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Treating children as little devils


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THERE IS an Anglican bishop who believes that evil spirits can enter through the willy. He explained this at some length in a pamphlet on deliverance, which I bought some years ago from a shop in Shreveport, Louisiana, where they take a more relaxed attitude to rationality than in Carlisle.

Unfortunately, I lent my copy of the pamphlet out some years ago; so I can’t quote it verbatim. Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward contributed an admiring foreword, in which he explained that he, too, had been converted to a belief in the causal powers of evil spirits by his experience in Nigeria. Africans, he said, had no trouble seeing them everywhere.

This all came back to me as I read the Sunday papers. Both The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph had long pieces pegged on the torture of African children in London by relatives who believed that they were possessed, and who were encouraged in their beliefs by their churches.

Three Angolan adults were convicted on charges related to their treatment of an eight-year-old “witch”, the niece of one of them, who had been beaten and cut, and had had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes.

One of the torturers, Sita Kisanga, then gave radio interviews in which she argued that it was all the child’s fault. The Observer quoted her on Radio Five Live (kendoki means “witch” or “witchcraft”): “In our community, kendoki is killing people. It is doing bad things. In our community in the UK everyone believes in it. In our country they believe in it, too. Kendoki is something that you have to be scared of, because in our culture kendoki can kill you and destroy your life completely. Kendoki can make you barren. Sometimes kendoki can ruin your chances of staying in this country.”

The Telegraph put this last fear in context by pointing out that more than a million people from Africa had immigrated to Britain between 1993 and 2003, the overwhelming majority from South Africa and Nigeria, an elegant demonstration of the pressures to send them all back. But it was only The Observer that went on to quote the black theologian Dr Robert Beckford: “Some of the coverage reminds me of the racist 19th-century anthropological literature. West Africans are not the only people who believe in demonic possession or the existence of evil spirits. The Anglican Church believes in those things, too, and so does the Evangelical Alliance.

“The attitude seems to be that, if the people supporting the beliefs have Ph.D.s, then they are sensible, but if they are working-class people from Africa then they must be mad.”

I don’t think they’re mad at all: just deluded, with or without their doctorates, and made by their delusions more likely to do cruel things.

Beckford went on to draw a distinction between Christian exorcism, “which does not involve any kind of physical contact, and child abuse, which unfortunately does”. But this evades the central point, which is that there is, in fact, something deranged in supposing that children can, by occult powers, make you impotent, influence the workings of the asylum tribunals, or kill you. Not even the wackiest Anglicans believe that.

I recoil instinctively from all talk of exorcisms or evil spirits, because I think it stands at the top of a slippery slope which leads to witch-trials. Here we have a distinguished theologian flattening out that slope so that the two beliefs appear on the level.

MEANWHILE, the Greek Orthodox Church was reported in The Independent to have drawn up new guidelines for admission to the priesthood. Among those banned are magicians, and astrologers; also actors, lawyers, money-lenders, and gynaecologists. This is a policy of rather exaggerated caution: to judge from the scandals presently enveloping the Church in Athens, it’s a rare priest who has even an amateur interest in gynaecology.

ONE of the small traditions of this column may have been destroyed this week by the Daily Mail, which ran on two successive days a picture of a piece of fried egg- white resembling the Queen in silhouette, and an ultrasound scan of a baby in Toledo, Ohio, which apparently shows the face of Jesus.

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I can’t see any resemblance myself, and I don’t think that the highlighted pattern in the scan represents the face of the baby, especially since the iconic face of Jesus has long hair and a beard. This hasn’t stopped the parents trying to sell T shirts printed with the scan.

The point is surely that no further picture could outbid this one. The face of Jesus actually appearing on a human being would be a sign of a rather different order from something like Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun. The child has since been born, and is a girl; but you had to read The Sun to see the photograph of her wrapped in a shawl, beardless and black.

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