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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact


by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: Is there really any difference between religious belief and superstition?

There are a couple of sentences in this chapter which may sound racist to the modern ear. This is in common with of a lot of older texts. In my view, the intent is not there, but words have shifted in meaning, as have our sensibilities to how they sound to others.

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“The greatest burden of the world is superstition.” – Milton.

COL. ROBERT G. INGERSOLL, in his lecture on Liberty for Man, Woman, and Child, shows the enormous advance which has been accomplished by the human intellect in every department of thought, except in that of religion, which, with a very large number of its adherents, remains, with scarcely any improvement, the same as it existed centuries ago; and so, while rational thought is constantly presenting new problems of life and suggesting improvements by which greater advantage to and greater happiness for the human race can be secured, it is thwarted by the same or similar superstitions which have come down to us from dark and ignorant ages.

We pity the superstitious “poor Indian whose untutored mind sees God in clouds and hears him in the wind.” Yet, people of intelligence indulge in precisely ‘the same belief – superstition. Their doctrine of a “special providence,” which sends the lightning, the tornado and the earthquake, is identical with that of the savage.

Among the superstitious beliefs which the Hindoo mythology furnishes is that which attributes vast destructive powers to Mahadiva.

A Presbyterian clergyman at Charleston, S. C., attributes the same destructive powers to God and tells his congregation that the earthquake which occurred there a few years since was a specific act of God, sent to punish the people of that place for their sins!

Similar ignorant and absurd utterances may be heard from almost any orthodox pulpit.

Luther claimed that the winds were spirits and that he had a faculty of calming them.

Several of the Reformers believed that comets betokened evil.

The following lines illustrate their teachings:

“Eight things there be a comet brings,
When it on high doth horrid range;
Wind, famine, plague and death to Kings,
War, earthquakes, floods, and direful change.”

Clement, of Alexandria, mentioned the prevailing belief that hail storms and tempests and similar phenomena are caused by the anger of demons and evil angels.

Origen states that famine, the blighting of vines and trees and the destruction of beasts and men, are the personal works of demons.

Tertulian expressed similar views.

St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that disease and tempests are the direct work of the devil. Indeed, this belief prevailed until very recent times. (See Supernatural Religion, vol. I. p. 121.)

Professor Andrew D. White tells us that, owing to some superstitious belief, many of the peasants of Russia were prevented from raising potatoes; that a superstitious reverence for the text, “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” caused fanning mills (for winnowing wheat) to be widely denounced; that in consequence of the divine displeasure shown to innkeepers in France for setting meat before guests on fast days, railways had been introduced and such innkeepers thus punished by seeing travelers carried past their doors! that a superstitious fear of the electric current had caused the telegraph to be denounced as anti-Christ; that the breaking of the Thames tunnel, with all its destruction to life and property, was a judgment from heaven; that the numbering of the people in modern countries met the same displeasure from on high as did the numbering of Israel; that the beneficial effects of life insurance had been opposed by some superstitious belief; that so strong was the opinion that disease came, not from natural causes, but from the malice of the devil, Pope Innocent III forbade physicians, under pain of excommunication, to undertake medical treatment without calling in ecclesiastical advice!

Many physicians (even in this enlightened day) refused to administer anæsthetics to their suffering patients on the ground of its being opposed by Bible teachings.

The Christian Register says: “Dr. Briggs never uttered a more wholesome truth than when he classed bibliolatry with mariolatry and other superstitions.”

The Bible is as much a fetich as was ever believed in by the most uncivilized of the human race. The belief in its inspiration, in its account of creation, in the fall of man, in the promised Messiah, in the stories pertaining to Jonah, to Daniel, to Elijah, to Noah, to Joshua, are all mere superstitions.

The ridiculously silly faith in the Bible is illustrated by an anecdote. A sailor returning home from a sea voyage told his mother of his having seen a flying fish (which are frequently seen in tropical waters.) “Why, John, do you tell me such a lie?” quoth the mother. Shortly afterwards John told his mother that sailing in the Red Sea, one day he fished up one of the wheels of Pharaoh’s chariot. “John, I know now you are telling me the truth, for there is something about this in the Bible,” said the mother.

The Indian who acted as messenger between two intelligent persons, carrying a piece of paper on which was writing, believed that the paper was inspired to talk. Is this any more superstitious than the belief of Christians that the writings of Moses and Isaiah and Paul and others, mere human beings, are – also – inspired?

