Good-Luck Religion

"Good-Luck": One of the many balloons supporting Religion

One of the many balloons
supporting Religion

I once had a friend, Jeff, who was raised Catholic but who had long given up his religious faith. If asked, Jeff would, without hesitation call himself an atheist. Yet Jeff still had obvious traces of Good-Luck Religion in his soul.

Jeff and I once did a two-week trip to Mexico where I first saw his residual religiosity. Mexico, as you may know, is drenched in Catholic culture but a very different Catholicism than the flavors that exist in the USA or Europe. Latin American Catholicism has interesting mixes of colorful folk magic, imagery and holidays.

All that unabashed folk superstition makes the sightseeing fun (living it would be different, of course).  As a tourist with a ticket home, superstitions can be visually fascinating. I am not implying that Catholicism in the USA does not have superstitious stuff — I am just acclimated to it.  It is just that the silliness of unfamiliar superstitions is more obviously humorous.  And during our trip, I joked with Jeff about these superstitions to tease his old inner believer.

During one of my jokings, Jeff said, “Sabio, when you joke like that, could you please not stand near me — I don’t want to get hit by lightening.” He was sort of serious — just like he sort of still ‘believed’ parts of his former Catholicism. You see, Jeff never fully lost his old beliefs (especially those instilled in our younger years). We hang on to contrary beliefs easily. See my post here on other counter-intuitive belief phenomena.

fingers_crossedMy friend’s residual Catholic belief was that “Good Luck” part of most religious folks. Religion offers magic power to ward off evil but if religion is not honored, it can also invite evil. This part of a religion persists more than we may wish even after our defection. Here is a story of an atheist girlfriend whose childhood Buddhist superstitions came out clearly during a bad airplane flight.

For many people who say they believe, it is more like crossing their fingers: a good-luck sign to ward off misfortune and sadness.  “Wait, either you believe or you don’t” is what we hear from many theists and atheists alike. But they misunderstand how the human mind works. They misunderstand the many functions of religion and the various ways people use religion.

A Modular God -- more than simple belief

A Modular God
— more than simple belief

Part of the many benefits religion offers believers is “Good Luck”. By confessing their beliefs, the believer is actually just crossing their fingers for good luck. Good-luck religion can be powerfully comforting.

This is part of a series to show that belief confessions are often far more than just truth statements. Sometimes our confessed beliefs are signals of belonging, sometimes they are just like crossing your fingers or carrying a rabbit foot in order to ward off bad fortune in an uncertain world.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

31 responses to “Good-Luck Religion

  1. Sabio, sometimes I stop by but there is little to nothing to say regarding one of your posts, like this time. I disagree with the generalizing in them and your opinion here, but did want to say hello to you and mention that I hope you are well. 🙂 Adrienne

  2. @ Adrienne,
    I am usually very careful not to generalize. If you just want to blast through and say I disagree, that is fine. But the comments I prefer are those which present their reasons and offer their counter thoughts. I actually go back and change posts if I agree with criticisms. So if you are still following, and you care to, a substantial comment would be appreciated.

  3. Abel

    I still like to say “Bless You” when someone sneezes. I don’t say “God Bless You” and I am not doing it to protect their body from being taken over by demons (apparently the original belief was that you left your body briefly during a sneeze, opening the opportunity for something else to step in…).

    Saying “Jesus” as a swear word, expression of surprise, or as emphasis is rather common (at least in the USA), even amongst non-churchgoers, agnostics, and atheists… I find this interesting–it shows how deep early programming is for language patterns. It’s often unconscious. “God” is another one. “Oh Gawd….”

  4. “Religion offers magic power to ward off evil but if religion is not honored, it can also invite evil.”

    I’m not particularly into “religion,” Sabio. What I’m into is better put as a “relationship” with God — a personal relationship. This is different from yours, (in the past), or any other individual’s personal relationship, in my own personal opinion. There are Christians who might raise an eyebrow at that statement of mine, but I believe we all relate to God in our own uniquely personal way and that’s exactly how He relates to us.

    Anyway, you’re talking about something fairly based upon religious customs, myths, and meaningless superstition. My “religion” isn’t like that.

    You said:

    “By confessing their beliefs, the believer is actually just crossing their fingers for good luck.”

    It’s not like that at all, Sabio. By sharing our beliefs, we’re sharing ourselves and something very personal with you and other readers. I’m surprised you cannot seem to relate to what I’m saying, as I would have thought you knew what I meant about “relationship” as a former Christian yourself?


