Confronting superstitions

Aug 4, 2013

Discussion by: Albanist

In the country where I live people are not at all religious but are incredibly superstitious and so they are a daily occurrence.For example almost everyone believes in the ''evil eye''.There are also superstitions like reading coffee grounds (a daily ritual for most housewives),incarnations for healing(very very popular).More ridiculous examples exist as well.For example my Uncle refused to drive to place where an accident had happened because he thought it was bad luck.A friend of mine told me that every time someone close to him died he would see the same butterfly the day before he knew it.Another friend told me that she was saved from the devil by a Fortune teller.There are also many many more

When I confront people they call me arrogant,narrow minded,isolated and that i have no sense of reality(Yes they really do).These beliefs are so wide spread that when I confronted a a university professor(a very respected one actually) about their absurdity he told to me that many of them like the ''evil eye'' are scientifically valid and there was proof for them and I could not make that judgment since I am just a Teenager.As you can see the situation is as in the middle ages.

How can I confront these superstitious people ore should I leave them alone ?

16 comments on “Confronting superstitions

  • 1
    Sedanar says:

    Leaving them alone is absolutely not the way to go in my opinion. They need someone to tell them it’s wrong, but maybe not in the way you are doing. For example, you could ask this university professor where are the articles and research that support this. Basically, ask anyone how they know it actually works. Asking questions has nothing to do with arrogance, on the contrary. They believe their superstitions are absolutely correct : that is arrogance. Challenge them with questions, how do they know it’s true, what is their evidence for it, how do their superstitious acts turn out. I’m sure there are also studies that show that these superstitions are nonsense, try finding some.

    Btw, If you don’t mind me asking, what country are you from ?

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  • 2
    petermead1 says:

    If everyone around you is blatantly investing in these kinds of absurd superstitions and you’re even encountering them from university professors who are evidently “respected,” my advice would be to give up trying to disillusion them. You probably won’t succeed. Even if you did, it would be way more trouble than it’s worth. The most that you can do is to educate yourself about the way the world actually works. I have experience with this kind of thing. My parents still believe that the earth is about 6000 years old and that dinosaurs once coexisted with mankind. No matter what scientific evidence you throw at them, they will refute it. They’ll invent wild conspiracy theories, based on absolutely no evidence, about how “they” are trying to suppress “the truth.” Irrational people will continue to believe what they want to believe and will continually patch it with further nonsense so that their distorted views continue to remain internally consistent. Furthermore, this bullshit about you not being able to make judgements because you are “just a teenager” is nothing more than a defense mechanism aimed at making their twisted perceptions immune to your reasoning and criticism by invalidating anything that you say because you are “too young.” I once had the same things said to me. In retrospect, my age did not negatively affect my ability to assess what is real and what is not. Keep educating yourself. Magic isn’t real. Gods don’t exist. Pigs don’t fly. Witches don’t exist. Diseases are caused by microorganisms, not “curses.” There is no such thing as a “lucky sock.” Good luck! (If such a thing existed.)

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  • I would leave them alone. These superstitions have been passed down for generations. There is nothing to gain by trying to change this.
    You may find like minded friends to share thoughts with. But I don’t think being confrontational will do anything but cause problems.

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  • 4
    DHudson says:

    These beliefs are so wide spread that when I confronted a a university professor(a very respected one actually) about their absurdity he told to me that many of them like the ”evil eye” are scientifically valid and there was proof for them and I could not make that judgment since I am just a Teenager.

    Ask to see the evidence and keep reminding yourself that you’re on the right track.

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  • Although apparently harmless, I’m always tempted to rail against superstition with something like…” You can train pigeons to be superstitious!” (Skinner experiments). I usually pull my head in when I start thinking that I sound like Spock from Star Trek.

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  • 7
    Stevehill says:

    Emigrate. Go and live somewhere sane. There are a number of candidate destinations.

    Or just ignore it. Even I might sometimes say “touch wood” when expressing a hope. It doesn’t mean I’m mad. It’s just a figure of speech, some cultural baggage, as far as I’m concerned.

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  • 8
    steve_hopker says:

    Clearly very difficult for you, as it seems that superstition is woven into daily life and decisions around you. Emigration (Stevehill) ia a daunting prospect for anyone, not least when a teenager – and is practical proposition for few, depending on wealth, amongst other things. I think more people migrate internally, to cites, which does not always work out well but can sometimes, and may be a move to less superstitious society: but still a huge step.

    So, if you are not willing or able to emigrate or move to a less superstitious part of your country, if there are any, it will be a question of living within the situation. I agree it is very unlikely you will change most people’s views dramatically and it may be that you cannot change anyone’s views except, perhaps, over a long time. But I don’t think it’s right to categorise people as rational or irrational and assume they stay fixed in one camp or another. Many here – including myself, have over time dropped religious and superstitious thinking. Indeed, the latter is perhaps the more persistent. I still find myself thinking it’s ‘lucky’ that the weather was good for a country walk, or ‘hoping’ that the weather will be good on holiday. Both those thoughts are of course irrational – the weather does what it does, with no reference to luck, or my wishes.

    However, not treating people as either fully rational or fully irrational suggests they will have rational powers in some areas – so where you might support that, rather than confront the unreason. Again, superstitious beliefs vary. Some may be held more strongly than others. Some are relatively harmless – hoping for lucky weather, perhaps! while others can be very harmful, such as beliefs in witches – which can lead to terrible acts. So, you will probably want to choose your battles.

