In South Korea, a pastor and his wife are currently in police custody for killing their children, according to a report by CNN. The pastor, Park, and his wife, Cho, were accused of killing their three children by starving them to ward off evil spirits. The three kids, aged nine, seven and three, had been ill. But Park and the wife, who reportedly opened a church in 2009, believed it was a sign of evil spirits. They claimed that the children were possessed by demons. So, they subjected the children to a process of deliverance which eventually led to their death. They cut the children’s hair, starved them from January 24 to February 2, and gave them only water. Pastor Park and his wife tied the children’s arms and legs and beat them several times. The three died the same day, within hours. According to the police, the couple in their statement said they were praying in the hope of resurrecting the children! The police in South Korea are currently investigating the case and plan to prosecute the couple soon.
It is my hope that this becomes a test case and that Pastor Park and his wife will be made to answer for their crimes. I hope this case will send a strong message to all child-abusing and child-killing evangelists across the world that their time is up, that they should pack and go or face the full wrath of the law. I hope that other countries will emulate South Korea and help bring all pastors and clerics who abuse or kill children or anybody at all in the name of demonic possession or deliverance to justice. Unfortunately, many pastors like Park exist and operate with impunity in many countries and continents across the world. These dangerous charlatans continue to ply their trade in spite of the rule of law and human rights. They continue to cheat, deceive, and exploit vulnerable people in the name of providing them with "spiritual help".
Sadly, the belief in evil spirits has been here for a very long time and is showing no signs of going away anytime soon, in spite of human advancement in terms of science and technology, modern education, and civilization. This practice of torturing and maltreating people alleged to be possessed by one spirit or the other has been going on for too long. These criminal acts have been condoned in many countries across the world in the name of religion or due to fear of the incomprehensible. For a long time, clerics of different faiths have been spreading this superstition that human beings can be possessed by evil spirits, that the problems we face in our families and communities are as a result of demonic influence on our lives. Even in this 21st century, most pastors still associate human misfortune, illness, and diseases, particularly mental or psychological problems, with evil spirits. They believe that psychiatric patients are "demon-possessed" individuals who need deliverance. They also coerce their members and followers to believe this nonsense and embrace this poisonous myth. Many clerics across the world continue to spread the virus that people can be healed by faith. These so-called men and women of God do not just stop at that. They also claim to have the power to exorcise these “demons” and organize sessions where they proclaim to exercise these "powers". Pastors brainwash their members to seek faith healing and to shun evidence-based medical care. In fact, they carry out what they call "exorcism", which is often a process of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment that often leads to death or permanent health damage of the "exorcised" or "delivered".
The belief that children can be possessed by evil spirits is a myth invented by primitive people to explain or to try and come to terms with problems or ailments they did not understand or did not know how to treat. This belief is still entertained today by many people across the world due to fear, ignorance, and religious indoctrination. The primitive myth of demonic possession is undermining the health and human rights of people, particularly children, women, and elderly persons. It is causing serious suffering and misery. It is destroying human lives. Beliefs are not innocuous as some people may think. They shape our actions and decisions as in this case of Pastor Park and his wife.
In many cases the beliefs we hold can be a matter of life and death for us, for our family or community members. So we need to take and think seriously about our beliefs. We need to think critically about the beliefs people hold and spread in our society given that it is often difficult to track the crimes people commit in the name of their mistaken beliefs, ideas, and dogmas.
Irrational ideas like the belief in evil spirits or the misconception that demons cause illness should not go unchallenged, undebated, and undebunked. Those who propagate or market such superstitions should be made accountable. Pastors or persons who incite people to kill or maim their children or anybody at all in the name of evil spirit possession should be made to answer for their crimes. Pastors or clerics who kill or abuse children, the sick, and the elderly in the name of exorcism should be made to face the wrath of the law.
All rationally compassionate people around the globe should not allow these faith-based horrific abuses to continue. We must act now, or get our governments to act and save humanity.
Leo Igwe is a skeptical activist in Nigeria and a former representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Currently, he is researching African witchcraft accusations at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. He is partnering with the JREF to respond in a more organized and grassroots way to the growing superstitious beliefs about witchcraft throughout the continent of Africa. More details on this collaboration will be announced in the coming weeks.