Ritual Killings Motivated by Superstition and False Worship
By Paul Lumbu Kayumba, Evangelical Research Fellowship.
It is awful to hear and see what has become of that beautiful Zambian city of Lusaka since the 16th of March 2016. Criminal activities involving ritual killings, xenophobic attacks, and looting have become commonplace. On one hand, some fellow countrymen claim that these killings are unZambian. On the other hand, the Zambian Head of State, H.E. Edgar, C. Lungu, recently and rightly described these killings as unchristian. But what could be their cause? I would argue that these killings are a decoration of false worship. The Holy Scriptures, according to Gregg Beale in We Become What We Worship (p.16), “express the idea that instead of worshiping and resembling the true God, idolaters resemble the idol they worship.” Further, our superstitious African mentality, which stands as a framework for perceiving and interpreting reality, is one of the driving forces behind these demonic killings. Hence, two powerful forces are in my view behind these ritual killings namely, false worship and superstition.
Presently, victims are being brutally and violently murdered. Some body parts (particularly eyes, ears, hearts and private parts) are amputated whilst the victims are still breathing. So far, according to both local and international media, roughly nine people have been victims. I would maintain that these killings are neither out of “hatred” per se, nor for fun, but for idolatry. These are described as ritual killings because, out of superstition, perpetrators are quite often ordered by witchdoctors, to bring body parts which will be ceremonially used for them to experience success in their business, as well as fame and security. Therefore, these killings are a kind of idol worship. It is a pursuit of power, fame, peace and prosperity in an ungodly manner.
As Africans, we are by nature highly superstitious. Superstition is one of the (if not the only) frameworks and lenses most Africans use to perceive, understand and interpret reality and the world around them. Success and failure, health and illness, poverty and wealth are all perceived and interpreted through the lens of superstition. For this reason, these kinds of killings are not only a “Zambian” thing. They happen all over Africa and are even common here in South Africa. Of late, we have been hearing news of killings of albinos in Tanzanian and Burundi respectively for the same purpose. In Zanzibar, a few years back bald-headed people (like me) used to be a target and many became victims to this kind of killing. It was believed that bald people are wise and materially wealthy by birth, hence their head would be cut off and used for a certain ritual. But these recent attacks in Lusaka, aim at anyone, not at a particular people with particular anatomic features such as Albino or bald-headed. It sounds ridiculous. But it is more than that. This is how far false worship can steer individuals.
Worship, regardless of the object is powerful. It is one of the inborn instinctives of every human, we all have an object of worship, whether we consciously choose to or not. Considering a marriage model, we all have a place where we put our exclusive love and devotion. We all have someone or something on whom or in which we put our trust and confidence. Yet, Christians should recognize that Yahweh has the ability to provide for and protect those under His care. Hence, He demands trust and confidence in His ability. He demands loyalty and service. This is right worship. When exclusive love and devotion, loyalty and service, are given to anything or anyone other than Yahweh and His Christ, that other thing or person becomes their idolatrous object of worship.
Our object of worship, consumes our love, money, energy, and time. Worship is powerful because it dramatically transforms one’s life, like nothing else can. In this sense worship speaks for itself. Like pregnancy, which radically changes a woman’s physical, emotional and psychological aspects of her life from the moment of conception through the entire period of gestation to birth, so it is with worship. Worship brings about a profound transformation for better or for worse in our life depending on what we worship. One does not have to broadcast what they worship. It will show. If all you seek after is money, fame or power, it will show. It is indeed true that “we become what we worship” as argues Beale (p.16). Idol worship debases us. We become soul-less and insensitive like the idols we worship. We soon lose our feelings and resultant concerns when we hear about the misery and the outcry of the oppressed. We cease to care about human life. We sing and celebrate and enjoy seeing the destruction of opponents. We have no pity and care for our fellow human beings. We amputate their body parts whilst they are still alive and breathing. This is demonic and evil. We do these things out of greed and insatiable materialism which is a form of idol worship (Col 3:5). Beale (p.410) is right when he contends that “when the sensory organ malfunctioning [terminology] is used in the OT, almost without exception, it refers not only to sinners in general but to only one particular kind of sin – the sin of idol worship.” This is because according to Beale “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (p.16). An idol’s sensory organs are mere decoration. Those who worship and serve these nothing-gods will resemble them (Psalms 115: 4 – 8 see v8). We are greedy for power, celebrity, fame and money. These are things we serve with all our energy. We labor and agonize for these things. They transform us and make us selfish monsters.
Unfortunately, ritual killings and their correlation to idol worship is clear. Sinful human nature stems as the source. Greed is a form of worship which is a driving force behind such criminal activities. This false worship has ruined people, their sinful hearts have turned to murder. Ironically, perpetrators of these killings leave a victim without eyes, ears and heart, just like they themselves have become spiritually – blind, deaf and heartless. Therefore as Beale (p.41) says “It is very unique to portray idolaters as being blind and deaf Isaiah 42: 17 – 20.” We must identify and repent of our ungodly worship and idols. If we worship Christ, we will resemble him and care for one other, above ourselves. If we serve idols (power, fame, money, ourselves etc.) we may be on the wide road that leads to destruction instead of the narrow gate that leads to life. Christ is Lord. Let us worship and serve him.