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"Begin at the beginning,and go on till you come to the end: then stop." (Lewis Carroll, 1832-1896)

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked."Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat."I don't know," Alice answered."Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

"So long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

"All right," said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. "Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!"

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Are Theists More Superstitious Than Atheists?

How Superstitious Are you?

What is a superstition? A superstition is the belief that events are influenced by specific behaviors, without having a causal relationship. A causal relationship is the logical relationship between one physical event and another physical event. So a superstition is where there is an event, but there is no logical relationship between an event and the cause, or subsequent event which is ascribed to it.

Superstitions are based on cultural beliefs in a supernatural "reality" and they relate to things that are not fully understood or known. Therefore, the type and nature of the superstition may be dependent upon the culture and the origin of the culture. This culture difference is evident when one thinks of the number 13 or the number 4. In Asian cultures the number 4 is considered unlucky and in western cultures the number 13 is considered unlucky. The Chinese pronunciation for the words "die" and 4 are similar, which explains why 4 isn't a favourite number in many Asian countries. In western countries which have a christian tradition, the number 13 is considered unlucky because supposedly there were 13 at the last supper. So superstitions are culturally relevant, but many of them have their origins in a belief in the supernatural.

What are the origins of some of these other superstitions?

1. Breaking a mirror will bring 7 years bad luck.
(Before the invention of mirrors, man gazed at his reflection, his "other self," in pools, ponds, and lakes. If the image was distorted, it was a mark of impending disaster.)
2. The devil or evil spirits can enter your body when you sneeze unless someone says "God bless you."
(Ancient man believed that his breath was also his soul or "essence of life." A rapid departure of that breath, a sneeze, is the same as expelling life from one's body. Also, it leaves a vacuum in the head which evil spirits can enter.)
3. If you spill salt, you must throw a pinch over the left shoulder to ward off the devil.
(Salt was once a rare and costly commodity. As such, it was economic waste to spill any. Also, salt is a purifier, a preservative, and it symbolizes the good and lasting qualities of life. It was mixed into the foods used in the religious ceremonies of both the Greeks and Romans. One source of this superstition is Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. The betrayer Judas, has accidentally spilled salt onto the table.)
4. Black cats crossing your path bring bad luck.
(The Egyptians worshiped the cat and punished anyone who dared to kill one. In the Middle Ages, however, the black cat was linked to witches and Satan. Since it was believed that a witch had the power to transform herself into a cat, it was thought likely that a cat who crossed one's path was a witch in disguise.)

Without going through the origin of lots of superstitions, it is evident that many of them originate from a belief in the existence of supernatural forces which can either be harmful or helpful. Ancient man always had supernatural explanations for natural events. Supernatural explanations when systemized became religions and that is probably why we still find today that highly religious cultures are also superstitious cultures. That includes the majority of people on the planet except for perhaps those who are atheists, agnostics or skeptics. I haven't met any overtly superstitious atheists, but I have known many superstitious theists. Superstition and religious beliefs appear to walk hand in hand.

Religious practices are most likely to be labelled "superstitious" by those who do not share the religious belief. Especially when they include belief in extraordinary events, an afterlife, supernatural interventions, apparitions or the efficacy of prayer, charms, incantations, the meaningfulness of omens, and prognostications. Greek and Roman pagans, (who were theists but not christians), scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods, as a slave feared a cruel and capricious master. "Such fear of the gods (deisidaimonia) was what the Romans meant by superstition." (Veyne 1987, p 211).

PS: Don't forget to watch the video I made.


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30 Comments:

Anonymous Andy said...

The way I understood it, 'God Bless you' was only said to sneezers from about 1665. Sneezing was the first sign of the plague and it usually meant that, within a week or so, you would be dead. Hence, if you sneezed you would need God's blessing.

5/5/07 9:54 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

andy:

But do you feel compelled to reply "god bless you" when someone sneezes?

5/5/07 10:47 pm  
Anonymous remy said...

We had a dinner last year with 13 people and Rosemary died. We buried her under the front porch. So far there have been no witches, so, it works!!

My black cat has nearly killed me on several occassions by walking in front of me just as I was about to go down the stairs.

