"Everything Happens for a Reason" and other pet peeves  

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.

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8 comments: to “ "Everything Happens for a Reason" and other pet peeves

  • the chaplain
    Monday, April 14, 2008 at 6:12:00 PM CDT  

    As I pointed out in a comment on Greta's blog, this reasoning is used to manipulate people into accepting shit. You already mentioned the "God's punishing you for [fill in the blank]" line. Other variations are "God's strengthening your character," "God's teaching you humility," "God's teaching you patience"....

    Preachers are manipulated too. Denominations that use an appointment system teach ministers that "God always works through the system" to achieve His will; the appointments, even the tough ones, are always "divinely guided."

    Bottom line: believers at all levels of the systems are kept in their places.

  • The Exterminator
    Monday, April 14, 2008 at 6:43:00 PM CDT  

    Man, do I love the term "woo-ists."

    I've seen this topic dozens of times before. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the least offensive of religionist terms, because I usually respond: What do you think was the reason that this happened?

  • Vistaluna
    Monday, April 14, 2008 at 7:49:00 PM CDT  

    Heh I couldn't agree more OG.

    If you suffer a tragedy, and you manage to pick up the pieces and make something great out of you life, then you deserve the credit for that. But that credit is stolen from you if people claim your accomplishments were all just part of the plan.

    I prefer the phrase "A reason happens for everything".

    That phrase acknowledges the amazing resiliancy of human beings.

  • Venjanz
    Monday, April 14, 2008 at 10:51:00 PM CDT  

    One thing that always makes me shake my head is when there is a disaster, especially a tornado, and the press are interviewing a survivor with dried blood on their head, and you hear something like "I know God was looking out for me," when in the background you see their neighbor being hauled off in a body bag.

  • Ordinary Girl
    Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 9:44:00 AM CDT  

    Chappy: Yeah, it definitely can be a form of control too.

    Ex: Maybe not as offensive as asking me how I can have morals as an atheist - which actually just makes me yawn now I've heard it so many times. But it's still annoying. Pet peeves don't have to be completely rational. ;)

    Vistaluna: Exactly, give yourself or those who help you credit.

    Venjanz: You should read SI's excellent post about that topic - Where Was God?.

  • suchlovelyfreckles.com
    Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 10:42:00 AM CDT  

    Well, to me "everything happens for a reason" is not exactly seeing it as a punishment. It's simply that the reason for something happening is that I do something that will result in something else happening. So, there is an actual reason for it happening.

    Sure, if you drive in your car and someone hits you, it's not your fault. But ultimately the fact that you were driving right there right then is the reason why this person could crash into you.

    Does that make any sense? :)

  • Ordinary Girl
    Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 10:56:00 AM CDT  

    SuchLovely: Sure, but looking for hidden meaning in the reasons behind what has happened is what I find difficult to stomach. You got hit by a car at that time and that place because someone was careless, not because a higher power planned that accident.

    We may even find that some things in our lives are predetermined by our genes or our upbringing, but that isn't a function of the supernatural, but of the natural world.

  • mod
    Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 11:21:00 AM CDT  

    You posted this for a reason, and I somehow ended up here reading it for a reason. It is all very profound...

    - You posted this for a reason (it makes you mad to hear Everything Happens for a Reason, that is the reason)

    - I ended up here reading this for a reason (because I was bored, that is the reason)

    - By ending up here, I totally realized that everything happening for a reason is ridiculous. (Teaching me this valuable lesson is the reason that you posted this)



    Sorry, I'm bored...

 

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