Faith and Superstition

ANiS does not want to oppose faith; they want to eradicate exploitative superstitions not faith.
But it is sometimes difficult to distinguish faith from superstition. The increasing spread of Science and Education could not eradicate superstition. Superstitions change with respect to time and the individual. We can roughly say, ‘That notion, of which ‘the cause effect relation’ has been indisputably established can be called conviction or trust; and the notion for which no cause effect relation’ can be established and yet is believed to exist is superstition.’

ANiS activists are frequently asked ‘where is the need for such a special drive for eradicating superstition? Will it not disappear as science and education spread? Darkness (meaning superstition) cannot be thrown out but a lighted candle will gradually help expel it. A petromax lamp will do the job better and when the day breaks the darkness will disappear altogether.’ But what we experience is quite the opposite. An Indian or a Maharashtrian who is now supposed to be a modern, scientific and universal man, still believes in vows, penances, Karnee, Bhanamati, animal sacrifice and Narayan Nagbali. He argues that Baba-Buvas are surely perilous to the society and should be exposed. However the Baba who is my Guru is altogether of a different ilk. I deeply believe in Him and will not tolerate if anyone tries to do him any harm.’ Thus superstitions change with respect to individuals. They also change with respect to time. Despite the anti-Sati law passed by Lord Bentinck in 1829 that still continues to exist in law books, women in India, even today, have to agitate for making that law more stringent. Even today a woman has to prove her chastity by putting her hands in boiling oil and remaining unscathed. In short whatever is utter foolishness is Superstition. Faith is accepting the existence of something for which no indisputably established evidence is available but at the same time, it is not contradictory to your values, involves you emotionally and drives you to act.

Narration of human Progress is history of examining Faith. Yet no one likes that his faith be examined. The force of reason that drives a person to earnest action is faith. Such faith as defined by Justice Ranade has three components.
a) earnestness- meaning decision taken by emotion and not intellect.
b) With the force of faith, intention should be converted into action which requires conquering fear and allurement.
c) That which enhances value judgement is Faith and that which degrades it is superstition. Faith should not refuse any examination on the basis of Truth. Obsession with one’s faith should not become an obstacle in the practice of others’ faiths. It means that which disregards the principle of non-violence is superstition.

Four centuries after Bruno was burnt alive and Galileo was made to apologise for experimentally proving the facts of Earth’s rotation and revolution, the Pope had to beg for pardon. Since then the right of Scientific Outlook, in the field of knowledge, to discover and pronounce what is truth and what is not, was indisputably established. This is an example of eradicating superstition. Superstition is fossilised, pious ignorance of gullible pious people that assures them emotional protection, but at the same time promotes their exploitation. Science knows for sure that the genome patterns of all human beings are much too similar and there are only four blood groups. But this fact cannot make an iota of change in the caste system prevailing in our country. Everyone thinks that his caste is superior to and more pious than all other castes and seeks protection in it. This psyche sustains the caste system that exploits people at many levels. ANiS fights against caste system by promoting inter-caste and inter-religion marriages.

Justice Ranade’s definition of Faith as the force of reason that drives a person to earnest action, needs a little explanation. An individual does not live solely by his intellect but needs emotional earnestness to help him take decisions and act on them. Emotion hastens decision and leads to quick action. This is deemed to be the strength of his faith. But here it is important to remind oneself of the third point of this definition, viz. that which enhances value judgement is faith and that which degrades it is superstition. E.g. driving the British out of this country and obtaining freedom was a subject of Faith for the freedom fighters. There was earnestness and they had overcome fear and allurement also. But one has to examine whether the third condition regarding value judgement is fulfilled. E.g. to judge the fight against the British rule, we have to ask: Would it have been reasonable to shoot every British man in our country? To whom should the British have handed over the power? Why do we want freedom? These questions can be answered intellectually as: we fought against colonialism; British people are our friends; we wanted freedom not for restoring the old powers but for the progress of the common man. The freedom fighters decided to fight because of their faith in their leaders.

One more point needs to be discussed here. How can one determine whether a faith is ethical or not? This can be tested in two ways. The first is whether a person is prepared to examine his faith. That faith for which no examination is allowed is superstition. This is the first test of determining whether a faith is ethical; the second test is whether the faith is accompanied by non-violence. One’s faith should not hamper practicing of others’ faiths. One can examine one’s faith thus: do you examine any faith other than yours on the basis of truth; are you tolerant and non-violent regarding others’ faiths; does your faith drive you to action; whether your faith enhances your human qualities or degrades them. Insisting on such examination of faith is essential for improving human life and culture.