Why Must Others Be Like Us?

Here’s a question: What is it within people that makes them so insane to have everyone else be as much like them as possible?

What is that? Why do people care so much what other people do and think and believe? It’s easy enough for me, as a Christian, to say, “Well, the reason [we] Christians want everyone in the world who’s not a Christian to become a Christian is so that everyone can go to heaven instead of hell,” but … but that doesn’t really explain why everyone, Christian or not, is so driven to make everyone else just like themselves.

You — my 30 or so regular readers — all seem pretty smart. So you guys tell me: What is this intense need we all seem to have to … well, create others in our image? Isn’t diversity what we all like? Spice of life, and all that?

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  • Andrew

    I think this question can be answered in terms of anthropology. We are tibal by nature and are taught that *those others* are bad and will harm you. When in fact we are all the same, but just with a few differences. It is in fact our rational side that allows us to progress beyond the ethics of a lion that will kill all cubs that were the progeny of the prior dominant male or baboons raiding other troops just because they are not “us”.

    OK, so we are not lions or baboons, but humans. I think you see the point though. Others are bad. They just have to be because otherwise we are not good and should just join with those bad folk.

  • I was going to thoroughly answer, but both Bertrand and Andrew's answers are so strong I'm not sure I have much more to say.

    The big thing I was going to say, which they both alluded to, is that if you see the world as you against everything, seeing people like you (be it their religion, race, hair color, nationality, age, socio-economic status…) can be comforting. It can allow you to feel validated in who and what you think yourself to be. And to include more and more people on your side–the good said. This surely is not the only reason, but I do think it's part of it.

    The people I know who are really comfortable tend to see the world as just a bunch of similar people, again, as the two before me alluded to. If you see it this way, it doesn't matter if people believe in the same God (or gods) you do, or if they're the same color. They're just people as you're just a people (that's intentional, I prefer to be a people :)).

  • Bertrand

    I guess there are plenty of answers to this each from a different perspective. I prefer the sociological aspect of it. If we belong to a certain group which is in (ideological) conflict with others it’s better to have as much support as possible. On the other side every group is led and ruled by a certain elite. Be that the pope and the clerus, the imams, dalai lama, our goverments , the military or the opinion makers.

    And the main interest of the elite is to maintain it’s status and control as much people as possible. Thus we are instrumentalized to to think that our group or set of beliefs or ideology is the right one and that others should follow. This applies not only to religions but to any kind of group.

    Individualism is the enemy of every elite so it’s a good thing (for them) if we just follow the mainstream stop being critical and try to get as much of the others on our side.

  • From my perspective it's love or control. If I trust and really believe what I say is true, I realize that I can't really change anyone's heart. I can only influence them through love. The other option is to control, which to me suggest a lack of trust in my own belief system. I need you to believe what I believe to validate what I believe.

  • Yeah, that's right, Jon. If I'm sublimating my doubts (or what I truly, organically believe), then it's a sure bet that I'm going to have real trouble with anyone manifesting whatever it is I'm so stridently sublimating.

    It starts in childhood, of course. As kids, a lot of us learn that what makes us naturally exubriant (sp?) is our enemy–a lot of us hear how BAD it is for us to act in ways entirely natural for us. So as a survival mechanism we learn to utterly suppress what in a very real sense amounts to our creative selves.

    Next thing you know, we're 30 years old, and holding up "God Hates Fags" signs at funerals.

  • Andrew

    John, I don't think pessimism entered the conversation except when you mentioned it in comment #4 above. What I and others mentioned was descriptive, but not prescriptive. Those things might be true, but we are each able to rise above that behaviour and do (and think) differently.

    That is my hope anyway. Racism, ethnicism, and cultism are all products of a lack of empathy (ie not rising above inate tribalism).

    And what is it with those nutcases (Westborough Baptist Church)? Are they truely twisted and hate everything that is not sanctioned by them, or is it just largely an act?

