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.