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Question: What is the Difference Between Superstition and Religion?


Several weeks back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Geoff asked:

What’s the difference between superstition and religion?

The short answer is nothing, Practically, an Evangelical would view the beliefs of non-Christians as superstition. The Evangelical looks at Catholics and their prayers to Mary and the saints and sees superstition. What the Evangelical can’t see is their own superstition. The Christian narrative is every bit as wacky as any of stories and beliefs that are labelled superstition. One man’s superstition is another man’s religion.

The dictionary definition of superstition is:

An irrational belief arising from ignorance or fear.

The question I have is whether ALL religious belief arises from ignorance or fear? Most of it does, to be sure, but if someone tells me that they have some sort of deistic belief then I am inclined to say that their belief does NOT arise out of ignorance or fear. I have stated many times that I think one can look at the universe and conclude that a deity of some sort created the universe. This deity, after creating the universe, said, there ya go boys and girls, do with it what you will. Some readers of this blog  hold to this view. While I can not embrace this view, I do understand it.

As far as Christianity is concerned, no matter what form one embraces, it arises from ignorance or fear. Some Evangelicals try to assert that their beliefs are rational, but I find their explanations laughable. Their explanations are little more than a class in probabilities. Let me explain.  Billions of people have lived and died. Every human dies. Even the Bible admits the  obvious: it is appointed unto men once to die.  There are no exceptions except for Jesus and Elijah, for which we have no proof that they are still alive. The Evangelical hangs on to the notion that it is “possible” for a person to resurrect from the dead or never die because the Bible says it is possible. (circular reasoning) Since all the evidence points to when you are dead you stay dead, I consider any other belief to be one born out of ignorance, faith, or hope.

Liberal Christians are hard to nail down, belief wise. I tend to refrain from labeling their beliefs superstition because I appreciate what they are trying to accomplish. Most liberal Christians I know are de facto universalists. Atheists like me end up in heaven anyway, so there no fear factor involved. Do I think liberal Christianity is rational? No, but I do know the world would be a lot better place if every religious believer had progressive, liberal beliefs.

I am sure hard-core atheists will not appreciate my conciliatory, accommodationist approach to deism, liberal Christianity, and universalism, but I recognize that most people are going to have some sort of religious belief, and if this is so, what would I prefer for them to believe? Fundamentalism, in all of its forms, remain the enemy.


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    How the deistic god is not from ignorance? I don’t know (ignorance) how universe begin, theretofore a deity created it. So deistic god is a placeholder for ignorance about the Universe.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I think one can rationally look at the beauty and complexity of the world and conclude that a deity of some sort had a hand in its creation.

      I am not using the word ignorance in the same manner you are. There are many things we don’t know. Is this ignorance? In the strictest sense, yes. But, I am using the word in the sense of a person knowing their belief is wrong or lacking, yet they continue to believe. Young earth creationism is a perfect example of this.

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    Thanks for your very considered response, Bruce. I often use the word ‘superstition’ as a form of disparagement when debating believers, but had never really been sure at what point I was being unfair. Your thoughts have helped greatly.

    I also see where you are coming from in your reply to ssianky, and agree. Looking around at the wonder and complexity of the earth, and universe, it’s easy to see why people believe in god. However, belief in ‘a’ deity simply by way of faith is one thing; believing in descriptions of the world, and our place in it, which are in contradiction of the evidence are just plain foolish.

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    “I think one can rationally look at the beauty and complexity of the world and conclude that a deity of some sort had a hand in its creation.”

    I think you are being kind and respectful, and that my following remark is pretty much what you think, but refrained from saying out of concern for brevity or friction (I could be wrong about this – but I’m sure you know no criticism of what you said is intended, more an elaboration of what I suspect might have been said save for the considerations mentioned).

    Yes, not totally unreasonable. Perhaps rational but minimally so. Looks designed, hence a designer. That’s logic alright – just not very rigorous. The unexplored areas that constitute the flaw? What comparison between designed and undesigned universes have been made, so how do you know what a designed universe must be like? So what tests can you make to ascertain design? A deity is required to explain the universe – OK, what then explains the deity? Its turtles all the way down isn’t it? Grant a deity because you see and have a powerful response to the beauty you see – OK, what about gangrene, tuberculosis, tapeworms, cancer, etc, so if you have a deity what the Sam Hill is its nature? I mean, throw away Hell (thank you very much) and retain a deity – does not this immortal being design creatures that must suffer pain, agony, and death? Gee thanks deity!

    Essentially, all things are possible until demonstrated to be impossible. Jehovah may exist and be going to send me to Hell. A deist god may also be. Almost any unevidenced concept may indeed be. That is why rationalists say belief should be proportional to good evidence.

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    About 200 years. Sorry for the snark. Seriously it takes (imho) time for new ideas to be accepted and widely distributed – this is true not just for religious concepts but also politics (where was the American Tea Party 20 years ago) and science.

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