  5. @ Adrienne,
    Almost every believer I know will claim “My faith is not a religion” which translates as “my religion is different from all the rest — so different, it can’t be compared.” Well, hopefully that shows the limits of that claim.

    Of course you have a religion. And it shares many traits with other religions — sure, not all, and you embrace your religion different than others, but that is true for everyone. Now, you may not practice much “Good Luck Religion” in your faith (or may not think you do), but that does not mean it does not exist. I am sure you have seen it.

    I often see religious folks come and get stirred-up because they are defensively on guard to defend the word “religion” or “Christianity” because they apparently feel that if I criticize any part of either, I obviously must be criticizing them personally. Ever hear anyone criticize America and defenders accuse them of not being patriotic?

    Like other believers, instead of coming here to address my post, you just come to tell how your religion escapes all the charges here. We get it. Of course it escapes (hmmmmm?). But let’s say it does, could you tell us if you see the phenomena I describe in the faith of other self-proclaiming Christians? Or if that is too close, how about in other religions?

    Some people’s religion is so superficial that it comes to mere “Good Luck Religion, Adrienne — but probably most only have that to some degree (like the balloon I put in the picture). With out know you, I will have to take your word that your faith/relationship has none of it. But can’t you explore the phenomena without being defensive?

    People can have a “relationship” going in their head, use their Christianity to serve others and still have a bit of “I hope I am doing the right thing so that things go well for my daughter, my family, my nation or world.” Do you see what I mean, or did my explanation above not help at all?

  6. @ Abel,

    Yes, once raised in a tradition (even if only surrounded by it), stuff seeps in. I am reminded of how my missionary-kid friends in college had Hindu-flavored Christianity if they were raised in India, and Taoist-flavored Christianity if raised in China. That is why Mexico’s Christianity has its flavors. Zen Buddhism in America, for instance is different from Japanese Zen because it has Western Romanticism flavors. Likewise, most believers can see how they let their own temperament influence (or choose) their theology. The phenomena is all around us. We flavor each other — see my previous post.

    You’ll note, I intentionally used the word “soul” in this post and that is an illustration of what you are saying too, I think.

  7. I also say “bless you” when people sneeze, I don’t think that anyone really thinks it means anything more than being polite. I tend to use the word “soul”, but not in any spiritual sense, I see it more as the essence of a person.

  8. I agree that the remnant of a religion can stay within a person long after they have a abandoned it. I worked with a woman who said she was Catholic in her childhood but was now an Atheist. However, every time an ambulance passed or we drove by a church or graveyard she would automatically do the sign of the cross. I don’t she was even aware she was doing it.

  9. Ian

    I’ve been reading a lot more about scientology recently, and there’s an explicit tactic, laid out in LRH’s policy that criticisms of the effectiveness of the religion should be countered by discovering the ‘overt’ (crime) you’ve committed and not acknowledged, or the suppressive person you are connected to. The failure of the ‘tech’ is the adherent’s fault. The more skeptical you are, the less likely it is to work.

    That blame is also so ingrained within the language of Christian sermons (in my experience) that is no wonder it is so difficult for some to shake.

    Though, having said that, I don’t recall ever having that experience since leaving my faith. Do you still suffer with it, Sabio?

  10. @ Ian,

    First, I must tell you, that Scientology is mainly for celebs or people with more money than you perhaps. And certainly would never accept someone who does not capitalize their religion. So you might be wasting your time studying them hoping to find loop-holes for how you could still say you believe, but not really believe. I don’t think they’d accept you no matter what flavor of their theology you developed.

    Now, on a serious note: I’ve read your comment 3 times now and trying to understand what it actually says.

    Since you ask me if I “suffer with it”, I am working hard to figure out what “it” is. I can’t tell who is who in your description and how I fit in. So if you could please reword it more concretely for me, I’d love to confess my suffering if possible.

  11. @ Shape,

    Fantastic example — that is exactly what I am talking about.

  12. @ Mike,
    “Essence” of a person — what the heck is that.
    See — “Essentialism

  13. “People can have a “relationship” going in their head, use their Christianity to serve others and still have a bit of “I hope I am doing the right thing so that things go well for my daughter, my family, my nation or world.” Do you see what I mean, or did my explanation above not help at all?”

