Niagara Gazette

Columns

November 24, 2013

SINGER: Superstition and its limitations

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — I can’t see a problem in saying “God bless” to people, or in praying within long-established religions. But it’s equally true that religion over the centuries did help explain or provide soothing for a prankish universe where death rates were high and unpredictable, and life was frequently Hobbes’ nasty, brutish, and short.

However, it’s also true that religious childhoods have often provided a bedrock, guidelines, and discipline for future adults, even when some of that religious training was later altered or diminished in maturity.

So let’s separate established religion and superstition and get back to the latter — as childish, silly, and useless! I often berate myself for such rituals, because they presuppose that I’m so important, and also that this door or whatever really feels my every need or desire.

A charitable devil’s advocate view (I received from a friend) has it that we’re all quite helpless in this big world of ours. And that by doing all these perhaps stupid things we’re trying (as in the adage, “God helps those who help themselves”) to give ourselves a boost, an assist. We just don’t have a lot of control over our environment. And plain rationalism has its limits. This way, it seems, one has a chance to be safe, or the hockey player, I guess, to score a couple badly-needed goals that night.

And what if the one time you didn’t touch wood or throw salt over your shoulder the roof subsequently falls in, or you lose your home in a Colorado flood or an Iowa tornado? And you think it’s your fault (which it isn’t)? In sum, people who are truly superstitious are frightened.

And I guess we all congratulate ourselves that others go down that route more heavily than we do. Check out certain stores in tourist towns, full of pricey, multi-colored rocks you can clutch, and which supposedly bring one peace and other desirable benefits.

But there are some things superstition simply can’t do. One is to increase your odds of making it over the Falls in a barrel, which I certainly hope you won’t try, even if you previously touched wood!

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

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