3rd place — Sam Davidson: Modern-day witch trials and tribulations

FFRF awarded Sam $1,000.

By Sam Davidson


Sam Davidson

rom the 15th century through the 18th, the bible excerpt “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” inspired Europeans and Americans to try, convict and execute tens of thousands of innocent humans. In Europe, burning was the preferred method of slaughter because of the pain it causes. Witch trials demonstrate the usual result of bible-based policy — needless suffering and harm to innocents.

In the past few months, purposeless cruelty resulted partly from the bibliolatry of the current presidential administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the separation of immigrant families and detention of children through the biblical notion that all laws and their enforcement are inherently good. Such a defense could be used for any government action, no matter how heinous. This belief essentially provides the government with unlimited power. In a nation that values rights afforded to the people, where the government and its policies may be freely criticized, worshiping the bible requires contradictory behavior and thinking.

Such nonsensical thoughts were espoused by then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt in February, when he defended oil-friendly policy as the biblical responsibility to harvest the Earth’s natural resources. For many reasons, excessive burning of fossil fuels has been predicted to harm all of humanity in the coming century. Nevertheless, bible-based policy supports unfettered use of this contentious technology. Continuing to elect evangelical politicians, or politicians who would appoint evangelicals to seats of power, will certainly lead to ecological disaster.

While there are many similarities between different ideologies, they are not all created equal, and bibliolatry is one of the worst common belief systems because of its basis in ancient ideals and its promotion of “faith” over evidence and reasoning. Deuteronomy states, “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ . . . you must surely kill him.” Furthermore, if the inhabitants of a town have begun to worship other gods, “you must surely strike down the inhabitants of that city with the sword. Destroy with the sword all its people and livestock. And you are to gather all its plunder in the middle of the public square, and completely burn the city and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. The city must remain a mound of ruins forever, never to be rebuilt.” This passage serves to demonstrate the chasm between ancient and modern morality. Very few Americans today would recommend launching nuclear missiles to annihilate all lands in which the biblical God is not worshiped; however, the bible fully endorses such a policy. My personal moral code, which is largely based on utilitarianism, motivates me to denounce bibliolatry as an inherently malevolent ideology based on this passage and many others.

In order to defeat this source of evil activity, it must be understood. Ideologies take root wherever people are struggling, because they offer concrete explanations for problems and potential solutions. In order to beat back bibliolatry, public policies must be enacted that make life easier for the common citizen. When people receive a living wage and work reasonable hours, they have little reason to cling to irrational hope. Another problem is the spread of bibliolatry by parents and religious institutions. Secularists must encourage religious children to question beliefs and to learn to think critically about religion.

There is great hope for a world in which secularism is on the rise, but further activism is necessary to prevent modern-day equivalents to the witch hunts (and I am not referring to the Russia investigation). When church and state are fully separated, and “church” is reduced to an extremist minority, everyone will be better for it.

Sam, 22, from Highland Park, Ill., attends the California Institute of Technology. He graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in chemical engineering. He spent three years conducting research at Northwestern’s Jewett Lab and now has a publication under review and a pending patent. His career goal is to conduct research in synthetic biology.