Is religion “superstition”?

The other day somebody out for blood accused me of being disrespectful to religion because I called it “superstition”. Presumably the person was thinking of “superstition” as those secular forms of belief, like carrying a rabbit’s foot or not stepping on cracks or not walking under ladders that are completely irrational but thought to have tangible effects on one’s life.

But that’s exactly what religion is! When you pray, or daven, or wash your feet before Islamic prayers, or eat a wafer at Mass, you’re performing actions that are thought to be salubrious, but they’re just as irrational as looking for a four-leaf clover for luck.  In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary—my go-to site for definitions—has this for the “religious” connotation of superstition:

And here’s the secular rabbit’s-foot definition:

Ingersoll, as you saw in the quote I gave this morning, also equated religion with superstition. And indeed it is, harsh as that may be to the ears of believers. Religions are irrational, unfounded, based on fear and ignorance, and full of “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural.” Further, they are all false, so far as we can tell: at the very minimum only one can be true. Ergo, religion is superstition. And believers are “superstitionists”:

The reason people bridle at equating religion with superstition is not because the latter word is inaccurate, but because they still retain an unwarranted respect for faith.

QED

136 Comments

  1. yazikus
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m mildly superstitious, and understand that it is wildly silly and irrational. I make fun of my own quirks. Too bad religious folks can’t do the same, but they are so hungry for legitimacy they cannot leave well enough alone.
    I wonder if there is a correlation between loudly religious folks and their need for external validation. Monastics would be the opposite of this, I think. Happy to go do their religious jam in the wilderness and never force another person to agree with their choice.

    • Christopher
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      would that make you mediocre-stitious?

      • yazikus
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps subsuperstitious…

        • jaxkayaker
          Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          So, you’re stitious.

    • Mike Anderson
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Semistitious?

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t use the word “superstitious” to describe someone who knows their comforting little rituals don’t have any power (aside from the power to comfort).

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 18, 2018 at 2:02 am | Permalink

        Habit may also play a part in these low-level superstitions, like saying ‘gesundheit’ if someone sneezes, or not walking under a ladder.

        I have a habit of tapping my knuckles against a wall if I’m walking alongside it, and I always do it in multiples of six times. Borderline OCD? I don’t have any belief about what might happen if I don’t, but the habit is surprisingly strong.

        cr

        • GBJames
          Posted March 18, 2018 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          A word of advice: avoid brick walls.

  2. Mike Anderson
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Religion is institutionalized superstition. To imply someone’s superstition doesn’t have an institution behind it could be considered insulting.

  3. GBJames
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    sub

  4. Martin X
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Christians are offended by it because they’ve historically used the term to refer to non-Christian beliefs.

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Yep, they just don’t see the symmetry. The outsider test. One god further … 

      /@

    • alexander
      Posted March 18, 2018 at 1:46 am | Permalink

      This also explains the German and Dutch translations for the term “superstition:” Aberglauben and bijgeloof, which literally mean “aberrant belief” or “aberrant faith.” This because what was viewed as knowledge was entirely controlled by the religious authorities.

  5. rom
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    It certainly has elements of superstition.

    I don’t walk under ladders because of superstition, though I would not stop people not walking under ladders because of superstition.

    • W.T. Effingham
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      I walk under ladders frequently and have the stubbed toes, paint stained clothes and bruised shoulders to prove it.

      • rom
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        You should attend our safety crew talks at work. 🙂

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Some superstitious people do.

      /@

    • Posted March 18, 2018 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      I don’t walk under ladders because… W.T. Effingham pretty much made my point.

  6. jamesisdead
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    For many years with my family, I have stated that I refuse to live my life by “silly superstition and myth which includes your death cult!”
    Needless to say, I am estranged from my family. But it does not make any difference to me. They, my sisters, raise their children to believe fervently in their cult and continually speak out against science that seems to contradict their irrational claims.

    • rom
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Just tell them you love them (assuming you do).

