Comment: Apply the Superstition Reality Check

Alan Sokal gave the third annual Sense: About Science lecture in February, 2008 where he suggested calling the religious spade a superstitious shovel. Or, to put it another way, if religion (faith) looks like superstition, sounds like superstition and argues like superstition, then it probably is superstition.

From a scientific or naturalistic worldview substitute the word ‘superstition’ every time religious writers or speakers use ‘religion’ and the synonymous ‘faith’ to see what they are really saying without our traditional reverance and respect. This makes a good reality check.

So George W. Bush’s quotations become:

“My superstition [faith] plays a big part in my life. And when I was answering that question what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot. And I do. And my superstition [faith] is a very, it’s very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm’s way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls.
“But I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an Almighty and if you choose not to. If you’re a Christian, Jew or Muslim you’re equally an American. That’s the great thing about America is the right to worship the way you see fit. Prayer and superstition [religion] sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, how do you know? I said I just feel it.

“Superstition [religion] is an important part. I never want to impose my superstition [religion] on anybody else. But when I make decisions I stand on principle. And the principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself. That’s manifested in public policy through the superstition [faith]-based initiative where we’ve unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt. I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That’s what I believe. And that’s one part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can’t tell you how encouraged how I am to see freedom on the march. And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me. And superstition [religion] is a part of me.”
–Third Presidential Debate, Tempe, AZ, October 13, 2004

“I believe it is in the national interest that government stand side-by-side with people of superstition [faith] who work to change lives for the better. I understand in the past, some in government have said government cannot stand side-by-side with people of superstition [faith]. Let me put it more bluntly, government can’t spend money on superstitious [religious] programs simply because there’s a rabbi on the board, cross on the wall, or a crescent on the door. I viewed this as not only bad social policy — because policy by-passed the great works of compassion and healing that take place — I viewed it as discrimination.”
–Speech in Washington D.C., June 1, 2004

“I’m telling America we need to not discriminate against superstition-based [faith-based] programs. We need to welcome them so our society is more wholesome, more welcoming, and more hopeful for every single citizen.”
–Speech in Washington D.C., June 1, 2004

“It is the government’s strong desire to empower this fabric, this social fabric of our society where superstition-based [faith-based] programs large and small feel empowered, encouraged, and welcomed into changing lives.”
–Speech in Washington D.C., June 1, 2004

“It’s also important to strengthen our communities by unleashing the compassion of America’s superstitious [religious] institutions. Superstitious [religious] charities of every creed are doing some of the most vital work in our country–mentoring children, feeding the hungry, taking the hand of the lonely. Yet government has often denied social service grants and contracts to these groups, just because they have a cross or a Star of David or a crescent on the wall. By executive order, I have opened billions of dollars in grant money to competition that includes superstition-based [faith-based] charities. Tonight I ask you to codify this into law, so people of superstition [faith] can know that the law will never discriminate against them again.”
–State of the Union Address, January 20, 2004

As a matter of interest here are some interesting definitions from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary:
Faith: (1) confidence, reliance, belief esp. without evidence or proof; (2) what is or should be believed; a system of firmly held beliefs or principles; a religion

Religion: belief in or sensing of some superhuman controlling power or powers, entitles to obedience, reverence, and worship

Superstition:  (1) irrational awe or fear of the unknown; belief in a religion considered false or pagan; religious belief or practice founded on fear or ignorance; credulity regarding religion or the supernatural; (2) irrational religious system

Alex McCullie


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