The heathen (so-called) indulge in superstitious incantations to drive away disease or send for their priest to avert physical ailments, while the Christian’s Bible teaches (James v; 14-15,) “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord ; and the prayer of faith shall save “the sick.” Which is the most superstitious, the heathen or the Christian?

The doctrines of the atonement, of miraculous conception, of virgin birth, of the trinity, of the resurrection, of the ascension, of a heaven and a hell, have no known foundation in fact, but rest upon belief in the supernatural and are therefore superstitious.

The dogma of reconciliation, through Christ, between God and man, and of endless torment, are thus repudiated by Rev. R. Heber Newton. “We read of offerings of sheep and bullocks, all down the ages, to placate an angry God. How very superstitious and ignorant that was… Faith has outlived the superstitious doctrines of the atonement and eternal punishment… There is not one single passage in the Bible which says that Christ was sacrificed to reconcile God to man.”

The Bible is the foundation of superstitious beliefs which have wrought more woe in the human breast than has been occasioned by any other single cause. Read the heartrending tales of the heroes and martyrs to Christian cruelty for the crime (!) of disbelief in the incongruities, absurdities, falsehoods and indecencies of the Bible. Protestantism and Catholicism seemed to vie with each other as to which could inflict the greater torture on those honest souls, which those fiend-like, religious tyrants called “heretics.”

The superstitious reverence for the Bible and its supposed teachings, have been for centuries (as it were) the dark clouds of ignorance and fear which almost wholly excluded the light of intelligence. Intellectual thought is at least a thousand years behind what it would have been had no such fetich as the Bible ever existed. The persecutions and harrowing deaths of some of the most accomplished scholars in history, because they refused to accept the pseudo-science of Moses and other writers equally ignorant of the laws of nature, is a commentary on the bigotry, the want of intelligence and the superstitions which controlled the Christian Church. There is one verse in that book which, in its consequences, has shown more vindictiveness and barbarity than can be shown in any other book that was ever written ; that verse is: “Thou shalt not permit a witch to live.” Think of the scenes of torture and cruelty practiced by the Christian religion, because that one verse was found within the lids of the Bible. All that is humane in us revolts at the horrors which that single verse h:ls wrought. Pale, fear-stricken, innocent victims of this fi-Rightful Christian doctrine to the number of nine millions (!) of people have been put to death; not by the heathen but by Christians; not by the ignorant, but by the educated; by the encouragement which such men of learning as Sir Matthew Hale, Sir William Blackstone, Joseph Addison, Martin Luther, Cotton Mather, Richard Baxter, and John Wesley gave to this most execrable barbarism and stupidly irrational ‘superstition. Fanaticism reached its culmination when Christianity insisted that this edict of inspiration (!) this command of a merciful (!) God should be put into execution.

And yet, though Christians now abstain from the perpetration of such fiendish cruelty, the same unreasoning reverence for the Bible evidences the fact that the superstition which engenders such reverence is the same as has always existed and it is only the march of civilization, the greater intelligence of the age, the advance made in scientific research (despite the hostility of the Christian Church) which has stayed the hand of Christian bigots from practicing the same cruelties in this generation as they did in generations that are past.

As Col. Ingersoll says, “If the church could control the world to-day, we would go back to chaos and old night. Philosophy would be branded as infamous. Science would again press its pale and thoughtful face against the prison bars. Around the limbs of liberty would climb and leap the bigots’ flame.”

It was a mere conflict of superstitions between two sects of Christians which resulted in a thirty years’ war with its attendant miseries.

Three centuries of crusades by Christian Europe against an unoffending people, because of a vague superstitious belief in a “Holy Sepulchre,” cost the world twenty millions of lives and untold horror.

Is it not surprising that there are intelligent men and women who appear to be believers in the superstitions regarding Friday, the number thirteen, the new moon, the horse shoe, passing under a ladder, opening an umbrella in the house, breaking a mirror, upsetting a salt cellar, throwing rice or a slipper after a bride, the howling of a dog, etc. Such absurdities seem unworthy the serious thought of sentient beings. Educated believers in such irrational superstitions place themselves on a par with the most ignorant and debased of the human race. If it were thought worthy of sufficient notice it might be shown that quite as many events of interest and importance to mankind occurred on Friday as on any other day of the week; for instance: Such as the discovery of America and the birthday of Washington; also that the superstition regarding the number thirteen was set at defiance, for instance, when the pen of Thomas Paine (which was unquestionably “mightier than the sword” of Washington) became the most potent factor in securing success to the struggling colonies, after the issuance of just thirteen numbers of his Crisis; and when the thirteen states, composing the most independent, progressive and prosperous republic of which history furnishes any record started on their career of greatness and grandeur, and were emblematized by a flag waving to the breeze its inspiring thirteen stars and thirteen stripes.