      • rickflick
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        If you don’t, you could still tell them you do. Unless you’re superstitious about that sort of thing.

        • jamesisdead
          Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          Thanks for remarks Rick and ROM, I do love my sisters and I tell them when the opportunity is appropriate. Since the death of my father, I am trying to regain a relationship with my sisters and their children. We just avoid the discussion of many topics.

    • Posted March 18, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Dear James, when you say anti-science, do you mean your family won’t go to the dentist? use a computer? wash their clothing in an automatic washer? drive a car? listen to a record or cd? read a newspaper? How sad.

      • jamesisdead
        Posted March 18, 2018 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        I am sorry that I did not explain my statement clearly. Their father indoctrinated them that evolution is not real, the bible is the literal word of g*d and should be interpreted as literal. Yet, when I have tried pointing these contradictions out to my sisters, such as going to the doctor, the use of modern technology and such, contradicts their beliefs. They just shut down and will not engage in an honest conversation or debate regarding their beliefs.

  7. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    How do we draw a distinction between mere, disparate superstitions (e.g. all the examples given), and religion – which adds in many other components, like ritual (built on superstitions), …

    Or is this a strong claim that no, there are no trees for the forest – it is from height to depth and in toto superstition?

    If so, what is so special about labeling one Islam and one Christianity?

    • GBJames
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      This isn’t all that tough. You just describe the differences that exist between varieties of superstition. Just like we have no trouble describing the differences between various forms of “animal” without giving up the value of the term “animal”.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        I think there’s a discrepancy with regard to number of distinct… things….

        Superstition is only one behavioral peculiarity like rabbit’s foot.

        Religion is always more than one superstition.

        There isn’t a religion of the rabbit’s foot.

        … I think a perusal of the dictionary is in my future..

        • glen1davidson
          Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

          Superstition is only one behavioral peculiarity like rabbit’s foot.

          Religion is always more than one superstition.

          No, it’s not. From the post:

          4. A religious system considered to be irrational, unfounded, or based on fear or ignorance; a false, pagan, or idolatrous religion.

          That’s what is usually called “superstition,” not “a superstition.”

          There isn’t a religion of the rabbit’s foot.

          … I think a perusal of the dictionary is in my future..

          It’s not always singular, it can be collective.

          Glen Davidson

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            I find that definition surprising, in part because of the intermingling/assertion that superstition is religion. There’s the other sense of “superstition” as you point out, but you can’t collect those together, it’s just a different sense. Perhaps that is the one that is either indistinguishable or equal to “religion”.

            I’ll read this on my own soon enough..,

  8. wiseape108
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I deliberately walk under ladders to prove that superstition is nonsense. Not suffered any mishaps yet, touch wood.

    • GBJames
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      LOL.

      I don’t walk under the ladder because I don’t want to spook the guy who climbed up it. He might drop his paintbrush on me!

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the inclined ladder is a common feature in the crucifiction scene so the ladder superstition derives from the Christian superstition.

      • Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Many common superstitions derive from the grand-daddy religion superstition, such as touching wood, crossing fingers, and saying “god bless you” after someone sneezes.

        • philfinn7
          Posted March 18, 2018 at 2:12 am | Permalink

          Cruci ‘fiction’. I like that. You did mean it didn’t you? 🙂

    • Posted March 18, 2018 at 12:53 am | Permalink

      I don’t walk under ladders because I like my skull intact, thank you very much.

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    We should refer to religious superstition as high class superstition. That may make them feel better, less offended. What was the name of that healing place over in Europe?

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Lourdes?

      And all the statues of Mary with their shiny feet where people have rubbed them for luck … 

      /@

      • rickflick
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

        Then there’s the statue of Molly Malone who’s breasts are shiny for very much the same reason.

      • Posted March 18, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        And the Statue of David Hume in Edinburgh, which has a lucky toe. At least Edinburgh folk worship at the shrine of Enlightenment.

