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Friday, June 9, 2023

What Drives People to Kill Themselves over a False Religion?

Around one hundred bodies have been found in a mass grave in Kenya. Authorities in the country confirm that these people, including children, died of starvation after undergoing a strict fast encouraged by the leader of a sect known as the International Church of the Good News.

Newsroom (23/05/2023 09:52, Gaudium Press) Although inevitable, death always causes us a certain uneasiness. Collective death, however, has the power to shake us deeply. Wars, such as the one that has been going on for more than a year in Ukraine, bombings, earthquakes, floods and landslides, are all events that result in large numbers of victims and cause much commotion. However, a collective suicide, such as the one discovered in Kenya, leaves us appalled and covered with indignation.

According to Kenyan authorities, 89 bodies – including many children – were found buried in a mass grave. According to press reports, the sect members were persuaded to undergo a severe fast to go to heaven.

Pastor Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, founder and leader of the International Church of the Good News, turned himself into the police on April 14 and is being held in custody along with six other sect members. He had already been arrested on two occasions – the last time in March this year, after a case in which two children died of starvation and was released after posting $700 bail.

The graves are located in a 325-hectare forest near the coastal town of Malindi. Police have reported 212 people missing and it is believed that many are still hiding in different parts of the forest, continuing the fasting that puts their lives at risk.

This is not the first case

This is not the first case of such a situation. One of the best-known was the suicide of 918 people who poisoned themselves by ingesting cyanide in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, in November 1978. The dead were members of the Peoples Temple sect, founded in the United States by pastor Jim Jones, who encouraged the mass suicide and murder of more than 300 children in the community. He killed himself with a shot to the head.

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There are other records of collective suicides, encouraged by pseudo-religious ideologies, especially on dates when the end of the world is supposed to occur, such as the years 2000 and 2012. One of them occurred in Uganda in March 2000, when about 500 members of the sect Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God set fire to their bodies inside a church.

But, after all, what leads people to take this extreme attitude, ending their own lives, in a collective way, and allowing the death of children, many times their children?

False idols and false prophets

We can affirm that these nefarious events are, in a way, foreseen in the Sacred Scriptures and were communicated by Jesus himself who warned, “Many false prophets will arise and will seduce many.” (Mt 24:11).  Long before the birth of Christ, the prophet Jeremiah had already said that “cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and turns his heart away from the Lord” (Jer 17:5).

Knowing our nature and the exact measure of our wickedness and weakness, God determined that his Son would be born among us, living a man’s life to teach us all we needed to know, not failing to warn us to beware of false prophets, “who come to us in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15).

On Peter, Jesus founded his Church.  By disagreeing with it, with its truths and teachings, dissenting men founded other religions.  These have been growing exponentially, with the emergence of dissidents of the dissenters.

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To have an idea, studies show that in Brazil, where there are 178,511 temples, 21 evangelical churches were opened every day – almost one every hour – over the last decade.

Why do people stay away from the Church?

Many people move away from the Church to seek new forms of worship, and a good number of them, unfortunately, end up falling into the hands of unbalanced people who cause tragedies like the ones we have reported. But what makes people leave the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ? What are they looking for, after all?

To avoid being unfair and using a modern concept, we need to position ourselves from our place of speech, and my place of speech, as a Catholic, is within the Church. Therefore, I cannot speak with propriety about what I do not know, about what goes on in the heart of a person who renounces his Baptism and leaves the Church that Jesus Christ instituted and goes in search of him in the places where He said he would not be.

What leads people to leave the Church and change religion? What leads human beings to have this need to be led by the charisma of leaders who take them further and further away from the truth preached by Jesus?

These are questions to which we have no answers. We do know that this “separatism” among Christians results in the weakening of faith and in the hopelessness of many, which can culminate in extreme acts, such as collective suicide.

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The problem is not in the Church

Many try to attribute this evasion of the faithful to a problem of the Catholic Church itself. Nevertheless, if the problem was in the Church, the birth of Protestantism, under the allegation that the Church had many faults, would have resulted in a second church, just to hit where the original Church was failing. However, what happens – and some statistics do not allow us to lie – is that from one church, another one is created; from another, another and another, and another, in a way that did not happen even in the days of Baal worship.

As the Pope himself encourages, we must have respect for Christians who share different ideas from ours, but this respect is for the people, never for the mistakes they make.

Likewise, we cannot level the churches and assign to them all the same kinds of faults. However, given the examples we have brought, one never knows where and when one will arise that will direct its adherents to collective delirium and death, selling them the false idea that their extreme acts will take them to heaven because, as Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name, and your name cast out demons and perform many miracles?  And yet I will say to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (Mt 7:21-23).

By Afonso Pessoa

Compiled by Carlos Ruiz

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