Monday, October 22, 2007

The Lure of Superstition

How is it in this age of rapidly advancing technological wonders and broadening scientific knowledge are we still clinging on to superfluous and absurd superstitious beliefs? Leon Trotsky once said, “Not only in peasant homes, but also in city skyscrapers, there lives along side the 20th century the 13th. What inexhaustible reserves (superstitious people) possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery!” In Contact, Jodie Foster plays an atheist/agnostic who is ridiculed for her beliefs. In one scene she is asked how she can maintain her beliefs when 95% of the world believes in a ‘God’ of some kind? Does she honestly believe that 95% of the people of the world suffer from some sort of mass delusion? Well, the same point can be made of superstition. It is common practice all over the world. Does that make it credible and true? The answer is an emphatic “NO!” In his book The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan lists many examples of superstitious beliefs of different countries of the world. He states how psychic surgery flourishes in the Philippines, how ghosts are a national obsession in Britain, how many soothsayers and clairvoyants run rampant in Israel, the French Elf-Aquitaine scandal where they were looking for petroleum reserves from the air, the German concern about carcinogenic “Earth Rays” undetectable by science, etc. Do not even get me started on the Hmong people.

Many of these superstitious beliefs are held by accomplished people with advanced degrees in respectable fields. How can this be? There is one invaluable tool one can use to siphon through this sea of bologna- the tool of skepticism. Skepticism serves as a sword and shield that protect its user from being misled, bamboozled, and from their own naivete’. Hippocrates used the scientific method to discover truth; another indispensable tool. He wrote: “Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it, but if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.” He knew then what many of us still have not realized. I cannot comprehend how this concept continues to elude so many. Of course, the usage of these tools requires patience, which is a rare virtue these days. Most people do not want to think for themselves. They count on the media, celebrities, professional athletes, and other figureheads to tell them what to think.

Another thing that we must do is to care about truth. Too many people are too willing to believe in something because it makes them feel good on an emotional level. They would rather live in a delusional dream world and be immersed in the bliss of ignorance rather than know how things really are and risk not being as happy. Edmund Way Teale in his 1950 book Circle of the Seasons stated, “It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.” I, for one, chose to be entrenched with reality and risk not being as happy or comfortable, rather than be satisfied with not knowing what is really going on in the world.

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