Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Karma's a Bitch

Tim Keller's book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism addresses the overlapping issues of God as a judge vs a God of love and how a "loving God" could send people to Hell. He essentially says that the notion of a wrathful, judging God who could condemn people to an eternity in Hell is a huge barrier to belief in Christianity or even in the Christian God.

I do see and hear this a lot but it has never been a hang up for me. Sure, I've wondered how God could send "nice people" to Hell, people that act kinder, gentler, more lovingly than some Christians. That's always sat a little funny with me. But I also see that most people aren't as "good" as they think they are and many are downright evil. I recognize in myself enough bad that would otherwise deserve some punishment in the absence of sort of grace or mercy. I also recognize that while I might be think myself to be more "good" thand "bad," there's no handy-dandy cosmic scale I can look at to measure how much 10 lies, 4 thefts, 13 acts of lust, etc weigh against 7 holding doors open for people, saying please and thank you anytime I'm in public, telling my wife and daughter "I love you," or doing a great job at work. What's the point system on which I can rely to measure my "good" vs my "bad"?

That brings me to the next point that is stuck in my craw. People apparently are hung up that God could judge and punish people, but they have no hangups, whatsoever, about human being extracting some amount of revenge against wrongdoers. Many might no longer believe the death penalty is a just punishment, regardless of the crime or wrong. But they would see mental and emotional, perhaps even physical, torment as fair game.

More subtley yet more pervasively, westerners these days love themselves some "karma." Of course, they don't have the first clue on what Buddhists or Hindus have to say about karma, at least not with any specificity. It's a complex and varied spiritual concept and definitions vary between eastern religions. Americans like to say, "Well, it means 'what comes around goes around.'" Not exactly. Hinduistic karma's closer to the Biblical concept of sowing and reaping. However, it has to do more broadly with cosmic cause and effect:

Karma is not punishment or retribution but simply an extended expression or consequence of natural acts. Karma means "deed" or "act" and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all life. The effects experienced are also able to be mitigated by actions and are not necessarily fated. That is to say, a particular action now is not binding to some particular, pre-determined future experience or reaction; it is not a simple, one-to-one correspondence of reward or punishment.

Karma is not fate, for humans act with free will creating their own destiny. According to the Vedas, if one sows goodness, one will reap goodness; if one sows evil, one will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate response.

If we say that post-modern Americans have gotten it partially right and that what comes around goes around -- which is a cousin belief to Christian sowing and reaping -- we must also say that they accept the idea of cosmic judgment and retribution. People in our society really love this idea. Do a google search of "karma is a bitch" (apologize if the word offends anyone) and you'll see that people revel in the idea that someone that does something bad has something coming to him/her in return, often worse than the original offense. You can get "Karma is a Bitch" bumperstickers. I have friends on Facebook that put "karma" out there whenever a villain gets what's coming to him.

Modern, supposedly rational folks have no qualms with cosmic retribution (not tied to any physical or scientifically observable force in the universe mind you, and not even clearly attributable to a someone or something who could guide it.) Yet, they can't accept the idea that God could be the agent of retribution (or reward.) Why must God only reward people (for their sins and shortcomings) but we mere mortals get to sit back and enjoy "karma" crushing our enemies' souls, destroying their lives or just plain gettin' 'em back for their bad behavior?

The truth, I believe, is that people love vengeance. They just don't want to face the fact that God could be the agent of that vengeance and such vengeance could be directed at them. Karma's for "the other guy," the one that does really bad things.

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