Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pre-Rational Magical Thinking Dominates the Day


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In case you've been living under a rock and missed the memo, today is 6/6/06. Many people seem to be concerned that today bears some connection to the "mark of the beast" mentioned in the Biblical book of Revelations:
He who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and its number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Apocolypse, Chapter 13, verse 18)
Yep, I have an old Catholic Bible.

I am truly amazed by the magical thinking that this day has brought to the surface. We like to pretend that we are rational, educated human beings, yet all over the world people are concerned about a phantasmic book written nearly 2,000 years ago that claims to predict the "end times."

It's easy to be dismissive of such clearly pre-rational thinking as documented in this article from Yahoo News:
Websites devoted to 666 were the reference point for rumours of meteors smashing into earth or of pregnant women trying to avoid giving birth to prevent their babies being born with the mark of the devil.

The figure 666 is named the "number of the beast" in the closing chapter of the Bible, the "Book of Revelation," otherwise known as "The Apocalypse of John."

Chapter 13, Verse 18 of the book, with its apparent reference to the coming of the Devil -- "his number is six hundred threescore and six" -- has for centuries absorbed meanings its author never intended. There is even a name for the fear of the number: hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.

To celebrate the so-called Devil's Day, Chicago's Internet-based Radio Free Satan hosted a massive party in Los Angeles, while a Netherlands-based evangelical organisation called on Christians in 21 countries to hold a 24-hour prayer vigil against Satanic forces.

The BBC News website reported that a woman who was turning 66 on 06/06/06, and was born weighing 6 pounds 6 ounces on June 6, was refusing to drive on her birthday to help avoid accidents.
But the question we must ask ourselves is this: what is it in our nature that can cause us to feel superstitious and to seek talismans against bad luck?

We all passed through a stage in our development when we believed that doing certain things could influence physical reality. This was a partial truth. We can indeed influence reality with our actions, but there are limits to our ability to do so. As three-year-olds, we don't understand those limits.

Prayer was very important to me as a young boy because the nuns convinced me that if I was good, and if I asked God for favors in the right way, that he would answer my prayers -- as long as I wasn't being selfish. Never seemed to work-- especially when, at thirteen, I decided to try prayer to keep my father from dying as a result of his fifth heart attack. Didn't work.

Go into any clubhouse in major league baseball and you'll be likely to find a player who hasn't shaved since he began a hitting streak, or a pitcher who wears the same socks for each outing, or a coach who chews an exact number of sunflower seeds each time he puts some in his mouth. As a college soccer player, I ate the same meal the morning of each game, the same meal I had eaten the first time --in high school -- that I scored six goals in a game, and then did it again a few weeks later after eating the same meal.

Yet I always wore number 13 to demonstrate the foolishness of superstitions.

Magical thinking is a part of our psyches. We can transcend it as we grow up, but it is always included. How many otherwise rational people read their horoscopes each day? I do, and I will argue with anyone that astrology is irrevocably silly.

The best we can hope for on a day such as this, when the magical thinking of an entire culture rises to the surface, is to honor the fears we share that the world is beyond our control. That is, after all, the bottom line. We engage in magical thinking as a way to make ourselves feel safe in a world that is so much larger than ourselves, so much more complex, and sometimes so very frightening.


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