Friday 29 May 2009

Degrees of Superstition

In many parts of Africa, e.g. Tanzania, Burundi, Zimbabwe, albinos are in danger of their lives purely from being born the way they are. They are in danger of being stalked, killed and having their body parts and blood sold to witch doctors. From these trophies  potions are concocted  which are claimed to enhance the lives of their clients. I presume no research programmes have been carried out to prove or disprove such claims  but, judged by the vigorousness of the trade, and the number of attempted prosecutions of the participants, many people must be absolutely convinced that  such potions work. And maybe, as with western alternative medicines, they do have some effect in some obscure way. One is also impressed with the straight-dealing of the witch doctors in not simply pretending to have used albino body-parts.

Meanwhile, back in the forest; another time, another place, a popular 32 year old Jew (why don't I just call him Jesus say)  was having a farewell supper with his best mates.   As the evening progressed and the wine flowed his friends began to get a bit sad and maudlin. "Oh my, how they would miss him! How would they manage without him?" Etcetera.  "Never mind" says J, "you can always get together now and again and get sloshed without me". 

Like a chinese whisper  this incident has become much inflated with religious significance  over 2100 years and today substantial numbers of  people think that if they symbolically consume J's body and drink his blood their lives are transformed in a way that parallels  an  African's experience at his local witch doctor.  This symbolism is implemented by quaffing wine & wafer over which some magic incantation has been declaimed. 

There are 2 superstitions involved here; (a) that symbolically eating the body and drinking the blood of J is a jolly  good thing and (b) that these articles not being readily available, bread & wine can easily  be made to serve instead. 

As Robert A Heinlein said "Theologians can persuade themselves of anything”, and  some  have persuaded their lives away on  the theory of  transubstantiation.  I don't intend to join them here.  The purpose of this piece is simply to highlight how the principal rite of christianity, the eucharist,  manifests to the naive eye of the non-religious onlooker.  It surely requires its participants to make a leap of superstitious belief  that is far greater than the witch doctor and his client need to make about a potion concocted from the body-parts of a murdered albino.

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