  10. Roger
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Yep.

  11. Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Of course religion is superstition. No doubt about it. What I can never get used to is how many otherwise-intelligent people lend credence to such nonsense.

    • GBJames
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      One of God’s great mysteries!

    • alexander
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Brainwashing starting at an early (5-6 years) age.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

      There is a desire on the part of many who might otherwise express skepticism to fit in with the gestalt.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    The primary distinction between a religion and a superstition is that the former can afford to hire lobbyists.

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Yep. Religion fits the superstition test. And if I am wrong may god smite me. [tosses salt over shoulder. Knocks on wood, and uncrosses fingers].

  14. Historian
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Of course religion is superstition as the dictionary definition notes. It doesn’t matter how institutionalized it is or how many people accept its tenets as true. Every minute that people spend supposedly following the dictates of a deity is spending a minute practicing superstition. This assumes that the essence of religion is the belief in a supernatural being that one “communicates” with for one reason or another. When people attempt to divorce the definition of religion from the supernatural then they are actually defining some other word, not religion. One such futile attempt is to describe religion as “a path to becoming better humans.” See this delightful HuffPo post:

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mette-ivie-harrison/is-religion-just-supersti_b_12733444.html

  15. glen1davidson
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    It depends on how broad a definition one uses. “Superstitions” are often considered to be beliefs outside of the accepted religious beliefs, but of course that’s a rather artificial and biased convention.

    I don’t see how any skeptic has any reason to accept the narrower definition. Of course one tailors one’s words to the situation, and with some people you might skip calling religion “superstition” just to keep from causing animosity. But if one is writing for a broader audience and wishes to emphasize the fact that religious taboos and rituals don’t differ in substance from refusing to walk under a ladder (might be best not to simply for the sake of safety, of course) because it’s “bad luck,” what offense against reason is made by calling religion superstition?

    I’ve run across the same issue with calling creationism “magic.” Creationists often whine about it, but the best they can do is point out that religion is more than “just magic.” Of course it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that creationism and much other religious belief that relies on what can only properly be called “magic.” The religion is just supposed to make it more sophisticated, but how could it really do that?

    Glen Davdison

    • yazikus
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Try calling ‘praying for a miracle’ ‘summoning a magical cure’. It won’t end well.

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      In short, “more than magic” doesn’t make it not magic. How about “magic with lots of buildings and money”.

  16. glen1davidson
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Superstition is the other guy’s religion.

    Glen Davidson

  17. jaxkayaker
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Religions are a subset of superstitions, with more organization, institutions and traditions. Usually religions are constellations of related superstitions.

  18. Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Every time someone asks me if I am religious I always say that I am not superstitious at all.

    They always look frightened after I say that, I don’t know why….

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      Nice one. I shall try to remember to use that.

      /@

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I like that reply!

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        and sub…

        Hmm…perhaps atheists are substitious…

    • Posted March 18, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Dear Dorag, perhaps the expressions are simply shock…ya know, when people make high-sounding remarks, and the listener is rendered speechless (as in, ‘what the heck just happened here).

  19. Mark R.
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

  20. Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Religion is one part delusion one part superstition and one part insecurity.

    How is it religion remains powerful…people don’t want to lose their loved ones.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      And, no one wants to make grandma cry.

  21. ashdeville
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I was brought up Roman Catlick and was terribly superstitious until around my 13th birthday when I rejected it all. Got to the point where it was interfering with everyday life.

  22. Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    The OED definitions quoted imply that there exist religious beliefs and practices that are NOT “irrational, unfounded, or based on fear or …”

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Some atheistic religions might qualify.

      /@

      • rickflick
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Like sports?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 18, 2018 at 2:09 am | Permalink

          You think sports aren’t riddled with superstition? They are most certainly riddled with BS.

          cr

          • rickflick
            Posted March 18, 2018 at 7:33 am | Permalink

            Is the Pope Catholic?

  23. Stephen Barnard
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Compared to avoiding walking under ladders and stepping on cracks, religion is a superduperstition.

