Tuesday, August 19, 2008


[Versión en castellano]

Yesterday, this article (Spanish) caught my eye. In case you can't or won't read it, it talks about superstition in Argentina: causes, common superstitions, etc. And statistics, which is the relevant part. According to a poll on 1007 people, 45% of the population believe in good luck charms or unlucky events of some sort. Sure, the number is a bit high for my tastes, but what's interesting is not that, it's that only 1 in 10 described themselves as superstitious. Allow me to say it: What the fuck? You believe you can influence luck by walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror, you are superstitious. I don't give a shit if you don't like the connotations, that's the definition of the word.

I'm wondering if this comes from cognitive dissonance or general stupidity. Cognitive dissonance, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the tension you feel when you have conflicting beliefs, in this case, "superstition is stupid", "I'm not stupid", and "I'm superstitious". We are naturally inclined to reduce cognitive dissonance by eliminating or altering the conflicting beliefs, and the way of doing so is not always smart or rational. The rational approach would be to stop being superstitious. The somewhat less rational approach is to believe superstition is not stupid. The irrational and dishonest (to oneself) approach, which seems to be the predominant in this case, is to redefine superstitious. By general stupidity, in this case, I mean people not being aware of the actual definition of superstition. Odds are it's a combination of both.

Now, this brought to mind a related matter. Specifically, Christians who deny they are religious. From my own point of view, religion is no more than glorified superstition, so they are pretty much a subset of those discussed previously. Some might disagree with this assessment. It's irrelevant anyway.

During my travels on the interwebs, I've come across many who held that Christianity, or at least their own brand of it, is not a religion, but "a personal relationship with Jesus". Their catchphrase is something along the lines of
RELIGION is mans attempt to reach God. CHRISTIANITY is Gods attempt to reach man.
To which I say, bullshit. You don't get to redefine words just because you don't like them being applied to you. Just to make sure, let's go check the dictionary.
From Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary:

1 a: the state of a religious This one doesn't help the debate, since being religious is what we are trying to determine.

b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural Do you go to church? Do you pray? Then you are religious, according to this definition

(2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance See the previous comment

2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices Also useless for the debate, see first comment.

3archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness Well, I'll give them this one. Believing in Jesus does not imply conscientiousness

4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith Whoopsy, back to losing again. Christians tend to believe in the divinity of Jesus, with ardor and faith no less.

So the score is, 2 inconclusive, 3 for "Christians are religious", and 1 against. And it's the one noted as archaic. I think I win.

So what was the point of all this? To note that people have a tendency to ignore clearly defined terms when they don't like them. Well, tough shit. You recoil when you see a black cat, you are superstitious, and you waste your time in idiotic rituals believing you can influence luck. Either quit it, prove it works, or at least be honest with yourself and call it by it's name. You believe a guy who died 2000 years ago is God and he can determine what happens when you die, fine by me. But don't expect it be considered empirical reality or a personal relationship.

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