How Simple Is Superstition?

What Does God Really Look Like? by Margaret Johnston


Take a grainy photo for your trouble

There are simple questions that haunt human discussion. Ghosts of past conversations and lagging education that terrorize human discourse well after the ghost busters have left town.

What is love? What is Deja Vu? How do we dream? Ideas we have logical explanations for, but often fall back on what we ‘feel’ is the truth along with whatever our brains can pull up. Usually we aren’t bothered by this, as the saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss”. It is when you have an idea of the truth, that the whispered tin-foil hat concoctions of your fellow humans can start to frustrate you.

So take this article, from Patheos, about the symbol of god. At the start of this article I didn’t care much what Johnston had to say, until I saw this:

But while outright rejection of a parent-figure God is easy enough, it fails to take into account one thing. Why – down through the ages, and in every part of the world – has every civilization created some sort of religion, developed some attempt to connect with something greater than the obvious material reality? What would have motivated this search in every culture?

This is nails-on-chalkboard aggravating. It is like she opened a book on terrible theistic defenses, and pulled one from the opening chapters. Considering I believe Johnston is a spiritualist at most, and likely just agnostic, reading this regurgitation makes me that much more disappointed (yes, I think that has to be the word for it).

It amazes me how as a society, we can continuously define faith as both difficult and simple. At one moment you just have to open yourself up to god, free your mind, and you can finally feel the warm embrace of a 30 something Jew. The next moment you have to try harder, look again, dig deep and find god or gods or whatever, deep down inside yourself. One moment ‘we all know it is true’ and then Mr. Hyde comes out and ‘the road to god isn’t easy’.

This question is easy, on the other hand. Is it an absolute answer? No, but it makes easy sense. We need something to fill the gaps, Johnston says this herself. When we didn’t have answers to questions in the past, a story served just as well. In the same way Santa is about the spirit of giving, and Tony the Tiger is about sportsmanship and diabetes flakes, supernatural stories give us a face to go with unanswered questions.

We know this, I’ve heard high schoolers say this. Even without learning it in school, we assume this when we say the burning bush could have been an acid trip, or that Krishna could have been an acid trip, or Odin could have been an acid trip. As humans, we know our mind plays tricks, loves to answer its own questions, and will eat up anything that sounds like what we want to hear.

So why ask a question that a freshmen could answer, and pretend that it is a deep mystery for all of mankind? If Johnston was an apologist, I would question her motives. Instead, I’m lost (one of life’s great mysteries I guess).

Look, I’m not calling anyone stupid. As an English major, and a fan of mythology, I dig superstition. It is amazing how bad vision can mix with bad lighting to become a shadow on your wall. How that shadow on your wall can become a shape as you grow tired, and our wavy perceptions turn a dark blob into a creature with agency. What could be a momentary scream before embarrassed realization, could just as well become a visit from something sinister.

Once I woke up with sleep paralysis, it felt like I was dipping in and out of sleep with every attempt to move, it was terrifying before it was awesome. I had a coworker who was nearly suffocated by a demon who stood over his bed. I have an internet friend who had sex with the devil. The urge in humans to believe things is not a divine gift, it is an adaptation. A gift, but a mundane one. It makes your 4 year old niece afraid to go in dark rooms alone, it makes your 45 year old mother avoid channels with static snow, and it allows Neil Gaiman to write beautiful short stories about black cats. But it is not a mystery.

We can explain it as easily as we can explain why people lie to avoid resisting groups of strangers, why shemale porn is one of the most popular searches on the internet, and why people hate to be tickled by strangers. We research it, use logic, and find the beautiful truth beneath the ugly myths that should have been buried days after registered its domain name.

(Also, screw me for putting the words ‘shemale porn’ in my blog.)


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