Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Beef With Karma

I've heard this a gazillion times-

He'll get his!

What goes around comes around!

Karma will get her!

Most of the time this sage wisdom is from someone who is angry, annoyed, or generally pissed off. The aggrieved party states that the source of their aggravation (the aggriever?) will suffer for their sins. How? By karma, the universal law of morality (click here for full description). I have heard this kind of sentiment from a wide range of folks from theists to atheists. The theist will explain it as God's will while the atheist will say that it's a Moral Law of the Cosmos akin to the Law of Gravity.

My response?



Not buying it.

The theist is the easiest to answer: No Evidence of God = No God = No God's Will = No Karma.

Done and done, thank you very much.

Atheists come in a broad range of beliefs. That may come as a surprise for the God people who read this blog (don't laugh there are a few) but it's true. There are atheists who believe in ghosts (Atheist Revolution did a post about this - click here to see it), atheists who believe in ancient alien visitations to Earth, and atheists who are skeptical and follow Carl Sagan's motto: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I am (unsurprisingly) in the last group. The only characteristic one needs to possess to be an atheist is not believing in God or gods.

I have seen nothing that would prove karma exists. You may say, "What about criminals who are in jail? They did something wrong!" Maybe (there are convicted criminals who are innocent), but those are either the criminals who were stupid or just unlucky - of course they are the ones who get caught. There are many, many evil and successful individuals who will die asleep in their beds when they are 90 years old. These are the smart and lucky criminals. There are also the smart and lucky sociopaths in business/politics/everyday life who have manipulated the system and never had to break the law.

Oh, the atheist/karma believer may retort, "The scoundrel will get theirs in the next life," (yes there are Atheists who believe in reincarnation).  However, that seems as likely as the evil going to Hell. It's the same equation minus the God: No Proof = No Reincarnation.

For some atheists this karma stuff is a hold over from their God days. As someone who once was a God guy it took some time for me to wrap my mind around this. Think about it. A theist goes from a Just Universe, even if that justice is delayed until the after life, to a universe where people are responsible for forging justice. Ick. It's like (to paraphrase Lincoln) the bottom falling out of the bucket. It's that bad. Karma is a way to salvage the just universe while getting rid of God. Unfortunately, karma makes as much sense as God.

So what's a person to do?

Control the things you can control,

educate yourself about the important issues,

let your voice be heard.


this is Purgatory.


  1. Great post. I don't believe in the whole karma thing either--it also doesn't explain why really terrible things happen to really good people. Actions definitely have consequences, but there is no higher "justice system" in place.

  2. Karma is plain silly... and so are its believers.

    Life is random and coincidental. There's no higher order involved.
    Shit happens. And sometimes it doesn't.

  3. I stop myself from making comments about fate or karma but I think that many atheists do so out of habit. I've been working hard to not say things like "thank god", even though I just use it as a saying. When I recently got a very important job, I had to stop myself multiple times from thanking god and I've NEVER believed in god. It's just one of those things that people say. I think people revert to karma because it helps put order into our universe, which is absent of order. Humans can find patterns anywhere, including random number sequences, thus karma helps create a reassuring pattern that is subject to confirmation bias. The other one is "things happen for a reason". I just think most atheists don't really evaluate the ramifications of such sayings.

  4. I could really use a good kharma-chanic. Or a new car. Some who defend kharma or their religion's version of judgment for sins will make a case that "if there's no kharma (or hell, judgment, etc) then why be good?" Seriously - would these people really go off and rape, murder, and steal if their beliefs weren't holding them back? Actually, many others with the same beliefs have been known to rape, murder, and steal. I think it's a better character trait when someone doesn't need the threat of hell or bad kharma in order to be a decent person. I also think as a society, we'd benefit from realizing that God or kharma will not fix everything. Responsibility to distribute just benefits and punishments falls solely on us.

  5. A while ago a couple of catholic relatives of mine visited Sweden and were complaining about how the lutherans booted the cathalics out of their churches years ago. I said isn't that what's known as karma? After all, the catholics did the same thing to the pagans. I just got some puzzled looks. I think the use of the word karma was justified in that instance.

  6. What "Not Guilty" said about finding patterns anywhere is certainly true - our brains are pattern junkies. Kinda like Pink Floyd's "The Wall" lining up with the Wizard of Oz.

  7. Mike:

    "I could really use a good kharma-chanic. Or a new car."


    In regards to kharma, I see it as I see most beliefs associated with religion: just plain weird. Sure, we socially punish people who act like jerks (via silent treatment, gossip, etc) and use the judicial system to punish people who commit crimes, but there's no universal law that says bad people are guaranteed punishment. Possibly it persists as a belief in part because it feels so good to think that powerful, bad people will get their just desserts.

    If there are only two people left on Earth, and one of them murders the other... any trees falling on the survivor are coincidental.

  8. I'm as "strident" and "shrill" an atheist as they come, and I find the concept of Karma useful. I *do* think that generally in the world, you get what you give (there's research that backs this up). Be nice to the cashier at the supermarket, and you'll be rewarded with eye-contact and a smile. Be nice to the guy at the fish counter, and he'll tell you what is freshest. Be nice to... everybody, and who knows what might happen?

    Happy kind people who live from a perspective of gratitude are generally happier than miserable, bitter people who live from a perspective of entitlement.

    IOW, while I don't think that "Karma" is some supernatural force evening out the score on our little planet, I have found that almost any situation can be interpreted from different perspectives, and those who 'seek good' will find it.

    You know that saying "whether you think you can, or you think you can't... you're right"? Well, I see Karma as "whether you think life sucks or is full of wonder and beauty, you're right". Oddly, it's often the religionists who adopt the former perspective, and the agnostics&atheists who adopt the latter.


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