  • Thomas Michalski

    Ok… I do have answer to this, but its more philosophical than anything, so bear with me on this first. If anyone understands lingustics, they will be right with me here.

    First- Can we all agree that Language predates higher than primal thought? What i mean is, that, without communication we would not be able to think about anything other than food, sex(i'm not being perverted, i mean literally the intrinsic desire to procreate), and shelter?

    If we can agree on that than what is the reason for communication, or why do we have higher than primal thought?

    Well Language is an extension of security or shelter. It is alot easier to try and work together with your fellow special neighbor than to try and kill him to take what he has. So, we as a species, needed to start talking so we can hunt together, live together, and protect one another.

    We then bond and can share thoughts beyond the big three- food, sex, and shelter- and a big big big idea that everyone has had since the beginning of higher than primal thought is: "Why are we here and how did we get here?"

    It is through this thought, and the various explanations suggested to answer this question of questions leads directly to the development of shared morals, ethics, and existential reasoning.

    So, when we meet someone who shares different beliefs from ours, it is like we are meeting someone who speaks a different language, which means they must be different from us, and that is when our fear triggers kick in, because it is so alien. We become afraid and become hostile towards the one who is different, the one is who is not a part of our "tribe" so to speak.

    I think everything else, is just a contextual reinterpretation, of what is so basic to humanity: what is foreign is dangerous, because it is not of me, it is not of my kind.

  • Bertrand

    John , I never said that most people are stupid or not swift. The fact that

    the majority follows some or the other group has in my opi nion psychological reason's. First of all people tend to synchronize, examples are clapping hands, the fact that you laugh more in a cinema than watching a movie at home and others. The whole fashion industry is based on this. Dawkins and Blackmore's meme theory gives some nice answers about this phenomenon. Also there are so many historical examples of "follow the leader" besides religions.

    How do you exlain the success of the nazi's in germany and austria in the 30's ?

    And frankly I really don't understand your argument

    "Of course, that DOES sound awfully pessimistic.

    Um. So that can’t be it."

    why ?

  • Thomas Michalski

    Religion is language. All organization that involves systems, classes, orders, etc… are in some way a language.

    I think that what is most disturbing to those who do not subscribe to a faith is a religions inability to change through time.

    Clearly there are perfect reasons why a religion would be against any form of birth control, historically speaking. In the beginning(not genesis-I mean of organized Christianity, or any religion for that matter), the best chance of convincing someone to accept god is if they are born into it, to parents who have that faith. More likely than not, that child will grow up to be an adult who beleives in god and his children will think the same way, and so on, and so forth through time.

    However, in a day and age when as a species, we are threatened by over population, does the church or any organization for that matter, change its message to synchronize more closely to the realities of the times in which we live? To say to people "Our survival is dependent on Zero Population growth? God wants our species to survive." No, it does not change its message.

    Does it begin to accept Homosexuals to the flock( i know, some branches of Christianity do, but many don't). Overwhelmingly, no it does not, in spite of the fact that we know, in the these times, that Homosexuality is not an "Affliction" but rather a natural way of being for certain individuals( yes it is a defect, in the sense that it prohibits procreation, but it is a "defect" that occurs naturally and without choice).

    It is religions inability to accept change that frustrates non-believers, more than anything else. If anything, would not a religion that holds true to its core values and morals, but through time, adapts itself to be current, be more inspiring and powerful, and more widely accepted by individuals then one that does not.

    Its just like language. Languages that are living, that adapt themselves, flourish and move forward. Those that do not, those languages that do not adapt, are the ones that are forgotten. But they are forgotten/abandoned by choice, because they cease to function.

  • OK, so what we’re saying, then, is that the primary factor that determines the way most people–well, let’s say an awful lot of people–view other people is that People Are Not Terribly Swift. A lot of us are … animals, playing Follow the Leader.

    Of course, that DOES sound awfully pessimistic.

    Um. So that can’t be it.

