Very Superstitious

I don’t write with blue pens.  I’ll go out of my way to find a black one.  It’s not like blue ink is an inferior color to black, it’s just that writing in blue ink feels wrong.  It’s not that blue ink has always felt wrong,  I used pens with blue ink in high school.

Academically speaking, High School didn’t go well for me.  I was that guy who came to class without a pen, or paper, or bagel.  One day in Junior College I wrote something good for English class (yes, in 1991 computers were still very War Games) and it happened to be written in black ink.  I liked the way the teacher’s red marks looked against my black words.  When it came time to write again, I made sure I used a black pen… for luck.

What’s funny is that I don’t consider myself superstitious.  Even though I will waste several minutes a week searching for a black pen, I think of other people as having superstitions because I don’t have “a lot” of them.  The truth though is that regardless of how many superstitious beliefs or behaviors we possess, each of us is superstitious.

Superstition, in essence, is a credible belief that isn’t born out of reason or knowledge.  Superstitions sound true and feel accurate, but are not based on fact.  For instance:

Hay Fever has nothing to do with hay or, wait for it, fever.  The usage of the term “fever” to describe malady, and the arrival of seasonal allergies coinciding with the summer hay harvest led pre-modern mankind to describe the adverse affects of pollen laden air as “Hay Fever”.

While the hay WAS being cut at the same time that pollen was being released by trees and flowers, we now understand that hay has as much to do with seasonal allergies as knocking on wood has to do with keeping disaster at bay and play-off beards have to do with winning athletic championships.

Don’t take this to say that superstitious beliefs are always wrong.  In fact, some superstitious beliefs have been proven to be true… just not always for the reasons that people originally believed.  Ancient humans believed that keeping the umbilical cord from a baby could help prevent its untimely death.  While we now know that it had no value in preventing crib death, keeping a baby’s umbilical cord today can yield life saving benefits from the stem cells it contains.

Superstition is believing something to be true even though you don’t understand it, but superstition is not faith.  They differ in some very important aspects.

Superstitions don’t happen because there aren’t quantifiable and evaluative processes available to the “believer”, they happen in the face of such things.  Consider how you can explain to someone how there is no such thing as luck (especially in regards to the odd related to the state lottery) and someone will still use their “lucky coin” to scratch their “lucky 7” tickets in the same pattern that got them $4 the last time they “got lucky”… regardless of how many times it hasn’t worked in the past.

While superstition is believing something regardless of the facts, faith is believing something in the absence of proof.  With faith, it isn’t that the proof points in the opposite direction of your belief, the proof doesn’t exist in quantifiable terms.

Another serious way that superstition and faith differ is that superstition is an attempt to dictate the outcome of events that you do not have control over.  Humans use superstition as an attempt to control end results, especially as they try to manipulate a desired outcome.  People use their “lucky putter” to hit golf shots they “need to make”.

Faith differs from superstition in that faith is exercised in an attempt to process, or navigate through a difficult ordeal or time period.  While faith bolsters the hopes of the believer, it never guarantees to deliver the desired outcome.  Superstition is about the events of the future, while faith is about the present.

When you begin to think about faith in these terms, you can see that what passes for Christianity in our society (the society that we participate in and thus create) is actually more akin to superstition than faith.

People attend church, say their prayers, and carry around their lucky talismans in an attempt to “win a better future” or “become better people”.  They begin the process in search of a future outcome that they desire, and then attempt to coax and manipulate that end result by “behaving appropriately”, “developing a christian world view”, and “voting correctly”.  Maintaining correct behaviors is why “keeping the 10 commandments in public areas” and “prayer in schools” are so important to the average christian… who doesn’t pray regularly or know more than 4 of the commandments.

What is frustrating to the average human being is that God doesn’t have a set list of actions that produce our desired results if performed correctly, because God isn’t looking to pay off our credit card bills and reform our children’s behavior the way we hope the state lottery will.  When God “doesn’t pay out” the superstitious usually find another interesting and admirable cause to throw their life into… like youth sports and advocacy.

By contrast, the faithful aren’t desirous of achieving their goals, or reclaiming their lives.  They merely want to know God and while there isn’t any quantifiable proof of his existence, they believe.  Because they believe they see him in his creation, They hear his voice in their hearts, and they do his bidding.  They live to love and serve a GOd, not achieve a goal that they believe he owes them.

Their faith isn’t in the bright future of rewards, it’s in their creator as revealed by Jesus Christ.  Because of this their life is lived in the present.  They experience the life that comes from the one who gives and sustains the faith that causes them to see him as more than a vending machine that only works when you happen to press the buttons and pull the levers just so.

They don’t understand or believe, they believe AND understand.  That combination allows them to define success not as getting what they want, but as experiencing the presence of God in their lives.  Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s words to Nebuchadnezzar:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” -Daniel 3:17-18

People who fear to suffer, and believe that getting what they want is success, will live lives that look more like pagan superstition than Godly faith.  People of Godly faith though, they will remain faithful, even though they don’t get what they want.

They get something much better.

 

Silly or serious, what are your superstitions?  Do they stand in the way of true faith?

“When you believe in things that you don’t understand, you will suffer… ” -Stevie Wonder.

8 Responses to “Very Superstitious”

  1. Sharon O June 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Wow, again Jon you have done a great job opening up a subject that is very ‘thought provoking.’ Also we have had two black cats, our first we named Spook and we found him in October, and the second one we named Hannah. They both were blessings to our family and brought us memories we won’t forget. (for many reasons :o) Neither one is with us anymore they lived long and adventurous lives. Maybe when you are a black cat you get more than one?

    • Jon June 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

      I bet those cats had great lives with you and Larry!

  2. Cody June 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Funny thing about people – We desire to KNOW so we can choose (or not) to BELIEVE. Funny thing about God. He wants us to choose and BELIEVE first, so we can see and KNOW the reality of the world and life that He has created for us.

    Humanity’s desire has always been to control. We feel some sense of peace or substance when we ‘control’ successfully (business, parenting, academics – it’s all the same). Choice is control. Adam and Eve showed us pretty clearly – They had control ;).

    If:

    1) Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen. (no control)

    2) Superstition is the substance of the things hoped for based on the evidence of past outcome, though void of actual logic and fact. (my control)

    Which one of these two options makes more ‘sense’? I’ll go ahead and give control over to God. That one makes a lot more sense to me :)

    • Jon June 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

      So good Cody, great thoughts. I love your definition of superstition.

      • Mollie McAmis July 14, 2011 at 12:12 am #

        one word… “agreed!”

  3. John June 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Blue pen all the way, Jon. Once you have thrown away a set of original loan documents because you thought the black pen signature was a copy, you will never use anything but blue again. And, oh, the God stuff was good, too.

  4. Jon June 30, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    I gotta buy some blue pens… throwing out an original would be disastrous!

  5. Mollie McAmis July 13, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    This reminds me of my “LUCKY” Rose Garden Ticket…. Row D, Seat 7 Section 21. We saw the outcome of that is not in my hands nor in the producers hands…. But in the most trust worthy hands ever whom created not just me but also Ryan Seacrest… Obama… And Feebee Furman…. Ps God also created both Black and BLUE pens equally so no more of this absurd racial discribblenation! ;)

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