Is there a difference between religion and superstition?

For instance, one person prays that a relative will recover from a serious illness. Another clutches a rabbit’s foot, stroking it repeatedly and wishing for the same thing.

Is there a qualitative difference in their beliefs? If not, should they not both be treated on an equal footing?

Yes; superstition is someone else’s religion.

Superstition is mostly concerned with causing or preventing some occurrence. That’s only a small subset of what comprises religion.

As practiced by persons in the U.S., superstition involves impersonal forces that come into play as a result of some action. I’ve never heard any explanation of what, exactly, is going to get me if I spill the salt or fail to knock wood. Religion, on the other hand, is more concerned with human interactions with deities, which are assumed to have some personal involvement with our species.

Superstitions don’t demand tithes.
Superstitions don’t demand that you hate anyone who believes in different superstitions.

'Nuff said


Then why do so many athiests demand hate of religious people?

/color me superstitious

If you religion is different from mine it is a superstition.

Dal Timgar

What does this even mean? That atheists demand that religious people hate them? This atheist prefers that people don’t hate me…

If you are trying to say that atheists hate religious people, I’ll have to ask you back up that statement, or retract it. I’m an atheist, and I love many very religious people.

I think kelly5078 pretty much nailed it, but I’d like to add that I think societal acceptance also differs between the two.

Hence my use of the word “many” instead of “all.”

Considering the fact that I was replying to someone who basically said that all religion was hate-mongering money whoring, I believe that the context requires you to admit that some atheists do hate religious people.

If we can get beyond the knee-jerk religion-bashing…

A religion is an organized belief system, often including belief in supernatural being(s) and ocurrences.

A superstition is a single supernatural belief.

If you were to find some sort of “grand unified superstition theory”, in which a number of supernatural beliefs could be tied together as an organized belief system, that might qualify as a religion.

In fact, it might already have its roots in religion…for example, the “knock on wood for good luck” superstition is based in Christian belief re: the cross.

Many old superstitions have been described as remnants of the Germanic (incl. Anglo-Saxon) belief in souls, one of the two main aspects of Germanic religion. The other one was personalization of the forces of nature as gods. While the latter was important to the cult of the people as a whole, the first established many rules for everyday life. e.g. the soul was thought of as separable from the body, sometimes in the form of a breeze (but also as an animal…) The following more common superstitions have been attributed to that: You have to cover your mouth while yawning because otherwise your soul might escape. The same fear is the reason for the “blessing” after sneezing. When a person dies you have to open a window so that the soul can escape.

Really? I heard that it had to do with propitiating tree-dwelling gods and spirits. Here’s my cite.

Guess that’ll teach me to read my entire cite.


I still don’t understand why Noone Special’s assertions prompt this question. Is it because you think atheism is just another type of superstition? If not, then I can see no logical way that your question follows on from that.

No, it is because I’m sick and tired of some atheists blaming every ill in the world on religion in general, calling it a power grab and money whoring. That is a hateful and ignorant way to act.

It is indeed. However, Noone Special’s original post was not, as I read it, saying that it is the case that all religions require you to hate others, merely that superstitions do not do so.

This is similar to saying that vegetarian entrees do not include meat. It is true, but does not imply the reverse (that all entrees not specifically vegetarian do include meat).

Gee, that’s not my best analogy ever. :confused:

Regardless, I hope you see my point.

Mild disclaimer: I self-categorize as an atheist.

Religion is more elaborate than a superstition. I’ll buy that: religion is an elaboration on superstition.


religion is to a superstition, what science is to an observation.

Religion is not made up of superstitions. Superstitions are not necessarily religious, nor is religion necessarily superstitious. It can be said that excessive religion may be superstitious, or unfounded belief in a supreme deity.

Someone who is either far too religious or superficially religious can be said to be superstitious, in different meanings of the word.

Religion is the belief itself. Superstition is the belief that certain acts will bring about a singular event.

If you don’t understand why religion is, you shouldn’t be trying to define what it is. As a “person of science,” you should understand that.

I think one way to think this through is to acknowledge that some religious people are superstitious, and others are not. One may even conceive of a superstitious atheist, e.g., one who has a lucky number, who senses an omen, etc.

Superstition is one instance of state of mind that has an affinity with religious thinking, i.e., the belief in another realm of reality that impacts the one of which we are normally conscious. Religions, as has been noted, typically map out that other reality, and this reality’s connection with it, in rather precise terms. Superstitions, as has been noted, typically take that state of one and apply to just a few states of affairs – a ladder, a black cat, whistling in a house, etc. In my religion (Judaism), there are some teachings highly critical of superstition, some teachings that are neutral, and some that rather encourage it. I consider my a religious person, but not superstitious.

Religions typically have communities that celebrate, worship, study together, have a canon, traditions of ethics, authoritative figures, or at least some process by which authority is understood. Superstitions require none of these.

Religion, for most, is a value neutral word – religion can be good or bad, when assessed by some outer, rational criterion.

Superstition carries with it a rather negative valence. It evokes a sense of magical thinking, irrationality.


And I stand behind that statement.

Two disclaimers:

  1. Organized religion is a cash cow. Always has been, always will be. I was addressing the religious organizations, who use and abuse (in my mind) the truly and innocently religious - and I was not addressing the religious people. I think that is an important distinction.
  2. Organized religions are far from being the only ideological hierarchies that behave this way :frowning: They got singled out becuase of the nature if the debate, not because they are any worse than, say, your run of the mill political party.

Boils down to: I’m not picking on religious people. I know and admire many. I am coming down hard on Organized Religion as a concept, because it seems to me that all the major ones put making money and one-upping the religion across the road waaay before actually helping their very own believers.

hence my preference for superstition over religion: It is a personal belief, by an individual, not organized or mandated by some money- and power-hungry organization that has to feed the priests.