From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Superstition and religion: Are they related?

(Author:  W. J. Pilsak)
According to Wikipedia, “Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality:  that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events.”  So far, this sounds a lot like religion.  What then, if anything, is the difference
between the two?

Wikipedia goes on to explain that the answer is very much dependent upon which side of the believer’s fence a person is standing (kneeling, bowing, etc.).  If a person was an ancient-Roman fan of Ovid’s, then the Classical Latin term superstitio, might have meant “an excessive fear of the gods” (as opposed to religio, the “proper, reasonable awe of the gods”).  During that period, superstitio was also used in reference to Early Christianity (which was “outlawed as a superstitio Iudaica in AD 80 by Domitian”).

The word “superstition” continues to be used disparagingly about spiritual beliefs that are not those of the predominant culture.  For example – many adherents of Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity view Dharmic and/or Taoic beliefs as either misguided superstitions, or as outright apostasies.

Nevertheless, Austin Cline of finds many connections between religion and superstition.  Although his somewhat narrow definition of “superstition” tends more towards black cats and ladders than it does towards cosmology, he concludes that superstition and religion have these things in common:  both are “non-materialistic in nature”; both seek to “provide meaning and coherence to otherwise random and chaotic events”; and “in both cases, people are expected to avoid certain actions and perform other actions in order to ensure that they do not fall victim to the unseen forces at work in our world.”

Interestingly, many lingering superstitions (such as those about Friday the 13th) have some roots in religious tradition (Jesus was allegedly crucified on a Friday, and Judas is sometimes referred to as the 13th apostle). 


Copyright January 13, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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