In the previous post, we considered a number of definitions for superstition. Not surprisingly, many of those definitions involved god and religion. I provided my own definition as the belief in the unnatural. The reason god and religion are so tied up in superstition is that in order for something unnatural to happen, someone or something beyond nature, has to pull back the curtains of nature to make the unnatural a reality in this world. That most commonly involves god and religion. To amplify this thought, this post will look specifically at biblical superstition.
Such a journey has to begin with the creation stories. The fact that we have creation stories is a type of superstition. The people of ancient times could not even conceive of presence without directed creation. The idea of evolution is relatively modern. Biblical writers just couldn’t imagine any other way. The six-day creation represents another lack of imagination. They could not even fathom billions of years. It is like asking a two-year old to imagine life a hundred years ago. It is just not possible. To a young species, everything is young and new.
Sin, and the consequences of sin are both superstitions. If there is a creator with many of the same human traits as we have, then his will is law, and breaking that law has consequences. A pre-scientific civilization has no choice but to believe this. But things get a lot more interesting than that.
Almost everything the bible has to say about the nature of the universe is based on superstition. The three-tiered universe is a prime example. God lives in a house above the earth so that he can look down on his creation. Eventually, we worked out that bad people go down into a pit. If you read the first chapter of Genesis to discover the bible’s definition of the firmament, it is rather embarrassing. Then, read about the Tower of Babel. God feared the ability of pre-historic man’s ability to build a tower into heaven. It just shows how small we believed the earth and cosmos to be.
Don’t stop there. At one point, a great warrior enjoined god to stop the sun in the sky to provide more daylight to kill more enemies. Never mind the killing part. We now know the sun does not move relative to the earth, but the other way around. The church actually killed people who dared say differently.
Why do women go into painful labor for child birth? Why is it difficult to grow food? Why do snakes slither on their bellies? Pre-historic man had nothing but superstition to go on. Why do we still use the same answers as if we do not know any better?
Why are people born blind or get sick? Is it a generational curse, or was it so that god could later prove his power by healing such people? The bible has bought into both theories at one point or other. How does a sick person get better? According to the bible, a holy man must perform some type of unnatural ritual, or righteous people must petition an other-worldly alien being for miraculous aid, or the elders of the church must pour oil over the head of the sick. There is nary a mention of germs, medication, surgery, and preventative care. Even though we know about these things, we are still about the business of petitioning the great, other-worldly being for aid, as if that will be just as affective as antibiotics.
What happens to us when we die, other than the fact that we die? According to the bible, we rest, but could be brought back by a medium for aid. This actually happened in the holy writ. In other parts of the bible, we spend eternity in a good place or a bad place, depending on how we are judged. We even have details about these places. One has big houses for everyone and streets made of gold. The other has an unquenchable fire that provides and eternal source of torment. Even in the bible, no one has been to either of these places and reported back on the details. Yet, we fill our sermons and eulogies with these superstitious images as if we had seen video from the great beyond.
Where are the storehouses of snow and sleet? According to the god of Job, they are in the land of Heaven just above the earth. We do not believe this, yet we treat the book of Job, and the god of Job as if both should be taken seriously.
So far, I am just talking about biblical superstition. Extra-biblical, religious superstitions go even further. More people have seen the beatific face of Mary in the clouds, or in a bowl of cornflakes than there are victims of alien abductions. Throughout history, at least as many babies have been tossed into volcanos as have been baptized or circumcised. For many, the cross, or just the sign of the cross is more useful for warding off evil spirits as it is for adornment. Need I even get into Islam, ancient and modern? Mormonism? Snake handling? That last is quite biblical. Witchcraft? Voodoo? It is all superstitious-based religion.
The real question is, how do we define the difference between superstition and acceptable religion. That will be the focus of part three of this series. After that, I promise to get back to the sacraments.