12
Mar
09

Superstition, Insanity and Faith

black-cat-on-red1With Friday the 13th coming up tomorrow…oh, that unlucky day…I thought I’d wax philosophical on superstition vs. faith.

Fearing that bad luck will befall you because you walked under a ladder is superstition. Leaving food out for the fairies so that they won’t do mischief in your house is superstition. Keeping a rabbit’s foot in your pocket is superstition.

Hell, I’ll even grant you (despite my Christian faith) that praying for something and expecting to get what you want is superstition. (God isn’t a cosmic ATM).

Faith in any religion or belief in a god (or God Himself) is not superstition. Maybe it is if you’re looking to explain love as being some god firing an arrow in your ass or the movement of the sun as being due to some dude’s invisible chariot. But a belief in a higher power is not superstition.

In fact, I find it no more ludicrous than believing that the whole universe just spontaneously popped out of nowhere, which is what a lot of people seem to believe. Or that it was a pre-existing compressed ball of matter/energy that suddenly exploded. Because the fact is that believing the universe is some random unguided thing that has always existed in some form is just as wacky as believing there is an entity (or are entities) that shaped it and perhaps guide it on some higher level.

So, with that, I respectfully request that anyone who has been baiting Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or anyone else with the “I can’t believe you buy into that superstitious nonsense” line please stop. You can disagree with faith, but please stop lumping it in with superstition. I wish some of you would stop with the “delusional” tag as well, because I know that I’m well aware of reality, the laws of physics and the need to function in the world around me.

As for the Scientologists, who maintain a huge, cultish church around the writings of a bad science fiction author?

Well, they’re just fucking insane.

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18 Responses to “Superstition, Insanity and Faith”


  1. March 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Man, good post.

    Particularly the part about the origins of the world.

    Here’s something I’ve always pondered on that. When you’re in Earth Science in elementary school, they tell you that back in the day, people believed that dead animals cause maggots and piles of rags cause rats. Not that these animals could just be found in those locales, but that the actual locales “created” those animals.

    Of course now we know that inanimate objects cannot create animate objects. That’s another lesson you learn in school. So, since the widely held view of the creation of the world states that no life form could have survived in during the Big Bang period, where exactly did life come from? From inanimate objects?

    But science says that’s impossible.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    March 12, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    There’s so much we don’t understand about the physical world (and larger universe) that it pains me when people write off God as mere fantasy. I can understand the notion that no one could know the “one truth” and I respect the arguments from that side of thing. But it galls me to think that people will blind themselves to anything (and that includes overly faithful people blinding themselves to things like evidence that man has been around a lot longer than 6,000 or 7,000 years…not simply rational-minded people blinding themselves to faith.)

    I’ve had people argue with me that we’re in this universe and can see it all around us, and there is evidence there was a big bang, so that means that me can accept that the universe just came to be. But since God can’t be proven, we must disregard religion. And all I can think is: Sure, we live in this universe and it came from somewhere, but you still haven’t proved your case that it came from a non-sentient source. So the simple fact we exist doesn’t support the idea that the universe must have come from a purely natural and non-guided origin. It’s a loopy argument that says “my faith is unassailable and your faith is totally assailable, even though neither one of us can really prove our conjecture.”

  3. March 12, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    (Preface: This may turn into a flame. Sorry in advance.)

    “Because the fact is that believing the universe is some random unguided thing that has always existed in some form is just as wacky as believing there is an entity (or are entities) that shaped it and perhaps guide it on some higher level.”

    Point #1. Big bang theory is backed by decades of empirical research. Just because you and I don’t understand a word of it is no reason to call it “ludicrous.”

    Point #2. Physics in no way postulates that the universe is “some random unguided thing.” On the contrary, the universe is a wholly predictable machine in which various particles interact with each other in various predictable ways. You drop a basketball, it bounces. You pack a universe worth of matter on the head of a pin, it explodes and you get me, sitting on this chunk of rock, pecking on a keyboard.

    Point #3. Buying big bang theory is not “just as wacky” as buying the “guiding force” argument. As I said in point 1, big bang theory has CONCRETE EMPIRICAL SUPPORT. Religion, by (flawed) design, has none.

    Point #4. You’re not finished demonstrating the difference between religion and superstition. From my perspective, it looks to me like every conceivable manifestation of religious thought can be compared to superstition. Where’s the difference between believing in “a higher power” and believing in Santa? Explain yourself, friend, in a logical path of reasoning, not by referencing fairies and throwing in some profanity.

  4. 4 Deacon Blue
    March 12, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    @ beyondtheflock,

    I’m in the middle of some thing so cannot respond to all your points, but one major thing:

    I DIDN’T argue that the Big Bang didn’t happen.

    What I said was that believing it was a random event with no intelligence behind it cannot be proven or disproven, any more than God can be proven or disproven.