  24. glen1davidson
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I ran across this history:

    As the [Roman] empire expanded, the term superstitio was applied to exotic foreign religions of which the Romans disapproved, such as the Egyptian cult of Isis and later the Jewish sect of Christianity. Its meaning became more collective, referring to the “religion of others” in pejorative terms rather than to an individual Roman’s inappropriate or exaggerated religious attitudes.

    The early Christians adopted this collective meaning, turning the category of superstition back on the Romans. In the period after the second century, pagans and Christians reciprocally condemned each other’s religious beliefs and ceremonial practices as the superstitious cult of false deities. But the militant monotheism of Christianity intensified the negative meanings of these charges.

    Source that credits the Encyclopedia of Religion

    Just a matter of who’s saying it…

    Glen Davidson

    • glen1davidson
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      I thought I’d add some history (same source as in above comment) on skeptical usage of the term “superstition”:

      Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary (1764) asserts that “superstition was born in paganism, adopted by Judaism and infested the Christian church from the beginning.” In place of the fanaticism and intolerance associated with organized religion, the philosophes proposed a “natural religion” that would acknowledge a supreme being but regard his creation as sufficient revelation. The scientific study of nature was thus proposed as a new cultural orthodoxy, and the concept of superstition was redefined to fit this frame of reference. From “bad religion” it came to mean “bad science,” assuming its modern sense of misplaced assumptions about causality stemming from a faulty understanding of nature.

      We might call their “natural religion” superstition as well, though, if with less conviction.

      Glen Davidson

  25. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Google results :

    Superstition
    noun
    noun: superstition
    excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings.
    “he dismissed the ghost stories as mere superstition”
    synonyms: unfounded belief, credulity, fallacy, delusion, illusion; More
    magic, sorcery;
    informalhumbug, hooey
    “medicine was riddled with superstition”
    a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.
    plural noun: superstitions
    “she touched her locket for luck, a superstition she had had since childhood”
    synonyms: myth, belief, old wives’ tale; More
    legend, story
    “the old superstitions held by sailors”
    Origin

    Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin superstitio(n-), from super- ‘over’ + stare ‘to stand’ (perhaps from the notion of “standing over” something in awe).

    ——————————-
    Religion

    religion×
    re·li·gion
    rəˈlijən/Submit
    noun
    noun: religion
    the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
    “ideas about the relationship between science and religion”
    synonyms: faith, belief, worship, creed; More
    sect, church, cult, denomination
    “the freedom to practice their own religion”
    a particular system of faith and worship.
    plural noun: religions
    “the world’s great religions”
    a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.
    “consumerism is the new religion”
    Origin

    Middle English (originally in the sense ‘life under monastic vows’): from Old French, or from Latin religio(n-) ‘obligation, bond, reverence,’ perhaps based on Latin religare ‘to bind.’

    —————————-\—————

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I’m doing this with a bunch of people talking at once so I apologize:

      The OED definitions shown do not, to my eye, refer to etymology of the words. I wonder how the dictionary authors came up with the definition. I wrote above that the definition of one uses the definition of the other and I found that surprising- I am thus disputing the definition, as outrageous as that sounds.

      I understand OED should be too-notch, but my go-to dictionary Google seems to give a more precise definition. I admit I take BITH at face value, but here, I think I need to understand the definitions’ origins.

      • Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        The OED documents the current usage of words, not their etymology. What “superstition” meant 500 years ago – or whenever – is of no relevance to its modern meaning.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted March 17, 2018 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know how they write definitions, but I think the origin of a word has everything to do with understanding a word. Origin is not equivalent to what it meant in antiquity. The OED defs, in my view, appear inaccurate.

          • Posted March 18, 2018 at 6:34 am | Permalink

            Sometimes words change their meaning completely over the years. The origin of a word can tell you a lot about the evolution of language but the only thing that can tell you what a word means now is how it is used now.

