Superstition, the enemy of our species

03 September 2013 - 15:08 By Bruce Gorton
A vulture. File photo.
A vulture. File photo.
Image: Bruce Gorton

A few weeks ago a hero was murdered in India, a man who stood up for truth against lies, for education against ignorance.

Dr Narendra Dabholka threatened the incomes of some of the worst people on earth, peddlers of superstition.

Dabholka challenged India’s ‘Godmen’ and their parlour tricks, the former physician would reperform their miracles and explain exactly how they worked.

And he fought for a law that banned the very worst of the superstitious practises that India suffered – with The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill.

The cowards who gunned him down failed, the bill was passed, but so too passed a hero.

In South Africa this morning I work up and read about how our own con-artists, in the same vein as those pretending divining divinity in India, are killing our vultures.

Vultures have excellent senses of smell, which allows them to find carcasses from a long distance away. Their abilities in this regard mean that traditional lore assigned them psychic powers.

And when you add that to the magical thinking our entire species is prone to, you can see exactly how people can believe sleeping next to a dead vulture’s head may give them the ability to predict lottery numbers.

The idea that this is a perversion of traditional beliefs, a commercialisation of something that is ‘cultural’ ignores a basic issue; magic is a lie.

If the power of vulture heads was a real thing, the lottery wouldn’t be worth winning because while the belief in their efficacy is hardly universal, it is widespread enough that any winning numbers would be too diluted to be worth it.

Either that, or the traditional healers would be using it themselves and getting rich while keeping their mouths shut over how they manage to be so lucky at the lotto draws.

But sometimes people believe it anyway, not because of stupidity but because they are desperate.

And this desperation is cutting into our country more and more. When Kirsty Theologo was murdered, her death was allegedly motivated by the allure of power that doesn’t exist. There is no more a Satan than there is a God – we are left to our own devices.

And lets be clear here – those kids weren’t of the Church of Satan, they didn’t know the first thing about what actual Satanists believe, they just knew what their society told them devil worship was, and that led to their downfall.

And our false ideas, our false beliefs do us and our environment harm. False hope is the same thing as despair, because it blinds us with its possibilities to the very real solutions that may exist to our problems, to our ability to mitigate our threats, and to the costs that false hope entails.

Dr Dabholka was murdered by bikers who opposed what he stood for, the power of the rational mind. They feared him because he reminded people that where they were was not where they had to be, that the world is not the product of superstition and spirits but something we can learn from, and change.

We are not a species of fast runners, we do not have sharp claws or long canines, but we are dominant because we have a power beyond any of that, our minds. Superstition weakens that power, but we can move beyond it to solve our problems.

Superstition is a gossamer shackle, we need only move our feet to be free.

And as one of my colleagues kept quoting a few months ago, ‘Every day we’re shuffling’.

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