Auteur: Jim Harries
Category: Vérité et pluralisme, Croyances du monde, Réconciliation
‘Do you believe in witchcraft’, people ask me every now and then. This issue seems to puzzle the West. They hear that Africans ‘believe in witchcraft’, and are absolutely amazed. How can they, Westerners ask themselves? Then they set about trying to convince African people that witchcraft does not exist.
Meanwhile African people see witchcraft and its impact all around them, and are puzzled when told by Westerners that witchcraft does not exist. How can they not to believe in witchcraft, Africans ask themselves? When Westerners tell them that witchcraft does not exist they are forced to ignore them.
What is the answer to this puzzle? It can be explained in a number of ways:
Witchcraft is a term that originates in English that has been taken as being a translation of something that is happening in Africa. It is not a very good translation. For the English, witchcraft is something that used to be there long ago in history that was evil and arose from ignorance. Anyone who believes it nowadays in the West is taken as being behind the times.
The African term(s) that ‘witchcraft’ translates, however, are an important part of the very basis of every-day life. They are used to explain when things go wrong. They are a means of encouraging people to behave well. They make sense of the world.
A better translation than ‘witchcraft’ for what goes on in Africa may be ‘jealousy’ (or envy). Then the folly of the question ‘does witchcraft (i.e. jealousy) exist’ is revealed. Of course jealousy exists! What about ‘is jealousy real’? I think again the answer is clearly ‘yes’. One could even ask ‘does jealousy affect you’, and again the answer is yes.
So-called ‘witchcraft’ in Africa is largely a result of jealousy. It might be very helpful if ‘jealousy’ were substituted for ‘witchcraft’ in the books that are written about people’s religion and beliefs in Africa. Jealousy is found in many places around the world. It can destroy marriages, result in fighting, distrust, hatred, dissension and even death. It is extremely destructive – which is why the 10th commandment in the Bible condemns it: “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (KJV, Deuteronomy 5:21).
It is not easy to overcome jealousy. The desire to have what someone else has is very deeply ingrained in human nature. There is a sense in which jealousy seems to be healthy – wanting what someone else has could inspire someone to work hard, to achieve, and to have healthy ambition and so on. On the other hand, jealousy as a motivator is inherently limited. It can easily lead someone astray. In that sense jealousy is a sin.
Fear of jealousy motivates a lot of human behaviour. It explains why people prefer to carry out sexual activities in private. It causes endless issues in male-female relationships. It results in people feeling guilty about their wealth. It underlies the development and aid industry; the West is compelled by its fear of the ‘jealousy’ of those in the poor world to give them handouts, to educate them, to ‘develop’ them, and so on.
Jealousy is curtailed by the Gospel of Christ. In so far as someone wants to please God, they will not desire the things of the lusts of the world. ‘Love’ that the Bible teaches, is in many ways the opposite of jealousy. This is why; in part at least, the Gospel of Christ has been such an effective counter to the destructiveness of jealousy (witchcraft). This is why the best way to empower people in Africa, can be to share the good news of Christ with them.
The ‘sin’ of jealousy (witchcraft) has been and continues to be a very big problem in many parts of Africa. Fear of jealousy can be intense. The practice of jealousy is encouraged when the importance of material prosperity is emphasised, when faith in God is belittled, or when people are encouraged to believe that they are inadequate, impoverished, behind, and needing to reach the standard of others in order to be ‘acceptable’. This is why witchcraft beliefs can be heightened by foreign aid, and by encouraging people to need more and more things. Many of the activities of the West in Africa are pro-jealousy, and so pro-witchcraft.
Biblically, jealousy is not to be encouraged. People who are worse off are NOT encouraged to be envious of those who are better off. Instead, they are encouraged to turn their eyes to the Lord. The corollary of this, is that the ‘haves’ need not live in fear of the ‘have-nots’. The Christian church is neither a ‘club’ for the rich (proponents of the prosperity Gospel may prefer not to believe this), nor an association for the poor. It is the body of those who through belief in Jesus Christ find worldly things to be of less importance, and who can therefore overcome the powerful hold of jealousy / witchcraft.
Acts 6:1-4 illustrates clearly that the primary role of the church is to spread the Gospel. Matters concerning redistribution of wealth should never compromise that primary objective. Thus can jealousy (witchcraft) can be overcome, and thus Africa can be allowed to develop.