Tuesday, October 27, 2009

♪♫Very Superstitious...♪♫

I love Stevie Wonder. Yeah, he proselytizes at the end of his concerts. They're his concerts, he can do what he wants. He's still one hell of a musician.

As you may have guessed, this post is not about Stevie Wonder. It's about superstitions. And it may be somewhat disjointed and hard to follow, because I have several concepts fighting for top spot in my head. And I'm drinking rum.

When I was a christian, I claimed that I was not superstitious. Of course, I did not consider Christianity to be superstition; that was faith. It was different. Superstition was believing in something based on intangibles such as folklore and hearsay, notable coincidence, and random trial-and-error. My religion was nothing like that.

[pausing for laughter]

Of course religion is superstition. Prayer has no more effect on the physical world than a black cat crossing your path; but there are those who believe in one or the other, or both, and can cite you several accounts to back it up.

"I prayed that the mole would be benign, and it was! Praise Jesus for answered prayer!"

"That cat crossed in front of me this morning, and I got a speeding ticket! Damn cat!"

Both of those statements sound ludicrous to me now; but there was a time in my life when I gave much credence to prayer, and at least some consideration to the traditional "old wives' tale" superstitions. In fact, the most difficult step for me after becoming an atheist was giving up prayer. There were things I prayed for every night when I believed in God: my mother's health, my daughter's continued health and well-being, and safety and protection for my entire family to name a few (it just occured to me that there's a theme there). My nightly prayers were long, and I could not fall asleep without doing them. Once I came to terms with the fact that there was no one in any mystical place called Heaven who was listening, I had to learn to sleep without that nightly ritual. It took a while. For a very long time, when my daughter was going to go do something without me, I would almost instinctively think, "God, keep her safe." It was just a learned thought pattern for when I wanted something very, very much. I haven't prayed for a long time now, but it took a lot of retraining of my brain.

The thing is, once I let go of religion and prayer, I easily let go of all the other superstitions that I had once casually held. I no longer avoid opals (they are supposed to be bad luck); in fact, I recently bought an opal ring that I now wear every day. I'm not afraid of ghosts, or "haunted" places (though I still won't go through a Halloween haunted house because I can't stand the idea of putting my hand on something gross and slimy in the dark; THAT'S A LEGITIMATE FEAR). I don't worry about what shirt I wear on the day my favorite team is playing. In fact, I can't think of a single superstition I still hold.

I have heard several of my atheist friends talk about silly superstitions they still have. They understand that they're irrational and can't possibly be real; but they just can't ignore them. I find that fascinating. I wonder why humans are wired to think that way?

Do any of you still have any lingering superstitions, despite your embrace of reason? What are they? Why do you still believe it?


AphroditeRising said...

Nope. In fact, oddly enough I just realized the other day that I don't pray anymore. Ever. My mom is sick in the hospital, possibly dying, and I haven't said dick squat to any higher power.

It struck me, suddenly. I was taken aback.

I'm over it! Yeeeaaayy!

If my kid were sick I'd be a prayer whore, though, I've got to imagine. Anything for my kids.

Even if Anything is Nothing.


N said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your mother, A. I hope she recovers.

"Even if Anything is Nothing."

That is a cool statement, and I know what you mean. If anything could drive me back to prayer, it would be my daughter.

But I just really don't believe in it anymore. No more than I believe that going into a flower garden and asking for help from the faeries would help.

In August, my daughter had the H1N1 flu (she recovered; this isn't a tragic anecdote). The doctor prescribed Tamiflu and told me to keep her fever down with Tylenol to keep her more comfortable (well, less miserable). I knew that some kids had died from that virus, so yeah, I was scared shitless. She is absolutely the most important thing in the world to me. But I didn't pray. I just followed the doctor's instructions. And that worked. Thank science.

Aidan said...

"Of course religion is superstition. Prayer has no more effect on the physical world than a black cat crossing your path; but there are those who believe in one or the other, or both, and can cite you several accounts to back it up."

Is it rational to dismiss something just because it has not been found empirically to exist, even when there is an absence of fact to support the idea that another explanation is forthcoming?

If you were to look at the commonalities in most theistic systems of belief, and look therein for some type of inspiration, the overwhelming thought on 'belief' is that if you have enough faith, anything can be influenced from it. But faith in what? You have faith in science, and in doctors; absolute faith - does this not strengthen the resolve of your body in accepting the remedy?

Perhaps the reason we as a species are predisposed to accept a divine explanation for events, is that an element of 'belief' is somehow an aspect of the make up of our reality? That belief in anything exerts an influence on the reality of it?

It may very well be an esoteric aspect of the Universal Equation, and why it eludes those who seek only a set-fact explanation. When you only allow yourself to accept one possibility, you close yourself to all others, no matter how obscure or unlikely. But you close them just the same - and predetermining the limits to where you can find facts is NOT the scientific method. The scientific method is to hypothesize, experiment, observe, record and report - not to judge; not to conclude.

At least, that's what my Toxicology degree says... :p

(I never use the word 'prayer'. Icky. I also avoid the idea that 'it was gods will', or that I need to seek either science or spiritualism for most ailments. Not burdening your detoxification system in your body will allow it to fight infection on its own, for the most part. It may take longer, but it will work. I have COBRA, but am fighting my flu with echinacea, goldenseal, propyllis, zinc, garlic, water, exercise and sleep. Smoking targets the lungs; drinking targets the liver and kidneys; fatty foods target the gallbladder; sugar affects the overall immunosystem via onset diabetes; drugs typically affect the brain, heart or nervous system. Our bodies have wonderful detoxification systems, if we don't tax them.)

N said...

But Stevie Wonder rocks.

Sorry, Aidan. The Scotch is kicking in. I have to go to bed now. I'll respond to the rest of your comments tomorrow...