    The existence of the Big Bang does NOT inherently mean that God does not exist. It is NOT an argument against God and cannot be rationally used as such.

    All the Big Bang proves is that the universe began with a “bang”!

    You get my point?

    I think it is ludicrous to argue that the Big Bang is a myth. But using it as “proof” that God is a myth is lazy, weak and illogical. Yet many people do just that.

  5. 5 Deacon Blue
    March 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Oh, what the hell…while my brain is engaged, I might as well try to answer everything quickly…

    #1 – Again, I didn’t say the Big Bang theory was ludicrous but rather that saying the universe has always existed in some form and/or came from nothing is no more or less ludicrous than believing the Big Bang was the action of God’s creation of the universe.

    #2 – I didn’t say the way the universe operates is random…I meant the creation itself. The notion of a spontaneous Big Bang or a universe that keeps collapsing and exploding postulates that everyting has always existed, which I have no problem with. And yet people say to me, “how could God have always existed?” Or, it means that the universe randomly appeared from nothing. Which would be wacky, right? Except that people will also say to me “Who created God? Or how could He have created Himself from nothingness?” My point is that whatever existence or genesis that God would have needed to have to exist is the same as what the universe itself would have needed. Therefore, belief the God could exist is perfectly reasonable based on the nature and existence of the universe itself.

    #3 – I think I’ve already answered this multiple times, but just to make sure the point is made: I don’t think the Big Bang is “wacky.” I’m saying that if you believe it just happened, and has always been happening, you cannot say that an eternal God is a wacky concept because then you have to say the a spontaneous universe is just as wacky.

    #4 – Religion is about the existence of (and tending to) of a spiritual part of us that coexists with the phyiscal part. An eternal part of us that is not measurable or testable. You can choose to believe that no spirit or soul exists. I would say that you are blinding yourself to what is obviously within you (regardless of whether it’s an eternal soul, a reincarnated soul, a piece of the universal Godhead which will return to the source, as aspect of the Force in Star Wars or whatever else).

    The difference between superstition and religion is simple:

    Superstition is the belief that if I do this little magical thing, something good or bad will happen. Or, that thunder and lightning are caused by Zeus getting mad and throwing his thunderbolt spears around. Or that the seasons exist because some poor mortal or godling spends part of the year in Hades or Hell or Hel or wherever.

    Religion is about a belief that we are part of something bigger, and that we have a spiritual side that needs tending. It isn’t about magical results or explaining things that science already can. It’s about moving ourselves closer to God, developing a deeper understanding of the universe beyond the mere temporal and physical, and bettering our eternal selves and not merely our perishable selves.

    To engage in supersition is to waste time on something that brings no value.

    Properly used, religion can actually be very valuable to enriching a person and helping them to be a better person (a shame that too few people use it that way). It is not time wasted hoping that something magical will happen (or not happen) but an exercise in stretching ourselves out farther than the physical world allows.

    And, by the way, while I take no particular offense at your comments (in fact, I welcome them)…I will talk about fairies, use profanity, or do whatever else I damn well please. It’s my blog after all.
    😉

  6. March 13, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    No matter how complicated a theory is, there is a way to explain it so most people will understand it.

    There must be a way to explain how life formed from inanimate objects, or, do most scientists believe that life on Earth came from some floating space particles taht landed on the planet?

  7. 7 Deacon Blue
    March 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    The whole genesis of life thing has been a tricky one to explain for a long time. I know the scientists have bandied about theories of primordial “organic soups” that might have gotten a spark (literally or figuratively) to sprout into primitive single-celled organisms, but I’m not aware that anyone has been able to reproduce any such event.

    I think most currently theories have less to do with stuff landing on the planet than they do with potentially organic compounds (carbon, water, etc.) that were already here being stirred up by seismic, volcanic and other potentially catalyst forces early in Earth’s formation.

  8. March 14, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    1. There is indeed a difference between big bang theory and creationism. Can you cite a single piece of evidence that supports creationism in any meaningful sense? No. Can you for big bang theory? Hell yes! Which to believe: wholly unsupported theological conjecture, or empirically validated scientific theory? (Note: I’m not saying the big bang in any way forces god’s nonexistence.)

    2. Skipping this due to lack of objections and laziness.

    3. You say, “you cannot say that an eternal God is a wacky concept because then you have to say the a spontaneous universe is just as wacky.” No, I don’t. Once again: God has no empirical support. The big bang does. Simply because you have to have several PhDs in theoretical physics to understand said empirical evidence does not mean it doesn’t exist.

