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.