If you've been following this blog for a while, you probably know that I'm twice-divorced, and have three kids with my first wife (and none with my second wife, thankfully). My first wife (I'll call her Jadis) and our children live three states away from me. Jadis and the kids live with her current husband and two other children they spawned together. They live in the same town as Jadis' parents and her two sisters, along with their husbands and kids - including my niece*, whom I've mentioned before as being "hyper-religious." Most of Jadis' side of the family is extremely Christian, and equally conservative. My niece is merely the product of her indoctrination.
Sometimes I'll post playful responses to her mostly Christian posts on Facebook as a joke. Nothing too harsh, just having lighthearted fun. My most recent attempt at humor on my niece's page was in response to this:
I considered which Bible verse I wanted to offer. I thought about Deuteronomy 23:1, which says, "If a man's testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD."
I also considered Ezekiel 23:20 (a powerful verse): "She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey's and emissions like those of a horse."
Then I thought about using Deuteronomy 25:11-12: "If two Israelite men get into a fight and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, you must cut off her hand. Show her no pity."
But she's a teenager, and my niece, so I ditched all the genital-related Bible verses for something that had, well, no genitals in it:
Exodus 22:18 seemed like a fun choice for a "Bible verse that I apply to everything": "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (It sounds better when quoted from the King James Version). All in good fun. Then I read her response to me:
My pastor actually had a witch come into his church the other day and she tried to attack him, He cursed her in the name of Jesus, and she was killed instantly.
I didn't know what to think. At first I was like...
and then I was like...
and then I was like...
because I took a break to get something to eat and I was grooving to some Hindi music while heating up a couple Hot Pockets in the microwave (except I looked nothing like that and attempting that move would probably cause me to break in half). When I sat back down at the computer and read my niece's comments again, I felt kinda like this:
Then I had a thought: maybe she's joking. I was obviously kidding around, so maybe she was giving it back to me. Maybe?
I don't kid about the power of God.
I didn't say anything in response, although I considered saying something along the lines of, "Wow. I bet that made quite the story in the local newspapers." I know, she's 16, and when I was that age I was listening to a Christian singer named Carman talk about his encounter with a witch (although Carman wasn't in the business of striking them down dead), but this goes beyond anything I ever said or believed as a young Christian.
She's either fabricating or grossly exaggerating a story to make a point about "the power of God," or her minister is telling some wild tales to his congregation, or she's getting stuff like this from her community of faith. The last possibility troubles me the most, because her community of faith is first and foremost her family, which, as I mentioned above, includes her mom and dad, her aunts and uncles and grandparents - my ex-wife Jadis being one of those aunts. Either my niece really believes this story, or at least really believes that this story could be true. Regardless, my niece is part of a tightly knit family who all live close to each other and who all share the same religious faith: the same family influencing my kids. Are my children going around talking about witch-killing ministers too? I don't know. We don't talk religion much. Thanks to Jadis, we don't talk much at all.
I don't remember any members of the family being so "unusual" back when I was still part of the fold. I mean, they've always been the "We like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Focus on the Family" types, but the goofiest I ever heard any of them get (beyond the usual goofiness) was when my niece's parents were struggling to figure out whether god approved of contraception. Of course, I have no idea what they're like these days, or what they believe. Jadis stopped talking to me altogether back in 2006 and hasn't said one word to me since.
Aside from the fact that I love my niece and I'm concerned about what she and my kids are being taught, I'm still rather disgusted by her story. It smacks of the typical "us versus them," "dark side versus light side," "wickedness versus righteousness" mentality of religion. Of course a witch (whatever she thinks that means) attacked her minister, because witches are evil and that's the kind of stuff they do. And her minister is the hero of the story because he's a Christian and, naturally, the good guy. I know people who consider themselves witches. They spend most of their time doing normal things, and do things like sing or dance in their spare time. All the ones I know live according to the Wiccan Rede, and just want to do their little pagan ceremonies and live in peace with the rest of the world.
My niece's story of the witch-killing preacher makes me angry at what clinging to faith and abandoning reason can do, what it has done, and what it is doing even now.
I guess this one just hits a little too close to home for me.
*I'm not sure whether she's still technically my niece or not, since she's my ex-wife's sister's daughter, but we still have an uncle/niece relationship, and she still calls me "Uncle Bud." In my heart, she's family, so that's good enough for me.