Maverick Philosopher comments on (here) a column in The Guardian (here) discussing whether a religion can be stripped of its superstitions. Like him, I have a problem with the idea that any belief that assumed the supernatural exists constitutes a superstition. For example, Christians think there are good reasons for believing that Jesus returned from the dead, namely the claims of certain people to have seen him alive afterwards. I think these claims are weak, but it’s not that they don’t have any reasons for believing in what they believe.
I tend to think of superstition as the sort of thing that Maverick Philosopher mentions, the person who puts a figure of Christ on the dashboard to ward off an accident. Or the sort of thing which the columnist, Julian Baggini, initially mentions: prayer wheels in Buddhism. Anyway, here is my religion, which if my view of superstition is accepted, doesn’t have any superstitions attached to it.
1. God exists.
2. Upon creating, God placed all sentient beings in heaven.
3. Some of us sinned and were sent to our universe for punishment.
4. There is no intervention by God in our universe, because that would interfere with the punishment.
5. After we die, we either regain heaven or are reincarnated.
6. We regain heaven not through worship of God but by good behavior, by treating other sentient beings right. In other words, we regain heaven by merit and not by grace.
Let me make a few comments. First, there is nothing in any of this that goes against scientific belief, unless one thinks that belief in God is unscientific. But I include nothing about when the universe was created or what it is like. I leave that to scientists.
Next, I am pretty vague about the specifics in (6), which I believe are difficult to determine. That it is difficult to determine is part of our punishment; in other words, it’s easier to get into this place than out of it. I’m pretty sure, though, that killing people who don’t have the exact same religious beliefs as you have isn’t going to get you out of the cycle of rebirth.
Third, I don’t mention karma. I think karma is a useful concept, but the idea that every bad thing one does will be punished seems a little extreme.
Fourth, I admit that I don’t have any proof for any of this. It is true that from the standpoint of a Julian Baggini it’s pretty hopeless for that reason. But then I think the naturalistic view that relies on reason is pretty hopeless. Reason didn’t have a good run in the twentieth century, what with Russell’s paradox and the rise of modern science with its strange results. Reason works well enough in math and in ordinary life, and maybe even when it comes to figuring out how our universe works, but I don’t know that it’s good for answering questions about anything that doesn’t exist in our universe (parallel universes, heaven, God).
Anyway, my reasons for believing in this set of beliefs are, first, that there is nothing obviously against it, unless one is convinced that God doesn’t exist, and second, that it is in accord with what I think God is like. Most religious people believe things about God that I find pretty far-fetched. For example, I can’t think of a good reason why God would use prophets: if God has a message for us, then I assume God will give it to all and not a select few. Nor can I think of why God would demand worship, which strikes me as projecting onto God what a petty tyrant would want from his subjects.
Finally, there are no rituals connected with my religion. There are lots of sociologists of religion, as well as lots of other people, who are immediately going to say that if it doesn’t have rituals, it can’t be a religion. The God I believe in doesn’t institute or demand rituals. For the open-minded, that should be the end of the discussion.
I claim on the basis of these beliefs that my religious views don't entail superstition, unless one thinks that simply believing in God or reincarnation is already being superstitious. But at least the ridiculous sort, the prayer wheels or religious figures on the dashboard or chanting etc., have been eliminated.