It is a common mistake for skeptics, such as myself, to focus too much attention on religion. Do I understand why so many people lack religious belief, due to a lack of evidence to support it, and/or bad experiences with religious fanatics? Yes, I do. However, I also understand that the First Amendment, which protects my right to live my life without religious belief, equally protects the right of believers to practice the religion of their choice — and I recognize that it is unreasonable to expect one of those protections to exist, without the other, for both are important. If no one tries to force their religious beliefs on me (and very few people do), what harm do those beliefs do to me? Also, I know many people who find comfort in religious belief, especially in difficult times. I have no wish to deny others that particular form of comfort, even though I am incapable of experiencing it myself. To do so, after all, would be cruel. The world has plenty of cruelty already, and it certainly doesn’t need more.
When referring to myself, I prefer the term “skeptic,” over “atheist,” even though both labels are accurate. The reason is simple: “skeptic” covers more ground. It’s a broader term, and using it reminds me that the world is (still) filled with superstitious nonsense which has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. What’s more, non-skeptics are generally far less tied, emotionally, to the beliefs they hold which are non-religious in nature. If skeptics wish to persuade others to abandon beliefs they do not share, therefore, increased attention to non-religious beliefs offers a greater chance of success, combined with a much lower risk of alienating and/or offending people.
With these things in mind, then, I offer this list of ten easy ways to oppose, by example, some of the many secular superstitions which have not — yet — been abandoned.
- When a mirror is accidentally broken, by yourself or others, remain calm, and simply clean up the mess, so no one gets cut by broken glass.
- Deliberately open umbrellas indoors, after checking to make certain no one is close enough to get struck by the umbrella in the process.
- When you see a ladder leaning against a building, and it is safe to do so, casually walk under it, without comment.
- Ask people in tall buildings to help you find the thirteenth floor, after checking for the (usually missing) “13” button in the elevator. (If the building actually has a floor numbered “13,” though, just wait for another tall building.)
- Adopt a black cat. (The cat, itself, will take care of the “crossing your path” part of the superstition.)
- If you are ever offered homeopathic “medicine,” ask for at least twenty doses, to take all at once. (Twenty or more, times zero, is still zero, and homeopathic products are nothing more than harmless-but-expensive placebos.)
- Stare directly into a mirror, with witnesses present, and say “redrum,” or “bloody Mary,” repeatedly.
- Each time you are asked for your astrological sign, refuse to give any answer, other than “skeptic.”
- Don’t throw salt over either shoulder, ever. Why waste perfectly good salt?
- Have your children vaccinated.
I saved the most important one for last.