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In the first post I got to ruminating on why people didn’t just go with the division of the secular and the spiritual, and I came up with four things that get lost if one keeps the religious stuff on the spiritual side and away from facts.  Let’s look at the first of those a little more in depth.

  • A feeling of specialness, or being “the chosen ones”

Let’s take a (made-up by me) religion called Jerseyism. Among the tenets is that Jersey rocks! and that people from Jersey are a better class of people.

Jerseyism certainly gives everyone from that state an ego boost, but what if Jerseyism preached that if you are not one of the faithful, all is not lost.  Simply move to New Jersey, and you too can join the chosen ones!

Think about it.  If I am a Jerseyan and accept the doctrine that I’m better than people who aren’t, sure, I feel good about myself, but I feel bad about everyone else who isn’t as “special” as I am – but I can do something about that!  I can save them!  All I have to do is spread the word and open their eyes to the truth, and then they can be special too – just as soon as they move in state!

It’s a silly example, but that’s how it works.  I become special by being X.  I want to help you feel special too by converting to X. and the cycle repeats.

This need to be special can be rooted in a need to be above others.  Or it can come compensating from a poor self-image.  Regardless of the cause, peer pressures with in-group/out-group relations can be intense.

And that not to say that feeling special is bad.  Feeling special for who or what you are is pretty pointless.  Feeling special because of what you are doing on the other hand makes total sense.

For example, two people, Don and Jerry, both with spare money in their pocket walk by a homeless woman. Don gives her 10 dollars, Jerry gives her nothing.  And yet both feel special.  Why?

Well, understandably, generous Don is feeling good about reaching out and giving a hand to a fellow human in need. There’s nothing wrong with that. Anyone can do that – being generous and caring for your fellow humans doesn’t require to join an exclusive group – you just have to act.

Jerry feels special because he’s a Jerseyan. In his mind, he’s a chosen one. He doesn’t have to do anything to feel special, he feels special because he in the club, not because he’s a good person or having a beneficial effect on people.

And that’s the problem. Feeling special because you are in the club is easy – it is in fact a lazy way to feel special. And it’s not even unique to religion at all, social groups also have a tendency to create in-group/out-group boundaries.  But religions can take that further.  A sure sign of this is a claim to have the “only truth” without proof to back it up.  Instead, one is told that the way to become special/chosen is to be willing to believe in these unproven claims in the face of lacking any reason to do so.

Feeling special, or feeling like you’re “on the inside”, can be powerful, especially if the church, cult or sect can create an interior sense of closeness while painting the “outer people” as scary, inhuman, or lesser. So, how do we move beyond this?

By realizing that it is not our religion or spirituality that makes us special. It is not who or what we are that makes us special.  When we are special, it’s because we overcame a challenge or made a difficult decision correctly.  Its’ because we accomplished something significant or made the choice to help others, and followed through.

To put another way, if anything makes us special, it’s not our spirituality itself, but the effects our choices have on the world around us.   You can have ten different belief systems that applaud generosity and giving – and those who do so are special, not because of their belief system, but because of their actions and effects.

Still, the special-because-I’m-in-the-club type believers won’t like separating the secular from the spiritual, because by the use of Reason and facts alone, they cannot defend the idea of their exceptionalism.  They need to be able to state their uniqueness as a fact, and have it be believed, without having it be factually true.  And so these types will not want to see belief systems kept out of the part of our universe where factual truth lives. They do not want to submit their assertion to the test of Reason – because it cannot survive such a test.

So there it is.  One reason many may object to the Truce is that it utterly undercuts their ability to achieve unearned superiority.

That’s one reason, but there are three more. We will continue examining them in the next installment.