Superstition

My wife, Pam and I, have just returned from holiday in the Mediterranean. During the course of our time away, we visited various places of worship in different areas and I was shocked anew at the levels of superstition surrounding the Christian faith which still exist in some parts of the world. In one place, we visited a church dedicated to – and containing the remains of – a saint who is believed to still tramp the streets of the town at night (presumably trying to do some good). For this reason, each year, his body is removed from the silver casket in which it is held, given new shoes to replace the dusty worn ones, and dressed in new clothes. Thus regaled, the five hundred year old corpse is carried around the streets where the local worshippers turn out and apparently have ‘a bit of a do’.

We sat inside the church for some time, watching people come and go. The air was refreshingly cool and a relief from the hot sunshine outside; the atmosphere was quiet and peaceful and ‘far from the madding crowd.’ As we sat, a constant stream of visitors went through the church. Some – whom we guessed by their dress to be locals – stooped to kiss the various icons and to bow and cross themselves. But many who appeared to be tourists (some wearing shorts, though these were supposedly forbidden) and obviously of a similar religious persuasion, did the same. At the actual container in which the bones of the saint lie, some folk kissed the silver casket all over, crossing themselves each time, taking especial care to kiss the glass end where the saint’s feet could be seen. Everyone appeared to be deeply moved by the experience and to gain spiritual comfort from their various oblations.

I’m aware of course that similar superstitious behaviour (forgive me dear reader if I step on your beliefs, but this is how it appears to me) is common throughout the earth, and some of it far more bizarre than our experience outlined above. But I must confess to never having really understood religion of this kind. And it seems ironic somehow, that in a world where scientific atheism is growing and making such inroads, there should still exist this other, equally shadowy world, seemingly so separated from common sense and reason that, to an outsider at any rate, it appears not only unfathomable but clearly against much of the teaching of the bible. And it is this last point which concerns me most. We can have some sympathy with an individual who is raised amidst such superstition and who accepts the word of the priest (or whoever) as authoritative. So it seems to me that criticism (if such is appropriate) should be levelled at the actual church authorities and clergy who perpetuate such teaching, accretions, traditions and superstitions, to the detriment of the simple Gospel.

  1. Hello Chris, Yours is an interesting post. Some years ago when my wife and I visited a church, I think in Spain.

    Inside, we were faced with a large and beautiful reredos with a gaping hole in the centre about three quarters of the way up from the floor behind the altar. I remarked that it had either not been finished or was being repaired. It turned out I was quite wrong.

    The hole in the reredos was for a figure of the BVM who appeared in it only once a year. If memory serves, it was on either the assumption or the annunciation. Visitors were invited to ascend behind the reredos to view the virgin. We did so and found ourselves in a room that was empty but for the image, and a large pole-like object off to one side.

    The image was impressive, slightly more than life-size, dressed and decorated like a bride. It was on a kind of railway track and could be turned around and moved to fill the hole the reredos. People were encouraged to pray to the BVM to intercede for them. The pole was covered pieces of paper bearing the written witness of those who believed their prayers had been answered.

    To me the whole thing is bizarre. I do recognise however that the church authorities face dreadful dilemma. If they have the courage to say that the faith of those who pray to the BVM and believe that Christ was born of a virgin have been misled, many of those people would then have hole in their lives bigger than the one in the reredos.

    I may come back to this, Chris because There are other things I should like to recall. In the meantime, thank you for a thought provoking post.

    Peter

  2. Hello again Chris, We have hanging on a wall in our bedroom a traditional image of Jesus’ face. It is painted on an image of a towel and the whole is mounted on a board. It was a gift to my wife from a lady who was dying. She faced death cheerfully, with dignity, and certainty that she was ‘going to a better place’. She was a good and faithful servant of her God if ever there was one. She particularly wanted my wife to have her picture of Veronica’s veil.

    This lady was an intelligent, well qualified and capable woman — a leader in her field. She told me that she had a special relationship with Veronica even tho’ she was fully aware that the saint and the story telling of her wiping Christ’s face were were almost certainly fiction.

    It baffles me.

    Peter

    PS I have more.

  3. Peter
    Thanks for your comment. Your example of this kind of superstition is equally worrying. However, my post wasn’t meant to suggest that the church authorities should deny central, orthodox Christian doctrines. What worries me, rather, is the superstitious accretions which have grown up around the central core doctrines of the Christian faith which not only have no biblical basis, but often flatly contradict the plain teaching of the bible, which is that Christians should pray to God in the name of Jesus and to no-one else. The use of idols is also forbidden. Praying to an idol seems to suggest that the idol has some power; i.e., is God, or represents God (or in this case, is another god). All quite disturbing. Thanks again for relating your experience.

    Chris

  4. Chris Lazenby

    Hi Peter
    Thanks for your account of the image of Veronica. This is another of those relics, similar in this case to the Turin Shroud and the kind of thing which many RCs and Greek Orthodox seem to find helpful (if that’s the right word?)along with icons, bits of the cross, and so on.

    Yes, I accept that intelligent people can believe in these (and even stranger) things (e.g., being abducted by aliens). But I don’t think we should mix these things up with true Christian faith. Many people today would not see any distinction between fable and scripture; we live in a culture where children grow up and, finding Santa Claus to be a myth, conclude that the whole Christmas story belongs in the same category and ditch the whole lot.

    Personally, for a Christian, I believe all of these issues come down to how we view the bible. It was an issue which – after my own conversion – quickly focused itself as being at the centre of the whole area of Christian faith. Either I accept what it says (where it says it so clearly that there is no mistaking it) or I don’t. From the bible, I learn that I should put my faith in nothing but God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So I can’t understand how someone can seem to worship, reverence or put their faith in anything else; whether it’s a relic, a footballer, a pop star or even an angel from heaven (Revelation 19:10).

    It’s my hope that the woman you cite in your account truly knew God through Christ and that the core of her faith was in him. Only he can see into a person’s heart and know what’s actually there.

    God bless

    Chris

  5. I fully and whole heartedly agree with you Chris and I think that you say these things with concern for the people caught up in it. I think icons are barriers for people to see the real Jesus and the icon needs to be smashed (with sincerity and true concern) so that the people can see the real face of Christ shine through the true Gospel message.

  6. This is really interesting, not least because it has the possibility of really “screwing up” people on the fringes of church. I, as I’m sure do others, regularly come across people who are searching for God, but have previously had such crazy experiences of superstition in the church that they look elsewhere.
    And whilst much might be related to the Catholic or Orthodox ends of things, it can just as easily be related to Hyper-charismatic stuff too.

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