The hitter draws a cross in the batter’s box, then steps in. He is in the middle of a six-game hitting streak so his socks are ripe with foot funk and good luck. He looks at the pitcher who kisses the cross around his neck, tucks it in his jersey, then taps the pitching rubber three times with his right foot before getting set.
“Don’t strike out,” says the guy on the couch beside me. I smack him. “Don’t say stuff like that.” My hat is inside out and folded in half, balanced on my head like a makeshift mohawk.
At some level we all do it. We kiss a pair of dice before throwing it, or feel an upsurge of hope when we see a four-leaf clover, or suggest that someone play the lottery when things seem to be going well. Most of us would deny any real belief in luck. But is there a hint of something genuine in there? Something primal?
Superstition seems to be imbedded in human psychology. What is the root of it? Ignorance? Insanity? A need to manage things beyond our control? An instinct that there are beings and powers beyond our senses?
Good thing this doesn’t happen in the Church . . .
If superstition is imbedded in human psychology, it would find a natural setting in faith-based communities. Is it even possible to disentangle faith from fantasy?
I propose two tests:
1. The Blend:
Scripture presents a spiritual world and a physical world. Often the physical world is compared to the spiritual through metaphor, symbol and type to help us understand it.
In the movie, Mask, a blind girl is helped to understand color by using her sense of touch, associating red with heat, and blue with cold. In the same way, we can get a sense of spiritual realities by meditating on the biblical presentation of things like trees, water, oil and fire.
It is natural for us to blend the physical with the spiritual. When does the golden cross around our necks begin to protect us rather than the resurrected man that once hung there? When does the act of baptism stop reflecting our spiritual rebirth and actually bring about our rebirth? When does the bread and wine actually become the magical flesh and blood of Christ? Didn’t some ancient cultures believe that eating a smart person’s brain could make them smarter?
2. The Source:
Let’s return to the baseball scenario. Why does the batter refuse to wash his lucky socks? Does he really think there is a power on the socks that passes biologically into his timing and bat speed? Does he think there is a patron god of good swings that lives in the fungus of his socks? What are we talking about when we toy with our fun superstitious rituals? Are we talking about a person or a power? A him or an it?
If you ask people in the Word-Faith community (Copeland, Hagin) they would say that your words have power. With your words, you can unleash blessings and even curses. Some would say that there is power in positivity itself (Schuller, Olsteen, Meyer). Sure, send your prayers, but also positive thoughts. Surround your loved ones with a halo of white light.
Christianity and voodoo are not brothers. We do not play with magic dolls. We do not believe in charms or incantations. We don’t try to manipulate God by quoting in the King James, claiming verses for ourselves, or praying around the clock.
We trust him. We love him. We embrace him. Christianity without superstition is a Christianity based in a relationship.
Person to person. Not person to it.