It’d be wonderful if God favored some people over others. So long as I was among them. Otherwise, I’d be on the outside of God’s Favor Party, wishing that I was part of the in-crowd.
As I’ve noted before, and surely will again, it’s amazing how almost every religion believes that its adherents are the only favored ones. Jews are a chosen people. Christians have been singled out for salvation. Muslims are beneficiaries of the ultimate revelation.
Eastern religions are less prone to believing in favoritism, but even in Buddhism there is the assumption that following the Buddha’s teachings is the best way to escape samsara and suffering. So if you’re not fortunate enough to be a Buddhist, you’ll be more likely to keep treading the wheel of reincarnation rather than relaxing in Nirvana land.
In John Horgan’s book, “Rational Mysticism,” this I’m-special attitude is called “the scandal of particularity.” He attributes the term to religious scholar Huston Smith, who in an interview with Horgan said that this refers:
To the doctrine that God’s doings can focus like a burning glass on particular times, places, and people(s)—in the interest, to be sure, of intentions that embrace human beings universally.
Horgan says, “To my mind, the scandal of particularity is the root of all religious evil. The conviction of certain individuals and peoples that they are divinely chosen leads to religious self-righteousness, fanaticism, intolerance. Also, what kind of God would play favorites? If such a God exists, do we really want to worship Him?”
Good question. Like Horgan, I find it difficult to believe that the marvelously consistent and all-embracing laws of nature have been created by a capricious God. Science has found that impartiality rules the universe. Gravity and electromagnetism don’t play favorites.
Horgan rejects as delusional any mystical vision, or derived spiritual doctrine, tainted by the scandal of particularity. “All of us must be God’s sons and daughters, or none of us. All are chosen—or damned—or none.”
Yes, I like this choice of all or none. It’s a 50-50 proposition, assuming that the alternatives are equally likely. But if I assume that God looks with favor only upon a single religion or spiritual path, then my odds of becoming buddies with divinity are slim. With so many options to choose from, how am I going to figure out which has earned a thumbs up from God?
In addition, there is something deeply paradoxical about considering both that I’m one of God’s chosen few, and that in humility I’m on my way to becoming one with the One. It’s going to be hard to discard my ego after feeling so special.
In 1971 I was initiated by an Indian guru, Charan Singh, into a very special group of God’s chosen souls. For many years I enjoyed the thought that out of six billion people on Earth, I was one of a million or so who had been given a “Get Out of Maya Free” card.
You couldn’t earn this card through any thought or action in this lifetime. No, either you were born deserving of it, or you weren’t. The guru spoke of the “marked souls” that God wanted to be brought back to Him.
Every saint is sent into this world for particular souls—allotted souls, and those souls alone will come to him. They alone will have faith in him. They alone will be receptive to his teachings. They alone will practice meditation and go back to the Father. So it is always with the grace of the Father that a disciple is drawn to the Master.
Well, who knows? This could be true. By now those lines reek of the scandal of particularity to me. Maybe I’m saved and my wife isn’t. Maybe I’m deserving and she isn’t. Maybe I’m God’s favorite and she isn’t.
But I doubt this is true. Even more: I hope it isn't.