And as to other similar superstitions, there is the most abundant evidence of the folly of believing in them.

What is superstition? The etymology of the word, as derived from the Latin, does not give it the signification which is usually imparted to it.

President White, late of Cornell University, says: “The Greek word superstition signifies, literally, fear of gods or demons.”

Plutarch says: “The superstitious man believes that there are gods and that they are unfriendly to him. A man who fears the gods is never free from fear. He extends his beyond his death and believes in the gates of hell and its fires, in the darkness, in its ghosts, its infernal judges. The superstitious man wishes he did not believe in gods – as the Atheist does not – but fears to disbelieve in them.”

The Imperial Dictionary defines superstition as belief in the direct agency of superior power – as a belief in witchcraft, magic and apparition.

It is defined by Worcester as “the form which religion takes when the mind worships a false object. A belief in the existence of particular facts or phenomena produced by supernatural agency, of which existence is not proved.”

By Webster as “an excessive reverence for, or fear of, that which is unknown, or mysterious. Belief in the direct agency of superior powers, in magic, omens, prognostics.”

By Stormont as “remaining in old, obsolete, unreasonable, religious belief. Unfounded wonder at, or dread of the divine or supernatural. That form of religion in which fear is stronger than love. Belief in what is absurd or without evidence. Idle fancies and practices in regard to religion and the unseen

Thus it may be seen that lexicographers of the highest authority agree, substantially, in defining superstition as a belief in supernaturalism, and that supernaturalism is opposed to rationalism; an unfounded and unreasonable dread of some unknown and unknowable power; as fear of the existence of what is impossible to demonstrate or reasonable to believe; as giving credence to such fancies of the brain as witchcraft, magic, apparitions, omens, prophecies and other absurdities; or being so controlled by fear of God or gods, as to compel the sacrifice of the natural instincts of love.

These definitions apply with equal force to every religion which has ever existed and to every religion which exists to-day.

Religion and superstition are convertible laws. There is no religion (in the usual meaning of the term) that is not superstitious and no superstition which is not allied to some religion.

Hobbs tells us that religion is superstition in fashion and superstition is religion out of fashion.” Undoubtedly the social element in religion is a controlling one.

The three great branches of the Christian church (the Romish, the Greek and the Protestant) have their respective superstitions, but each regards itself as free from superstition, though claiming that both of the others are superstitions.

A portion of the Protestant church regards the Roman Catholic dogma of tran-substantiation as superstitious, but that belief in con-substantiation is not superstitious (while other Protestant sects regard both as superstitious.)

Each of these three great branches have (what might be called) sub-divided superstition. One Protestant sect believes the practice of baptism by immersion a superstition, while another Protestant sect thinks infant baptism superstitious. The Armenian thinks Calvinism superstitious and the Calvinist thinks Armenianism superstitious.

The doctrine of the atonement, future punishment and the Trinity are regarded by one portion of the Protestant church as superstitious, while those who adhere to those dogmas regard those who are not believers in them as worse than superstitious.

Christianity, as opposed to all anti-Christian religions, is probably the most presumptious, arrogant and bigoted of all religions, notwithstanding the fact that the origin of almost every rite, ceremony and belief of the Christian church can be traced to religions which existed centuries before the Christian era.

If it was superstitious to believe in the “tonsured head and silvery bells and swinging censer” of ancient religions, why is it not equally superstitious to believe in precisely the same rites when performed in a Christian church?

Was it superstitious to venerate the cross as typifying the religions of antiquity, and is it not now superstitious to adore and worship the same sign as a symbol of Christianity?

Were the Pagan celebrations of Christmas and Easter superstitions? If so, is it not superstitious to believe in the dogmas of the Christian church as to observance of these same days?”

Was it superstitious to believe in the sacramental use of water, and of bread, and of wine, in the centuries prior to the coming of Christ ; and is it not superstitious to believe in exactly the same rites since Christ came into the world.

Is it reasonable to believe that the Hindoo tradition of Adami and Heva was a superstition; and that the Jewish fable of Adam and Eve is a literal truth?

Was it superstitious to believe that Maya gave virgin birth to Buddha; and is it not superstitious to believe that Mary was the virgin mother of Jesus ?

