by mr dan
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When trying to understand what drives people to accept theological absurdities, non-belivers sometimes come up short of an answer. After all, it does seem pretty difficult to grasp sometimes. Some think the religious are brainwashed, some think they merely stuck with the religion they were born into and never bothered to question it, some think they just get a lot of merriment out of imagining my friends and me burning in Hell for all eternity. While any of these may be true for some, I think for most it has a lot more to do with the id and our desire to be special.
Acceptance is undoubtedly one of our main desires, and though we all know that faith can be divisive within and between societies, there is probably nothing that better fosters the need to be part of an elite group than religion. Like racism, sexism, classism, and a whole boatload of other kinds of chauvinism, religion teaches you that you are automatically better than everyone else just for being a member of that religion. That’s the kind of acceptance and social sustenance that our brains crave.
We all want to be thought of as special. We either want to be cherished as a unique individual, or respected because we belong to an elite organization. But we’re also very lazy, and we’d love to not have to actually do anything and still be important and special.
For instance, a white racist will argue that he or she is the best because he or she is white, and therefore better than everyone else who isn’t white. This kind of chauvinism doesn’t stop at skin color, as people claim that their ethnicity or country of origin – whether Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican, Nigerian, or native-born US citizen – is the best. Sexists, of both the male and female varieties, will claim that their gender is superior. Very seldom do they ever actually give a reason why that is so. When they do, it is far from factual or logical, and usually just a list of rumors and myths. Neither side in these arguments has any relevant statistical data or universal logic to back up these claims, yet they still cling to them. In doing so, they think they eliminate the need to be in any way good or special on their own.
Religion does this too. The idea that believing in Jesus or Muhammed or Vishnu makes one superior to the infidels who reject these figures is almost universal. Yes, believers are governed by rules and guidelines, but I’ve never heard a Christian or Muslim chauvinist argue that they’re going to Heaven because they said the right prayers. They’re going, they believe, because God chose them.
So what about me? Do I get to be special? Well, I kind of would like to think that I am. I mean, I am the president of a regional atheist group (which means they let me hold the gavel). I’m an occasionally-viewed YouTube personality (which means I have a webcam). I’m a regular contributor to a really neat atheist website (which mean they needed content). I play 5 instruments in a rock band (which means I own 5 instruments and have an inferiority complex). And I can do this with my eyebrows. I have no idea what that means, but I think it makes me a little special.
I know that being an atheist doesn’t make me a better person than a believer. I try to behave in ways that make me a good person, but I still wouldn’t say that I’m better than most other people. Okay, I’m totally morally superior to Osama bin Laden…and Rush Limbaugh. But that still wasn’t automatic. I had to work to make that the case. And if I wanted to work in the other direction, I could easily be worse than them. In the absence of a deity, and with the full knowledge that my race, gender, citizenship and ancestry are of no relevance to my worth, I know that I have to make myself into what I want to be, and if I want someone to respect me, I have to give them reasons to.
mr dan is the president of CVA. The views expressed in this posting are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Connecticut Valley Atheists or its individual members.