    I know I’m doing the right thing, Sabio, for me anyway. I wouldn’t change a single thing; I’ve never been happier. And I’m not defensive, it’s just that you assume things on these various posts of yours that make me kind of uncomfortable because I can’t relate to what you’re saying. Not sure if you know what I mean or not.. sometimes it’s easier to just say nothing, rather than feeling that I have to explain/argue/or defend because I often feel as though I do have to defend my take on some of your postings.

    “Like other believers, instead of coming here to address my post, you just come to tell how your religion escapes all the charges here. We get it. Of course it escapes (hmmmmm?). But let’s say it does, could you tell us if you see the phenomena I describe in the faith of other self-proclaiming Christians? Or if that is too close, how about in other religions?”

    I’m hesitant to label what I see in other Christians as “good luck religion” because I don’t think that fits; I also wouldn’t want to call it superstition. I predominantly see issues whereby people confuse Christianity with the political party that they belong to. Their politics become their religion. Bad, bad mistake, btw…

    If a Christian is actually having a relationship with God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ, I can see evidence of it in their life, their writings, and how they behave on paper or otherwise. Christians who simply follow religion don’t seem very plugged in or at peace, or are just “going through the motions.” I think this is sad because it doesn’t have to be this way. They are, in a sense, cheating themselves out of what they could have with God.

  14. Oh Sabio…

    I did a post just for you! 😉
    I hope this helps answer some of your questions. It’s the best I can do. Thanks for letting me share my pov here.

  15. @ Adrienne,
    Without focusing on what you disagree with, I can’t really discuss with you.
    In my story and Abel’s story we give examples of Good-luck religion. I see Christians all the time saying “Why me” when bad befalls them and then saying “I was loving God …” in other words, they felt if they did the right thing, they’d be safer than the rest of us smucks.

    If you can’t admit God-Luck religion mixed in the Christianity you see, then we see a different world.

    Like to Luke (another visiting Christian – albeit of a different flavor than you), I ask you to remember that I am talking about what I observe, not what you feel Christianity SHOULD be. I observe religion — you are trying to tell me what YOUR personal experience is (or how you perceive that experience).

    I know believers in other gods who talk just like you — they have a “relationship” with the god in their mind and it makes them confident and happy. I think you guys are all doing the same thing.

    May your happiness continue.

  16. @Sabio Ewww, didn’t mean it in that sense at all. I’m about as far from an essentialist as one could get. Celebrities and their objects mean nothing to me.

    I meant “essence” more like the sum of their experiences being the foundation for who they are.

  17. @ Mike,
    Yeah, I didn’t think so. But essentialist, besides feeling yucky about sweaters of serial killers, also imagine that their is some “essence” of a person — something unchanging and essential. Eternalists then think that these imagined essence of some things continues forever.

    I don’t think anything is essential us. Even the “sum of our experiences” is only some abstract notion — we can’t remember them, we can’t feel a “sum”.

    I use “soul” to talk about a person’s personality, their present tendencies and such. You probably use it the same. I was probably just being picky about concepts — you know me. 🙂

  18. You? Picky? Never! 😉

    If I was cold, I would definitely wear a serial killer’s sweater.

    I actually got over my believe that objects could be special due to how they had been used, back when I was a Christian. I recall discussing 1 Corinthians 8 and meat sacrificed to idols, in Bible study. We used the example of a pizza that had a pentagram carved into it. It was funny to me how many people in our study group said they would never eat it.

  19. Yeah, essentialist thinking is a strong module in the human brain. It is helpful, that is why it evolved. “Don’t touch the clothes of a dead person” is often good advice from a brain.

  20. I have mentioned my militant gnu atheist friend on here before… he’s totally anti-religious anything and goes to great lengths to distance himself from his fundamentalist baptist upbringing. Yet his backgrounds and assumptions always come out in some form or another. Including a humorous time where he disavowed all prayer since age 25 (he’s 45). I said, “Well, the last time you had sex, what did you say as you climaxed?”
    He said, “Well that was hardly a prayer!”
    “Counts for me…”
    This to say that your model definitely has a lot going for it. The tribal and wishing God is very much in play with my friend above. And for me, much of my own catholic upbringing comes out and is in play. It takes someone else to point these times out for many of us. Really good work here, I see a lot of connections to make.

