My excellent wife, Smokey the Magnificent, made an offhand remark yesterday about how superstitious athletes are.
Lucky breakfasts. Lucky shirts. Lucky undies. Careful rituals that must be repeated before a game. Totems of various kinds.
It struck me that this is simply the re-assertion of the same worldview we find Israel up against (and often adopting) in ancient times. Many modern people find pagan religious ideas confusing or just plain silly. But this confusion is merely a superficial lack of familiarity with ancient culture. Modern people are not only familiar with the ideas themselves, once they’re cleared of their foreign religious trappings, but actually believe and practice them.
If not they themselves, they still need look only as far as their favorite sports stars to see such practices and beliefs in action. It is the natural, automatic, instinctive response of mankind to a world he has less control over than he would like.
The whole idea of lucky shirts or rituals or charms worn during a game is that if things happened a certain way in the past, then replicating those events closely will make them happen again in the future. So if you ate warmed-up cornflakes before the game where your team opened a can of whoop-ass, the thing to do to ensure further such can-openings is to eat warmed-up cornflakes before every game.
It is precisely the same logic as reading entrails or tossing bones. If the bones fell in a certain way before a great defeat in the past, then you’d better stay home from battle if they fall that way again. If the entrails had an enlarged liver the last time there was a big rainstorm, then a big liver is good news if you’re thirsty today.
We like to think our scientific advancement and education has done away with the foolish beliefs of the past. But even the everyday rituals and practices of sports stars show how ingrained the worship of creation is in our psyches. How many skeptics, even, have “harmless” little habits like this? How many university-educated people read the astrology column? For that matter, how many professing Christians don’t walk under ladders?