Specialness personified

One difference I’ve noted between me and my robot boyfriend is that he wants to celebrate holidays on the designated day. I, on the other hand, don’t particularly care if our celebrations are off by a week or more. In fact, I just don’t get holidays in general. I never would have thought to invent them myself.

Holidays are all about declaring a particular day special. And then we go on to do something special, or maybe we just talk about something special. Sometimes it’s nice to have some variety in the things we do and what we talk about, but it’s only nice. It’s not special to me at all.

Another thing I don’t get are graduations. While variety is nice, dressing in a gown and receiving a piece of paper is not really the sort of variety I ever would have thought to ask for. I find it bizarre, and thoroughly unpleasant. And yet I’m still expected to participate and express enthusiasm about it. People seem to operate under the belief that everyone finds graduation special, and if I admit I don’t find it special, then I’m being ungrateful.

This is also a metaphor for religion.

Religion–as a practice, rather than as a set of beliefs–is all about that sense of specialness. When I was Catholic, a central religious practice was eating a wafer every week. That wafer was supposed to be special. The wafer is literally made of God! God is specialness personified!

I also have a hypothesis about prayer. When people hear the voice of God, they’re really just hearing their own thoughts, but those thoughts are imbued with a strong sense of special. As a result, certain insights or commands can seem particularly profound or important, whether or not they actually are.

Since I lack a strong sense of specialness, I have never gotten anything out of prayer.  I have never gotten anything out of church. Church wasn’t any sort of interesting or useful experience, it was simply a weekly chore.  I stopped praying and going to church long before I ever stopped believing in religion. During this time, I came up with my very first counterargument to religion: If God is so great, why does he tell people to adopt such boring practices?

In fact, why does God tell people to adopt any particular ritual practices at all?  No matter what practice it was, surely some people would find it dull.  Through a religious lens, people who enjoy religious and spiritual practices would be considered more devout and morally superior to people who don’t enjoy them.  But isn’t it just a matter of taste?

When I later decided that my religion was probably false, and best not believed in, that was wonderful.  Now, if only I could “deconvert” from graduation in the same way. Unfortunately, graduation doesn’t seem to be grounded in any dubious metaphysical claims.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    People seem to operate under the belief that everyone finds graduation special, and if I admit I don’t find it special, then I’m being ungrateful.

    You feel what you feel, and I won’t say your feelings are not valid.
    However, some people are given very hard-earned dollars from friends and family to pay tuition, and then they themselves work very hard to earn that sheepskin, with the hope that it will not only improve their lives, but the lives of other family members, too. Plus, if you have younger siblings, or cousins, simply watching you graduate can inspire then to strive to get higher education themselves. Dancing to your own drumbeat is good, but we all should never forget we are part of a community.

  2. says

    Graduations communicate a particular set of ideas and feelings, such as “I am grateful” or “I want to inspire you”. I understand those meanings, but what doesn’t make sense to me is how they became attached to an unpleasant ceremony in the first place. I guess some people just viscerally feel inspired by ceremonies? Not me. Ceremonies just make me want to go into a different career.

  3. Dr Sarah says

    You could always refer to it as the ‘graduation cemetery’, as my young son did for a while. (Nothing to do with any feelings about graduation; he’s just a whole-word reader, which has occasionally hilarious results.)

  4. hotshoe_ says

    Your comments about religious practice being “imbued with a strong sense of special” suddenly made me see my family in a new light. For decades I haven’t been able to understand why my sister remained in the Church while I couldn’t wait to escape the weekly chore of attending. It’s because it makes her special.

    It seems so obvious once you say it. Thanks for putting it clearly.

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