Earlier this year, my father and I were trying to find our way through a labyrinth of dilapidated tents at a stereotypically muddy music festival. It was cold, it was raining, and it was getting dark. Our own tent was not within sight.
The mud had far exceeded a “reasonable” volume, and we were amongst the fair few unhappy campers who had decided to call it quits and pack up early. The problem was getting back to our tent.
“We seem to be on the right track to finding it,” I said.
“Ooh, it’s dangerous to say that,” countered my father.
He was suggesting that I was tempting fate. I know he wasn’t joking, because I asked him.
It was a small exchange, but what he said surprised me very much because it was the first time I had seen him express anything vaguely superstitious. My father is an atheist and does not believe in the supernatural. For him to suggest there was a connection between something I’d said and a possible outcome must have meant that his disbelief was not 100%, I thought.
What reminded me of this was an Observer quiz/article asking readers to question their level of atheism or belief. To participate, you are instructed to shout the following statements out loud:
I dare God to make my life miserable.
I dare God to make my home catch fire.
I dare God to turn all of my friends against me.
According to the article, if you can’t do it, you are either a confirmed believer, or someone whose head says they’re an atheist but whose heart can’t quite accept it.
“Or maybe you’re just superstitious and think that talking about something bad makes it more likely to happen.”
I’d assumed that “superstitious” would be under the “confirmed believer” category; I thought that only believers were superstitious. But since it had its own category, it sounds like they’re saying that you can be an atheist and be superstitious. This is what reminded me of my dad, and how I am used to thinking that atheists do not believe in anything supernatural.
But is that really the definition of atheism?
According to Dictionary.com, atheism is
disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
With all this in mind, I can see how I can’t make a blanket statement such as “Atheists aren’t superstitious,” when atheism itself remains difficult to define.