    4. You say, “[Religion] is about moving ourselves closer to God, developing a deeper understanding of the universe beyond the mere temporal and physical, and bettering our eternal selves and not merely our perishable selves.” Eloquently stated, good sir. My only objection would be on a more behaviorist level… namely, that we only behave in ways that are positively rewarded. If we carry rabbit’s feet to bring “good luck” (positive reward), then we “[seek] a deeper understanding of the universe beyond the mere temporal and physical” to bring happiness, ‘spiritual well-being,’ etc… all (I would argue) ultimately equally reducible to positive reward. Either way, not an overly important point.

    Right you are. Such is the wonder of the blogosphere.

  9. 9 Deacon Blue
    March 14, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Well, as to #1 and #3 again, my point is that we are pretty sure there was a bang. We can see in the aftermath of that bang the physics that go with it (exanding universe, redshift, and all that jazz). BUT, we still don’t know what caused the bang. Or why for that matter. All of that is complete conjecture and, frankly, if there isn’t a God to tell us and isn’t an afterlife in which for Him to tell us, I can pretty confidentally say humanity will never know.

    My father-in-law argues the Big Bang was the result of the war in Heaven…that the conflict was of such cosmic scale that it shredded creation and that Genesis is really a simplified story of God rebuilding things and putting them BACK together.

    Or perhaps the Big Bang was God’s word going forth to create.

    Or perhaps God sneezed.

    Or maybe Satan farted.

    Or maybe it just happened…well…because.

    I’m not trying to put creationism on equal footing with cosmology and evolution. Primarily because there are too many variations on “creationism” for me to begin. And, frankly, a lot of stuff with high level cosmology is a lot of theories, some of them in conflict. So, we really don’t have a basis to compare any of them, much less choose the right one.

    The fact is that the bang happened. No one can provide conclusive proof as to why or how…not scientists and not theologians. You go that far back into time, and both sides are operating from a position of no causal evidence.

  10. March 16, 2009 at 8:40 am

    But a belief in a higher power is not superstition.(Deacon)

    Yeah, but if believing that said Higher power decided to “allow” itself to be crucified and then resurrected isnt superstition, then what would we call it? Just plain old “Nuts”.

  11. March 16, 2009 at 8:49 am

    beyondtheflock

    Is it not reasonable to assume that because I have some level of consciousness, that from wherever I came it also has in it the potential of consciousness? Even the Big Bang is a creative force. Everything that we are today derives itself from that point(wouldnt you agree), so even if our intellect has evolved through the millenia, doesnt the potential of it(intelligence) have to be there right from the beginning. Or is it all just completely random with no chance of intelligent pattern behind it?

  12. 12 Deacon Blue
    March 16, 2009 at 10:26 am

    TitforTat,

    I don’t know that I can say Jesus’ resurrection is nuts.

    God didn’t die on the cross. There are a lot of people who get the connection between God and Jesus muddled and insist they are the same being. That would be entirely illogical. God cannot die and God is above sin, so if Jesus was truly God Himself, then living a sinless life would have been no accomplishment at all.

    Jesus’ death and resurrection make sense within the context of God’s system of atoning sacrifices and in resetting the connection that Adam messed up (whoever, whatever and whenever “Adam” was).

    Jesus was the son of God, and he came to be a teacher, an example, a sacrifice and then to take his place beside his father.

  13. March 16, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Jesus’ death and resurrection make sense within the context of God’s system of atoning sacrifices and in resetting the connection that Adam messed up (whoever, whatever and whenever “Adam” was).(Deacon)

    Thanks Deacon, and herein lies your superstition. The cross is your rabbits foot.

  14. 14 Deacon Blue
    March 16, 2009 at 10:51 am

    TitforTat, you’re still missing my point, I think…or trying to diminish my faith.

    Since you yourself believe in a higher power, I’m not sure why you would want to do that latter, so I will assume the former.

    To me, superstition is about doing something to get some short-term magical effect (throw salt over your shoulder if you spill some, consult your horoscope, etc.), or not doing something because doing so would magically cause harm to come to your life (don’t break a mirror or walk under a ladder).

    In dealing with the soul and with the place of that soul in the great cosmic/spiritual scheme of things, I do NOT see reaching out to God, seeking a higher power, and following a spiritual path to be superstition. Now, even if it turns out I’m wrong that Christianity is the true path and that there are many paths to the divine, that still means that there is value in my path and not simple superstition. Do little superstitious acts brings us closer to anything or encourage us to reach beyond our frailties and limitations? No, but religious and spiritual things CAN do that.

    The cross would be my superstition if I wore it around my neck thinking it would fend off harm. To look TO the cross, though, and appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice and to love him for it…THAT is not superstition.

  15. March 16, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Deacon

    Ok, I believe its one thing to believe in a Creator and a totally other thing to have even the remotest idea what that is.(i.e. religion). While I may agree with you on the Creation part, I dont agree with your view of what that is. So lets get back to the superstition part.

    Superstition.

