I recently read a book about an autistic boy, Christopher, who creates order in his universe by counting cars. If Christopher sees four red cars in a row on his way to school in the morning, he will have a Good Day, and if he sees five red cars in a row, he will have a Super Good Day. But four yellow cars in a row (he hates yellow) forebodes a Black Day, which means Christopher doesn’t eat lunch or speak to anyone.
Lately, I’ve observed similar ways in which people find order in their (own) universes. For example, if the Red Sox win, it’s a good day.
If the Red Sox win, and the Yankees lose to another team, it’s a great day! If the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a match up at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, then it’s an AWESOME day!! Woo-hoo!!
Okay, it may seem absurd to believe that the success or failure of the Red Sox orders the universe, but these beliefs are very real. Trust me. I’ve witnessed the heartbreak and the joy (Jimmy Fallon’s character as a crazed Sox fan on “Fever Pitch” is no exaggeration).
In the context of ordering their universes – not only do people attach great emotional significance to random events completely out of their control — they create paganistic rituals that they swear have real effects (i.e., wearing the same shirt when the Red Sox play against the Yankees will transcend the laws of physics and help the Sox win. Or, if you avoid the number “13”, you’ll stave off bad luck in general).
We know from our own experiencesÂ that being righteous and following all the rules will not guarantee a good outcome. And we may feel uncomfortable praying for frivolous events like the Red Sox winning (even though the Sox winning or losing directly influences your mood for the entire day).
How do superstition and ritual play into our own attempts to create order and predictability out of a chaotic universe?
Are you superstitious?
If so, how do you think superstitious beliefs fit into the directive of the First Commandment: “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me”?