  21. “Like to Luke (another visiting Christian – albeit of a different flavor than you), I ask you to remember that I am talking about what I observe, not what you feel Christianity SHOULD be. ”
    -Ha! Well, hopefully I can’t be accused of this in my last comment. I’ll keep working on that…

  22. @ Luke,
    Yep, you followed what I said, Luke. I should get you and Adrienne talking on this thread. I will tell her you are a Christian Pastor and that you confess that you see magic going on in Christianity. When she says there isn’t, it is clear to me she doesn’t understand my point or she is hugely defensive or both.

    Funny how people defend words like Christianity, Religion, Atheism and other things they are invested in.

    Thanx for the comment — yes, you escaped the “This is what Christianity Really is” trap this time. Thanx.

    BTW: “Militants” blow up planes, shoot abortion staff, execute civilians. I am wagering you are just using the word “militant” rhetorically — as a pulpit device. Funny how we manipulate language and try to pretend we are not, eh? I do it too — wish I did it a little less: Well, except when it works and I get away with it! 😉

  23. Your view of the phrase militant is not my problem. What I was trying to say is “An atheist who is hostile towards religion and will over-react at any mention of anything they think sounds religious and will never cede their soapbox.” Have another way to get that across? Ardent? Hard-headed? Idiotically? Narrowly? Overly? Reactionarily? Rabidly?

  24. I just call them an “anti-religion” atheist. I try not to generalize more than that. “Idiot”, nope. It is like any mention of “Christian” or “Religion” and some folks just have to jump in to defend the word by saying something like, “Hey, look at my version — you can’t say that.” Even though a general statement about “Christians” or “Religion” was never made. Some people have triggers, eh?

  25. Ted - Lucky Mojo

    I think when it comes to religion, most people who are raised in it from early on tend to keep their superstitions regardless of if they’ve left or not. I’ve had pretty serious encounters which shake my faith in many things but there are definitely some parts that stick. In the end it’s a lot about comfort and what make you feel safe. I can’t blame anyone who wants to be safe and comfortable in a situation that they shouldn’t be which is why I can’t ever say anyone is wrong in their beliefs even if I disagree because I know many wouldn’t agree with mine even if I could explain why they’re my beliefs in full.

    Anyways I like your spiritual facts serving size image. Very unique in my opinion and hilarious!

  26. @ Ted,
    Yes, apparently you love luck, you live off the magic instinct.
    BTW — feel free to leave links to a blog, but I erase links to businesses.
    Thanx for the “Spiritual Facts” compliment.

  27. Sabio, I can relate to this post. I remember watching “Call the Midwife” some months back and I saw someone who was tending to a difficult delivery grab her cross pendant tightly. I immediately thought to myself “oh, it’s like a good luck charm”. I was shocked by my reaction for just a year prior I would have called that comment blasphemous. Christianity is so different to me now that I’m on the outside looking into it. Sometimes I even feel as though I have no history with the religion. Quite frankly, I think that’s a good thing.

    Thank you for your post, Sabio.

  28. @ Charity
    Thanks – I am glad you get it. You know, it amazes me that the Christians that commented so far don’t see this good luck stuff. It is so obvious.
    Thanx for the example.

  29. Sabio, I know you know why you’re getting that kind of a response. For two decades I struggled with my faith consistently, that was half of my life, and almost half of the time I was a Christian. What I needed to see was right in front of me the entire time, but I didn’t want to open my eyes to look at it. No one wants to up and leave someone or something that they have put so much love, time, money, and emotion into. To leave a faith, especially Christianity in the United States, is like burying your best friend. However, that best friend never spoke to me or held me, but made demand after demand in a book he had supposedly left behind for me.

  30. @ Charity,

    Actually, since very young I have been a question-asker. Even in my Christian days, I would have seen the magic but would have said, “No, but what I do is different.” But I would have seen magic wishing in others in my faith and certainly in other religions.

    But you are right, investment blinds us hugely. I have a coming post illustrating one example of that. I guess if Christians feel that seeing the magic would hurt their faith, then their brains won’t let them see it.

    Funny, my daughter had imaginary geese as companions for a few years. She has left them and is almost embarrassed by stories about them now and doesn’t like to talk about them much. She says she doesn’t miss them, but sometimes I wonder.

    Do you guys have children?

  31. Been thinking about this post, and decided to add that I have this weird feeling in the dark recesses of my mind that I can “jinx” myself. For example, saying something like “I never have car trouble.”, and then thinking “I hope I didn’t just jinx myself.”

    I don’t really think I can jinx myself, and it’s not directly related to religion, but it is definitely falls under the domain of luck,

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s