Of Superstition by Francis Bacon

Bacon discusses his ideas on superstition in this essay. Superstition, he believes, is synonymous with Catholicism. It has a corrosive effect on society. Even atheism, he argues, is preferable to superstition since it is ‘better to have no view of God at all than an opinion unworthy of him’. At the very least, atheism leaves up the prospect that a man might embrace philosophy, law, and other forms of critical thought, whereas superstition suffocates these possibilities. He contends that superstition corrupts men’s minds, causing people to mould their observations and theories about the workings of nature around pre-existing beliefs rather than the other way around.

In other words, Bacon views superstition as opposed to the inductive reasoning and critical thinking processes that he so admired. Unfortuitously, superstition distorted the very religious conviction it was intended to bolster. Bacon believed that superstition was truly detrimental to man’s intellectual, religious, and civil lives. His counter point is that, in eradicating superstition from religion, individuals should exercise caution not to eradicate believing altogether. Avoiding superstition is a form of superstition. , when folks believe that the wisest course of action is to go as far as possible from the superstition previously acquired; consequently, care should be made that (as it fareth in ill purging), the good is not swept away with the evil; as is frequently the case when the people is the reformer.

Bacon is not referring to the superstition of black cats bringing bad luck, but rather to Roman Catholicism, albeit in an indirect manner. He asserts that no religion is superior than superstition, referencing Plutarch, who stated that he would prefer people believe there was no such person as Plutarch than that he ate his children like Saturn. Atheists can still be moral individuals due to common reason, philosophy, fear of the law, or concern for their reputation, but superstition is akin to absolute monarchy, nullifying all of these. Bacon’s enumeration of the grounds of superstition is fairly conventional in Protestant polemic: an excessive love of outer show and ceremony, a false adherence to tradition, and priestly machinations. Superstition’s relationship with religion is akin to that of an ape with a man — its resemblance to the genuine thing makes it even more repulsive.

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