Was it superstitious to believe in the virgin birth of Chrishna, and of Romulus and Remus; and is it not superstitious to believe a like impossibility with regard to the founder of Christianity?

Was it superstitious to believe in all the Holy Madonnas of the remote past ; and is it not equally superstitious to believe in the Holy Madonna of the Christian’s faith?

Was the deification of Chrishna, of Gautama, of Laou-tze and others (whose lives are almost a perfect parallel with that of Christ) superstitions? If so, why is not the deification of Christ a like superstition?

Were the Trinities of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha ; of Mithra, Oromasdes and Ahriman; of Indra, Varuna and Agni ; of Osiris, Isis and Horus; of Odin, Vili and Ve, superstitions? If so, what reason is there for supposing that the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost is not likewise a superstition?

Was it a superstition to believe in miraculous conception by the gods and ghosts of India, Persia, Egypt, China, Japan, Greece and Rome ; and is it not superstitious to believe in the dogma of miraculous conception by the holy ghost of Christianity?

One of the most absurd superstitions of either ancient or modern times is belief in dreams. It is said that the time occupied in even the longest of dreams is but a few seconds. And yet, in these few seconds of time, by an idle and vague fancy, on the delirium of an irresponsible brain, on a dream (of Joseph, the father of Christ) is founded the whole of the theology of orthodox Christianity. Can there be anything more unreasonable
or superstitious than this ?

Was it a superstition to believe that Ganymede was transported to heaven by Jupiter? Why is it not equally superstitious to believe in the translation of Enoch, the wafting of Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, or the ascension of Christ?

“And Saul said to the witch of Endor, Bring me up Samuel.” Christians believe that Samuel’s ghost thereupon appeared, as thoroughly as they believe that Samuel once existed in the flesh, and yet these same Christians are unbelievers in any other descriptions of spooks.

Is it any less superstitious to believe in the ghost of Samuel than in the ghosts, goblins, gnomes or elves of to-day; or in phantom ships or haunted houses?

Was it superstitious to believe that the life of Metalla was saved by a sacrifice of a heifer, and is it not superstitious to believe that the life of Isaac was saved by the sacrifice of a ram?

Was it superstitious to believe that the priests of the goddess Feronie walked upon burning coals in the fires that were made in honor of Apollo, and is it not superstitious to believe the Bible story of the three men in the fiery furnace?

And is it superstitious to believe that the holy women of the temple of Diana walked upon burning coals, barefooted, without burning, and not superstitious to believe the teachings of Rev. T. Dewitt Talmage that “Jesus descended into hell… and put his bare foot on the hottest coal in the fiery furnace?”

Was it superstitious to believe that, in obedience to a vision of the god Serapis, Vespasian effected cures of the blind and the lame (as related by Tacitus), and is it not superstitious to believe in similar cures recited in the New Testament?

Was it superstitious to believe that Hippolites and Alcoste were raised from the dead, and is it not superstitious to believe in the resurrection of him who was touched by the bones of Elisha, of Lazarus and of Christ?

Was it superstitious to believe that Triptolemus was nourished by divine milk, and is it not superstitious to believe that Elijah was fed by ravens; that the children of Israel were supplied with quail, “by a wind from the Lord,” three and a third feet deep and more than a thousand square miles in extent; and that, for forty years, Manna rained upon the earth?

Was it superstitious to believe that Minerva caused streams of oil to flow from a rock which she smote, and is it not superstitious to believe that water gushed from a rock smitten by Moses?

Was it superstitious to believe that the walls of the city of Thebes were built by the sound of musical instruments, and is it not superstitious to believe that the walls of the city of Jericho fell by the sound of trumpets?

Is it not preposterous to believe in the utterance of human language by Æsop’s dumb animals, and is it not equally preposterous and is it not supremely superstitious to believe in the stories of the talking snake of Eden or of Baalam’s colloquial ass?

Is it not absurdly unreasonable to give credence to the tales of Munchausen, and not equally unreasonable and superstitious to believe the Bible stories of Jonah, Daniel, Samson and Joshua, or the seemingly insane “Revelations of St. John the Divine?”

In the New Testament we are treated to a remarkable account of a man who was possessed of a “legion” of devils, who were commanded to come out of the man and, obeying, entered a herd of two thousand swine, who ran violently down a steep hill into the sea and were drowned. Founded upon this fable is a legend that these devils “made their exit through the fore-feet of the swine, leaving small holes, which can be seen on close inspection.” Belief in which – the Gadarene pig story, or the legend – is the most superstitious?

