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The difference between religion and superstition

Updated on October 12, 2010

The Serenity Prayer - The Essence of Religion

Niebuhr
Niebuhr

Religions are not to be confused with superstitions.

First of all, here are some examples of superstitions:

1. When I wear a white shirt, I do well on my job.  That's why I always wear a white shirt when I go to work these days.

2.   Before I went inside Vegas casino, I pulled out a picture of my deceased parents from my wallet.  I said a little prayer. Then, I won big. Now I always look at my parents' picture before gambling.

3. My baseball team was on a long losing streak.  To change luck, I ate a slice of pizza for breakfast one morning.  After that, my team has been on a winning streak.  Now I eat pizza for breakfast.

As you can see, superstitions are based on an arbitrary belief in one event causing another event.  There are no rational/logical explanations for wearing a white shirt 'causing' a success at work.  But the person decides to believe that his white shirt was somehow responsible for his success at work.  This is the most succinct explanation of superstition.

Can some religions be like superstitions?  Absolutely.  As with the examples above, some religious folks actually and sincerely believe that certain devotional actions (prayers & offerings) do bring preferred outcomes to them.  We often hear that a religious person's illness was cured after much prayer.  The effect of one's prayer caused illness to disappear.  There are no rational/logical explanations for prayer actually causing the event of one's illness being cured.  Some religious people call it a 'miracle.'  Philosophers would call it 'superstition.'

David Hume, a Scottish Skeptic philosopher, said, "Miracle is a violation of the law of nature."  A simple prayer actually causing cancer cells to die would fall into this category.  Medically and scientifically speaking, a prayer can't kill cancer cells. (I personally do not always deny the possibility of a violation of the law of nature once in a great while.)

Now, I must say it is unfortunate that many (so called) "educated people" dismiss religions as nothing more than superstitions only because some religions stress the possibility of miracles via the act of faith.  Although faith per se is neither blind nor irrational, faith is often perceived as an irrational act of believing in some unexplainable supernatural forces which bring on a violation of the law of nature.

To me, religion points to the way to lead a wise and wholesome life.  It should never be assumed to be a bundle of superstitious beliefs.   Religion's primary focus is to help us live wisely.  We can all benefit from wisdom literature of world's great religions.  After all, we are often greedy, vicious, jealous, vengeful, insecure, and unsettled in our day lives.  Inner peace is often missing in our existence.  We can certainly benefit from wisdom literature that has been handed down from our ancestors. My personal favorite is Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer. (See below)  To me, it exemplifies what a religion is.  Through this hub, I hope I clarified the differences between religion and superstitions.

“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 5 years ago from The Shire

      I have to second what phdast said...thank you for pointing out the difference -- it's a big one!

      But I also agree with Suzette. Don't dismiss the experience of those who have been healed. I have scoliosis, and my spine was straightened 10 degrees *in one afternoon.* I visited my spine doctor soon after and verified the change by X-ray. He told me he'd seen people who'd had spinal surgery who didn't get as good a result. What was I doing at the time? Worshiping Christ!

      But what I remember most about that experience, oddly enough, was not the healing. It was the fact that after a long, bleak time of rebellion I had made real contact with my God and was having an incredibly vivid experience of His love and joy.

      You would be right to point out that there is no scientific explanation of that event, because there are limits to what science can measure. But sometimes the simplest explanation really is the correct one. :-)

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Do not dismiss prayer as a form of healing cancer cells or anything else. It is not the prayers per se that rid the person of the illness, it is that the person's attitude becomes positive and strong in the belief the disease or illness will be defeated. It is more of "mind over matter." Therefore, prayer can help make a person very strong in the positive belief they can conquer the disease or illness. I agree with you that religion should be a conduit to teach us a wise and helpful way of living our lives. I also love the serenity prayer - it gets you through a lot in life. But, prayer is also important for that positive frame of mind for some people. Remember, it is very comforting for some to pray and I don't look at prayer for anything as supersitious.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Well written and explained. I like your examples of pure superstition and the fact that you draw a clear distinction between the fact that some religions include superstitious beliefs, but that there is more to religion and spirituality than superstition. Sharing.

    • rmichaelf profile image

      Michael Fielder 5 years ago from North Central West Virginia, where the green grass grows...

      Thank you Mikio,

      You verbalized so well what I have always felt, since leaving the "Church" at around eleven years old. I have spent my time since studying, then practicing, then in some cases, visiting the lands where the "major" world religions had their adherents living and practicing. I have always searched for a way to explain or describe my experience with God, or however one chooses to refer to that reality, in words other than those oft quoted by the more zeolous. "... the challenge is to communicate your joy with non Christians who are outside the church. Simply quoting the bible won't do the job."

      Insightful,

      Thanks,

      michael

    • Mikio profile image
      Author

      Mikio 7 years ago

      Yes, I did read your testimony. I hope you'll feel well soon.

      As for the issue of 'bible quoting,' I'm against this approach because it does more harm than good. This is based on my experiences. Non-Christians are so turned off by 'bible-quoting' (superior-position-taking) Christians. That's why there are so many on-line sites that denounce Jesus Freaks. The better approach is to live the life of humility and gratitude. Then, other people will notice and will ask how you became so saintly. I love Mister Rogers because he was a great Christian without being loud and obnoxious about his being saved by the Grace of God through Jesus Christ.

    • jesusmyjoy profile image

      Betty Bolden 7 years ago from Bucyrus Ohio

      My job is to point out what God did and does, His word says it all, and all need to hear it, paste it on our four heads and eat it like food, this will help us to be prepared for things to come..can't stop the quoting because His word is life, and those who read it will have life, they will hear the word and it will change them. Did you read my testimony...

    • Mikio profile image
      Author

      Mikio 7 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Jesusmyjoy. It's great that you found Jesus. Congratulations! The Bible says that you're saved. That's great. I'm happy for you. Intellectually speaking, the challenge is to communicate your joy with non Christians who are outside the church. Simply quoting the bible won't do the job. That's really why I went to a seminary in the late 80's and got a degree in Philosophy of Religion. I'm not anti Christianity. I'm, however, anti human-bible-quoting machines. The study of philosophy helped me understand that folks who are outside the church need other points of references. The Bible is fine and dandy for those who are already inside the church. Please do think about this, Jesusmyjoy.

    • jesusmyjoy profile image

      Betty Bolden 7 years ago from Bucyrus Ohio

      all have to know and listen it's not about religion, Jesus mentions this in the Bible over and over ..he talks to the pharisees about there heart not being in it..they worship me with their mouths but their hearts are not there..It is about a relationship

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      As I see it, religion is a lifestyle, something meant to offer comfort or to set an ethical course of behavior. (Of course, there's a dark side to religion, as we saw on 9/11 or in the Inquisition) Superstition is supposed to have a very specific cause or effect. Break a mirror and you have bad luck. Carry a horse shoe and you have good luck.

      Interesting hub. Well done.

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