Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Superstition vs. Religion

Several Months ago, I sat with Colleen in Gospel Doctine class. As the teacher directed the discussion, and pointed out scriptures and references, he eventually opened up the discussion to class members to share their spiritual experiences. I forget the topic of the conversation, but I recall how class member after class member would recount their spiritual experiences to the group, often with tears as they were moved by the spirit. One tale in particular talked about how she was told to do something or else she would be killed. Then she did whatever she was told to do, and she wasn't killed, but feels that for sure she would have been killed had she not done it.

My reaction to the situation was so adverse, that I had to excuse myself from the discussion before I became visually disturbed and let on to my discomfort. The whole thing felt so superstitious to me. I felt as though I must surely have been transported back to an earlier day during the darkness before the enlightenment period.

Looking back now, I see how superstition and superstitious beliefs crept up in so many cultures. I see how one thing, followed by another's story could build, and build. What worries me the most is that many of these superstitions govern our lives. They act like little parasites, sucking out our ability to reason through the really tough spells in our lives. As an example, consider you are lost in the forest, or in the city, or that you have lost something... Ancient cultures would often consult the sages for guidance to find such a missing thing. If you wer in this ancient culture, you would be out consulting the sages, rather than forming a search possee, or considering other options should the missing article never return. I admit, that you may do all three, look, consult and consider backup options, but in any case, you have dedicated 33% of your energies to the sages, while you could have dedicated those energies to rational thought instead.

This rationality scares me because what should happen when religious leaders take power, and a crisis mounts. Take gasoline for example: Should we pray for lower gas prices? Should we spend any amount of time at all praying for lower gas prices? A religious leader, seeing his congregation in monetary peril, might indeed pray for lower gas prices, and perhaps might even receive confirmation that if his congregation should just pay a full tithing, then lower gas prices would certainly arrive. His coffers would fill up, his congregation would have faith, and then when the gas prices do indeed lower, he would be confirmed as correct. If his prophecy didn't come true, then he could claim it was due to the lack of faith on the part of his parishioners. Perhaps not enough of the parishioners paid their tithing. Either way, the leader has more money for his church, and plenty of work for the future, while the parishioners could have been concentrating on other solutions. They could have been concentrating on rational solutions such as lowering their gas intake through forming car-pools, alternative energies, etc. Instead, they would concentrate on a supernatural power to work on the natural.

I was impressed today while reading about Wang Ch'ung, the ancient chinese philosopher. He had some very impressive arguments against the superstition that plagued his age. Some of his arguments are almost comical.
For instance:
  • If ghosts are the souls of those who have died, then there would be so many ghosts around, that we would see them all of the time.
  • If ghosts are the spirit of a living creature, why don't we see little ghost dogs, cats, insects, etc. since they all have similar vital principle.
  • As a follow on, why do people see ghosts with their clothes on. Are we to assume that clothing also has a spiritual makeup? Shouldn't the ghosts be nude?
  • To say that Heaven provides us food and clothing is to say it acts as our farmer or tailor — an obvious absurdity

3 comments:

larksong39 said...

Very well said!

sunnie said...

i completely agree with your perspective on this. (not that you will agree completely with mine) but i find it offensive and absurd to think that there are people being raped and god doesn't stop it, but that god certainly has time to take to help someone find their car keys, even if they've lost them 3x that week.

Victor Mace said...
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