Baby, You Can Drive My Karma

The way I view religion, it has to have one or more conscious entities controlling the universe. I don’t know that it necessarily has to include a code of behavior, but religions almost invariably do. There’s also frequently an overriding sense of fairness, that people who do good will be rewarded and those who do evil will be punished. Really, the fact that I don’t see much evidence of this being true is part of why I’m not so keen on religion. I WISH it were true, but where’s the proof? That said, even if true fairness and justice don’t exist, they are ideals toward which we can and should strive, and I’m sure most of us can agree on this despite our religious or philosophical beliefs. Well, maybe not Glenn Beck, who claims to look down on “social justice.” Isn’t justice social by its very nature? Slacktivist had a good post on this subject a few years ago. Anyway, within religion, the fact that real life often ISN’T particularly just is often tied in with the concept that your earthly life isn’t all you have. Some teach of life after death in a paradise or place of endless torture, while others have your deeds influence the form in which you’re reincarnated.

Within Indian religions, the cosmic sense of fairness can be expressed in terms of karma. Everyone thinks they know what karma means, but in popular usage its actual significance is frequently diminished. While “if you do something bad, bad stuff is going to happen to you” can be a PART of karma, it’s not all there is.

I’m no expert on the subject, but from what I’ve heard and read it’s more the idea of cause and effect in general, and how it can relate to the individual. There isn’t necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between an action and its consequence, but the karma you accumulate will eventually affect your fortune. If there are mathematics involved, the cosmic accountants aren’t going to let us see them. Karma could, perhaps, be said to be linked to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, albeit on a moral and spiritual level rather than a purely physical one.

I’ve heard before that Hindus consider even the gods subject to karma, but the subject of what makes a god in Hinduism is a quite complex one. Apparently some Hindus think that the ultimate god is not subject to karma, and indeed is the one who controls it. The position taken by modern monotheistic religions is often that God, being the one who CREATED the laws, is not subject to them himself, but not everyone agrees with this. Just today I caught a little bit of Joel Osteen insisting that God plays by rules. Mind you, the rule he mentioned is that bad things will happen to you if you expect them to, which sounds a little more like The Secret than the Bible, but whatever. If God is truly omnipotent, then he’d presumably only operate under any kind of law because he wanted to. As I’ve pointed out before, though, if God came up with the idea of what justice and fairness are, why doesn’t he always act just and fair by the standards he gave humanity?

Many classical gods clearly have their limits, as seen in the idea that the death of the gods at Ragnarok resulted at least partially from their breaking oaths, particularly the one they swore to the giant who built the never-completed wall around Asgard. Oaths are also important to the Greek gods, inasmuch as Hesiod claimed that any deity who broke an oath on the River Styx would be punished by being forced to lie around insensible for a year, after which they’d be banned from Olympus for a further nine. This might well reflect the ancient Greek view of exile being pretty much the worst imaginable punishment. The penalty was apparently prescribed by Zeus as a reward for the nymph of the Styx helping him out in his war against the Titans, but I don’t know whether he himself was subject to it.

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2 Responses to Baby, You Can Drive My Karma

  1. Bryan Babel says:

    “There are two reasons for saying [the Law of Human Nature] belongs to the same class as mathematics. The first is, as I said in the first chapter, that though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great ­ not nearly so great as most people imagine ­ and you can recognize the same lay running through them all: whereas mere conventions, like the rule of the road of the kinds or clothes people wear, may differ to any extent. The other reason is this. When you think about these differences between the morality of one people and another, do you think that the morality of one people is ever better or worse than that of another? Have any of the changes been improvements? If not, then of course there could never be any moral progress. Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better. If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others. We do believe that some of the people who tried to change the moral ideas of their own age were what we would call Reformers of Pioneers ­ people who understood morality better than their neighbors did. Very well then. The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something ­ some Real Morality ­ for them to be true about. The reason why your idea of New York can be truer of less true than mine is that New York is a real place, existing quite apart from what either of us thinks. If when each of us said ‘New York’ each means merely ‘The town I am imagining in my own head’, how could one of us have truer ideas than the other? There would be no question of truth or falsehood at all. In the same way, if the Rule of Decent Behavior meant simply ‘whatever each nation happens to approve’, there would be no sense in saying that any one nation had even been more correct in its approval than any other; no sense in saying that the world would ever grow morally better or morally worse.” –C. S. Lewis, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.”

    As for Joel Osteen’s comments, I detect the Boogeyman reversal side of the popular but scripturally unsound “Name It And Claim It” theology.

    • Nathan says:

      In terms of morals being judged better or worse, I think it depends. A society where people eat their own children would probably be considered universally bad, but there are other issues that aren’t so easy to judge.

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