dharma monkey

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Religion vs. superstition


I give myself one freebie at work each week for lunch — instead of bringing my lunch from home, I’ll grab a panini, salad or noodle dish from somewhere in the neighborhood. In spite of the fact that I had lentils and pita bread in the office fridge, I decided today would be my freebie.

So I’m standing in the deli next to my office building and in walk four K Street lawyer-types, wearing classic pinstripe power suits. The four look Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, and only one of them has an strictly American accent. As they wait in line to place their orders, they survey the day’s soup offerings. The guy with the American accent reaches for the baked potato soup, which, the label indicates in small lettering, contains bacon. He sees the lettering at the bottom of the sign and then hastily puts his empty soup container back on the counter.

“No way man, I’m not going to Hell,” he says to his co-workers as they jokingly chide him for his reversal.

The taller guy, who had a slight Middle Eastern accent but was very Americanized, said he thought the only reason Muslims have a prohibition against pork is because tapeworms were such an issue all those centuries ago. After a little more conversation, two of the men, including the one who initially hesitated, filled their containers with the soup and changed the subject.

The whole exchange made me think about religion and superstition, and where the two intersect. Would Allah, for example, really condemn one of his followers to Hell just for eating the bacon in that soup? If you take the Koran literally, then I assume you would believe that to be the case. (I don’t actually know the Muslim penalty for eating pork.)
Most of the world’s religions developed at a time when mankind had far fewer facts than he had fears, so it makes sense that these belief systems include things that, by today’s standards, don’t always make sense. Just look at Tibetan Buddhism, especially as it is practiced by native Tibetans. It’s full of superstition and rituals that really don’t make sense in the context of the basic Buddhists beliefs shared by all of the major schools.

(Buddhists don’t believe, for example, that there is an omnipotent universal force that guides us and exerts its will on us, so why then do Tibetans go through specific rituals for protection, luck and good fortune? Well, it’s part of the culture. After all, Tibetan Buddhism adopted many features of its predecessor religion in that region.)

My point is that “religion” or “spiritualism” or whatever you call it is a dynamic thing that evolves alongside mankind. I don’t really believe that the K Street lawyers are going to Hell because they ate that bacon, but at the same time, I’m not knocking Muslims who do believe that. But those men’s religious path is what works for them, and I could tell from their conversation that they self-identify as Muslims.

I’m not sure there’s too much room in modern society for such rigid interpretation of religion. As I’ve said before, it’s an intensely personal thing, though I’m the first to admit that there is a great deal of comfort and security in millennia-old rituals.

Author: Sean

I am Sean, a writer/PR guy originally from the Rural South who grew up and settled down in Washington, D.C. My interests include local politics, Eastern philosophy, languages and reality television.

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