Monday, April 14, 2008
One of my biggest pet peeves is the phrase, "Everything happens for a reson." Another is courier font, but that's off the subject. That's why I was pleased to see Greta Christina's article "Everything happens for a reason": Atheism and Learning from Mistakes. Go take a look. She makes a lot of very good points that I've used myself to argue against this vomitous phrase.
But one thing I was discussing with my husband the other night while watching Big Brother 9 (see stupid reality shows actually server some purpose) is that the belief that everything happens for a reason also leads us to a sense that we are being punished or rewarded by some higher power for our actions.
I ran into this in my early life at church. In the rationalization for why bad things happen to good people, many Christians believe that the only reason something bad could happen to a person is that they deserved it. God was teaching them a lesson. It's the same sort of reasoning that leads people to praise God for bringing them closer to "Him" after a child's death. There was a reason for the child's death in learning the lesson of returning to God.* Of course many atheists dismiss that type of argument largely for the reason if that's true then God is a cold-blooded murderer for killing the child.
But the flip side is that many people feel feel entitled when good things happen to them. If a lot of good things happen to someone, well then they must be a good person. And looking over to the less fortunate, there is a sense that the more fortunate are better because they are being rewarded by a higher power.
And I think in the long run it leads the privileged to a sense of entitlement. They deserve what they have because they are good people and poor people or sick people or people who face tragedy in some way must be bad people to deserve that kind of fate.
And each time I encounter that reasoning I feel ill. It's exactly the type of reasoning that goes against the general tenants of Christianity that I respect like feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, and in general being charitable. And it's exactly the type of attitude that leads us to place divides between ourselves and other humans. It leads to a lack of sympathy, which I think is dangerous. Because if you can't be sympathetic with someone who is facing a difficult situation, how can you react as a good person, if you don't believe that person deserves your sympathy?
But then maybe I'm blowing it way out of proportion. In any case, that phrase is one of the few innocuous phrases that can raise my blood pressure.
*No, I don't classify all Christians or all religionists or even all woo-ists(?) in this way, but it's an attitude I've found expressed more and more in popular culture.