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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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may be described to be either the careful and anxious observation of numerous and unauthorized ceremonies in religion, under the idea that they possess some virtue to propitiate God and obtain his favour, or, as among Pagans and others, the worship of imaginary deities, and the various means of averting evil by religious ceremonies, which a heart oppressed with fears, and a perverted fancy, may dictate to those ignorant of the true God, and the doctrines of salvation. Dr. Neander observes, The consideration of human nature and history shows us that the transition from unbelief to superstition is always easy. Both these conditions of the human heart proceed from the self-same ground, the want of that which may be properly called faith, the want of a life in God, of a lively communion with divine things by means of the inward life; that is, by means of the feelings. Man, whose inward feelings are estranged from the divine nature, is inclined, sometimes to deny the reality of that of which he has nothing within him, and for the conception and application of which to himself he has no organ. Or else, the irresistible force of his inward nature impels man to recognize that higher power from which he would fain free himself entirely, and to seek that connection with it which he cannot but feel needful to his comfort; but, inasmuch as he is without any real inward sympathy of disposition with the Divinity, and wants a true sense of holiness, the Divinity appears to his darkened religious conscience only under the form of power and arbitrary rule. His conscience paints to him this power as an angry and avenging power. But as he has no idea of that which the Divinity really is, he cannot duly understand this feeling of estrangement from God, this consciousness of divine wrath, and, instead of seeking in moral things the source of this unquiet feeling, which leaves him no rest by day or night, and from which there is no escape, he fancies that by this or that action, which of itself is perfectly indifferent, he may have offended this higher power, and he seeks by outward observances again to reconcile the offended power. Religion here becomes a source, not of life, but of death; the source, not of consolation and blessing, but of the most unspeakable anxiety which torments man day and night with the spectres of his own imagination. Religion here is no source of sanctification, but may unite in man's heart with every kind of untruth, and serve to promote it. There is one kind of superstition in which, while man torments himself to the utmost, he still remains estranged from the true nature of inward holiness; and while he is restrained from many good works of charity by his constant attendance on mischievous, arbitrary, and outward observances, he is still actuated by a horror of any great sin, a superstition in which man avoids pleasure so completely that he falls into the opposite extreme; and even the most innocent enjoyments, which a childlike simplicity would receive with thankfulness from the hand of a heavenly Father, he dares not indulge in. But there is also another kind of superstition, which makes it easy for man, by certain outward observances, to silence his conscience under all kinds of sin, and which therefore serves as a welcome support to it.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Superstition'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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