism began as a polytheistic religion, where Abraham allied himself with Yahweh against other gods like Baal, but it evolved into monotheism. Both Buddhism and Islam began with the founder attempting to prevent the worship of a human individual, but have ended with the founder himself being given quasi-divine status. Christianity began with Jesus preaching a rejection of the Roman occupation of Palestine and a restoration of Judaic monotheism, and developed into the rejection of Judaism and the embrace of Rome, and even the worship of Jesus as God.

Beware the wrath of god(s)/goddess(es)

More recent religions appear fraudulent from the beginning. Mormonism begins with a 14-year-old con artist writing a ludicrous (and completely impossible) account of the settling of North America by the Lost Tribes of Israel. Scientology was created by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard some time after he wrote “If you want to make a little money, write a book. If you want to make a lot of money, create a religion.” Kwanzaa has been labeled “a hoax built around fake history and pseudohistorical delusions”, and its lack of historical roots lays it open to ridicule.

The polytheistic religions look cleaner: partly because their origins are lost in the mists of time, partly because their nature allows different worship for different gods and goddesses – whether Hinduism, Santeria, Roman cults or Norse paganism, you’re free to choose an appropriate deity for whatever you’re trying to get out of worshiping them. If you feel the need to discover or invent a new god, that’s not a problem in a polytheist tradition – and if it resonates with something deep in the human psyche it may well grow in popularity. If you want to do this, stay close to nature. Worship waterfalls and storms, for example, like these chimpanzees.

“Sacrifice” – “giving away” or “making sacred”

To sacrifice something is to give it away, often to prevent a larger evil or to achieve a greater benefit. In primitive cultures where the word originated, it means you make something sacred by dedicating it to the gods for their use alone. You do this typically by preventing it ever being used by anyone else, i.e. you kill it or destroy it. It may be a young child, or a prisoner, or a prized horse or farm animal, or a sword or jewelry. You invoke the gods, then kill or break the sacrifice, or throw it somewhere irretrievable like the sea or a volcano.

God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son."

Here’s a story out of rural India, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A seven-year-old Indian girl was murdered in a tribal sacrifice and her liver offered to the gods to improve crop growth, police in the central state of Chhattisgarh said on Sunday.

The body of Lalita Tati was found in October a week after her family reported her missing.

“A seven-year-old girl was sacrificed by two persons superstitiously believing that the act would give a better harvest,” Narayan Das, the police chief of Bijapur district, told AFP by telephone.

So what words come to mind? “Murder… tribal… black magic… witch doctors…”? Yes, those all show up in the rest of the story as reported. But how about “Abraham… God… sacrifice…”?
Sacrifice is nothing more than an attempt to bribe the most powerful force you can conceive of, so that it will reward you instead of punishing you. It makes ‘love of God’ into a mere manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome.
The Roman Empire, although hosting gladiatorial contests and public executions, found human sacrifice obnoxious “to the laws of gods and men”. That the three great monotheist religions trace their common ancestry to Abraham, and to his willingness to kill his son in order to appease the voices in his head, is not something that any Jew, Christian or Muslim should be proud of.

The Promised Land, 1 – The Covenant

The Covenant with Abraham is the basis for the world’s three major monotheist religions, as well as for the conflicts between them. It dates back to the time of polytheism, and appears to have been taken originally as a powerplay by one local god, Yahweh, to ally himself with a tribe of humans for their mutual expansion. Abraham was to give sole worship and complete obedience to this god. What the god, now to be GOD, promised in exchange is found scattered through Genesis chapters 12 to 17:

  • to make of Abraham a great nation and to multiply his seed exceedingly
  • to make him father of a great many nations
  • to bless Abraham and make him great
  • to make Abraham a blessing to all the families of the earth
  • to bless those who bless him and to curse those who curse him
  • to give Abraham and his seed forever all the land which he could see
  • to give him a sign of the covenant (circumcision).

And specifically, Genesis 15:18-21 describes what is referred to in Jewish tradition as Gevulot Ha-aretz (“Borders of the Land”) and regarded as the full extent of the land God promised to Abraham:

"From the river of Egypt to the Euphrates"

On that day, God made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river the Euphrates. The land of the Kenites, Kenizites, Kadmonites; the Chitties, Perizites, Refaim; the Emorites, Canaanites, Gigashites and Yevusites.”

But Arabs also lay claim to legitimate descent from Abraham through his son Ishmael. As Amir Ali has written, ‘The Bible declares, “So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sar’ai, Abram’s wife, took Hager the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife” (Gen 16:3). Note that the adjective wife has been used twice, once associated with Sar’ai and second time associated with Hager indicating no superiority of one wife over the other. This shows, according to the Bible, the original Arabs were equally descendants of Abraham as were the original Bani Israel. Christian and Jewish apologetics may have some irrational rationalization to exclude children of Ishmael from God’s covenant to Abraham.’ (End of quote.)

The vaguely Promised Land…