Superstition v. Placebo: A Catholic Perspective

Recently, at QDVF we have a discussion regarding the difference between superstition and the placebo effect. Where it is clear that the first contravenes Catholic teaching, we cannot say the same about the second one.

Let’s start with a definition of each and hope to find a framework from which we could draw some assumptions.

1)Superstition. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, point 2111 indicates:

Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

and point 2138 says:

Superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic.

From these statements, we can deduct that superstition happens when we assign ‘magical powers’ to certain internal (attitudes and behaviours) or external (special objects or possessions) practices. And it is precisely this second kind of practices that may overlap with the placebo effect.

2)Placebo Effect. According to wikipedia we have that

A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect.

Moreover, the same source indicates that:

The placebo effect is related to the perceptions and expectations of the patient; if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, but, if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects, which is known as the nocebo effect.

So, if an individual believes that, due to certain substance or object (i.e. external practices) whatever illness or lack of performance will be improved, then are not given to this object a ‘superstition effect’.

Take for example the controversial ‘power’ bands (such as power balance or lifestrength), which promise to enhance your health/performance on day to day activities. Would it be sinful for a Catholic to wear one of this bands?

Let’s hear your opinion!


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