Here's a big reason why religions appeal to people: they claim that humans are special.
Not only that, but almost every religion teaches that the cosmos has a special relationship with us Homo sapiens. We're being looked out for, guided, loved, and embraced by the Creator of It All.
Even when it comes to the Devil or other sorts of negative cosmic powers, human beings are viewed as being the special focus of the dark side. It isn't my dog who is at risk of being led astray by Satan; it is me.
I no longer believe in this crap.
Sure, I understand the appeal of feeling special, unique among all the other inhabitants of the universe, chosen by the highest divinity for a starring role in the grand scheme of things.
But reality argues otherwise.
Here's some passages from Mihaly Cskikszentmihalyi's classic 1990 book about the psychology of optimal experience, "Flow." (Somehow I've never read it before; I finished the first chapter today and am finding it highly enjoyable.)
The foremost reason that happiness is so hard to achieve is that the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind. It is almost immeasurably large, and most of it is hostilely empty and cold.
...It is not that the universe is random in an abstract mathematical sense. The motions of the stars, the transformations of energy that occur in it might be predicted and explained well enough.
But natural processes do not take human desires into account. They are deaf and blind to our needs, and thus they are random in contrast with the order we attempt to establish through our goals.
A meteorite on a collision course with New York City might be obeying all the laws of the universe, but it would still be a damn nuisance. The virus that attacks the cells of a Mozart is only doing what comes naturally, even though it inflicts a grave loss on humankind.
"The universe is not hostile, not yet is it friendly," in the words of J.H. Holmes. "It is simply indifferent."
...How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences. Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.
Imagine, as John Lennon did, that all the time, money, and effort people pour into trying to get on the good side of God or some other divine power was devoted to making things better here on Earth.
Imagine that instead of praying for special supernatural dispensations from a higher power, people focused on how best to align themselves with the laws of nature -- understanding them as fully as possible, and putting them to use for the betterment both of humanity and our planet as a whole.
Imagine that human beings came to look upon themselves simply as parts of a greater natural whole, the universe, nothing special, yet also nothing not-special.
I like these imaginations.
Because they're eminently capable of being made real. Atheists like my wife and myself are living our lives this way, as are many other people around the world. We're not yet a majority, because feeling special is so addictive to religious believers.
But the ranks are growing of those who realize how harmful and false it is to put human beings up on a special pedestal. This isn't conducive to either individual happiness, or communal well-being.
When we separate ourselves out from the rest of existence as something uniquely precious, good things don't happen. Love, harmony, compassion, generosity to all -- these flourish when people feel humbly average, not egotistically special.