African Witchcraft and American Creationism

A Norwegian university recently issued a press release titled “Modern Medicine Conquers Witchcraft.”  The lead paragraph is condescending (i.e., Eurocentric) and reinforces negative stereotypes about “Africans”:

Seen through western eyes, beliefs in supernatural forces are common in Ghana and other African countries. Death, suffering and diseases are often attributed to witchcraft. Over thirty per cent of its inhabitants believe such evil forces could be responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Beliefs in supernatural forces are common not just in Ghana and other African countries — they are common in the United States and the rest of the world.  There is a normative double standard at work here.  Supernatural beliefs in the West are called “religion.”  Supernatural beliefs in traditional societies are called “magic” or “witchcraft.”

Despite overwhelming and unequivocal evidence to the contrary, approximately fifty percent of Americans believe that the world is 6,000-10,000 years old and that God created all living things at the beginning of this time period.

I have difficulty seeing any difference — or making a principled distinction — between African “witchcraft” beliefs on the one hand and American “creationist” beliefs on the other.

Supernatural beliefs originate in the brain-mind and are powerfully reinforced by cultural patterns.  What kind of beliefs you have depends almost entirely on when and where you were born.

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