Sat | Sep 22, 2018

The altar ego

Published:Monday | April 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Some of my friends used to think that I was an atheist. Perhaps it's because I freely express my disappointment with how some people practise their religion.

Some self-proclaimed Christians flood their many houses of worship but leave their Christianity behind once they exit the premises. I am not into the holier-than-thou fanaticism. The way that I see it, your relationship with the Heavenly Father is extremely personal and private, and we should never assign self-importance to ourselves or look down on anyone.

Most people seem to feel that being religious represents the completion of their spiritual journey. However, religion is a map, a guide to help us make that essential link with our Heavenly Father. It is only the beginning of our long and arduous spiritual journey towards our Creator.

Some people will be fortunate to have access to the map (religion), but others will also find their way without the use of the map (religion). There is a real chance that some may focus so much on the paper and ink within the map that they miss the big (spiritual) picture entirely.

People who study the map in detail, and some of those who either speak from behind the altar and/or some who face the altar during worship seem to believe that they are extra special in the eyes of God. Some believe that they are so very special that the core principles of their religion do not apply to them. They seem to think that because they carry out perfunctory religious practices and perform some good here and there, God will shower them with His special favour. Such people believe that the God they are supposed to serve, serves them!


tribute to god


They congregate and pay token tribute to the Father, then, once that is done, they feel that some magical, mystical pathway has been established that leads straight to the Almighty. Some take the route of piggybacking on His Son, Jesus. They call His name and believe that, like a doting father, God smiles down on them just because they chose to believe in His Son.

They call on God to do this for them and that for them and this for their friends and that for their country and the other to their enemies, and so on and so on.

It's as if God created them and then waits somewhere in some dimension beyond space and time listening out for the supplications and even instructions from His 'faithful'. I call that kind of attitude the 'altar ego' - the importance that some people assign to themselves just because they think that they are religious and, therefore, better off than others.

Incredibly, there are people who actually try to use God like their personal and powerful omnipotent wizard in all spheres of their lives. You can usually recognise the type by their self-assured and condescending persona, their evident self-pride, their exhibition of self-importance, their self-righteousness and self-indulgence.

It makes you wonder who they are worshipping, themselves or God?

The altar ego is a dangerous thing. It can impede one's spiritual journey. It can lead people to become judgemental of others, especially in the very personal aspect of their relationship with their Heavenly Father.

It can lead people to truly believe that they are so very special and all-important to God that they stand above everyone else, and they assume that their actions are sanctioned by the Almighty and their sins are automatically forgiven.

But all God's children hold equally important places in His heart. Jesus sacrificed Himself for everyone - even for those who don't believe in Him. Religious people are not more important to God than the mendicant and the 'sinner'. The altar ego of some religious people does them no good and turns away others from religion.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and