Sometimes we think superstition is the experience of primitive, ill-educated people in far off lands, but have you noticed that Americans are superstitious too?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #76 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and for that matter many other regions, people believe in something called the Evil Eye. It’s a superstition, but it’s real to those who believe it.
The Evil Eye is the idea that someone can look at you and, whether intentional or not and whether realized or not, cause you discomfort, injury, or bad luck. To purposely “give someone” the evil eye is the height of social ill will.
In the Middle East it is also possible, according to belief in the Evil Eye, to induce evil upon a person unwittingly, simply by calling attention to something good in his or her life. For example, those who believe in the Evil Eye would be horrified to hear you say they have “a lovely child” or are living in “a very attractive home.” Such compliments invite the negative attention of the Evil Eye.
Because people really do believe in the Evil Eye, charms of all shapes and sizes have been developed to ward off the potential and power of its curse. Usually, such charms are made of dark blue glass or some other hard polished material on which a light blue circle is imprinted, which in turn is centered by a dark circle or dot. The design suggests an eye.
I’ve seen these charms in shops in Cairo, Istanbul, cities in Cyprus, Beirut, and other Lebanese cities. I’ve seen people wearing them on the street as necklaces, bracelets, or some other amulet. And I’ve seen them hanging from the rearview mirrors of cars, much like people in the West hang dreamcatchers.
It’s sad, for the Evil Eye is nothing but a superstition, and the charms are nothing but powerless talismans.
But from a Christian perspective, we know that there’s no such thing as luck of any kind. The idea of a Sovereign God and luck are mutually exclusive concepts (Isaiah 45:5-7).
While we don’t see many Evil Eye charms in America, you can purchase them online and we do see our own version of lucky artifacts. Sad thing is though: they’re all a waste of time and money.
Yet people persist in believing in luck, “just in case.” Americans embrace a host of good luck charms. Rabbits' feet, lucky coins or bottle caps, special winning shirts-shoes-socks or pre-game rituals, lucky charms, crystals, four leaf clovers, medals, or spices, hex symbols on barns, spirit rocks purchased at the mall.
We are superstitious. Knock on wood. Don't walk under a ladder, step on a crack, or break a mirror. Throw salt over your shoulder. Cross your fingers. Avoid that black cat. Don’t do anything on Friday the 13th, the fear of which is intriguingly called paraskavedekatriaphobia.
The motivations for most superstition is fear or the desire for luck. But when people turn to superstition the cure can be worse than the disease. Superstition does not displace fear. It only masks it for a time like whistling in the dark.
The Evil Eye, for example, is a form of idolatry, because, like all charms, amulets, talismans, fetishes, juju, voodoo, dzi beads, hamsa hands, or zemi, in the mind and heart of adherents, they act as surrogates to trust in God. People put faith in, even worship, inanimate objects rather than God. This at its most basic is the definition of idolatry.
Christianity has been infected by superstition, too. While Christian leaders and theologians typically condemn faith in “things” rather than faith in God, individuals worldwide use Christian symbols as objects of superstition. Belief in the power of a crucifix (not God or Jesus) reaches back centuries. In Bram Stoker’s warped classic, Dracula, the crucifix is used to ward off vampires, and with that a legend with no end was born.
The crucifix, or simply the cross, are often used not so much as representations of Christ’s substitutionary atonement (a legitimate artistic or religious practice) but as devices vested with mystical protective powers. Some people wear crucifixes or crosses like a presumed force shield, not unlike people wear Evil Eye amulets.
Sometimes our superstition takes on a "Christianized" flavor. People "Say a little prayer" before tackling bigger tasks. Even non-Catholics cross themselves because "It can't hurt." People use the Bible like a talisman, keeping it in cars or touching it for good luck.
Superstition, though, doesn’t align with Christian faith. Superstition is based on ignorance. Christianity is based on knowable truth. Superstition thrives on fear while Christian faith overcomes fear.
The Psalmist David sang, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23).
Timothy said, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
God, not superstition, casts away fear. He is the Good Shepherd, the Heavenly Father, the Comforter, the Great Physician, the Almighty.
Superstition tries to appease legions of mythical gods (Isaiah 65:11-17). Christians worship the Heavenly Father who brings all things together according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).
Superstition is idolatry, and God said in the book of 1 John, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols" (5:21).
But in classic syncretistic fashion we don’t get rid of our superstitions. We mix them with our biblical beliefs and in effect create our own new religion. We even use fetishes.
A fetish is an object that supposedly possesses enchanted powers capable of bringing great favor or otherwise protecting its owner from harm.
Yet biblically speaking no material objects are vested with orphic powers. No inanimate thing and no animals alive or dead can supernaturally protect or favor human activity. No idol, icon, or fetish, including voodoo dolls, holds any powers. They’re just human-made objects, crafted with religious symbolism but no more capable of directing human affairs than the Pet Rocks or Mood Rings of my youth.
God said, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:3-4).
Magic is another foray into superstition, one of those things about which we need to exercise what someone once called "sanctified common sense." In other words, we must define our terms and balance our response.
If by magic we mean the occult, Satan worship, demonism, witchcraft or sorcery, Fate, incantations, seances, crystal balls, or psychic claims upon our lives, than as a Christian we must reject and oppose these things. This kind of magic is devilish, promotes an anti-Christian worldview, and destroys those it touches.
Magic is a generalized term for a host of ungodly surrogates for the biblical story. The magic of the occult is Satan's mimicry of divine miracles and sovereign disposition of human affairs. Demons, witches, and other purveyors of magical falsehood are Satan's marionettes, messengers of sin and darkness.
But remember, the Providence of God puts the lie to superstition, luck, fetishes, and magic. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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