The line between religion and superstition is very thin. It is not just those with blind faith or beliefs of the uneducated masses who are prone to superstition. In the 21st century with its scientific advances and space technology, the educated and economically sound are also prone. Superstition the world over has changed cultures and societies. Rationalists are hounded and sometimes killed.
From an impressionable age, children are indoctrinated and brainwashed into superstitious beliefs. Any belief that is irrational and cannot be verified as truth is superstition. Belief in fate, magic, numerology, spirits, astrology, palmistry, witchcraft can all be into this category.
Old wives’ tales and legends tend to be passed down from generation to generation. Many 5-star hotels do not have Room 13 and many hospital beds skip the number 13. Walking under a ladder or getting up on the left side of the bed signals a calamity that can occur during the day. A black cat crossing one’s path forebodes bad luck. But a twitching of the right eyelid will bring good luck or herald the visit of a friend. These, however, are minor superstitions that do not cause grievous physical or mental harm.
When superstitions are used to settle personal, family, material or political scores, they become dangerous. Many of the tribal belts in third-world countries are areas of darkness. Scores of women are killed on charges of witchcraft. Widows, old women, and poor women are accused of casting evil eyes on children, causing illness in people, or rotting crops and are branded as witches. They are beaten to death or chased out of the village, especially if villagers want to grab their land. A village headman declared a young widow a witch because she refused to grant sexual favours to the upper castes.
Tantrics influence men to behead their sons either to cure illness or unearth buried treasures on their property or to fulfill some secret desire. They promise that the child will return to life once the sacrifice is made.
Intelligent crooks masquerade as god-men and amass wealth.
They pretend to be incarnations of Gods or to be specially endowed with supernatural powers to exorcise demons. Blind belief in these charlatans often sees people cheated out of huge sums of money.
In Egypt, a wife was told that her husband was soon to bring home a second wife. She went to a spiritist to have his underpants cursed so that it would ruin his marital bliss. She was charged $200 for the curse. Also in Egypt, a father sought the help of a soothsayer to read coffee grounds and find out if his daughter should be sent abroad to study. Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt also believe in such superstitions. People live in fear of Hadad (evil eye). They believe there are good and bad Djinns, having power over people. These Djinns haunt cemeteries and wells.
Intensive research conducted by scientists into psychic, parapsychic and spiritual phenomena, have concluded that nobody has supernatural powers.
Rogues in the guise of holy men and miracle workers are out to dupe gullible people. The media sensationalizes reports of miracle cures and magic phenomena. There are no auspicious or inauspicious moments, no lucky or unlucky days. The police look in the other direction because they too are nurtured on superstition and cannot risk being cursed by holy men.
One can get rid of superstition by eliminating the ignorance of civil society starting from a grass-root level. Superstition needs to be wiped off the face of the earth through education via media, voluntary organizations, schools and colleges. Without the liberation of the masses from superstition, social progress is impossible. All practices perpetuating superstition should be abolished. Rationalists should expose false claims of god-men and miracle workers. They should be punished for cheating people.
Rationalism should be our philosophy. Our mission should be to teach people to use their brains and power of reasoning. Education should inculcate a scientific temper. Educated people should stop planning their lives or building their houses on principles of astrology.
Good health care, committed doctors, and facilities like hospitals and clinics even in remote rural areas will stop people from patronizing miracle men and faith healers.
Governments must adopt strict punitive measures against those who brand old women and widows as witches. Village Panchayats that promote such atrocities should be de-recognized.
Self-seeking politicians who do not oppose superstitions for fear of losing votes should be exposed and debarred from standing for elections for a minimum of five years. Law enforcement agents who do not take action against such superstitious practices should be punished.
Ignorance is degrading. As Voltaire said,
Superstition – Crush the infamous thing.