David Gibson Couldn't Find The Point If You Stapled It To His Forehead
I was busy wining this weekend, so I hadn't had the chance to peruse Friday's WSJ until this morning. Which means that I've only recently read David Gibson's latest apology for relgion, Is One Man's Faith Another's Superstition?. That sigh you just heard is me shaking my head and wondering why I still subscribe when they keep publishing shite?
Mr. Gibson wrote the article in response to Pope Benedict's recent statements regarding superstition and witchcraft. Until now he's struck me as a reasonable fellow, so I fully expected him to answer the title question in the affirmative. But that likely doesn't fly in the WSJ, so instead of saying "Duh, of course!" Gibson deploys an amazing barrage of obfuscatory verbiage like so much anti-radar chaff. Speaking of the Protestant view that transsubstantiation is so much "hocus pocus" he says the following:
And it's a good argument, given the superstitions that commingled with religion in the past and persist in the present, either in certain doctrines or in the ingrained rituals of certain followers. The distance between "prosperity theology" - the notion that following God's commands will make you rich - for example, and sacrificing animals to appease the gods is perhaps not as great as we'd like to think.
Ok, so far so good. He's making unwarranted distinctions between religion and superstition, given that he hasn't bothered to define either yet, but I'm willing to let that slide. His overall observation, that current practice bears much in common with what he terms "superstition", is reasonable and possibly borders on insightful. But watch, ladies and gentlemen, as he snatches defeat from the jaws of victory:
On the other hand, the history of religion could be viewed as the process, however halting and incomplete, of shedding magical thinking to reveal truth and meaning, which are the hallmarks of genuine belief as opposed to superstition.
David... no wait... watch where you're going... oh noes!:
The difference between susperstitions and religion is not only the difference between meaning and randomness, and between faith and anxiety, but also the difference between belief in a personal, benevolent God and fear of a pitiless Mother Nature, waiting to be appeased - or exploited - by mumbjo jumbo.
CRASH! Oh dear...
Can you possibly get more parochial? <rimshot> Gibson's "personal, benevolent God" is just one step removed from a household deity; the idea that its somehow more evolved, more refined, more... well... anything is totally unsupportable, even from a theological standpoint. First off, Gibson has set up a false dichotomy between his conception of god and "pitiless Mother Nature"; the idea that they represent two ends of a spectrum is just plain wrong. More importantly, the concept of a omniscient being that cares deeply about every living creature was inspected and rejected by some fairly clever folk a couple thousand years ago on the grounds that it just doesn't hold up to logical scrutiny.
And then there's the whole idea that somehow religion is substantively different from superstition. He 's insisting that if you take low-grade silliness, refine and distill it and surround it with institutional trappings, that what you get out on the other end is something other than silliness. To which I can only respond with "Ummm... no". Gibson's "religion" is no more verifiable that his "superstition"; both require a belief in invisible forces which exist apart from the observable universe. No matter how you slice it, it's still baloney.
I'd like David to offer some closing remarks, if he'd be so kind:
Superstition offers the illusion of control by manipulating nature or revealing her occult intent. If the spells are recited properly, all should be well. It's a big "if," however. Religion gives the promise, rather than the illusion, of hope. God does not always respond as we would like; loved ones die, livelihoods are lost. Mystery is deepened and hopefully, with faith, leads to peace rather than disillusionment. Accidental similarities between religion and magic should not lead anyone to confuse the difference in their content.
So remember, if you mumble to Mother Nature and nothing happens its because you're being susperstitious. But if you mumble to God and nothing happens that's OK because it's all part of his plan.