By Rachel Puryear
Sometimes, critics of spirituality denounce spiritual practices as simply being a variation of the same old superstitions that gave rise to more established religions, including fundamentalism and overly powerful religious institutions.
However, I would argue that there’s actually a pretty profound difference between the kind of superstition you find in religious fundamentalism of all levels, versus genuine spirituality.
Here are some key differences between true spirituality and superstition:
Superstition is based in fear of the unknown, and a need to exert control over an uncertain world that we largely don’t understand, and which scares us.
Sometimes, the human tendency towards superstition manifests in odd, but usually-not-immediately-harmful ways – magical thinking, unnecessary limitations on life, and fear of bad things happening because one does not comply precisely with arbitrary rituals.
But when this same human tendency is exploited and fueled by corrupt and powerful fundamentalist entities, that gives rise to more extreme beliefs; as well as the rejection of reason, rigid social hierarchies and backwards mores – including the suspicion and hatred of outsiders; and patriarchal social orders, requiring blind obedience, and concentrating wealth and access to it in the hands of a few, while most are impoverished. Megachurches, for instance, proliferate on superstition.
Spirituality, on the other hand – true spirituality, as opposed to fundamentalism and blind obedience to outdated, unscientific, hate-based mores and charismatic, authoritarian leaders – is about love. More, and deeper, than most of us ever thought possible.
It’s also about humility. Forgiveness. Compassion. Empathy. Generosity. Gratitude for one’s own good fortune, and using it to help those less fortunate, and recognizing them as no less deserving just because they are less well off. More than most of us ever thought possible.
Interestingly, the legend of Jesus Christ portrays a figure of unconditional love and acceptance and forgiveness. What evangelicals in the contemporary USA (and in many other parts of the world, under different names) tend to believe is quite different.
Superstition is following what one is told, without questioning or thinking much about it.
Spirituality, in its genuine form, is about questioning everything you are told – and putting a lot of effort into thinking for yourself, with internal guidance from – what some believe to be – your spiritual guides, or moral compass.
Spirituality inspires awe and wonder about the world, and makes one curious to learn more. Truly spiritual people are interested in others besides themselves – they like to live and let live, and know instinctively that diversity, personal autonomy and freedom, learning and widespread education, more equal access to good opportunities in life, and people looking out for one another instead of just themselves; makes the world great.
Superstition is about wishing good things would happen, and/or hoping bad things don’t happen.
Spirituality is about working towards a better life and world for you, and for others – starting with working on yourself, and cultivating more empathy as well as reason.
So, essentially; spirituality is not only not a variation on superstition – but is, in fact, its opposite.
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