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted March 18, 2018 at 6:53 am | Permalink

              Would you agree the OED definitions above for “superstition” and “religion” appear less precise than the definitions output from Google?

              And if what you say is true, then:

              -how do we know which dictionary is the best one? I don’t see definitions as being the product of a survey, but maybe they are.

              -can you give an example of a word pair that has blended their meanings over time so as to be synonyms?

              …. I’m not convinced that “religion” is a synonym for “superstition”.

              Another argument came to mind yesterday, of truth claims : Jesus rising bodily into Heaven is a truth claim, while “stroking my rabbit’s foot brings good luck” is not exactly a truth claim, as “good luck” is so nebulous a notion. Religions are truth claims – superstitions are tautological explanations for behavior – but it’s clear, isolating the two is, in my view, not easy..

              Thanks for the interesting discussion!

              • Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

                “Stroking a rabbit’s foot brings me good luck” is certainly a truth claim, assuming the speaker isn’t lying. The speaker gets to decide what they consider “good luck”. There’s no reason to believe that it the term is nebulous to the speaker.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

                I see

                I haven’t thought of things like that as truth claims. Originally, I thought “a ha! Everything is a truth claim!”

                But let’s see:

                “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is a truth claim… true or false?

                “It is slander to call waterboarding torture” : truth claim?

                “There is no purpose to life.” Truth claim

                Hmmmm

                Are some truth claims better formulated than others?

              • Posted March 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

                I see a difference between whether a statement is a “truth claim” and whether what it claims is “true”. As I see it, most statements are truth claims simply because it states something the speaker believes is true. At the same time, what they are claiming to be true may not in fact be true.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 18, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

                “… most statements are truth claims simply because it states something the speaker believes is true.“

                Isn’t that a given?… what does “most” mean here?

                And isn’t truth independent of the speaker, and I ndependent of belief?… I’m not a professional philosopher….

              • Posted March 18, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                I said “most” because there are statements that are not truth claims. “Let’s go surfing” for example.

              • Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                A word pair: “earl” and “count”.

                /@

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                Alright ….

                I’m looking at the definitions from Google and earl is English, count is equivalent to earl, but is generally European….

                So you’re saying one of them is the latest greatest word to mean both things?… which one…?

              • Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                Generally … but the wife of an earl is a countess, and and earl’s deputy a viscount, so I think you have to consider them synonymous in English.

                /@

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted March 18, 2018 at 7:46 am | Permalink

              this is pretty interesting, but I’m still working on it:

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definition

              and of course:

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictionary

          • Posted March 18, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

            “the origin of a word has everything to do with understanding a word”

            Nope. “Dashboard”, for example.

            /@

            >

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted March 18, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

              That proves nothing here

              I know a dashboard is the structure that keeps passengers from getting muddy when the horses dash at a high speed in a carriage from the 18th century, and it is a sort of honorary title of the structure in modern cars. It’s fun to call it a dashboard still.

              So what? In fact, it helps the case for word origins if anything.

              • Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                But that tells you nothing about its modern usage, esp. in IT, contradicting your earlier claim!

                /@

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                You’re saying we all right now know what “dashboard” means, even though we don’t usually know the origin, or what it was used for…

                therefore the origin is irrelevant to how we use the word….

                This seems to be an exception, no?

                When formulating plurals, for “octopus”, we just say “octopuses” even though the proper plural is “octopodes”…

                I don’t know – I’m still puzzled.

                Then fine! Superstition is a synonym of religion! I don’t have a real problem with that per se….

              • Posted March 18, 2018 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think this is particularly exceptional. Many words and phrases have taken circuitous paths and preserved dead metaphors.

                For example, knowing that “deer” meant any kind of animal (cf. German “tier” & Shakepeare’s “mice and rats and such small deer”) doesn’t give any indication of which particular kind of animal is denoted in modern usage. Another; knowing that “wife” meant woman doesn’t give any indication that she must be married in modern usage.

