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Page 2


definitions are given:--

1st.--Excess of scruple or ceremony in matters of religion: idle
worship: vain reverence: a superfluous, needless, or
ill-governed devotion.

2nd.--Any religious observance contrary to, or not sanctioned by,
Scripture or reason.

3rd.--All belief in supernatural agency, or in the influence of
casual occurrences, or of natural phenomena on the destinies
of man which has no foundation in Scripture, reason, or
experience.

4th.--All attempts to influence the destiny of man by methods which
have no Scriptural or rational connection with their object.

_Walker's Dictionary_:--

"Unnecessary fear or scruple in religion: religion without
morality: false religion: reverence of beings not properly objects
of reverence: over-nicety: exactness: too scrupulous."

_Chambers' Dictionary_:--

"A being excessive (in religion) over a thing as if in wonder or
fear: excessive reverence or fear: excessive exactness in religious
opinions and practice: false worship or religion: the belief in
supernatural agency: belief in what is absurd without evidences:
excessive religious belief."

These dictionary meanings do not, of course, attempt to decide what
should be the one only scientifically correct significance of the term,
but only supply the varying senses in which the word is used in
literature and in common speech, but they suffice to show that it is
used by different persons with different significations, each person
apparently gauging first his own position, and defining superstition as
something which cannot be brought to tell against himself.

After pondering over the various renderings, it occurred to me that the
following definition would embrace the whole in a few words: _Religion
founded on erroneous ideas of God._ But when I set this definition
alongside the case of an otherwise intelligent man carrying in his
trousers' pocket a raw potato as a protection against rheumatism, and
alongside the case of another man carrying in his vest pocket a piece of
brimstone to prevent him taking cramp in the stomach; and when I
consider the case of ladies wearing earrings as a preventive against, or
cure for, sore eyes; and, again, when I remembered a practice, very
frequent a few years ago, of people wearing what were known as galvanic
rings in the belief that these would prevent their suffering from
rheumatism, I could not perceive any direct connection between such
superstitious practices and religion, and the construction of a new
definition was rendered necessary. The following, I think, covers the
whole ground: _Beliefs and practices founded upon erroneous ideas of God
and nature._ With this meaning the term "Superstition" is employed in
the following pages, and if the definition commend itself to the reader,
it will at once become apparent that the only way by which freedom from
superstition can be attained is to search Nature and Revelation for
correct views of God and His methods of working. Notwithstanding our
pretensions to a correct religious knowledge, a pure theology, and
freedom from everything like superstition, it is strange yet true, that,
if we except the formulated reply to the question in the Westminster
Catechism, "What is God," scarcely two persons--perhaps no two
persons--have exactly the same idea of God. We each worship a God of our
own. In one of the late Douglas Jerrold's "Hedgehog Letters" he
introduces two youths passing St Giles' Church at a lonely hour, when
the one addresses the other thus:--"The old book and the parson tell us
that at the beginning God made man in his own image. We have now
reversed this, and make God in our image." A sad truth, although not
new; Saint Paul made a similar remark to the philosophic Athenians; but
the remark applies not to this age or to Saint Paul's age alone--its
applicability extends to every age and every people. As Goethe remarks,
"Man never knows how anthropomorphic he is." Our minds instinctively
seek an explanation of the cause or causes of the different phenomena
constantly occurring around us, but instinct does not supply the
solution. Only by patient watching and consideration can this be arrived
at; but in former ages scientific methods of investigation were either
not known, or not cared for, and so men were satisfied with merely
guessing at the causes of natural phenomena, and these guesses were made
from the standpoint of their own human passionate intelligence.
Alongside the intelligence everywhere observable in the operations of
nature they placed their own passionate humanity, they projected
themselves into the universe and anthropomorphised nature. Thus came men
to regard natural phenomena as manifestations of supernatural agency;
as expressions of the wrath or pleasure of good or evil genii, and
although in our day we have made great advances in our knowledge of
natural phenomena, the majority of men still regard the ways of
providence from a false standpoint, a standpoint erected in the
interests of ecclesiasticism. Churchmanship acts as a distorting medium,
twisting and displacing things out of their natural relations, and
although this influence was stronger in the past than it is now, still
there remains a considerable residuum of the old influence among us yet.
For example, we are not yet rid of the belief that God has set apart
times, places, and duties as specially sacred, that what is not only
sinless but a moral obligation at certain times and places becomes
sinful at other times and places. Ecclesiastical influence thus
familiarises us with the distinctions of secular and sacred, and we hear
frequent mention made of our duties to God and our duties to man, of our
religious duties and our worldly duties, and we frequently hear religion
spoken of as something readily distinguishable from business. But not
only are these things separated by name from one another, they are often
regarded as opposites, having no fellowship together. Hence has arisen
in many minds a slavish fear of performing at certain times and in
certain places the ordinary duties of life, lest by so doing they anger
God. In certain conditions of society such belief, erroneous though it
be, may have served a useful purpose in restraining, and thereby so far
elevating a rude people, just as now we may see many among ourselves
restrained from evil, and influenced to the practice of good, by beliefs
which, to the enlightened among us, are palpable absurdities.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 28th Feb 2020, 13:25