Atheism and superstition

I’m sorry guys. It’s the first time I’ve dipped my toe in the ‘Great Debates’ pool. Please be gentle.

For better or worse, I consider myself an Atheist. I not only belive that there isn’t a God but also that there are no Gods (Christian, Muslim, Hindu et al).

That’s not what I want to discuss - whatever you beleive or what deitie(s) you chose to worship (or not), I have a question.

Where does superstition come in?

Can a Muslim walk under a ladder?
Can a Rastafarian step on the cracks in the pavement?
Does a Buddist throw salt over his shoulder?
Is it bad luck for an Atheist to open a can of beans the wrong way up?
Can a Catholic shit in the woods?

I’m guessing that superstitions are quite localised but in this ‘big old melting pot’ that we live in today there must be some cross contamination between religion, tradition and superstition.

In fact, looking at the bigger question, where does luck fit into all this religion (or not) malarkey?

“Luck” or “karma” or however you want to call it, if handled as a system* is fundamentally irrational. I think like a lot of irrational beliefs it’s due to us humans seeing patterns quickly, and in particular we’re quick to assume a causal relationship between unrelated events. It’s probably an advantage in evolutionary terms - eat something new & get sick shortly after and you’ll probably avoid that food in the future, even if you didn’t get sick because of the food, it’s probably better to assume that you did than to try again.

In any case, atheists technically can be just as superstitious as any other person, since superstitions aren’t about gods. If there were about gods, they’d be religious beliefs. Although the definition of gods is pretty vague. Are fairies gods? Demons? Spirits? Genies?

  • I mean, if you hit yourself with a hammer that may be “just bad luck”, nothing irrational about that - shit happens - but if you think it happened because you put on your socks in the wrong order that morning then that’s irrational.

I think both religion and superstition stem from the fact that humans like to have answers to their questions.

“Luck” really is random chance for the most part, but people like to think it is directed somehow. Somebody might have broken a mirror once and things didn’t go well for them afterwards, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Religion probably started the same way. People personified chance, fate and nature, then noticed, “Hey, I burnt these lamb joints and now our crops are getting some much-needed rain! All hail Rainman!”

Add a few thousand years of cultural evolution, and you’ve got some really goofy beliefs floating around.


It’s all in the mind. Whatever the mini-ritual is, be it setting the dice to the point before picking them up and shooting in a craps game or the one-two-*three *practice stroke in a game of pool, it’s all about the mindset. In the former there is absolutely no connection between the ritual and the random outcome of the dice, but it’s a tiny part of what makes the game fun, and it just feels (psychologically) right. Even further out of field is the call for ‘same dice’ when you’ve already made a point or two. In pool, there is an added bit of umph to a proper mindset, and if a ritual/superstition/habit has evolved, no deity is necessary.

You seem to be assuming that no atheists are superstitious. Just because a person doesn’t believe in a supreme being, doesn’t mean he’s a paragon of rationality. People are atheists for all sorts of reasons, just like people are theists for all sorts of reasons.

Despite being an atheist myself, I don’t understand why we are listed separately in your OP. As pointed out already, all sorts of people have superstitions as the ones you listed.

In short, I daresay that to the extent of the reach of any particular one, they are mostly geographically/culturally located memes and not particularly religious-bound. Two give but a couple of examples, I doubt many Americans have heard of putting salt on a broom in order to get rid of an unwanted visitor (the “logic” behind this one being that he/she’ll get an itchy behind, get uncorfotable and be “swept out”), nor the “bad luck” to be had if your open an umbrella indoors or use scissors on a bed (don’t ask. Have no idea of the "logic " behind these two). Don’t know about now, but these were fairly well known when I was growing up in Spain. If pressed I’d venture they permeated local culture from Gypsy influence – they are said to be extremely supersticious.

However, if you wanted to specifically discuss religious memes – altrusim as a derivate of religion, damnation of infidels and so forth – we could certainly do that as well. But that would be a different thread.

I apologise for my ignorance…

The word Athiest, I know implies the rejection of the belief of deities (Brahman, Elohim, God, Waheguru, Allah etc).

The word I should have used needed to reject everything else (monothiesm etc) aswell.

Is there a word that describes a person that rejects irrational reinforcement (for example)?

Atheism is the religion that believes that gods do not exist. It is a religion with as much proof of it’s beliefs as any other.

