Ever said “Touch wood”; crossed your fingers; avoided the crack in a paving stone; read a horoscope; not put up an umbrella indoors; avoided walking under a ladder? (Well possibly not the last if there was someone up there, but why did you do it?)
Most people find they have some of these comfortable little routines, and in fact they are largely harmless, perhaps helping us through some of the bits of the world we find painful or don’t understand.
Mind you, I am pleased to say people are sufficiently self-aware about them to keep them to themselves, as they realise they are groundless, and they would be rather embarrassed to let others think they used them to organise their lives. Well, possibly with the exception of astrology.
Such things are generally referred to as superstitions, although religions is used for the more complex.
Some people are more superstitious than others, but I like to try understand them by putting them all on the same spectrum. To do that we need to use the same term, and I prefer to use the superstitious scale, as religion comes with a lot more baggage, especially at the less complex end of the scale.
So why don’t you try this?
Whenever anyone uses the word religious, simply rerun the words substituting superstitious. If you find the word god, make it a favourite planet (I tend to use dog myself, as it is easiest).
“He is very religious and prays to God every day” becomes “He is very superstitious and prays to Saturn every day”.
“Tony Blair called in superstitious leaders for consultation this morning.”
Sounds to me that is what he did?
So now I can talk about how superstitious people are, and can seek to understand the comparison between religion, astrology, homeopathy, crossed-fingers, etc. within a nice consistent framework.
This is good, because it helps me to understand the people I am interacting with, and that is always good for human relations.