October 13, 2017

Friday the 13th: Religious Superstitions Are Even Worse

black cat
I'm not sure what percentage of Americans would say that they are at all concerned by the fact that today is Friday the 13th. My guess is that at least 30% would say so if they were polled, but this is just a guess and is based on nothing more than an observation I've made over the years that roughly 30% of Americans seem to endorse the most ridiculous things on surveys. But even if I'm right and 30% or more would express such views, I'm not sure we need to worry much about it. I'd guess that the number who actually behave differently because today is Friday the 13th would be much lower.

What I am suggesting here is that there is often a big discrepancy between the sort of beliefs one reports having on surveys and how one behaves. I shake my head in puzzlement when I encounter people who claim to believe in bad luck, ghosts, Bigfoot creatures, demons, hauntings, and the like, but I can often console myself with the knowledge that most of them do not act on these beliefs. And among those few who do, not many act in ways that would be expected to have an adverse impact on others.

What about god-belief? I think the first part of what I said above applies here too. Of the many people who claim to believe in gods, angels, or heaven, many do not behave any differently because of these beliefs. But the second part seems to unravel quickly. Of the religious believers who do behave differently based on their religious beliefs, far too many seem to act in ways that often have an adverse impact on others. Consider the endless stream of church-state violations, the attempts to undermine public education and science, efforts to strip women of their reproductive rights, and so on. Many religious believers seem all too willing to impose their religious views on the rest of us.

As tempting as it is to use Friday the 13th as an excuse to mock superstitious people, I think I'd rather note that most non-religious superstitions seem relatively harmless when compared with their religious counterparts. I have yet to have someone knock on my door to warn me about the dangers of walking under ladders, but I regularly hear from Christians who want to warn me about the hell they imagine. I cannot think of many instances where people afflicted by non-religious superstition banded together in an effort to prohibit me from breaking mirrors. In contrast, I suspect any of us could write a book filled with examples of Christians banding together to legislate their morality.

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Let me just add a quick postscript here to ward off some perfectly understandable outrage that might be sparked by the photo above and based on a misreading of something I said above. I am not saying that all non-religious superstition is harmless. When I selected the last couple of dogs I adopted from the local animal shelter, I deliberately selected black dogs. If I didn't have such a severe allergy to cat hair, I suspect I'd have at least a couple of black cats. So yes, I am well aware that some non-religious superstitions can and do cause harm.