There is no proof one way or the other of any gods existing. No proof they do, no proof they don’t. To believe one way or the other is a religion.

If you insist on making stupid arguments about atheism, it would have been nice if you could have started your own thread where your assertions would be demolished, rather than hi-jacking this one. You’re way off topic.

But many actors believe in not speaking the word ‘Macbeth’ in the theater.


No big. Just trying to help frame the discussion.

It’s a bit more complicated than that I am afraid. To begin with, atheism, simply put, is lacking belief in any/all deities. Doesn’t matter if it’s one or many. Beyond that, rejection of said deities is a particular type of atheism called “strong.”

There are also any number of descriptors/labels that one can apply to ones beliefs. For instance, I consider myself a strong atheist w/regards religions, while at the same time chose to say I am an agnostic when it comes to genesis.

Here’s a bit of a primer on this topic: Atheism.

Materialism comes to mind. Though I can’t vouch for all of them being non-supersticious. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear some are.

Yup. Just like bald is a hair color.

I wanted to start a thread some time ago to discuss the fine lines between obsessive compulsive behavior, superstition, and religious rituals to see how closely they might be related.
From my own experience while I was being raised Catholic it seemed all of the religious “rules” per se (no meat on Fridays during lent, church every Sunday, don’t walk past the alter without genuflecting, etc.) were right in line with superstitious beliefs I had (knock-on-wood, stepping on cracks, walking under ladders, etc.) as in the rules needed to be followed out of fear of something bad happening leading to anxiety. This seemed to even lead into some mild obsessive-compulsive behaviors I had as a kid (having to hear someone reply ‘goodbye’ if I said it to them or I would panic, having to run back to touch an object if I looked at it, etc.)
However, once I reached my mid teens and rebeled against the church and became a non-believer it seemed that my past superstitions and any OC behaviors melted away. As silly as religious beliefs seemed to me so did superstitions. It was a very freeing experience.

I saw this article today from Australia, looking at the proportions of people there who believe various things. Only 68% believe in some kind of god or “universal spirit” (which to me says that they’re 32% atheist), large numbers of people still believe other weird things.

Atheism is not a religion. It is a absence of religion.

You’re lucky.

I’ve been 25 years as an athiest and I guess 20, as RedFury so helpfully described, as ‘strong’.

And yet I still ‘Salute the Magpie’

I’m atheist and I kinda sorta believe in luck. When pressed though, I’ll confess I don’t, but follow some if they are non-intrusive and harmless. Its fun that way.

For example, if a sports team I turn on start to do well after I begin watching, I’ll stick with the broadcast thinking I have something to do with it. Otherwise, I may turn the TV off for a few minutes.

I try to avoid walking under ladders. In the rare situation that it comes up, I figure that its both a superstition and protection from things falling on my head, something that can happen without supernatural input.

Things like that are generally harmless and I have no problems making my life more fun by following them. What I won’t do is go out of my way to follow or adhere to a superstition. I don’t throw salt, never heard about the beans thing, have no problems doing many other things that people avoid.

Of course, math and science stem from this as well.

But a Scientist has no problem saying “We don’t know”. It’s where their journey starts. It’s what they embrace.

But religion and superstition say “We do know. And what’s more, this is how it’s gonna be”

We as humans are hardwired to find patterns in things, and I suspect a lot of superstition stems from this. We can try to look out for cases where we are being irrational, but some will slip by. The endowment effect (where something we possess suddenly increases in perceived value to us) has been measured in chimps. If anyone, atheist or theist, says he is immune from this, he is just deluding himself.

To be actively atheist, you do not merely not believe that gods exist, you actively believe that they don’t.

If you are a pure atheist, you’ve never considered the existence of gods and are therefore unaware that you are an atheist.

Once you are aware of the possibility of the existence of gods and choose to beleive that they don’t exist, you belong to a religion - a belief based purely on faith. Lack of proof of existence is not the same as proof of non-existence.

If you’ve considered the gods existence but acknoweledge that it’s unprovable whether they exist or not, you are agnostic.

That said, no religion is superstitious in it’s own eyes. I’m unaware of dogmatic practices that other people practice as a superstition.

Hindu’s dogmatically believe in Karma - but not necessarily instant Karma. Luck is also not part of the major religions. A Blessed state is often the reward for following the dogmas of the religion. Fortune is the reward for earning favor with the gods.

There are forbidden acts in all religions but the punishement is never immediate bad luck.