Are they the same thing? Many of my regular readers will will be unequivocal about their answer – it will be Yes!
I’m not persuaded. And my reason for holding such a position is that it depends on what one means by religion and superstition. Obviously these two terms will have slightly (or significantly) different meanings depending on the society and culture in which one resides. I live in Aotearoa, and there is absolutely no doubt that what these two words mean here is very different from what they mean in the Bible Belt of the USA. I’ll leave it to others to define these terms for other parts of the globe, but whenever I refer to religion or superstition, I can do no better than to yield to the view of this country’s most celebrated theologian – Sir Lloyd Geering.
Sir Lloyd defines religion as:
A total mode of the interpreting and living of life.
He goes on to explain:
Everybody who takes life seriously, in my view, is taking the first steps in religion. And this definition of religion, fortunately, covers all the types of religions we’ve had or will have in the future, because it recognises that religion is a human product. Religion is what we humans have evolved in our culture to enable us to make meaning of life, and to live together in the most harmonious way.
He defines superstition as:
a belief or practice for which there is no longer any rational basis, because it has survived from the cultural context where it could be deemed reasonable
Sir Lloyd suggests that the creation myths (yes, myths – there’s two versions in Genesis) were an attempt at explaining how the world came into being and humanity’s relationship to it, and given their understanding of the world around them at the time and information available to them, it was reasonable to hold such a belief. If you like, the two myths represent two theories of creation.
But to continue to believe the creation myths as being true given our current understanding of the universe, is to believe in superstition. Similar arguments can be made about a physical resurrection of Jesus, the existence of heaven and hell, the Immaculate Conception, the miracles described in Old an New Testaments, gender roles, human rights, to name just a few.
To insist that to be a Christian, one must believe such superstitions, as some Christians and some atheists do, is to fail to understand the true nature of religion.
8 Aug, 2022 at 7:09 pm
9 Aug, 2022 at 3:45 am
I really like Sir Lloyd’s definition of religion – the best I think I’ve seen. Superstition is a problematic negative word that is used primarily by skeptics. They label anything they don’t like as superstition.
9 Aug, 2022 at 5:57 am
The problem I see, Barry, is that what religion is not properly defined in most cases and for a vast majority of people, while they believe in the literal nature of the creation myths, they don’t see them as superstition.
9 Aug, 2022 at 12:21 pm
That’s precisely what superstition is. Anyone who believes in any superstition, regardless of whether or not it is religious, will think it is true, otherwise they wouldn’t believe in it.
Creation myths serve many useful purposes, but a factual reporting of history is not one of them. For the vast majority of Christians in this part of the world, there’s no conflict between the creation myths in the Bible and scientific explanations of the the origin of the universe or the origin of species. They tell different stories about the human condition from different perspectives
9 Aug, 2022 at 8:12 am
The practice of religion is primarily ritual.
That ritual involves the suspension of critical thinking in favour of accepting supernaturalism.
To put it in crude terms: “Baffle them with bullshit.”
9 Aug, 2022 at 12:09 pm
May I ask:
Do you say hello, good-bye, or other forms of greetings?
Do you shake hands?
Have you participated in “small talk”?
Do you hug family or friends when you meet them?
Have you attended or observed a wedding or a funeral?
Have participated in or watched a graduation ceremony?
Have you ever sworn an oath in a court of law or elsewhere?
Have you watched the inauguration of a president, members of a legislature, or crowning of a monarch?
Have you watched the opening of a new session of a legislature?
Have you seen the All Blacks perform the haka?
Have you observed a military parade?
All the above are rituals. In fact ritual seems to be an essential part of social lubrication for neurotypical folk. It seems to be necessary in every aspect of life – family, friends, work, sports, leisure. It’s impossible to escape. Why should religion be an exception?
As you no doubt know know, I follow (practise) a religion. An in a social context, some ritual does take place even though many within and without the tradition seem to think it has no ritual whatsoever. However I would dispute that any of the ritual involves the suspension of critical thinking in favour of accepting supernaturalism. I would argue the opposite – it encourages critical thinking. Perhaps you can enlighten me on where I have got it so wrong.
Outside of a social context, I still practice my religion, although I’m not aware of any ritual being involved. Unless you consider treating everyone as absolute equals and seeking “that of God” in every person I come in contact with. I admit sometimes I’m not especially successful at doing so, but at least I make an earnest attempt.
Perhaps seeking to purchase ethically farmed or manufactured goods counts as a ritual? Perhaps minimising waste and recycling could be viewed as a ritual as it requires conscious and regular practice. I do not believe these involve the suspension of critical thinking. Perhaps my reasons for doing these are different from yours if you do practice any of them as they are based on religious principles, but that’s all it is – different – not superior nor inferior.
I appreciate that if I have been “baffled with bullshit” then It would be very difficult for me to recognise it. Are you able to help?
9 Aug, 2022 at 9:02 pm
9 Aug, 2022 at 12:04 pm
In large scale organized religions ritual is often paramount – but if you go to that of hunter-gatherers, who probably started it all, it is mainly psychological exploration and invention – when I first read, at 18 years old. that the Kalahari ‘bushmen’ worshipped a praying mantis hero, whose best friend was something that lives inside a rainbow, whose wife was a porcupine, I wanted to jump up and dance. That is wild unchained living metaphor, pure creativity.