5/5/07 11:54 pm  
Blogger Bing said...

I say thank you when someone says god bless you to me, but that's only because it's polite, I think.

When someone sneezes around me, I just ignore it if I don't know them, say ghesuntheit (sp?) if I know them, or say "stop it" if they live with me.

HJ

6/5/07 12:48 am  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

I read somewhere years ago (sorry, can't remember the source) that the reason the number 13 is unlucky for xtians is because it was lucky for pagans. March 13, (my birthday), was supposedly the luckiest day of the year in the pagan or Wiccan calendar. When the xtians took over, they demonized many of the gods and traditions of the pagan religions that came before, in an effort to neutralize them. The goddesses they simply turned into saints.

6/5/07 6:17 am  
Blogger Lexcen said...

Personally, I'm afraid of the "evil eye" and burn cloves to break the spell.

6/5/07 7:57 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

remy obviously knows how superstition works. :)

bing:

The point I suppose about superstitions is whether you feel that something untoward, or terrible will happen to you if you don't do what the superstition requires.

6/5/07 8:31 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

bella:

Fear of 13 may have also affected the Vikings — it is believed that Loki in the Norse pantheon was the 13th god. More specifically, Loki was believed to have engineered the murder of Baldr, and was the 13th guest to arrive at the funeral. This was later Christianized in some traditions into saying that Satan was the 13th angel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triskaidekaphobia

As with many supersitions, their origin has something to do with a religious belief, or with a belief in the supernatural.

6/5/07 8:35 am  
Blogger L>T said...

When christianity was 'invented' people were pretty superstitious, ignorant & backward of how things acually worked. It seems the Christians now who adhere most to the literalness of the scriptures, The most fundimentalist, are the most ignorant & backward people today.
Could there be a connection?

6/5/07 11:24 am  
Blogger Plonka said...

I'm with remy, of course it works. Do you think Steve Waugh would have been the world's best batsman without his red hanky? No way...;)

6/5/07 10:37 pm  
Anonymous Little Pope said...

Beep:

You are an atheist, aren’t you?
Does that mean that you are not afraid of movies like “the exorcist” anymore?
And if you still are, how do you explain that? Where does that fear come from?

7/5/07 1:15 am  
Blogger Stardust said...

Does that mean that you are not afraid of movies like “the exorcist” anymore?

When I first saw the Exorcist when it first came out, and I was still a Christian it scared the crap out of me and I had to have the light on for a week afterwards. I find most "demon" movies ridiculous now that I no longer believe in the existence of supernatural entities. Now I just find parts of it very gross (particularily the vomiting parts). However, I get very tense during "thriller" and "suspense" films because this crap really can and does happen in reality.

Where does the fear come from in these movies? It comes from the whole aversion to the macabre and expectation and dread of knowing that something gruesome or bad is about to happen whether it be realistic or a made-up "monsters".

7/5/07 10:08 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

lexcen:

I dunno if you are joking or not - you would need to tell me.

little pope:

I think stadust expressed it pretty well. I can still be afraid in movies, but not because I believe that supernatural beings exist - but because of suspense and drama.

I read "The Exorcist" when I was a teenager (quite a long time ago), and it did scare the crapolla out of me. I didn't watch the movie until years later, by then the concept of "evil existing as a force outside of human beings" which could negatively influence humans, inhabit humans and infuence human action - was no longer part of my belief.

I am not superstitious either.

7/5/07 10:27 am  
Blogger Stardust said...

My grandmother was a faithful churchgoer to the Lutheran church. And the sweet lady was also one of the most superstitious people I have ever known! She even changed her birthdate from October 13th to October 19th because she believed 13 was an unlucky number. (We found that out from my grandfather after she died.) When we were growing up, she taught my sister, brothers and myself not to step on cracks, don't break mirrors, if we spill salt to toss some over our left shoulder, don't ever walk under ladders, if a black cat crosses your path turn around, and other things. Of course, little kids, kids who are going to Sunday morning superstition lessons..we all fell for it. My mother tends to keep some of those same superstitions, though she isn't as devout a churchgoer as my grandmother was. I don't know about my siblings, but as for me, when I gave up believing in the imaginary sky daddy...all superstition went away with it. It's interesting how often Christianity (and religion in general), and superstition go hand in hand.

