When god gets all the credit

You think people are being humble when they say god deserves all credit for their success. They're actually doing the exact opposite.

I recently came across a talk by a well-known author who has met with a lot of success. He was speaking about the great reception his books have received and how grateful he was for it all.

And then, predictably enough, he said that it was all due to the blessings of Shiva — his favourite deity. He said that though he cannot prove it (red flag!), it was something he really believed.

On the face of it, this is nothing unheard of. People credit their god or gods with their personal successes so regularly that we don’t think of it as anything other than what it is intended to be — an expression of humbleness.

Humbleness is an extremely attractive quality. I think the reason behind it is possibly evolutionary — an individual who is willing to forgo rewards in favour of an ideal shared by her tribe is a real asset to the collective. Such a person is seemingly without a personal ego and therefore, is a role model that all other members of the tribe can look up to.

So effective is this method that we actually have people pretending to credit god or gods in order to gain favour and support from the people. Our planet’s history is full of leaders who rose to power by prostrating themselves before their tribe’s gods and deities. I am not saying all religiously-motivated leaders fake it, but a good enough number of them do it for it to become a thing worth writing about. Incidentally, crediting god is also something that works when things don't work out. How many times have you heard someone say he couldn't be held guilty for his actions because he was just fulfilling god's plan?

But here’s the thing. Giving credit to god for your success is not really an expression of humbleness. It is actually the exact opposite.

When an author says that he is only successful because of god, what he is essentially saying is that he is special. He is saying that of all the people out there trying to make it as big as he has, he is the one that god chose. Even if you do believe in a higher power that looks over the affairs of human beings, you have to admit that sounds rather presumptuous.

What about all the other writers out there? Why did god not favour them? What can they do to earn such supernatural favour? What are the criteria god uses to determine who is deserving of success and who is not? And most importantly, how does this favourite of god know any of these things? How does he know the difference between a genuine answer and an answer he himself made up because he doesn’t want to be seen taking credit for his achievement?

When next you hear someone claim that the reason they are successful is because of god, ask them why god chose them. The answer you get will probably be something on the lines of “that is for god only to know” or “who am I to say why god decides and why”. When this happens, point out politely that perhaps they made it because they are talented and/or lucky, that perhaps success has nothing to do with god, and that perhaps there is no god.

Human beings are pattern-seeking organisms who have evolved to process meaning. We communicate using metaphors, we have built our cultures on the foundation of perceived meanings. I have written before about how our thirst for meaning has given rise to entire mythologies where we are the centre of the universe. It is not surprising therefore that we seek to explain our personal good and bad fortunes by appealing to the existence of deities who care about us.

But it is, at the end of the day, an infantile way of processing reality. We should be able to do better.