  • Bad

    I don’t really “ask” that people be like me, believe what I believe, think what I think. If we’re going to discuss substantive matters, then I’ll give my point of view and argue that it should be convincing. But if people aren’t convinced, well… as long as they aren’t running around killing anyone, live and let live. As Thomas Jefferson said, what other people BELIEVE doesn’t seal money out of my pocket or hurt me. It’s not a big deal, in the end.

  • My initial reaction was: I don’t ask or want people to be like me. In truth, on a personal level, I usually want to be more like “them” (the majority or the “in crowd”). But if I were already a part of the in crowd, I suspect the group thinking, on a very primal or even subconscious level, would be defensive in nature, that “the others,” being different, pose a possible threat, or at the very least, make us uncomfortable. And it is much easier and more desirable to have them relent and join us than vice versa. Might makes right, group think, strength in numbers, resistance to change, etc. Of course there are always those who just want the power, the control, the ego trip. Being “right” always feels so good.

  • Taryn Anderson

    For me at least, I think it’s mostly comfort. I would be so much more comfortable if all the people around me were like me. But, this thought crossed my mind, and it’s just an idea.

    For those of us that believe in a God, we believe that He created us in His image…and part of His image is to create things (the World, us, etc.). So maybe part of that desire to create transfered into us, but because of our sinful natures, it gets twisted into ways not intented. Just an idea that came to me!

  • John,

    I think one of the reasons is jealousy. And this is for everyone, on both sides of the fence.


    I live my life a certain way. I see someone else living his life completely at odds to how I live. But he's much more successful than I am. Better job, better car, but even beyond material goods…he's smarter, has a better personality, etc. Being jealous, I would want this guy to change his way of life so that we could become more equal. I also am used to how I live, and so if I get him to change I can cling to the idea that my way of life is correct.

    All of this, of course, would probably be subconscious desire.

    I don't know if this is true, but it seems like it might be. If you can't change to become better, the only thing that would make you feel better is to tear down those around you and make them more like yourself.


  • Is out desire to make people more like us driven by some overpowering need to feel accepted? Acceptance would drive us to persuade others to be more like us. So great is our need for acceptance we will not stop with gentle persuasion. We actively seek out others more like us. Turning it around, at a very young age we learn to mask our "real" self so that we might appear more similar to others in our chosen group. Then when we change groups (church, work, school, clubs, blogs) we change our masks to blend in… to be accepted. Everyday. Everywhere. We’d rather actually be alone than feel alone in a crowd.

  • I agree with most of what has already been said.

    I wonder if anyone else has noticed a different phenomena:

    I am not always convinced when someone is berating or lecturing me for not thinking or acting the way they do that they really want me to be like them. I think they prefer their perception of themselves as a rare, special, shining examples of righteousness. Anyone else observe this?

  • I don’t know if it is much that we want different people to be like us or more that we don’t want associate with different people. I think “-30-” came pretty close, because of our insecurities we want to be accepted by the majority. Once accepted we don’t want to lose that standing so we buy into the mob mentality. We conform and will tolerate only other conformists. I see this a lot in the church. The ecumenical movements always seem to fail – everyone is perfectly happy with everyone else doing their own thing even if one part of Jesus’ call is for unity.

    It doesn’t seem to matter how much some ‘different’ people may behave like the majority, adopting their habits and customs; if there are some characteristics they cannot change (such as skin color) then they may never be accepted into the ‘tribe’.

    I (very recently) was a Methodist, for about 5 years. When I started attending regional conferences I was surprised to see so many people of color. I was disappointed to find out that (at least in our area, the Mid Atlantic) there were essentially black congregations and white congregations. The vast majority of all congregations were suffering due to a lack of attendance; it didn’t make much sense. ( I am not picking on the Methodists here – it is pretty common situation across the board.

    There is great comfort in anonymity. We like to blend in.

