Actually, I don’t feel special anymore. That is a tough thing about leaving the church. The church has so much in its foundation that is designed to make people feel special. Of course, it is a sort of feeling of specialness that becomes conditional on your obedience and acceptance of what the church says is the way things are. That message is very appealing and extremely difficult to walk away from. Everybody wants to feel special. People who are well adjusted in society somehow feel special inherently (I’m still not sure how myself – maybe they just don’t need to feel more special than everyone else). People outside the church, I believe, have a general distrust of those who come along and proclaim that they are special in order to get them to join a group or follow a specific program of beliefs. However, there are many that find this message appealing and latch onto it because of what it does for them. It is also very hard to admit (if only on a subconscious level) that one is not special anymore (at least according to what the group has said makes one special), which makes leaving such a group all the more difficult.
This is actually one of the things that led me out of belief in the church. Even though the idea of being special is a very appealing one, I could not accept that so many who did not do what the church teaches are not special, for no other reason besides the fact that they are not members of the church. The idea that I am somehow special (for doing so little in comparison to what I see others doing around me every day) means that others must not be special in the same way I am. I cannot accept this.
The church has a variety of ways that it told me I was special. To begin, it said I was a child of God. Who would possibly not like the idea of being the offspring of the penultimate being who is the creator of the universe and has all control over it and knows everything that goes on in it? It means that you too, can achieve this ideal yourself. To tell a person otherwise is like telling them that they are not the rightful heirs to all that their parents have accumulated over the years. It is inherent in our understanding that a loving parent would never deny their child the power to become like him or herself. Of course, this idea is followed up with a condition. In order to be able to fulfill your destiny as a child of the master of the universe, you have to do what the church claims are his commandments for you. This only enhances the feeling of being special when a person decides to adhere to the teachings of the church. We can relate to this teaching because there were many times, as children of our earthly parents, we were made to feel special and we want to have that on a larger scale. This message is not bad in and of itself, it is just something that is used as the first step in buying into the LDS idea of specialness.
I once knew a man in the church who had many children and I was present in their home at dinner when he proudly announced to all of his children that none of them would get any of his money when he died. Rather, he said, he was going to donate all of it to the church. In this case, I wonder if he felt that doing that would make him more special in God’s eyes or if it was because he felt special and wanted to give back for that? Either way, I think he was wrong (but that is just where I am at now).
Another way the church reinforces the idea that members of the church are special is by telling them that they belong to the ONE and ONLY true church that is fully authorized by God to do his will among his people on the face of all the earth. If you belong to the church you are special indeed. Everybody outside the church may become special if they join the church, but the only way they can enjoy being so special, and so chosen by God to be His personal emissary, is if they belong to His church. Members of the church are told that sometimes the road may get rough, but being a member of God’s one true church can be a comforting thought when those times come. For many it is.
The church also maintains that people in this generation are even more special than any in all the previous generations of the earth. Young people now are told that they were the most valiant, and the most choice, spirit sons and daughters of God that were saved to come forth in the most special time in all of human history. This teaching used to be reserved for whites, and the colored were the less valiant ones, but now it means all the kids born recently (especially those born in the church) as opposed to those born in previous generations. The message has morphed into one that is more socially acceptable, but, I think is still dangerous nevertheless. How sad is it that people who worked so hard, but happened to be born before any of the children of the current day, have to be belittled by such a vain and purely speculative teaching? I think sometimes children nowadays need to hear that they are just losers until they can prove that they are not. I’m just kidding, of course, but I think this idea of being chosen to come forth in the latter days can lead to being critical of those who actually deserve more respect, but don’t receive it, because of the simple fact of when they were born. People of all generations are capable of doing great things and one generation is not entitled to feel more special than any other because of when they happen to be born.
Another way the church promotes a feeling of extra-specialness is in the bestowal of the priesthood on the men in the church. Now, maybe men do have a greater need to feel special than women, but I suspect it is more likely a carryover from days when women were not seen as being capable of having rights to vote or participate in a male dominated society. It is interesting to me that such social revolutionary thinkers such as Jesus and Joseph Smith both had much more progressive views of women than what happened to survive them.
Callings also contribute to a feeling of specialness because the adherent is told that the calling was extended especially to them for their specific benefit. Whether or not this is actually the case can obviously be determined by the person who accepts and labors in the calling, but many will dedicate a lot of time in callings where they are miserable because they are convinced the calling was extended especially to them to meet some specific spiritual need they had at the time. Not only is the believer special, but their calling was made special for them.
Finally, one other thing I think the church does to promote feeling special is in the progression from one level of special to higher levels. People are kept in the program by constantly expecting to feel more special once certain milestones have been accomplished. New members, who are made to feel special in the attention shown by missionaries, are invited to be baptized, which will make them feel more special. New members are given the gift of the holy ghost which is regarded as a special gift, that recipients ought to feel special to receive. In addition to receiving the priesthood, going to the temple will REALLY make you feel special. You belong to an elite club if you have made it that far and being in the club is what makes temple endowed and married members the most special of all.
Of course, believing members of the church would say that all this specialness is an indicator of the truthfulness of the work of God they are promoting and believe in. The problem is, right now, I can think of no good response to this argument. They may be right. All the special feelings people get when they do what the church says, may actually be the result of divine approval of the church and what it stands for. God may actually be smiling down on all the good Mormon folks and cause them to feel special because they really are. So maybe my ramblings here don’t have a great point, but my feeling is that a lot of the good feelings people get from following what the church teaches are by design. They are setup to appeal to a part of the human psyche that needs to feel special. In my opinion, this is an unfair manipulation of an area where people are susceptible to desire and are therefore more willing to conform because they like feeling special. When people feel special, they tend to overlook things that would be considered signs that manipulation is being practiced to gain and keep followers of a set of teachings or a group.
I think what I said earlier is true. When people are made to feel that they are more special than others because of their conformity to a group, that is when the line is crossed. When the needs of the group are supposed to come before just doing the right thing, that is when it has gone too far. I don’t think God is one to go around holding out this carrot of you feeling special and that he is dangling it in front of you to get you to act a certain way. Doing the right thing should be what makes you feel special for the sake of doing the right thing, not doing the right thing within the confines of a what a religious institution says you should be doing to get that feeling. So, what makes you feel special?