Random Thoughts

Superstition vis-à-vis Rationality

Let us talk of two incidents. A truck driver was driving through a lonely road in a dark night. He applied brake at seing a shining object on the road in the light of the headlight of the truck. He got down and found a pair of snakes crushed under the wheels of his vehicle. He was taken aback and horrified. He had heard from his elders that the killer of paired snakes does not have a long life.. No sooner he reached the dhaba he had high fever, He remained unconscious and had nightmares. After two days he died.

Second incident, People of a locality saw snakes in paired position. They became afraid, but could not muster the courage to attempt to kill the snakes. Then they were reminded of a man residing in the same locality. He used to ridicule the popular notions. They had discussion among themselves; he does not subscribe to these ideas, he should be tested. They approached him with the request. The man instantly took out his gun, went out and killed the snakes in a single shot. People kept on waiting for his death, but were disappointed. Then people concluded he is nonbeliever.

There is a single explanation for the two incidents. The truck driver had to die due to the fear and horror generated by the erroneous information acquired by him since his childhood. He had not killed the snakes; they were crushed under the wheels of his truck inadvertently. Whereas in the second incident though the man had killed the snakes by a conscious effort, he was not harmed. In the former case the person had believed in hearsay, whereas the person in the later incident remained unscathed even though he had killed the paired snakes deliberately, It was because he was free from hearsay. He was not superstitious, he was rational.
What is a superstition? Why we often become its victims? It is said in defense of superstition that people believe in them because they are part of the belief-system of our tradition. Tradition is the greatest strength of superstition. Therefore it is needed that we have an understanding of what constitutes tradition.

The primitive man was in close contact with nature, He was obliged to observe it carefully and closely for survival. He was exposed to the vagaries of nature. A lonely man is weak and helpless,. He is required to defend himself against a host of enemies and predators He has very few dependable friends; on the other hand, elephant can crush him, python can strangulate him, he can be swallowed by a crocodile and killed by lions. Mammals other than man arrange their own food after weaning. On the other hand a human child takes more than a year just to have a semblance of control over his body and its movements. He takes him nearly two decades or more to be independent of his parents. His complex life style based on the use of tools causes delay in his being self-dependent or acquiring food additionally he has to acquire cultural traits. Therefore he is intrinsically gregarious. He lives in communities.

The primitive man was struck with awe, horror and curiosity. Days and nights alternated in a rhythm, so did seasons. But there were unpredictable and irregular events like natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions storms etc. too. Star-studded night sky, vast oceans with strong waves, rising mountains, diverse fauna and flora aroused his inquisitiveness. He wondered as to how these diverse phenomena are regulated. This led to the discovery of God and ghost. He found relief and security. God together with ghost became reference points in understanding the surroundings. An all powerful, compassionate God provided assurance, solace and security. Man could now relate with his surroundings and also with himself. He got a reliable tool to frame his responses to events. Religion came into existence. Religion is a belief system. It is faith. It does not respect questioning. It demands conformity. It provides legitimacy to superstition.

A second line of interaction and response has been available to man. Man is rational by nature. He accepts explanations to his experiences and observations after reasoning and getting satisfaction. He wants to understand his surroundings on the basis of reason and logic. Two simultaneously occurring events may be coincidental events or they may be linked together as cause and effect, for example the falling of a fruit from the tree when a bird sits on it. Logic is reinforced by experintation.


More by :  Ganganand Jha

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