Woman: "Everything happens for a reason."
Me (to myself): cough cough... Bullshit! (I couldn't think of a nice, non-aggressive way to say this so I took another bite of my dinner)
Butch (my atheist husband): "I don't believe that it does. Think about all the bad things that happen to good people."
At which point I can't remember what happened. I think someone changed the subject.
But I get this a lot. And to be honest, it probably wasn't that many years ago that I used to believe it myself.
If you're religious, which most people are, I understand your thinking that God and Satan basically guide you, tempt you and otherwise have a hand in your life. Ok. You have a personal god who is active in your life. You are a puppet.
But when a nonreligious person says it, then I start to wonder a bit more, and of course it makes me reflect on my progress from Christian to Spiritual to Skeptical Naturalist/Atheist.
Just because someone doesn't believe in gods, it does not follow that they automatically don't believe in anything supernatural. Even though I know this intellectually (and went through that spiritual/new age phase myself after becoming an atheist), I still find it jarring.
My question to you, though is, Why? Why do think that there is an invisible force acting in your life?
Usually this expression is said optimistically. When something bad happens, someone says it to feel better. They want to believe that a bad thing happened because it will eventually lead to better things in the future. They just can't see the whole picture. But god or the universe is watching out for them and taking care of them. (Their ultimate father figure)
Occasionally, I hear this in reverse, but it's usually a little different. It goes something like this, "What goes around comes around." Which is to say that karma is a real force in the universe.
Karma is fascinating. The Universe ('Capital U' universe, now with Bonus Consciousness!) keeps a tally on every thought and action you do. Good returns good to you. Bad returns negative to you. This is very handy, and I've even heard Christians follow the principle.
So, a baby is born prematurely with a heart defect. The first 5 years of his life will be spent in and out of hospitals and surgeries. He will be lucky to live to his 8th birthday. So what do people say? "Everything happens for a reason." or "He must have been Hitler in his past life." (I actually knew a little boy who this happened to. It was agonizing to watch him suffer)
They sound like such flippant comments, and maybe they are. But if you call someone out on these "blame the victim" sayings, people will usually reiterate their belief in them.
I think part of this belief is cultural. It's so prevalent in this society, but it also fits in with what Michael Shermer talks about in The Believing Brain, that we are all prone to agency and patternicity to some degree or another. We see patterns when they are there, and even when they aren't. And we ascribe agency even when something is random.
But what is actual reality? Well, it can sound a bit cold, which is probably why most people find it so unappealing:
- There is no evidence of gods
- There is no evidence of the supernatural
- There is no evidence of a soul. All evidence is that we are our brain. When the brain dies, we cease to exist. Our consciousness does not survive our death
- There is no universal justice or karma. But humans create our own justice and morality
- Shit happens. It just does. No one is watching over you. You are not being punished or rewarded by a supreme being for your thoughts or actions
- Your thoughts don't leave your head except by what you say or communicate to others in tangible ways. The universe is not monitoring your thoughts and keeping a tally (several articles I've written about "The Secret is Bullshit" - see below)
- Humans are naturally prone to Agenticity and Patternicity.
So I guess for most people, it's much more appealing to believe that someone is looking out for you. Here are two quotes that sum up how I feel on the subject:
"It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World
"Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Some people find that thought disturbing. I find the reality thrilling." Richard DawkinsPrevious articles about the Law of Attraction and The Secret:
- The Law Of Attraction- And The Secret -Are Bullshit
- The Secret Divides
- The Secret Divides Part 2
- The Secret is Still Bullshit
- The Secret to Teen Power is Harmful Bullshit
Books that I've found useful on this subject: