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Dangerous Superstitions

Entry 1034, on 2009-06-16 at 20:21:09 (Rating 4, News)

When I indulge in one of my infamous anti-religion rants a common question my opponents ask me is "what is the harm?" They say that what people believe may not be technically true but is that really a problem? Does it really matter what people believe, no matter how silly it might be?

A lot of the time it doesn't, of course, but there are two reasons I persist with criticising religious (and other superstitious) beliefs. The first is that I just have a philosophical belief that people should know the truth and not build their lives around nonsensical lies. The second is that religious beliefs do have negative side effects and they can occasionally be serious.

A recent case here in New Zealand concerned a case of an exorcism which lead to the death of one victim and injuries to another. The people involved happened to be Maori, a group which seems to be more susceptible to superstition than many others, so there must have been a lot of pressure from the perspectives of religion and political correctness to be lenient. But the verdict was guilty of manslaughter which could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Judging by the response of the family members it doesn't seem as though they have really accepted the seriousness of the charges but people who believe in nonsense very rarely see where they are wrong no matter how obvious it is to everyone else.

These people were doomed I suppose, they seem to have accepted the worst drivel from traditional Maori and traditional Christian beliefs. What chance could they possibly have to make a sensible decision about the welfare of their family members?

I don't want to say that people shouldn't have interesting beliefs and stories, they are quaint and make life interesting, but there is a limit to how seriously these stories should be taken. Yes, my classic quote applies again: religion is fine as long as you don't take it too seriously.

Another good way to put it came from a tv program I saw years ago (I can't even remember what it was). A priest or minister was asked to justify his beliefs regarding how what he said was a good God would send people to be tortured forever. When asked whether he thought Hell existed he said "of course, but I don't think anyone ever gets sent there".

Really what he was saying was that Hell doesn't exist because what's the point if its never used? But he wanted to maintain the myth without turning it into anything scary and evil (as it would be if his god sent people there). It was a classic case of someone treating religion with an appropriate level of seriousness.

So superstition can be dangerous and these superstitions can be both traditional indigenous beliefs and more "sophisticated" western superstitions like Christianity. Its great that they exist as myths (and myths should be treated seriously for their metaphorical messages) but never, ever believe they are true!

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