                Anyway, it doesn’t have to be common to prove your general assertion wrong.

                This is quite a different thing from knowing how to decline a noun. In any case, we’re speaking English and the proper plural /is/ “octopuses”.

                /@

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted March 19, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              Just occurred to me

              “Punch” is another such word, generally

  26. BobTerrace
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Religion deserves no respect. Being disrespectful is rational and perfectly normal.

  27. Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    One of the many evidences that religion is superstition is that each religion claims all the others are superstitions!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 18, 2018 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      An equivalent of “There is no such thing as an honest car dealer. Just ask any other car dealer”.

      cr

    • Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      +2. Ok, +1.

  28. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Sociologists certainly consider them to be somewhat different based on cultural context, but even so you could argue that religion includes superstition as a significant component!! (Catholic devotion to statues of saints is obviously superstitious. So is the belief that at an exact moment of time when certain words are spoken something is “transubstantiated” into Jesus’ body.)

    But a primary function of religion is community building via shared values.

    In my post on this website of January 27, 2016 I wrote that anthropologist Malinowski considers superstitition to be entirely utilitarian and targetting an external purpose, but he regards religion as to some extent having a internal purpose, an aim or goal in itself.

    An obvious difference is that even if someone is on entirely secular grounds mending one’s way of life, one often as a slang phrase
    “(S)he got religion” for say, going cold turkey in drinking. This is occasionally said even if no real religious conversion is involved. One would never say that a person trying to reform their drinking habits “got superstition”.

    • Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Sociologists only make that distinction because of numbers. In the 1500s belief in witches would’ve been accepted as legitimate. Today we understand that not only is it currently superstitious to believe in witches, but it always was, no matter what sociologists in the 1500s might’ve said.

  29. Posted March 17, 2018 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    In answer the religious could demonstrate that their belief system not superstition. How they would do this is yet to be demonstrated.

    rz

  30. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Of course it is (organized) superstition – unfounded belief.

    But it is also magic – moving your hands and/or thinking “just so” is believed able to lead to eventual reward. And it is pseudoknowledge – one or many presumed knowledge systems that is not so.

    That anyone can equate facts with disrespect still surprises me. Disrespecting religion comes from the nature of the known facts, that does not reflect well on religion.

  31. Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes, of course.

    However, religion adds a power structure. Religion is what you get when you combine superstition with the desire for money and control.

  32. Carl S
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    As Stevland Hardaway Judkins (aka Stevie Wonder) said, “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer”:

    • rickflick
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      I’ve enjoyed listening to that song for years but never really understood the words and meaning. Thanks for popping this up. Very appropriate.

      • GBJames
        Posted March 18, 2018 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Same here! I always loved that song but never really paid attention to the lyrics.

  33. Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m not superstitious; it’s unlucky.

  34. mirandaga
    Posted March 18, 2018 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    For the record, I wasn’t out for blood and my objection had nothing to do with whether or not religion is a superstition. The “blind spot” I was referring to had to do with how you or Pinker (or anyone) could call religion a superstition and in the same breath deny that you had contempt or disrespect for it.

    This has nothing to do with the accuracy of the characterization. You might call Trump an idiot and I would consider this accurate, but I don’t see how you could call him an idiot and still claim that you didn’t have contempt or disrespect for him.

    If you can honestly say that you don’t disrespect or have contempt for religion, then I stand corrected.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 18, 2018 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      “how … anyone … could call religion a superstition and in the same breath deny that you had contempt or disrespect for it.”

      I’ll try.

      Your point seems to be that the description ‘superstition’ inherently implies contempt.
      Some aspects of religion (or of some religions) certainly deserve contempt; other aspects maybe don’t. Most of the human race is superstitious about one thing or another, in the sense of believing things without having had scientific proof demonstrated to them. That doesn’t mean we have to be contemptuous of everybody all the time.

