Humans want to be special.  How many of us want to be a movie star as a kid?  Even as adults, we chase fame.  We want to be loved by someone we admire, not someone for whom we feel we’re settling.  We want to feel like our lives are somehow different from our next door neighbor’s.  That we are something special in a planet full of mundane, normal people.

Like prayer, religion offers us a solution in which we don’t have to work for the outcome we’re after.  You may not be a movie star, and you may be stuck in a shit job at Taco Bell, but the creator of the universe takes a specific interest in you.  He wants a personal relationship with you.  And he loves you.

It is an obvious question to ask, with an equally obvious answer: which is more likely, that a Canaanite Jew in a time of all but complete ignorance to the knowledge we now possess walked on water and rose from the dead, or that human beings have an aversion to feeling their lives are ordinary?

This is the message of every pastor to their congregation: you are special.  I find it to be insulting. There are lots of things that make a person special.  You were born a sentient human being, rather than an earthworm.  You have the ability to consider the meaning of your own existence.  Your thoughts are your own, as are your dreams, even if they never reflect the light of reality.

You can stand in awe of the cosmos.  You can imagine a story that belongs to nobody but you.  You can imagine your deepest desires and still pursue them in the world that exists.

You do not need a preacher to tell you god loves you in order to be special.  In fact, that doesn’t make you special at all, since they’ll say it to anybody who believes.  Believing the creator of the universe cherishes you because believing it satisfies a need, not because there is evidence, is the realization of human conceit.  Like a man boasting to all his friends of a lovely wife who doesn’t exist.  The lie may satisfy some need of his, but never as much as the real thing for which he’d have to work, not merely try to believe.

There is no need for an easy way to feel special, especially one that may cause you to miss all the things that genuinely make you something unique.

And the undeniable truth is that the honest love of another person can make you more special than even the most delightful lie.  However, unlike the promised love of god, the love of other people is earned through self-improvement.  The agony of self-improvement itself is preceded only by the courage to attempt things and the fortitude to endure mistakes.  Earning real love takes effort.

But most good things do.  Given its emptiness by comparison, it’s no surprise to me that faith does not.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • sisu

    Just lovely. My spouse and children love me; that’s all the validation I need to know how important I am, because they’re the most important people in the world to me.

  • https://plus.google.com/113934400219974764448 Hein


  • Pierce R. Butler

    Insofar as any given faith produces cognitive dissonance, it requires a proportionate share of hard work.

    If that effort produced muscles, most church congregations would closely resemble weight-lifting teams.

    • teh_faust

      It probably depends very much on the religious brand and a someone’s personality and their need for cognition…
      I’ve seen religious people – especially the liberal or new agey kind and especially those who chose their religion for themselves – perform some impressive mental gymnastics.
      And I’ve seen people just accept what they are told and take comfort in the stories they were used to.

  • unbound

    I love my family, and my family loves me. Nothing magical there at all.

    My daughter is a wonder to behold on the Lacrosse field…not because some imaginary dude made her special, but because she has worked hard since 4 years old on athletics in general and has found her passion in Lacrosse in last couple of years. If anything, I would think a priest calling my daughter special “just because” would actually make my daughter try less, and she wouldn’t be as good as she is today.

  • Mark

    Real love cannot be earned.
    Romans 5:6-8

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Alright, with that little bit of god-botting you just earned yourself a place in the moderation queue. You can still comment, but if your comment is vapid and contributes nothing, it doesn’t see the light of day.


  • Alukonis, metal ninja

    My cat tolerates other people, but he loves me. I’m the only one he cuddles with and talks to.

    This clearly makes me the Most Special Person in all of Specialistan!

  • Lyfa

    Perhaps I’m odd in that I don’t give a kite if I’m special or not. The only reason I make any effort for standing out at all, is that do want people to take me seriously, but I think almost everyone has that desire. I just want to live as happily as I can, getting as much enjoyment from life as i can. Usually that happiness comes from very mundane things. After all: “Happy families are all alike, but unhappy families are all unhappy in their own different ways.”

  • Aliasalpha

    Even in my most depression soaked despair, I’d sooner be honestly miserable than dishonestly happy