  • anita

    I think everyone’s comments have added different ideas as to the why so I haven’t much to add beyond that, other than to offer a realization I’ve come to as a result of this reality. At this point in my life I resist attaching any identifying label to myself that connects me to a particular group within christianity, (i.e. evangelical, emerging, progressively, charismatic. . .) because the minute I do, there’s a host of people within that group who are quick to deny my self-allegiance within that group because I don’t match perfectly to what is considered the normative boundaries that group has established.

    It’s been an interesting experience to have spent the better part of the first 38 years of my life as an insider within the evangelical movement and to know that spiritually I still reside there 12 years later even though I’m no longer accepted there. It’s been painful at times to have been shut out to the outside but it’s also been an incredible lesson in teaching me to in reserve my identity to what most matters and for me that’s “child of God” and “follower of Christ,” which only God and Christ have the power to deny me and neither ever will.

    FYI, glad to have found your blog recently and am enjoying your entries and the contributions of your readers.

  • It’s been painful at times to have been shut out to the outside but it’s also been an incredible lesson in teaching me to in reserve my identity to what most matters and for me that’s “child of God” and “follower of Christ,” which only God and Christ have the power to deny me and neither ever will.

    Well put. I think there can be a very definite down side to being part of what is commonly referred to as the ‘Church’. By identifying with the group we often lose we lose our authenticity or, much worse, our identity in Christ. I think you’ve hit on something that a lot of people have been struggling with when it comes to belonging to a church. At what point do our own convictions, they way God relates to us, come into conflict with the conventional wisdoms?

    I think it’s pretty easy to make an idol out the Church. I know I did and recently I have been wondering if I may have perhaps thrown the baby out with the bathwater, by not being as ‘intentional’ in membership as I once was. You have provided me with a much needed insight. Thanks, Anita.

  • I am not always convinced when someone is berating or lecturing me for not thinking or acting the way they do that they really want me to be like them. I think they prefer their perception of themselves as a rare, special, shining examples of righteousness. Anyone else observe this?

    Yes, Kimberly… seen it and ahh.. well, done it. Arrogance is one of those things I am very good at and was very proud of at one time. I would use it to weed out those “who did not belong.” Sad. I think it is an important perspective you bring up. I think group leaders use this approach to maintain the uniformity of “their” group. When this happens, I think it is often rooted in fear.

    We Christians do this with No Smoking. No drinking. No R-rated movies. No secular music. etc… Everyone is welcome. Just change or at least publicly appear to have changed or we’ll will have to make you feel well… not good enough for us.

  • Lots of good comments here.

    As a Christian, it's really hard for me to live with the same balance that Jesus had. He was constantly reaching out to "outsiders" and making them "insiders", while announcing to the "insiders" that if they didn't change, they would find themselves on the outside. Jesus never said that there were no such categories as "in" and "out" or "us" and "them". Instead, he relabeled the categories as "with Me" or "against Me". How sad (and horribly wrong) it is when I and other Christians equate "with me" to "with Me"…yes, that capital M is intentional.

  • Damon

    John – sometimes, you don't answer or just delete comments/questions that atheists pose to you. It just comes off unfair.

  • Damon

    But you support the other side. You don't have to answer to someone you already agree with. Conversely, I've seen several occassions where you totally ignore an atheist's point of view.

  • First of all, I don't know what you mean by "other side."

    Secondly, I can promise you I almost never totally agree with anyone's comments–there's always something in what just about ANYONE says that I either disagree with or at the very least think needs clarification. That's why I tend to stay uninvolved with comments; I just don't have the time. Besides, in my posting I guarantee you I've already said everything I have to say on that particular topic. That's … why I wrote it.

    Thirdly, this isn't the Wall St. Journal, or the New York Times. I'm under no obligation here to be "fair" to anyone. I AM fair, to everyone, because that's my nature–but if I want to delete something because for whatever reason I don't want it on my blog, there's no reason whatsoever for me not to. This isn't an objective forum, where I'm under any kind of obligation to present or preserve unbiased opinions. It's more like a party I'm hosting. Hosts make all KINDS of calls about their ongoing affairs. If I find a guest to be rude or offensive, I show them the door. I don't want them here. It's my blog. I have a right to moderate it in whichever way I think is best for it and its readers.

