WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RELIGION AND SUPERSTITION?
I have a superstition about hotel rooms: After I check in, one of the first things I do is look under the bed for dead bodies.
Tabitha can confirm I really do this, although it’s probably not the best icebreaker if you ever meet her. Maybe say something about her hair first.
I know how this sounds, but in 1999, Snopes confirmed that the urban legend about a hotel guest discovering a corpse under the bed was actually true. Or rather, there have been a variety of similar true cases that all merge into a single myth, like the world’s worst Voltron.
So I’d argue my superstition isn’t a superstition at all, it’s just prudence. It’s not that I expect to really find a body; the point is ANYTHING could be down there and I wouldn’t know. Unless I look.
In any case, statistically, most of us have one or two superstitions. And, most of us are religious to some degree. Is there any real difference between these practices? I can’t become tax exempt for looking for bodies under the bed–only for looking for bodies in bread. But why?
The other day–actually two days after Friday the 13th–the Friends of the Satanic Temple Ireland made a few comments on Instagram about superstition.
“As hard as we try, it can be tough to not be at least a little superstitious,” they write. This presumably is because they don’t leave a wishbone on the threshold once a month, which everyone knows is the most effective way to ward off superstition.
One Insta commenter mentioned holding their breath when passing a cemetery. Per University of South Carolina researchers, some people feel that breathing would be disrespectful toward the dead–our mortality privileged equivalent of conspicuous consumption.
A 1932 University of Nebraska – Lincoln paper suggests that the number 13 was unluckily associated with figures like Loki, Judas, and, presumably, 13th President Mallard Fillmore, once the victim of a drive-by ink attack, the second worst thing to happen to any president in 1865.
Germans once believed that spilling salt provoked the devil, while the French pioneered throwing salt over one’s shoulder in hopes of hitting the devil in the eye. Although our source on that is the Morton Salt company, who might just be out to corner the market on European anti-Satanic food additives.
West Virginia University Associate Professor Rosemary V. Hathaway writes that the old turn of knocking on wood might have been a bid to appease pagan tree spirits. Although it seems to me once you chop down the tree anything else is just asking for some Paranormal Activity shit.
Or was this actually a Christian practice–touching wood to recall the saving power of the cross? I guess that’s a safer option than nails, tetanus shots not being likely to appeal to the Jesus set these days.
It should not surprise us that almost all of these practices have a religious element. Like conspiracies and urban legends, superstition overlaps with religion to the point that if these concepts were people, they could marry only in 19 US states.
In the 1998 Catholic guilt comedy Dogma, a fallen angel played by a Matt Damon in his pre-Bourne again phase suggests that “voodoo” has “no real doctrine” but rather just “an arrangement of superstitions.”
This is a) incorrect and b) presumably racist, but might be accidentally, fundamentally true anyway. Because arguably, “arrangement of superstitions” is how we’d describe most religions.
In the Wall Street Journal in 2009, Catholic writer David Gibson suggested, “The difference between superstition and religion is […] the difference between belief in a personal, benevolent god and fear of pitiless mother nature.”
Like scrambled 90s cable porn, this is presumably gratifying to someone, but it’s hard to imagine who.
Late antisemitic mega-preacher and Illuminati sleeper agent Billy Graham told a faithless reader in 2017 that the difference between god and superstition is that god is real. Ironically, the Bible has something to say about building on sand.
Catholic researcher Anthony M.J. Maranise argues in the journal Sports Psychologist that religion is distinct from superstition in that it “provides significant meaning”–and that this is measurable in the way that it furnishes more and better incentives, motivations, and comfort than simple superstition.
But this is merely a distinction of degree; it’s like saying a BMW is not actually a car because it costs more and doesn’t rattle my balls while driving.
I guess as Modern Satanists we would argue that ours is a religion without superstition; indeed, the aforementioned Satanic Temple frequently argues the necessity of divorcing religion from superstitious practice.
But I contend that in practical terms, our use of Satanic ritual mirrors many common superstitions, even though most of us do not believe ritual has any magical power over our lives.
After all, no matter the origins of the practice, few people do things like knock on wood for sincerely spiritual reasons, or for that matter because they believe it really magically affects their fate.
They do it out of habit, psychological compulsion, tradition, or even a sense of fun. These are not distinct from the reasons most of us perform ritual.
I don’t call it “the Scottish Play” because I’m scared of bad luck. I do it because, on some level, this tradition entertains me.
Maybe religion stops being superstition only when cleaved from credulity. In which case, the question as to what separates the two concepts would in most cases be:
Nothing at all–but that COULD change.