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IDOLATRY AND SUPERSTITION





THE first and greatest sinner against religion is the idolater, who
offers God-worship to others than God. There are certain attributes
that belong to God alone, certain titles that He alone has a right to
bear, certain marks of veneration that are due to Him alone. To ascribe
these to any being under God is an abomination, and is called idolatry.

The idols of paganism have long since been thrown, their temples
destroyed; the folly itself has fallen into disuse, and its
extravagances serve only in history "to point a moral or adorn a tale."
Yet, in truth, idolatry is not so dead as all that, if one would take
the pains to peruse a few pages of the current erotic literature
wherein people see heaven in a pair of blue eyes, catch inspired words
from ruby lips and adore a well trimmed chin-whisker. I would sooner,
with the old-time Egyptians, adore a well-behaved cat or a toothsome
cucumber than with certain modern feather-heads and gum-drop hearts,
sing hymns to a shapely foot or dimpled cheek and offer incense to
"divinities," godlike forms, etc. The way hearts and souls are thrown
around from one to another is suggestive of the national game; while
the love they bear one another is always infinite, supreme, without
parallel on earth or in heaven.

No, perhaps they do not mean what they say; but that helps matters very
little, for the fault lies precisely in saying what they do say; the
language used is idolatrous. And a queer thing about it is that they do
mean more than half of what they say. When degenerate love runs riot,
it dethrones the Almighty, makes gods of clay and besots itself before
them.

What is superstition and what is a superstitious practice? It is
something against the virtue of religion; it sins, not by default as
unbelief, but by excess. Now, to be able to say what is excessive, one
must know what is right and just, one must have a measure. To attempt
to qualify anything as excessive without the aid of a rule or measure
is simply guesswork.

The Yankee passes for a mighty clever guesser, outpointing with ease
his transatlantic cousin. Over there the sovereign guesses officially
that devotion to the Mother of God is a superstitious practice. This
reminds one of the overgrown farmer boy, who, when invited by his
teacher to locate the center of a circle drawn on the blackboard, stood
off and eyed the figure critically for a moment with a wise squint; and
then said, pointing his finger to the middle or thereabouts: "I should
jedge it to be about thar'." He was candid enough to offer only an
opinion. But how the royal guesser could be sure enough to swear it,
and that officially, is what staggers plain people.

Now right reason is a rule by which to judge what is and what is not
superstitious. But individual reason or private judgment and right
reason are not synonyms in the English or in any other language that is
human. When reasoning men disagree, right reason, as far as the debated
question is concerned, is properly said to be off on a vacation, a
thing uncommonly frequent in human affairs. In order, therefore that
men should not be perpetually at war concerning matters that pertain to
men's salvation, God established a competent authority which even
simple folks with humble minds and pure hearts can find. In default of
any adverse claimant the Catholic Church must be adjudged that
authority. The worship, therefore, that the Church approves as worthy
of God is not, cannot be, superstition. And what is patently against
reason, or, in case of doubt, what she reproves and condemns in
religion is superstitious.

Leaving out of the question for the moment those species of
superstition that rise to the dignity of science, to the accidental
fame and wealth of humbugs and frauds, the evil embraces a host of
practices that are usually the result of a too prevalent psychological
malady known as softening of the brain. These poor unfortunates imagine
that the Almighty who holds the universe in the hollow of His hand,
deals with His creatures in a manner that would make a full-grown man
pass as a fool if he did the same. Dreams, luck-pieces, certain
combinations of numbers or figures, ordinary or extraordinary events
and happenings--these are the means whereby God is made to reveal to
men secrets and mysteries as absurd as the means, themselves. Surely
God must have descended from His throne of wisdom.

Strange though it appear, too little religion--and not too much--leads
to these unholy follies. There is a religious instinct in man. True
religion satisfies it fully. Quack religion, pious tomfoolery, and
doctrinal ineptitude foisted upon a God-hungry people end by driving
some from one folly to another in a pitiful attempt to get away from
the deceptions of man and near to God. Others are led on by a sinful
curiosity that outweighs their common-sense as well as their respect
for God. These are the guilty ones.

It has been said that there is more superstition--that is belief and
dabbling in these inane practices--to-day in one of our large cities
than the Dark Ages ever was afflicted with. If true, it is one sign of
the world's spiritual unrest, the decay of unbelief; and irreligion
thus assists at its own disintegration. The Church swept the pagan
world clean of superstition once; she may soon be called upon to do the
work over again.





Next: OCCULTISM

Previous: DEVOTIONS



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