Superstition: An Atheist Touchstone

Lady_in_the_waterI love taxonomy — classifying objects, people, ideas and such into categories.  It is the shameless habit of the empiricist brain.  I realize its limitations, of course, but with those limitations in mind, taxonomies can offer much insight and progress in knowledge.

I recently enjoyed a movie, recommended on another Atheist site, called “Lady in the Water” (2006) by director/writer M. Night Shyamalan who has also done other films I have enjoyed: “The Village” (2004), “Unbreakable” (2000), “The Sixth Sense” (1999).

These are all films with lots of religious and superstitious themes.  Wait, Atheists should deplore this stuff, shouldn’t they?  Well, to hell with such Atheist purity and sanctity.  Superstitious thinking is a huge part of the human mind and either you can deny it, supress it, ignore it or play with it.  Some Atheists may argue that the presence of such films just encourage superstitious thinking to persist in culture.  They may be partly correct here.  But they argue further that any participation in superstitions or religion is a bad thing.  What these atheists miss is that superstitious thinking will persist whether a hyper-rational atheist wants it to or not.  So while we’ve got it, we might as well enjoy it.  Heck, this is probably why my kids love my bed time stories so much — sure, our family is Atheist, but we know how to have fun with magic, dragons, ghosts and the whole cast make-believe land.  Superstition is not our master, but our servant.

For me, superstition has proven a great touchstone to use in my taxonomy of Atheists. “Touchstone” is a fun word meaning a small dark stone (such as slate) used to assay precious metals because they have a finely grained surface on which soft metals leave a visible trace.  Likewise, this film exposes atheist who are suckers for the supernatural.  Oops, did I just call myself a “sucker”.  Darn !

SupersenseSupernatural thinking is with us from birth and persists into childhood.  Bruce Hood’s new book “SuperSense” (which I do recommend), is all about this issue.  My blog stats spiked this weekend after John Loftus mentioned me on his well-trafficked Atheist site, “Debunking Christianity“.  Well, John actually criticized my post on Sympathetic Atheists saying he was NOT a sympathetic atheist — and I think he is right, he is non-sympathetic.  But negative attentions, when it comes to blogs, is better than no attention.  Smile !  Anyway, I then replied on John’s post and told him about Bruce Hood’s book, “SuperSense” to which John surprisingly replied, “No I haven’t read that book Sabino[sic], but I haven’t read most things although I’m sure it would not change my mind in the slightest.” (emphasis mine).   I think John may have been having a bad day, for he later agreed to read Hood’s book after one of his readers apparently sent him a Kindle copy.  Mind you, John may not change his mind.  He may not admit that superstitious thinking is here to stay.  He may not admit that he himself has persistent superstitious thinking.   He writes fantastic book reviews, so we will have to wait and see if his thinking changes in the slightest if he reviews the book.

By the way, “The Lady in the Water” was panned by all sorts of critics as self-indulgent, vapid, arrogant and muddled mythmaking.  So, I am not recommending it.  I am just using the movie as an excuse to write this post.  Indeed, such a film is probably also a great touchstone to test adolescent atheists — those who just like to like things that others don’t.  Ooops, did I just criticize myself again?

Actually, this film may also be a touchstone for those who are indiscriminate idealists.  Guilty !  I am intellectually an empiricist but my heart (which my mind must constantly tame) is very indiscriminate.  But it is that heart which constantly leads me to wonderful pleasures and thus she also tames my overly cautious mind.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “Superstition: An Atheist Touchstone

  1. That’s because Lady in the Water was horrible. Perhaps not as horrible as The Happening, which was almost unwatchable, it was M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s anti-intellectual vomit all over the screen, so at least you didn’t use that film to make your point. 🙂

    However, the amount of superstition the human race, especially in advanced societies, follows has taken a sharp drop in recent decades and continues to decline. There will come a time, it may not be in our lifetimes, when it will become virtually extinct and I certainly look forward to that day, either for myself or for my descendants.

  2. Yes, there is no arguing taste — I apparently have horrible taste: in alcohol, sports, languages and many more. What is one man’s vomit is another’s wine? (In India I drank liquor made from the spittle of old women)
    If you read Hoods book, and are clear on his distinction between inborn, secular and religious superstitions, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then, I am not sure you really understood my post.

  3. Fun post Sabino! LOL at “M. Night Shamalamadingdong.” And I’m not so sure about old-woman-spittle-ripple, yuck and yuck.

    I read Loftus’ post and missed the reference to your site. I am way in favor of sympathy from anyone and really like that post of yours.

  4. The whole point of being religion-free for me is to be free to watch, think, and believe whatever I want.

    To me the issue is, whether I like it or want it. If I do, then I go ahead.

    Personally, I don’t like ghost stories or sci-phi. I just don’t enjoy the stuff, but if I did, I promise you I would read it, watch it, discuss it, and even donate money for it.

    Religions, though, step on my freedom, and that I don’t like. When people try to convert me or change the “error” of my ways, that I reject.

    I’ve even known people who wanted to convince me to use certain herbs, watch certain movies, or visit certain countries, and I didn’t like such people. Because they didn’t leave me the heck alone with my wishes and intentions.