In Matt. xvii-i, Peter is told to go to the sea and cast a hook, and in the mouth of the first fish that he takes he is to find a piece of money. There is a legend that “the black spot on each side of the haddock, near the gills, is the impression of Peter’s finger and thumb, when he took the piece of money from the fish’s mouth.” Which of these two fish stories is the least believable or the less superstitious?

The law given to Moses provided that if a husband became jealous of his wife he could test her guilt or innocence by the peculiar method of bringing her before the priest and of having placed in his hands, in a earthen vessel, some holy (!) water – mixed with the dust of the floor – and if the “holy water” turned bitter, then the woman’s guilt was proved, and she was compelled to swallow the bitter water, and if the water did not turn bitter, then her innocence was established.

As regards this infallible ( !) test, “Behold, is it not written” in the fifth chapter of the book of Numbers in “God’s infallible word?”

In the days of ancient Rome was a somewhat similarly peculiar method of testing the guilt or innocence of a suspected person by compelling such person to swallow a piece of bread or cheese of a prescribed weight. The person so swallowing, if choked to death, was proved guilty, if not, innocent.

Is it possible to determine as to belief in which of these absurdities is the most superstitious and idiotic?

We are told by John of Patmos that “there was war in heaven.” If so, may it not again occur? Therefore, can it be that it is not a superstition to believe in the possible turmoil and conflict in heaven, and that it is a superstition to believe in the restfulness and peacefulness of Nirvana?

Is it superstitious to believe in the inspiration of the Vedas, the Zend-avesta, the Tripitaka, the Koran, the Talmud, the book of Mormon, and not equally superstitious to believe in the inspiration of the Bible?

The principle of evil was personalized in India by Mahisasura, in Persia by Ahriman, in Egypt by Typhon, in Scandinavia by Loki, in Madagascar by Nyang.

The Christian religion teaches that the Devil of the Bible is a personality as real as any of the characters in that book, and as potent for evil as God is for good; indeed more so! Is not belief in all such creations of the imagination (as being actual, real, personalities) intensely superstitious?

If Brahma, and Ormuzd, and Thor, and Zeus, and Jupiter, and Allah were superstitiously worshiped, what reason is there for believing that it is not equally a superstition to worship the Jehovah of the Jews or the God of the Christians?

The superstitions of religion have robbed truth of her birthright; have given cordial welcome to tradition, legend and fable, while repelling verity, reality and fact.

                                   “the truth
With superstitions and tradition taint.” – Milton.

It is these religious superstitions that have incited distrust, engendered hate, disaffected families, estranged friends, alienated neighbors, embittered communities, hostilized nations, induced fear, impelled to cruelty, extirpated pity, rewarded hypocrisy, countenanced deception, prevarication and injustice, encouraged ignorance, indolence, improvidence and uncleanliness, sneered at “ mere morality,” true philanthropy and sound philosophy, repressed mirth, anathematized laughter, ridiculed natural law, perverted human nature, disparaged human goodness, stifled natural affection, perverted history, opposed progress, discountenanced learning, rebuked investigation, discredited discovery, derided invention, persecuted genius, and warred upon science.

The superstitions of no religions have been more detrimental to the well being of mankind than those of the Christian faith.

A vivid, but true, picture of what has resulted from superstitions, distinctively Christian, may be found in Gibbon’s Christianity, p. 400, viz.:

“The dark centuries of Christianity succeeded the learning and civilization developed under the freedom and toleration of ancient Paganism. When the creed of Athanasius ruled the European world, humanity was enchained by superstition and fanaticism, freedom expelled, reason dethroned and the light of intellect quenched in the cimmerian gloom of faith.”

When will this octopus of superstition release its clutch from the brain of man? When will this destructive parasite cease to feed upon the mental life of the race? When will this blighting curse vanish from the world of intelligence?

Very much has been accomplished in recent years, in encouraging reasonable beliefs and in discountenancing unthinking credulity. Very much more remains to be accomplished.

Let those who believe with Milton that “superstition is the greatest burden of the world” be persistent in their efforts to do all they can to lighten such burden, to resist whatever fetters thought, to oppose whatever endangers mental liberty, to war against whatever teachings or inculcations interpose between contemplative, rational, honest thought and the vagaries, hallucinations and phantoms which are sought to be imposed ‘upon the intellect by each and every phase of irresponsible, unjustifiable, unreal, irrational and degrading superstition.

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