I'm an atheist who has two wooden Christian crosses sitting on his bedside table. Those are the crosses someone sent to me in a mysterious package, as I wrote about a few days ago.
I've got no problem with religious symbols. Plenty of atheists love to visit beautiful holy places, admire religious art, and listen to religious music.
Problems arise when people believe that those symbols possess supernatural power. Sure, I'm open to the possibility that Jesus truly is the Son of God and answers prayers addressed to him.
But I'm also open to the possibility of some other entity being divine. I just haven't seen any solid evidence that makes this more than a slight possibility, and so unworthy of being taken seriously.
I also believe in the placebo effect. If someone thinks a talisman of some sort has a healing power, or some other sort of power, then that belief can have a positive effect on the person.
Being 73, I was drawn to buy Steven Petrow's book, Stupid Things I Won't Do When I Get Old. It's got some good advice, and is filled with humor -- a nice combination.
Here's excerpts from his chapter, "I Won't Stop Believing in Magic." He's gay, which helps to explain his attraction to the rabbit.
The velvety rabbit with big floppy ears and a silver tiara came to me with a name tag that read "Fairy God Bunny." That was when I was in my mid-twenties and had cancer.
For five years, I carried this gender-bending rabbit with me everywhere, including to the hospital for labs, CT scans, and X-rays. I was never shy about introducing them to anyone, nor did I feel foolish, even though I was a twenty-six-year-old PhD candidate.
My friend Cynthia had given me the bunny soon after my testicular cancer diagnosis, reminding me several times that it had "magical powers." She later boosted those powers by adding a wand trimmed in gold lamé to complement its frilly tutu.
That bunny was intended to be my talisman, a magical defender against my cancer.
...Somewhere along the way I'd lost my sense of wonder. Enter the bunny, exactly when I needed a strong dose of magic, if not wonder. My Fairy God Bunny would start me on a journey of trying to regain the magic.
Years later I learned that I wasn't alone in this quest. Stuart Vyse, a psychologist and the author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, told me that many people turn to "irrational beliefs" in times of dire need.
Whenever medical science does not provide a cure, he said there's going to be a "psychological gap, the need of something better." Thus we have superstition, magic, paranormal beliefs, and religion.
"It's not uncommon to be of two minds and to say, 'I know this is crazy, but I'll feel better if I do it anyway," Vyse said.
I never abandoned conventional medicine. I followed my oncologist's orders. Three surgeries. Four rounds of chemo. Years of follow-ups. But I would not leave my fate in doctors' hands alone. The Fairy God Bunny would be my amulet.
...Five years after my diagnosis, my oncologist told me I was cured. I know I owe that cure to science and well-trained doctors.
But I also think the hope embodied in the bunny made a difference to my well-being by reducing my anxiety, decreasing my heart rate, and improving my sleep, all of which gave me more good days than bad.
Can I prove it? No. Does that mean it's not true? No. As Kaptchuk told The New Yorker, "We need to stop pretending that it's all about molecular biology. Serious illnesses are affected by aesthetics, by art, and by the moral questions that are negotiated by practitioners and patients."
All ways of saying, by luck or magic. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, I hope I'll never be too old to believe in fairy tales.