Dr. G. SAMARAM
Atheist Centre, Vijayawada
Superstition is the major obstacle to progress of science. Religion and custom which have the stamp of long passage of time have deeply influenced the human mind. Belief in god, heaven and hell, angels and spirits has subjugated the human mind. There is no scripture without them. Even if students are taught modern science in schools and colleges, superstition influences them at home. They learn superstitious practices from their parents. Religion has two aspects, one is ethical and moral and the other is about belief in god and superstition. The former mostly refers to harmonious collective life and purity of individual conduct based on particular religious tenets. But the latter is more dangerous to the development of the human mind. Superstition is based on fear, ignorance, submission to baseless belief and frustration. Take for example the belief in ghosts. Women are more prone to it than men. Women are more religious and superstitious, because they do not have as many opportunities as men to move in society at large. Men had the advantages of education earlier than women. Confined to the household duties, the attitude of women is rooted in religion. Customary practices are accepted and followed blindly. They don’t doubt, but believe. Fear of god and belief in life after death are found more in women than in men and more in ignorant men than in the educated. So women come under the influence of ghosts more than men. They become hysterical. They subject themselves to hallucinations which impair their health too.
FEAR AND IGNORANCE
Fear and ignorance go together. Priests, even now as in the past, encourage belief in god on one hand and the devil on the other. Demonology is the greatest enemy to the progress of medical science. The medical doctor has to cure the mind supposed to be under the influence of the demon. If the mind is strong, no demon enters it. After all, there is no demon. A strong mind is an asset to any man or woman. In spite of the progress of medical science, people still believe in demons. This shows how religion is still a powerful factor that weakens human mind.
Mere education is not enough; scientific and atheistic approach to life alone will drive out ignorance. Educated people, including some scientists, subscribe to blind religious beliefs. They think that reason and belief are two separate things. They defend belief in god and devil on irrational grounds. They don’t stop at that even. They defend irrationalism out of which superstition springs. Beginning with doubt in some things paves the way for the strong assertion of reason in the end. Even some educated people out of frustration in life turn to irrationalism. They are not able to solve the problems of their lives. So, they turn to god, supposed to be all powerful that solves all problems in this Universe. A man who believes in god believes in devil too. God is looked upon as the great healer who cures diseases if prayed to. Faith cure is closely associated with belief in god and lack of belief in one self. The god-man represents god in this world and faith in the latter leads to faith in the former. Faith cure is nothing but strong auto-suggestion. Abject surrender to the supernatural and the super-human weakens the human mind. It brings about mental imbalance. Such a man refuses to think of nothing but the power of his god over human life. He may not consult a doctor, if he falls ill. He may consult a priest or god-man or a quack who offers him some ash or talisman supposed to cure all ailments. Of course some diseases are cured even without medication. Medicine hastens cure. But even without it nature slowly brings about the cure. An ignorant man suffering from disease may have such a cure. Sometimes he takes a medicine and prays to God and, if cured, ascribes the cure to God and not to medicine, but he does not know that the medicine works the cure. He thinks it is due to prayer, ash or talisman. The disease also may not be cured. It may get worse, or he may even die. In that case he curses his own fate but does not think of ill of God, God-men or quack. It is this blind belief that obstructs the march of science, especially medical science.
YOGIS WITHOUT FOOD
It is said that some yogis don’t eat, but live. They are credited with super human powers. A man may live a month or so without food but he cannot live for a long time. Some of these yogis suffer from vitamin deficiency or mental disorders or cancer. But much propaganda is carried on about their miraculous powers. Vested interests gather around them. These yogis become prisoners in the hands of the vested interests. From pretty shop owners, who sell coconuts to the devotees, the unscrupulous rich men – all exploit common people in the name of these yogis. Some honest and highly educated and well placed people also go to these yogis out of frustration in life as they are not able to find solutions to their personal problems. They expect miracles to happen to help them. Hence, they are attracted to the yogis.
Strong financial vested interests are involved in the activities of these godmen. Both of them co-operate to keep people in ignorance.
Some religions consider fire-walking supernatural. They say that it is done under the power of God. It is not so. Anybody can walk on fire. Gora walked on fire many a time. Saraswathi Gora, G.S.Rao, Lavanam and many others walked on fire along with Gora. Not only did he demonstrate fire-walking, but Gora explained the phenomenon scientifically. He exploded the myth behind it.
There is a superstitious belief among the Hindus that pregnant woman should not come out during the eclipse. Gora organised a public demonstration in which Saraswathi Gora and other pregnant woman witnessed the eclipse. No harm was done to babies that were born, contrary to the belief that they would be born deformed.
Similarly it is believed that snake-bite or scorpion sting can be cured by some people who recite mantras. It is also a superstitious belief. All snakes are not poisonous. The person is not sure whether or not he is bitten by cobra, a highly poisonous snake. But he thinks a cobra has bitten him. Even it is a cobra its bite proves fatal only if it is for the first time when the whole poison from fangs is injected into the human blood stream. If it has bitten some other creature earlier and then bites a person, the cobra bite is not fatal as there is not enough poison in its fangs. The person who is bitten still gets a shock. He believes that the mantra cures him. It is again strong auto-suggestion. All people are not cured by mantras but some die. But a general belief in the curative effect of mantras is propagated.
DEFECT OF EDUCATION
The defect of modern education is that there is a conflict, especially ideological, pertaining to modern thought, between what is taught and learnt at school and what is believed and practiced at home. Even in schools the syllabuses are not completely free from religious bias. Blind religious beliefs are still taught. Students are not allowed to question. If they do, the teacher may snub him. Even if the teacher does not believe blindly, he imparts religious instruction mechanically without putting his heart into it. Culture and religion are wrongly associated with each other, in the sense that culture means something of the past and has a strong religious bias. It is not dynamic and does not look to future. Without questioning, the students are prone to take, for granted what is taught to them about god and devil, heaven and hell, angels and ghosts, fate and rebirth. Even mass media cater to the widely prevalent superstitious tastes of people. They make money they exploit the beliefs of the people. Superstition has no rational basis. With a scientific mind we can analyze it and prove that it is based on fear and ignorance. Mere teaching of science in schools and colleges without scientific outlook cannot dispel superstitions among the students. If they imbibe proper scientific spirit at an early age, they will not fall prey to irrationalism and superstition. What is of utmost importance is the dissemination of rationalist, scientific, humanistic and atheistic attitude to life among all people at all levels. If the world has advanced till this age, it is because of the struggle which the science has carried on against blind religious dogmas. To carry it further, one should evaluate things without reference to god and fate. It should be a free and fearless enquiry. It is what positive atheism means.