    So to me, if you want to watch this or that movie, fine, as long as you don’t want to shove it down my throat.

  5. @ Lorena — Indeed, Freedom is what you are promoting. I agree full-heartedly.

  6. “Superstition is not our master, but our servant.”

    This is brilliant.

    I am a big Night fan, and take his movies for what they are . . . fables that provide food for thought. “Unbreakable” is probably my favorite, for it reminds me that the simple act of taking my hands out of my pocket can go far in changing the world around me. Idealistic? Sure. But I too am a sucker for that sort of thinking.

    And the book? I read it a while back, when it first came out, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Another book you might enjoy is “Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” by Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause. I had to go to amazon to get the exact title, and see that there are many books on this subject. Keep the recommendations coming . . .

  7. I would imagine superstition will never go away completely. It seems to part of our thinking process. This sentence pretty much shows that it hasnt left your brain yet. 😉

    “But it is that heart which constantly leads me to wonderful pleasures and thus she also tames my overly cautious mind.”(Sabio)

  8. Pingback: Cephus

  9. Unfortunately, Hood’s book, and I haven’t read it, I’m just basing it on the cover, is “Why We Believe in the Unbelievable”. It’s not too hard to come up with reasons why humans are irrational, but my real interest isn’t why, but *SHOULD* we believe in the unbelievable and my response is a resounding *NO!*

    That doesn’t mean humanity is going to stop being irrational, illogical and overly-emotion-driven any time soon, any more than humanity is going to stop being racist any time soon, but I think most of us agree that it should. Irrationality harms humanity, it doesn’t matter if that irrationality is religion or racism, it’s still a crutch that keeps people from standing on their own two logical feet. Explaining why people do it may be of some use, but I’d much rather explain why people shouldn’t do it in the first place.

  10. @tysdaddy
    — Thanks for stoppin’ in and I am glad you enjoyed. I have read Newberg’s book years ago. I enjoy his approach immensely. You keep the recommendations coming too !

    @ T4T
    — Yes, aren’t I an apparant bundle of confusion.

    @ Cephus
    — Thank you, both you, John Loftus, his colleagues at DC, VJack at Atheist Revoution and many others are giving me great ideas for posts. I am sincere. I think I am coming to see what you all share and I am fumbling with ways of verbalizing what our differences are. I, like you, do not think those differences are trivial. I think we also share many insights. But then, I share many insights with many religious people who hold those insight in different theological webs. If you understand my philosophy of mind and belief, that last sentence would make sense. But I am afraid I have not done a good job of describing it yet. If I did, I think we could more clearly see what we actually disagree on. I will try to write some posts to address these concerns, please stay tuned.

    Meanwhile, I am thankful that blogging & the community of bloggers are teaching me about communicating and helping me clarify and reform my thoughts. Blogging is also helping me to see parts of the world I don’t normally see, keeping things civil and clear is an art. I appreciate your cooperation as I fumble in this realm too.

  11. 🙂

    Takes one to know one.

  12. Lorena wrote: “The whole point of being religion-free for me is to be free to watch, think, and believe whatever I want. To me the issue is, whether I like it or want it. If I do, then I go ahead…Religions, though, step on my freedom, and that I don’t like.”

    Lorena, the irony of your comment is that while you are condemning the dogmas of religion, you are actually espousing the very dogmas of a very specific “religion,” yourself.

    Everything you just said can be traced back to such philosophers of Modernity as Thomas Hobbes. Along with René Descartes and other philosophers at the time, they developed the ideology of human beings as very isolated and atomistic, which led to the hyper-accentuation of competitive rights from one another.

    However, philosophers of Post-Modernity have demonstrated that this is just another religion at the table of pluralism. It is a fundamental-faith-commitment ideology, and is completely on par with every other religion.

    So whether you realized it or not, you are actually committing the very “sin” that you are condemning: shoving your religion on everyone else ;-).

  13. @ Aaron
    You wrote to Lorena: “[you are] shoving your religion on everyone else.”

    I am not sure that is accurate. She is requesting freedom for herself. She is not telling others they need to be like her, just asking them to stop telling her to be like them. Big difference, I think.

    I am very curious, as you know from our chats on your site, to learn how the Post-Modern philosophers (PMP) “have demonstrated” …. anything?

    You make it sound like all the peer-review philosophy journals agree that PMPs have succeeded in proving their insights. Instead, I imagine as in all good philosophical issues, this is very controversial. Can you point us at about 5 web articles to make your point — I don’t think folks here will buy books right off without some enticing articles first. You can even link to your site if you’d like.

    But I do think you are 100% correct to say that Lorena has a “fundamental-faith-commitment ideology”. Yes, atheists are often unaware of the work of faith in their lives. Though I don’t think Lorena will be to hesitant to admit some belief in unproved items. We’ll see. But since religions threaten nonbelievers with Hell, claim they are they are immoral by nature and tell us our lives are worthless without their ideology, I’d say you are wrong to say it is on par with every other religion except in the “faith” component.

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