  • Damon

    The other side represents people of a Christian persuasion, which I think (correct me I'm wrong), you support.

    You're right. It is your blog. So, it is by definition, censored. And I've seen you censor atheist commentaries by neglecting to respond. If you don't have enough time to respond accordingly, then just say so. I'm sure people will understand.

  • I don’t answer comments from either camp that would clearly take more time than I have to address properly. And I only delete comments that are rude or offensive.

  • Right here, exactly, is why I so rarely comment on comments. Your sentence, “The other side represents people of a Christian persuasion, which I think (correct me I’m wrong), you support,” doesn’t actually make SENSE. It’s not clear whether you’re saying that I support people “of a Christian persuasion” (whatever that means), or Christianity generally, or what you even mean by “support”–and the word “represents” communicates something entirely unclear, and … the whole sentence is just so packed with hairy, vague, broad, unclear assumptions that just weeding THROUGH that would … well, do nothing but open up a whole OTHER universe of more of the same.

    Also (sigh), look: A blog is not, by “definition” censored. That’s just not what “by definition” means. So how do I answer that? It’s just too … WRONG to deal with.

    And again: “neglecting” to answer someone isn’t even ALMOST the same as censoring them. So, again, I’m stuck: How do I answer an assertion that doesn’t even make literal sense? It’s just … not doable. This isn’t a college course in Writing 101.

    And how can you not see that taking time to tell someone I don’t have time to answer them TAKES TIME??

    Anyway: this exchange, right here, is why I tend to stay away from comments. It’s now taken a fair amount of time; and it’s gone virutally nowhere. And I KNOW it won’t.

    I love reading comments people leave; I almost always respect and appreciate what they say; out of respect for their writers I make a point of carefully reading each and every one of them. I comment when I feel like it, how I feel like it. I think too many of the athiests are narrow-minded reactionaries; I think too many of the Christians are narrow-minded reactionaries. I think 80% of the comments, from either side, are written by sane, thoughtful, kind people.

  • Damon, you said it’s John’s blog so it is “by definition censored”? What’s that about? How do you know he censors anything? This blog is his to edit, his to maintain, his to moderate. None of that constitutes censorship. Has he deleted or edited some of your comments? (Pssst, it’s his blog. He has that right.) I think he’s been extremely open-minded and generous to let us all pursue our discussions here. It’s always interesting when he replies to a post, but his NOT replying is NOT censorship (dude, look it up). He gets in his well-written two-cents’ worth up at the top.

    John, I know you’re a big boy and can take care of yourself… but I just had to say something. An editor just can’t let the misuse of a hot word like “censorship” slide by.

  • No, 30, I appreciate your understanding of what I’m saying. And it really IS a matter of editorial-type precision. My whole professional LIFE is about choosing exactly the right words for exactly what I want to say. Naturally, other people DON’T write like that: They write like they talk. The problem with that, of course, is that the use of language spoken is diametrically opposed to the use of language written. The former is about socializing–which is about being polite, which involves lots of … open-ended ambiguity. The latter is about crystalline clarity–about extreme UNAMBIGUOUSNESS. Not the same. Don’t mix well.

  • arlywn

    ah….. my 2 cents worth! YAY! (What? I doubt any of you would yay me… so I did. lol)

    Maybe we all want the same thing, and same people because

    1. we hate change. passionately. Change is very big and very drastic. Not so good with our tribal theories here. We are not nomadic (right word?) tribes. we are buy- a- house- and- live- in- it- until- it- collapses- people.

    2. because we hate being wrong. wrong about jobs, school, people, elections, religion, marraige, politics. Anything that can be discussed but not proven…. ruffles our feathers. And we hate the ruffling of feathers.

    Okay, 2 cents done… lol. Im not sure if this makes any sense what so ever, but… I think it's true… and deep down… thats all that number 2 is talking about. lol.