Nice video, Beep!

7/5/07 10:33 am  
Anonymous Honjii said...

I have never heard of most of those superstitions before. I've stepped on my share of cracks and my mother has osteoporosis, does that count? Also I just love garlic and I've never been bitten by a vampire, so there just might be something to this superstition stuff.

Honjii

7/5/07 11:44 am  
Blogger tina said...

I always thought it was just a kids' game not to step on a crack. The Exorcist creeps me out, still.I love scary movies, it's entertainment to me. Good video by the way.

7/5/07 11:49 am  
Blogger Plonka said...

little pope: The Exorcist is nothing compared to the evening news...

7/5/07 6:13 pm  
Blogger L>T said...

my mother was in the midst of one of her really crazy superstitious Pentecostal jags when the movie The Exorcist came out. I have a few of my own really bizzare true experiences about that, because of all the hysteria in the Church community at that time.
Never underestimate the power of superstition!

7/5/07 11:41 pm  
Blogger Blueberry said...

"The Devil" and "The Antichrist" don't scare me at all in movies anymore, but some religious figures do, especially if they are cult leaders or something. That goes fiction and non-fiction. Those have a basis in reality that is frightening.

As for superstition, it seems to be nearly the same thing as "religious beliefs" if those involve the so-called supernatural. As for luck, it's a weird concept. There are unexpected occurences that turn out positively or negatively for people. Sometimes good luck is the result of working toward a goal, and because of that, being in the right place at the right time.

8/5/07 12:12 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

honjii

Thanks for visiting. I think the main point is - are you superstitious and if so, why?

8/5/07 1:32 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

I think that theists are more superstitious than any other group because they convince themselves that 2 actions or causes are related, when there is no evidence to suggest that is so.

8/5/07 1:34 am  
Blogger Lexcen said...

beepbeep, I was joking but the superstition is real.

8/5/07 7:16 am  
Blogger L>T said...

they convince themselves that 2 actions or causes are related

That's exactly what I saw! When the movie "The Exorcist" came out I was just a kid but my mother & her religious nut friends, went off the beam & blamed their irrational thoughts & fears on the Devil. & went about preforming their own exorcisms. I blogged about it a while back. i'll try to find the post. They were even convinced one of the womens dogs was posessed.

8/5/07 7:45 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

lexcen:

I guessed as much - but I had to ask.

8/5/07 11:09 am  
Blogger BEAJ said...

Since I turned full fledged atheist, whenever I catch myself being superstitious I just shake my head at myself.
That being said, I think the tendency for humans to be superstitious is more than cultural and it could be hardwired in us. Something to do with survival benefits.

8/5/07 8:32 pm  
Blogger Blueberry said...

I am no longer superstitious but still catch myself doing some things like saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. The "bless you" part means absolutely nothing to me, it's just a standard response to a sneeze. It's like saying "hello" when I pick up the phone, or "you're welcome" when someone says "thank you", or if someone says "how are you?" I say "fine". I know they don't REALLY want to know how I am! ;-)

8/5/07 9:55 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

blueberry

Superstions become a cultural habit, I suppose. The reason for the action (saying "god bless you"), becomes less obvious and just part of a common and expected cultural response. I find it interesting to know the origin of many of these superstitions as many are inevitably associated with a belief in the supernatural.

8/5/07 10:16 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

beaj:

I agree that there may be a survival advantage to being able to experience fear.

What I think is debilitating, non-productive and non-constructive are rituals which are based in irrational fears.

Of course, as an atheist, I think that many religious rituals are based in these irrational fears as well.

8/5/07 10:55 pm  
Blogger Mikayla Starstuff said...

When I saw The Omen, I thought it was a pretty freaky movie but it didn't really scare me. There was a bit of tension wondering what would happen next, but other than that it stirred my emotions little.

And back when I was a believer, Left Behind scared me. I read one though four and then lost interest.

9/5/07 5:23 am  
Blogger Mikayla Starstuff said...

And I do usually say 'Bless You' when someone sneezes. Just out of politeness.

9/5/07 5:26 am  

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