I am not religious. This is unlikely to be news to anyone who reads this blog regularly. In general, I don’t have an issue with religious folks, I just disagree with them. There is one particular religious expression that really gets my goat, though. It is when someone refers to themselves as being “blessed.”
Though it might seem like it, I want to be clear that this isn’t really a religious issue for me. I’ve written before about how it ticks me off when people deny the existence of luck. You get this a lot in conservative circles. It comes with adjectives like “hardworking”.
“Blessed,” really, is the same thing. It says, “there is something special about me. God has chosen me. In choosing me, God is saying I am superior to others.” There are one million things wrong with that statement.
Let me use myself as an example. I did well in high school. Correspondingly, I got into a very good college where I continued to get mostly good grades while working all four years. Later, I worked full time while attending graduate school full time so I could become a teacher. Given all that, I don’t think most people would quibble with me saying that my modest success is the result of hard work. But let’s take another angle.
I was born a white, heterosexual male into a loving family in one of the wealthiest countries that has ever existed. My parents did well enough for themselves that I could attend a very expensive private college while only working part time to cover some basic expenses. Does “hardworking” still do it for you or do we need to insert luck into the equation? We’ll get to “blessed” in a minute.
It can get more extreme. I hate to pull out a cliché, but what about kids in Africa living in poverty that is all but unimaginable in the US? Are they unlikely to succeed because they are lazy or does luck play a role?
And now we get to “blessed”. What have the kids I just mentioned done to deserve their fate? When you use the word “blessed,” you are saying God has chosen you. Why you and not the impoverished kid who’s going to spend his whole life trying to figure out where his next meal is coming from? Sure, there’s that other cliché about how we can’t know God’s plan, but come on. Isn’t your sense of justice bothered by that? You are “blessed” but all these other people are suffering. If you deserve what you have, it follows, logically, that everyone else deserves what they have. Either that, or God doesn’t really care about those kids in Africa. You can’t have it both ways. Not if you’re using “blessed” to explain your success.
You can believe whatever you want about how the world works and we can respectfully disagree, but don’t go pretending luck isn’t a factor. Using words like “blessed” and denying the role of dumb luck in our lives is unfair because it trivializes the struggles of others. It gives us an excuse to not worry about them because they aren’t “hardworking” or “blessed” enough. Using words like this says nothing about us other than that our experiences and imaginations are fantastically narrow.