    I think others around you saying saying you are too young to challenge is the ‘ad hominem argument’ – a sense of weakness of the case (for superstition) means they attack the person, not the criticism. But I guess your youth means you will need to be extra careful to choose your battles, and to be respectful – unless, say, someone is about to do or encourage something very harmful. This could be difficult – in some places, female circumcision is commonplace, embedded into family life, and not overtly violent (unlike say killing of accused witches) but all the same is a severe mutilation. Of course, these may not be issues where you are.

    It will probably be a slow and fitful process to suggest to at least some people that they might recognise and reject some of their superstition, but not without hope. Good luck!

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  • 9
    papa lazaru says:

    If it is generally harmless, just take it easy.

    Since you have internet access, you’re a teenager and therefore you have a lot of time on your hand, you could also investigate, document, and confront it in a more rigorous manner. Learn the tools of the skeptical trade from James Randy, Aron Ra and Al, and have fun with it. Write a blog or some such, point to video links, basically start a social group if these kinds of behavior bother you enough.

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  • Everyone has a story of how a superstition once came true. I remember as a boy having a very unpleasant Fri 13 and then swallowing the superstition. There is little chance you can compete with that with a statistical argument. Part of the problem is the superstition has small cost and threatened huge cost for the potential of ignoring it. If you are ignorant about how the universe really works, it is logical to trust the superstition.

    You could say, “I never honour that superstition and nothing bad has ever happened to me. You always honour it. How many times has the dreaded thing happened to you anyway?”

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  • 11
    Mr DArcy says:

    What is religion if it’s not organised superstition ?

    Is the country Albania by any chance ? That would figure. The dictator and his wife try to stamp out religion, and end up with a superstitious populace instead. They came to a nasty end, if memory serves. I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that Creeping Jesus is waiting just around that next bend in the road !

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  • I suspect the country is Albania as well, given your username. I know that many Greek people believe in “the evil eye” too, and think that some babies are born with “the eye”. I’m not sure how widespread this particular superstition is these days, but some of the Greek migrants who came to Australia after WWII certainly believed this to be the case.

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  • 13
    MrDeist says:

    Try few years in India. You will feel all other countries are better.
    People should learn from happenings around them and
    They must update them self to keep their “Common sense” alive.

    If they don’t want to update them & they are self content with their shell of believes
    they will never come out. You should neither pull them out nor leave them alone.
    You should connect them to the stream of knowledge so that they update them self
    and eventually think “How could this belief ever be true”.

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  • 14
    Robiere says:

    The same sort of superstitions have been with us since humans first tried to solve the how and why of the world around them. The religions made use of the superstitious mindset of non-thinkers to coerce them into membership in their flocks. Flocks take on many different forms and identities: fraternal organizations, clubs, unions, HMOs, and most groups that have similar interests. Many are harmless social groups providing a positive aspect for the community. Many others seek to control their members by maintaining a ‘flock mentality’, wherein all must believe and function as all other members. This is common to all religions, and it appears to be applicable to this community. The Earth was flat until someone was able to think outside of the flock and ask and search for truth. The religious flocks indoctrinate their young into their flock mentality before they are able to even speak for themselves. The one who tries to alter the mindset of the flock away from their set of parameters, will encounter some fierce resistance. But there is a price to pay for truth in a world that is afraid of it. The world is seeing a swing away from such flock mentality, and more than ever before, when asked about religious preference, more are responding…. ” none”.
    As a former minister, I struggled to find truth within the confines of flock mentality. So I escaped and researched for many years to find information that had not been censored by the Vatican, etal. The resulting reality was a bit intimidating at first, but became very liberating. The book it turned into is called ; “Religion: none, A wake-up call for humanity,” The sheep and shepherds are afraid of this book. .

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  • 15
    OtiliaOtlacan says:

    I can totally relate to what you’re describing. Though the annoyingly vast majority of my fellow countrymen (and women 🙂 ) declare themselves to be “religious”, they practice very little. To compensate, they’re ridiculously superstitious: evil eye, 13th, ladder, salt, broken mirror, gifting knives, you name it.

    As Roedy already pointed out, “Part of the problem is the superstition has small cost and threatened huge cost for the potential of ignoring it.”, quite like the reason why I see many people who don’t actually practice the religion they were born into will, in fact, baptize their children: a very twisted take on “better safe than sorry”.

    On a more theoretical level, superstitions would tie into the general aversion to tempting fate (this study has some interesting, though not unexpected, findings:

    When in the presence of someone who’s openly expressing a superstition, I normally just shrug and raise an eyebrow. Sometimes (depending who the audience is) I might make a point and ridicule it. Frustrating as it is, challenging superstitious people to justify their belief almost never pays off, as it’s a straightforward stance of hostility to which few, if any, will remain open to debate.

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  • Speaking scientifically, one must always distinguish between causality and coincidence. But this is beyond the understanding of the many (self-proclaimed) scientists. For example those saying that this or that food will prevent or hasten cancer. If use coincidence, then I have a good personal experience: I am the only vegetarian among my family (just do not like animal products except fermented milk products) and I am the only cancer patient. So meat is the must! However, digging deeper we will find that I have a cancer syndrome and while in my early teens I was kept on big doses of hormones to do something (nobody ever knew what) about my bleedings.
    Or take the road accidents – there are poorly organised places especially for drunk-drivers, or another option: most elderly persons have diseases that tend to aggravate also when person is driving car. Or else the unlucky driver had bad day at the work, quarrel with his/her mate….. So one must first dig deeper before making conclusions.
    And that is what I suggest you: start with newspaper (ordinary, even yellow press) articles on scientific claims- analyse them to decide whether you have got enough information to draw similar conclusions I do not suggest scientific journals, but newspapers are full of information about new cures, near-death experience, death as shining etc. And then, after you will get used to being critical, it will be time to address superstitions. I am pretty sure that you will still offend many superstitious but you will also be able to make others start thinking.

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