Superstition BY THE EDITOR
Is there not a great deal of superstition mixed up with the religion of lots of us Catholics?
THE claim that a great deal of apparent religion is often mere superstition is frequently made.
In addition to the condemnation of the use of blessed medals and other religious emblems, we are often told that the religion, of say, the Neapolitans with its cult of images. apparent constant interchange of pious practices with anything but a pious life, mass excitement over doubtful miracles, and so on, is largely pure superstition.
To decide how well-founded or strike has been a cause of annoyance and inconvenience, and it is doubtful whether she has any idea who, in fact, is this time on strike.
Most people when asked, will simply reply, " The gas workers." Actually the workers engaged in the production of as have not been. involved at any point. It is a maintenance men's dispute and they alone have been on strike. In most industries a strike of maintenance men would quickly re sult in sympathy " strikes on the part of the production workers. But gas workers, from the Communists' point of view, are " reactionary " and there is hardly a Communist Party member among them.
Reason for this is that, following the great London gas strike of half a century ago, profit sharing schemes were started which in time spread throughout the industry. With a stake in the welfare of the concerns which employed them. gas production workers gained a new interest in their work and a sense of responsibility for the industry as a whole. There did not, in any case, seem much point in striking against th.emselves. The profit-sharing schemes never at any time or anywhere went as far as Catholic advocates of copartnership see as being desirable. But even so a new spirit grew up among the men which made the Communists all-but write them off as hopeless and led to their concentrating on the maintenance men instead who, single-handed, are capable in time of bringing the industry to a standstill.
It is worth noting, incidentally, that the Communists have had similarly to write off the uorkers employed by a number of profit-sharing firms.
For years they tried to gain a foothold in the Vauxhall motor works but, in the end, the party's district organiser was told to concentrate on " more promising sections of the workers."
The conducting of the class war becomes more difficult when you ask men to go to war with themselves. not this sort of criticism is we should be clear in our minds about the real difference between religion and superstition.
There can be no doubt that the human race, apparently from its beginnings, has tended to put a great deal of trust in objects, actions, rites, which are believed to be in themselves a protection against unknown powers of evil or means of placating unknown powers for good.
Amulets, talismans. fetishes have always been widely regarded in this light, and certainly the old habit has died hard. for rarely have men put greater trust in this sort of magic than today.
Yet one must not too easily condemn all this as mere superstition. It is never easy to say how far a man really believes that the charm Is in itself the protector or how far he has some dim idea that the charm is a sign or symbol of real higher powers which are genuinely able to afford protection under certain conditioks to mere mortals.
In AO far as there is any sense of the second feeling, we are at least on the road towards genuine religion, and it is probable that the more truly simple, the more truly primitive, the man is, the nearer he comes to true belief in one God in whose hands his fate lies and belief in a power of evil which indeed really exists in the person of the Real crass superstition, involving dtheevi ridiculous notion that a medal, an imagt, a form of words. an action can in itself protect man, seems usually to arise with the corruption of purer religious beliefs.
This, by the way, explains the enormous increase in superstition, chance, luck which is today characteristic of an age when real religious bend has been so largely lost.
Catholicism, the true religion and as such necessarily most closely and deeply related to that human nature which Our Lord came to save, respects and uses the characteristics of human nature.
The sacraments are " outward signs of inward grace," and by God's power actually confer grace in virtue of the action made, so long as all the necessary conditions are realised, though of course the fruits of the sscraments are increased according to the goodness of the recipient's dispositions.
Evidently there is a parallel here with superstitious rites, but the real situation is completely opposite, because we know that it is God Who is operating through the Sacrament or ontward sign, while the conditions of valid reception presuppose the recipient's realisation of this and his being in a proper spiritual and moral state to receive the sacrament. Where it is a question of a blessed medal or other blessed physical object — sometimes called sacramentals—the object is hardly more than a reminder of the availability of God's help to those who pray to Hint. By being blessed the object becomes dedicated to a spiritual purpose, and by the higher rite of consecration it is specially set apart for a religious purpose, and in both cases consequently possesses a spiritual value, But it confers no grace of itself. This depends on the relation between the person using it and God to whom the person prays in using the blessed or consecrated object. This again is quite the opposite of the superstitious use of a charm which is believed to be a protector in itself.
But just as we should not too easily judge primitive peoples who use amulets, fetishes and the like, because for all we know they may really he using them as signs of a genuine higher power of God in so far as they know Him, so we should not be too ready to judge fellow Catholics who seem to put their trust in the power of holy objects and pious practices.
If in their behaviour they do remain conscious of their real relation to God, then there need be no superstition; if they have crossed the border line and have become so corrupted as in fact to be believing in the power of the object, apart from God, then there -is mere superstition.
The distinction is radical and of the. very greatest importance, but it is never easy for the outsider to judge of its application to individual instances. Often, no doubt, religion and superstition get mixed up, but if religion, i.e., worship of God and prayer to Him, really remains, then we need not worry too much.