Of Superstition by Sir Francis Bacon | Complete Summary and Analysis
Superstition is the most highlighted topic even in the modern era. Sir Francis Bacon, in “Of Superstition”, talks about the intellectual blindness of people and the effects of superstition in everyday society. Although he is a Christian by religion and does not promote atheism, yet he is fed up with the superstitious beliefs of people; therefore, he prefers atheism to superstition. He is not against religion nor does he criticizes religious scholars just for the sake of criticism; he just shows reality to his readers. Moreover, not all customs and beliefs are bad in his eyes. In “of Superstition”, we realize that there are some traditions, which are good according to Sir Francis Bacon. At the end of the essay, he clearly mentions that good forms and rules of religion should not be spoiled along with the bad ones.
Bacon has observed the world, around him, very minutely; he has also judged the people from a wide-angle; after seeing it clearly, he finds some wrongdoings of people which are not only harmful to them but to the whole society. He could not stop himself to speak against the irrational beliefs of the people. This essay, in fact, is the expression of feelings through strong arguments. In order to support his arguments, he makes allusions from the past. He also quotes wise words of old philosophers and gives clarity to his essay.
Superstition Vs. Atheism:
Superstition is worse than atheism, means Sir Francis Bacon. An atheist does not believe in the existence of God; superstitious person dishonors Him; therefore, superstition is more harmful than atheism. Bacon makes a very relevant reference from the past. He quotes Plutarch in this regard. According to him:
“Surely, I had rather a great deal men should say there was no such man at all as Plutarch, than that they should say that there was one Plutarch that would eat his children as soon as they were born.”
The quotation is self-redundant. If someone says Plutarch eats his children then it is obviously a false statement; it is creating a negative image of a person. On the other hand, if it is said that Plutarch never existed then it is far better than the previous one. Similarly, when a superstitious person does an irrational act, he, in reality, is going against religion and so against God. Thus, superstition proves to be the most contemptuous act in this world.
Sir Francis Bacon gives more arguments in favour of atheism and against superstition. He says, “Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation … moral virtue … but superstition dismounts all these”. In simple words, the author wants to say that superstition has no rule; it has no moral purpose, no value, no law; therefore, any person having superstation beliefs cannot be called sensible as it is just a blind following. Sir Francis Bacon recalls the great times of Augustus Caesar; that time was full of peace as atheism was predominant in that era.
Harms of Superstition:
Firstly, when people start accepting superstation at a wider level and when it assumes charge of every mind, it starts interrupting affairs of a state. It also takes hold of the religious places. Even wise people start believing in the fools. Superstition is far away from rationality and reasonability; therefore, foolish minds start controlling everything. Afterward, it becomes impossible to deal with insane people in a rational manner. Bacon also refers to the wording of “Council of Trent”; it was said that teachers of medieval ages could explain heavenly bodies. It was definitely a false proposition; they just misinterpreted everything. Similarly, teachers of Bacon’s era have corrupted the doctrine of churches through their misinterpretations. Ultimately, religion becomes impure, which obviously is the biggest damage of superstition.
Growth of Superstition:
There are certain reasons, which helps growing superstition. Firstly, most of the superstition beliefs are delightful. People themselves have created these beliefs; therefore, they have added pleasantness in them. When they become pleasant, people start practicing these beliefs or customs. Secondly, some people consider superstition beliefs and rituals as a part of religion; therefore, they stick to them; leaving them is considered a contemptuous act. Thirdly, some people just follow the tradition. They adopt these methods and customs because their forefathers used to perform them. Fourthly, some people, for their personal interest, create false beliefs and promote them. When they preach, people start believing them and ultimately people become their followers. Fifthly, ‘favouring too much of good intentions”. Sixthly, some religious scholars explain religion while comparing heavenly matters with human affairs; most of the time they add the meanings of their choice to religion, which, according to Sir Francis Bacon, causes the growth of superstition. Lastly, there are some people, who start assigning their tragedies to fate or evil eye, which causes the growth of superstition.
Sir Francis Bacon believes that superstition /customs and rituals corrupt the religion; they destroy its purity. However, Bacon considers that not all the rituals and customs are evaded; there are some, which should be adopted for the welfare of mankind: “the good be not taken away with the bad, which commonly is done when the people is the reformer”.
Sir Francis Bacon has criticized the superstition. He is against self-created customs and rituals. However, it is not hard to believe that some customs, in his eyes, are necessary to be practiced as they may help to reform society. Sir Francis Bacon, in this essay, strictly deals with superstition. His tone is harsh in this essay. It seems that he wants reformation in religion and also in society. It is possible only if people reject false beliefs. Otherwise, atheists are better than they are because they do no harm to anything. Superstition, on the other hand, makes religion frail. Moreover, superstitious people, indirectly, go against God. As far as the style of Sir Francis Bacon in “Of Superstition”, is concerned, it is as usual: simple, lucid and unambiguous. The essay is well written. The idea of the essay is praiseworthy and requires appreciation. In short, the whole essay is a remarkable example of Bacon’s observation and experience.