Thursday, October 26, 2006

Are you superstitious?

This is going to be a bit of an exegesis today, but I'm finding it fascinating and I hope you will, too.

In my regular Web trolling, I came across an entry from James Kubecki on the word superstition. He was reading an older Bible commentary and that word struck him funny, so he looked it up in his Webster's 1828 Dictionary. Here's what he found:

SUPERSTI'TION, n. [L. superstitio, supersto; super and sto, to stand.]

1. Excessive exactness or rigor in religious opinions or practice; extreme and unnecessary scruples in the observance of religious rites not commanded, or of points of minor importance; excess or extravagance in religion; the doing of things not required by God, or abstaining from things not forbidden; or the belief of what is absurd, or belief without evidence.

Now, I have this dictionary sitting on my desk. It's very helpful in understanding what Mary Baker Eddy wrote since it was the primary dictionary of her era. Out of curiosity, I thought I'd review some of the times she uses the word superstition (all from Science and Health) to see if this illuminated the meaning at all. And boy, was that fruitful!

In the 1828 dictionary, only the final definition is the one I'd ever used. But it's the first one—excessive exactness or rigor in religious opinions or practice—that I think now Eddy meant in the following passages:

Long prayers, superstition, and creeds clip the strong pinions of love, and clothe religion in human forms. -- p. 4

Whoa!! I've read that one a million times with the "belief without evidence" meaning. It makes a lot more sense now, with the "excessive exactness in religion" meaning! And is a true watchword for us today as we pursue our own religious beliefs.

The way through which immortality and life are learned is not ecclesiastical but Christian, not human but divine, not physical but metaphysical, not material but scientifically spiritual. Human philosophy, ethics, and superstition afford no demonstrable divine Principle by which mortals can escape from sin; yet to escape from sin, is what the Bible demands. -- p. 98

"Not ecclesiastical but Christian." And "excessive exactness in religion" gives us no help in escaping sin, even though those who attempt to enforce this exactness always give the impression that it's sinful not to be exact. Wow.

We need to understand the affirmations of divine Science, dismiss superstition, and demonstrate truth according to Christ. -- p. 149

Superstition is to be dismissed. Huh. I think back to many times in church meetings where someone was speaking at length about some legal point or getting us all hung up on the jots and tittles. I should have dismissed that? Well, at least respectfully perhaps. But usually I'd find myself trying to reason with this mode of thinking, trying to find consensus. This inevitably had the effect of watering down any inspiration we had to begin with, and stultified our efforts.

Mere speculation or superstition appropriates no part of the divine vesture, while inspiration restores every part of the Christly garment of righteousness. -- p. 242:26

Here Eddy states that the opposite of superstition is inspiration. They have an inverse relationship. The more "excessive exactness in religion" there is, the less inspiration there will be, and vice versa. Which do I want more of?

In Christian Science, a denial of Truth is fatal, while a just acknowledgment of Truth and of what it has done for us is an effectual help. If pride, superstition, or any error prevents the honest recognition of benefits received, this will be a hindrance to the recovery of the sick and the success of the student. --p. 372

Another whoa!! She's saying that "excessive exactness in religion," like the Pharisees showed so often in the Bible when they told Jesus not to heal on the Sabbath day, actually gets in the way of healing! This is a serious negative, folks.

The martyrdom of Jesus was the culminating sin of Pharisaism. It rent the veil of the temple. It revealed the false foundations and superstructures of superficial religion, tore from bigotry and superstition their coverings, and opened the sepulchre with divine Science, — immortality and Love. -- p. 597

And ohmigosh, she's here saying that superstition contributed to the crucifixion. Okay, that makes it pretty clear. Superstition = bad. I get it.

I'm also gaining insight from the definition, "the doing of things not required by God, or abstaining from things not forbidden." How often do we judge ourselves and others by this standard? To believe that we're good or bad according to things that God takes no notice of is superstition. To believe we can get anywhere spiritually without its opposite—inspiration—is itself a form of superstition.

I find this kind of study very exciting, so thanks for reading along to here! I'm on the lookout for superstitious tendencies today. But I also now know how to turn them around—with inspiration.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
Email this posting to a friend with the envelope icon below.


At 10/26/2006 11:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you SO much for this. I had never looked that word up, and so I have also tended to define superstition as a belief without evidence. This really gives those citations a new meaning. I always like that! I can also recall times that I let that rigid thinking interfere with inspiration. It is not so easy to see at first, though. Many of us want to be loyal and faithful to what we feel is right -- we just need to check that we are not going to extremes for the wrong reasons. Thanks again for the new insight!


At 10/26/2006 10:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful definition! I also have experienced those meetings and wondered if the early CS meetings were that way.I like to think there was more spontaneous love and enthusiasm for the unlimited possibilities of CS.

At 3/07/2007 04:27:00 PM, Blogger Kim said...

very insightful.
thanks for taking us through this!

At 3/09/2007 12:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, Laura. You've articulated a mortal-mindset which kills the spirit by means of the letter (to borrow some of Eddy's phrasing). There is a strain of fundamentalism in many or most denominations; in CS I dub it: "the Purity Police." Hope you'll share your inspiration via CSPS publication. You've identified one more bit of excess baggage the Movement could lose, to its benefit.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home