      Suppose I (as an atheist) could identify a religion which was fundamentally devoted to doing good works, and managed to avoid the usual authoritarian pitfalls. I would still say that particular religion was superstitious in its beliefs, by definition; but I would respect it for its other attributes.

      None of this hinges on the specific case of whether Pinker or PCC is actually contemptuous of religion.

      cr

      • Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        The word, superstition, carries contempt as part of its meaning. It is applied to those supernatural beliefs that have not been institutionalized by the speaker’s culture.

        • GBJames
          Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          Show me the definition where-in that is true. Because what I find has no element of contempt in it.

          su·per·sti·tion
          ˌso͞opərˈstiSH(ə)
          noun
          excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings.

          “he dismissed the ghost stories as mere superstition”

          synonyms: unfounded belief, credulity, fallacy, delusion, illusion;

          a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.
          plural noun: superstitions

          “she touched her locket for luck, a superstition she had had since childhood”
          synonyms: myth, belief, old wives’ tale

    • GBJames
      Posted March 18, 2018 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      One can recognize something as false or mistaken without holding it in contempt. Contempt is a specific form of judgement that might or might not be applicable to false notions. Do you find childhood belief in Santa Claus contemptible? I’m guessing not.

      Superstition is magical thinking. There’s no requirement that one hold it in contempt while pointing this out.

      • mirandaga
        Posted March 20, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        “One can recognize something as false or mistaken without holding it in contempt.”

        From a strictly logical pov, you’re absolutely right. Theoretically (and I notice that the religion you might have respect for is hypothetical), one could consider religion superstition and still respect it. By the same token, one could consider atheism a delusion and still respect it. But no religious person would call religion a superstition and no atheist would call atheism a delusion. And in both instances, I would argue, the appellations “superstition” and “delusion” imply a degree of disrespect, if not contempt.

        • GBJames
          Posted March 20, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

          But you are just setting yourself up for a counter example. Many atheists (myself included) hold religion in contempt but don’t manifest the same attitude to people who avoid a stroll under a ladder.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 20, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

            Exactly

            Just as the superstitious are victims of superstition, the religious are victims of religion.

            • mirandaga
              Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

              “But you are just setting yourself up for a counter example.”

              But religion was the example in question that started all this. If Jerry had, like you, simply admitted that he has contempt for religion and not tried to defend Pinker against Sullivan’s characterization, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                My reaction was to Paul Topping’s statement upstream: “The word, superstition, carries contempt as part of its meaning.”

                I do not think his statement is true.

          • mirandaga
            Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

            “I do not think his statement is true.”

            Agreed. I have many superstitions to which I’m quite attached, religion not being one of them. As Michael Scott of “The Office” put it, “I’m stitious but not superstitious.”

    • Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      +1

  35. Posted March 18, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I have been criticized for calling religion “myth.” The pure definition of “myth” proves me correct in equating it with religion. I have yet to find a theist who can argue the point after I post the definition.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 18, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      allow me to indulge in my hobby:

      myth
      miTH/
      noun
      noun: myth; plural noun: myths

      1.
      a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.
      synonyms: folk tale, folk story, legend, tale, story, fable, saga, mythos, lore, folklore, mythology
      “ancient Greek myths”
      traditional stories or legends collectively.
      “the heroes of Greek myth”
      2.
      a widely held but false belief or idea.
      “he wants to dispel the myth that sea kayaking is too risky or too strenuous”
      a misrepresentation of the truth.
      “attacking the party’s irresponsible myths about privatization”
      a fictitious or imaginary person or thing.
      an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.
      “the book is a scholarly study of the Churchill myth”
      synonyms: misconception, fallacy, false notion, old wives’ tale, fairy tale/story, fiction; More
      informaltall tale, cock-and-bull story, urban myth/legend
      “the myths surrounding childbirth”

      Origin
      mid 19th century: from modern Latin mythus, via late Latin from Greek muthos .

      ……………………………..

      but what is it about religion that makes it seem bigger than merely myth? Perhaps we’d LIKE religion to just wither into myth, but there’s something about it.