    1. a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.
    2. a system or collection of such beliefs.
    3. a custom or act based on such a belief.
    4. irrational fear of what is unknown or mysterious, esp. in connection with religion.
    5. any blindly accepted belief or notion

    With this definition in mind would I be wrong to characterize the belief of Chritianity with the word superstition?

  16. 16 Deacon Blue
    March 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Well, let’s see…

    1. I have personal evidence of my life changing, for the positive and negative, in an obvious way, since becoming born again, in sharp contrast to the way my life progressed and what happened to me before that time. Never has fortune cookie, horoscope, rabbit’s foot or the breaking of a mirror done that.

    2. If I reject #1, then I can reject this.

    3. Ditto

    4. Define “irrational.” I have ample personal evidence in my life that informs me that coming to my religion has changed the playing field for me.

    5. I don’t blindly accept anything. I stepped away from the church because of a combination of apathy and doubt. In finding my way back to the church, it was on my own terms and not because someone handed it to me on a plate or because I was raised that way or because I was in turmoil and seeking answers. I was older, prusmably wiser, and I approahced it with an OPEN mind…not one that was predisposed to wanting to find God. Frankly, it would have been a lot easier, and would give me a lot more latitude to do what I want (even when that’s not the best thing for me to be doing) if I had simply rejected what I felt. There was no immediate, satisfying payoff for me. I was, in fact, predisposed to continue to reject Christianity.

    Your points might apply to some Christians, sure. But I did nothing in my faith that was driven by expectations of others, fear, emptiness or anything else. To call my beliefs unreasonable, irrational or lacking in a base of knowledge, you have to tell me that I am delusional about what I have felt and witnessed in my life.

    If you are willing to do that, fine. Then our conversation is done. I don’t disregard other people’s beliefs as delusional except where they are pretty clearly so. Basing a religion on the pseudo-psychological ramblings of a bad sci-fi writer and adding aliens into the mix randomly (a la Scientology) is silly. Claiming to be a wiccan, when you base those beliefs on what some guy manufactured less than 200 years ago on a lark (rather than on any actual connection to druidic and similar traditions of millennia past) is ridiculous. Taking Christianity and adding bogus stuff as a scam that would clearly be a scam to anyone who was critically thinking about it (as John Smith did in what would become the LDS church/Mormons) is a bit wacky.

    Judeo-Christian and Muslim faith practices didn’t just jump out of the hat recently, and they are able to exist alongside science, since they don’t tell you that if you do “A” you will automatically override the laws of physics and nature to get “B”. They may tell you that miracles CAN happen, and they tell you there is a God who can bend the universe if and when he/she/it wishes, but they don’t give you magic recipes and easy, pat answers that guarantee you will understand everything around you.

    Thos are the kinds of things one gets from cults, superstition, crazed wing-nuts misusing religious texts, etc.

    To believe in a Creator means that that creator has a purpose for us. That means that he/she/it probably wants to be known on some level.

    Ergo, either there is one path to that being.

    Or, there are many paths, each with potential value for doing so.

    I never claimed to “know” that way. What I claim is that Christianity feels right for a number of reasons to me, and so I put my faith in that being the way, and pray often for guidance that I can learn more, know more, and discover more…even if that means one day finding some insight that convinces me it isn’t the ONE true way.

    You can use your definition to define a religion in general as superstition, I suppose, but I argue that you are miusing the word and ignoring not-so-subtle distinctions. I mean, killing someone is killing someone, but there are degrees of killing, and not all of them crimes. But you could easily use a pat definition to degine ALL killing as “murder.” Do you see where I’m coming from?

    And furthermore, how would you defend your belief in a Creator, in the absence of any faith tradition, as being any less superstitious than Chrstianity, Judaism, Islam or anything else?

  17. March 16, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    What I claim is that Christianity feels right for a number of reasons to me, and so I put my faith in that being the way, and pray often for guidance that I can learn more, know more, and discover more…even if that means one day finding some insight that convinces me it isn’t the ONE true way(Deacon)

    And this is why I wouldnt call you delusion. You have hope that your belief is correct but you leave room otherwise. You also have fruit from how you apply your faith to its accuracy. I would say to that, many people from other faiths claim the same thing. Ultimately if someone benefitted similarly with “throwing salt over their shoulder” could we call them delusional?

    And furthermore, how would you defend your belief in a Creator, in the absence of any faith tradition, as being any less superstitious than Chrstianity, Judaism, Islam or anything else?(Deacon)

    Im not claiming any actual knowledge of what that creator could or does possibly want. I am basing my idea on the fact that there was a starting point, the world does seem to have intelligence in it, and we see creation happening all the time. The difference is, I think the “creator” is ultimately a mystery, unlike religions that claim they know. Hopefully you’d still take me out for a pint. 😉

  18. 18 Deacon Blue
    March 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Oh, if you’re anywhere in my area, I can spring for a pint one day. I’m not mad at ya…


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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

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