Everything Does NOT Happen For A Reason, But...

My cousin emailed my sister and I today to tell us what is going on in her life. She's in her early 30's, has been married a few years, and wants to have a child at some point soon. She found out she's got some problems that are bigger than just fertility, but that cause infertility as well.

So she's understandably upset. But, she said, "I'm trying to stay as positive as possible and keep one of my favorite sayings in the back of my mind "everything happens for a reason", which is what your nephew just got tattooed onto his stomach."

Now, when I hear stuff like this, klaxons go off in my head and I just want to box their ears and ask, "Why? Why on earth would you think that?"

Of course, they don't know any better. Our culture is infused with this myth. Confirmation Bias and wishful thinking make it seem like there is some cosmic consciousness watching out for us. Even some atheists say it (and believe it). Of course that doesn't make it true.

So here is my question to you, my godless, skeptical friends. My cousin is depressed and facing a difficult situation. She is getting a lot of comfort out of this belief.

What would you do? Would you disabuse her of it? Would you at least try to illuminate her with reality? Would you just say something comforting? Or would you just ignore the statement and talk about the rest of her situation?

I read the email a couple hours ago and it is taking all my willpower not to reply with reason-based facts. She is a nurse so she is not averse to science, but that doesn't mean she doesn't still embrace the standard woo that most people do.

I want to be kind, helpful and understanding. Personally I think believing these myths is harmful in the long run, even if they are comforting in the short term.

Please share your thoughts and how you'd handle it.


  1. What exactly is causing her infertility? Perhaps offering her some possible "fixes" for her condition would help. Other than that, I'd let her cling to her belief, if it gives her comfort.

  2. Oh boy, that's a rough one. I usually pretend they didn't even say it and bite my tongue until it bleeds. Only with the closest of Christian friends would I even attempt to suggest that I am not in agreement, never mind telling them how ridiculous I think it is and why. I suppose that's why I'm grateful for Facebook b/c it gives me a way of speaking my mind on these issues without having to personally confront everyone. I suppose I might say something to her at another time v/c she may view it right now as you being unsupportive. Even though you'd really be doing her a favor, she won't see it that way.

  3. Literally minutes ago my husband's uncle was found dead. He comes from a strongly Catholic family (two other uncles are priests ). This is not the time to challenge their faith (except perhaps gently with my husband ). At this particular point, it would be less like education and more like cruelty.

  4. Many people live out their lives comfortable in the warm embrace of woo. For people like this I find it very difficult to bring reason to bear in order to "correct" their world view. It can be painful for them, and I do not wish suffering on anyone. However, if I find someone who no longer finds comfort in woo, who sees through the lies of the myth that "everything happens for a reason" I have a very simple response. Everything happens at random. Sure there are factors we could attempt to calculate for the odds of this or that happening, but in the end, instead of divine intervention guiding us down a path, it is the toss of the dice that determine what we face (well that and a combination of our choices and circumstances). For example: there is an illness called cancer. It kills a lot of people. There are things you can do that can increase or decrease your chances of getting it...but in the end there is quite a bit of random chance involved. We find the strength to deal with it within ourselves, or through our family, friends and doctors. We face whatever random occurrences happen without trying to couch them in comforting mythological stories of destiny. It doesn't have any special meaning of its own, but we can find meaning in it if we face it truthfully and without hiding behind fairy tales.

  5. My opinion is that now is not the time to try to set her straight - maybe some other time when she's not in a crisis situation. For now, you can offer sympathy, and a listening ear, and ask if there's anything you can do to help. Maybe add a comment about not being in control of what happens to us, but being in control of how we react to what happens, and dealing with it in the best possible way by taking control of the situation as much as possible and researching sensible courses of action.

  6. I have a "I don't kick puppies" policy when it comes to debunking religion. If a person is mentally handicapped or has a horrible disease and is religious, then I don't talk atheism with that person. I let the person know that I am there for them and that they are in my thoughts.

  7. I don't know what's wrong with "everything happens for a reason", it's all a matter of perspective and how one prefers to view things. How do you know it's not for the best? Perhaps she has some congenital defect that could cause her to die during childbirth. Wouldn't that mean not being able to have kids is a good thing, and therefore happening for a reason, or in that case, even a *good* reason? Maybe it's far less dramatic and she eventually finds that even though it's not what she had in mind, her life can be very fulfilling in different ways without the burden of kids-(such as my wife and myself who live quite adventurous lives without kids holding us down). You just never know how things might pan out. From the religious perspective, not all religions view things as being outside of themselves (although granted most do) but what I consider to be more enlightened belief systems approach matters from a standpoint that things are more about personal choice in how we decide to view things, and what we make of them as opposed to being part of some arbitrary grand design.

  8. See, I knew I could count on you all.

    Thanks so much for the great advice. I agree that kicking the puppy is never a good idea.

    I was also thinking, after reading all of your wonderful comments, why do I think it's my place to say anything? Of course, now would be bad timing, which is why I refrained in the first place (but my goodness, I really really had to bite my tongue!) but most people live their whole lives believing this myth. Who am I to take that lie away from someone who finds it useful, even if that's just a delusion?

    Marcia, I think that's the best advice, really - "Maybe add a comment about not being in control of what happens to us, but being in control of how we react to what happens, and dealing with it in the best possible way by taking control of the situation as much as possible and researching sensible courses of action."

    Thanks again, all of you. You rock. And also thanks for responding so quickly. I will write back to her this evening. And there will be no puppy kicking.

  9. > "She is getting a lot of comfort out of this belief."

    I think it has been said already, but belief isn't always a bad thing. Your cousin is in a difficult place, and seems like she is trying to deal with this calmly, when she must feel anything but calm.
    I'm not sure what you can do - If she is getting appropriate medical information that could be part of what is upsetting her - and if she is falling for the silly Woo there may not be much you can do anyway. Calm concern and support is the way to go.

  10. I am often in your position. Of course everything does happen for a reason but I doubt she is limiting her comment to one of simple cause and effect. Instead of disabusing her of her common misunderstanding of how the universe works and seeming insensitive, provide her with real, concrete assistance and sympathy; adoption, foster children, surrogate options, etc.

    My two cents...


    1. That's true, A.M., everything does happen for a reason, but of course that's not how she means it. Thanks. :)

  11. I, even as an atheist, have a kind of faith. I have faith that over the long haul truth does more good than falsehood. Sure, comfortable little lies can appear to make things better for the short term. It seems cruel sometimes to disabuse people of them. And I'm not saying we always need to do that. Not all lies are equally harmful. Furthermore, truth can be wielded as either a scalpel or a broadsword. Now, there are situations that call for the sword. More often, though, delicate surgery is called for.

    The truth here? Yes, everything does happen for a reason. As far as we know, every event could, at least in principle, be traced back to some cause--some "reason." Of course, when people say, "Everything happens for a reason," they don't mean that. What they mean is that there's some intelligent, presumably benevolent personality behind everything that happens. That, as best I can tell, is not true.

    1. Yes, Mike, I agree with you and M.A., everything DOES happen for a reason - cause and effect.

      I also agree that truth is better than delusions and lies. Of course there are times when it's appropriate to refrain from telling the truth, and yes, not all lies are equally bad.

      In the end, though, I think I need to leave this one alone. She didn't bring it up as an issue she wanted my perspective on. She's not questioning her beliefs, she's just going through a tough time. I really don't think it's good for our relationship to disabuse her of her common delusion, especially after sharing it will all of you.

      So I promised not to kick the puppy. While I'd like to share the wonders of reality with her, now is not the time.