      Perhaps what distinguishes religion from a myth or superstition that is vigorously defended by adherents, it is “alive”, in a way. yes there are “dead” religions, but ….

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 18, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        forgot to say ^^^^^from Google: “define:myth”

      • Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        I think superstitions and misconceptions are vigorously defended by their adherents as well. It is simply a numbers game. If many people believe the same myth, this seems to “legitimize it” in the eyes of society. If an individual claims to see a vision of Bart Simpson in the sky, he’s a nutcase. But the story of an apparition of the Virgin Mary is a sign of devout belief.

  36. Posted March 18, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    All religions are superstitions, but not all superstitions are by definition religious. Both are by-products of cognitive mechanisms adapted for other purposes.

    Let’s examine the “walking under a ladder” analogy. While one might casually describe it as a superstitious act, it could just as easily be a casual Bayesian calculation of probability. One might call it a superstition, but that’s a misnomer.

    By confining your passage through a narrowed space you are increasing the possibility of something or someone dropping on your head.

    That’s very different from the Rabbit’s Foot analogy. Carrying a Rabbit’s foot goes back to one of the first teleological ideas of hominids – even to Neanderthalian and early shamanistic beliefs that “Like Produces Like”.

    If you are foraging for the Amanita muscaria mushroom in the forest it helped if you dressed like one. (Hence, the early Siberian origins of Santa Claus).

    If you need to evoke a god or summon a buffalo herd, ritual demanded that you fashion a mask resembling that particular god, or dress in the hides and horns of your prey.

    If you’re hunting rabbit, it made sense to carry around a talisman to ensure success.

    If you’re looking for the connection between the harvest, women’s menstrual cycles and the ocean tide it was only natural to observe the monthly transformation of the Full Moon’s “face” to bovine horns to discover a celestial deity that interacted with natural events. Our words for man, woman, moon, month and menstrual all derive from the original Sanskrit term).

    The brain is hard-wired with a hyperactive agency detector (HAAD) that projects dangers and attributes all manner of agency to either real or imagined threats or possible benefits.

    We see faces where they are not (pareidolia). We attribute events to iron age belief systems, invisible, imagined or unlikely actors: My cat stole my wallet. Did you take my car keys? Jesus took the wheel.

    We talk to ourselves incessantly about feared or desired outcomes (Prayers, Mantras, affirmations, and we develop pseudo epistemologies, theology, dogmas, rituals and revisionist historical accounts to justify and explain very primitive instinctual inclinations for the supernatural, the unknown, and the unexplainable.

    The path for humans is to learn to mitigate or channel our more primitive instincts with intelligence through science, logic, philosophy, empirical evidence, sound information, and the ability to imagine everything, but believe nothing.

  37. Angel
    Posted March 18, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    It is!!

  38. Posted March 18, 2018 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree that all religion is superstition. They are intersecting sets, but I don’t think one is a subset of the other. Some religions are reasonably considered superstition. Other religions are not. Some religious people are well aware that the effects of ritual (or prayer) is only upon the practitioner and not the larger universe. Nevertheless, they find the practice worthwhile for the change it induces within them.

  39. Posted March 19, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Religions include a superstitious component, or collections of superstitions. But are not *only* such- they include other doctrines. For example, Christians hold that humans are “made in the image of God”. This claim is false, but it isn’t a superstition per se – doesn’t involve any actions or behavior linked beliefs per se.

  40. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Religion is superstition which has a large number of believers who are passionate about it, unlike non-religous superstitions which even believers tend to treat as a bit of a joke.

  41. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Oh oh oh – I just thought if a good analogy :

    If religion is superstition

    Then you could say

    Music is entertainment

    I’d agree

    But consider the reaction if you say Mozart’s music is entertainment

    It IS,… BUT….

    • alexander
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      I don’t agree. You have muzak or Mahler, or Bruckner. But you have religion or religion …


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