Of all the silly stupid faddish nonsense modern Western liberals believe in, it’s quite possible that the silliest, stupidest, faddish nonsense of all is Karma, the dogma for people who say they hate dogmatic religion but still want the benefit of calling themselves spiritual without the burden of actually getting out of bed and going to church on Sunday morning. All this hipster love for Karma is proof that G.K. Chesterton’s famous maxim is right: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.”
The true Eastern belief in Karma, seen in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, is actually quite complex and worthy of respect, if not adherence. Just as Christianity is too complex to simply say “you must believe in Jesus to go to Heaven” and leave it that, without a discussion of what it means to truly have faith (is it grace of God, like Augustine says? Is it the human will, as Aquinas teaches? Is it some combination of both? And can non-believers, by living a good life and striving for truth, have faith without knowing it, as Karl Rahner suggests?), the Eastern concept of Karma is much too complex to pin down simply as “what goes around comes around.” But I’m not talking about true Eastern believers. I’m talking about non-religious Western liberals dabbling in Eastern spirituality for whom Karma is, yup, “what goes around comes around.” Or, as they’re apt to post on Facebook, “Karma’s a Bitch.” For these (cultural) fashion conscious Westerners looking for a hip spirituality, Karma is a trendy Eastern version of Old Testament morality.
Remember when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed 9/11 on secularism, gays, and feminists? They were rightly ridiculed as idiots and bigots. But, really, Falwell and Robertson are only a difference in degree, not kind, from Karma-loving liberals who gloat whenever one of their boogeymen befalls bad fortune. Just last month, disgraced and recently fired ex-Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer. The Twitter universe lit up with gleeful shouts of “Karma!” as if JoePa would’ve avoided cancer if he’d done the right thing and turned Jerry Sandusky in to the police nine years ago. Not only is it idiotic to say Joe Paterno’s cancer is a karmic punishment, it’s cruel. What about the little girl no one hears about who gets cancer? Or the little boy who dies in a car accident? Or the millions of Jews murdered in the Shoah? How the fuck is that Karma!? Or, to connect more directly with Joe Paterno, what about the many boys raped by Sandusky? How does Joe Paterno’s cancer in any way karmically cure or even up what are bound to be lifelong emotional issues for Sandusky’s victims?
Chalking up accidental retributive justice to Karma (“when bad things happen to people we hate”) is no different than pulling a Falwell and calling it a punishment from God. And even that “primitive” Old Testament morality isn’t fair to the totality of the Hebrew Scriptures, which also has Ecclesiastes to tell us that bad and good things often happen to the good and bad alike and Job to show us that even the just suffer for reasons unknown and (in this life) unknowable. And cut away a lot of that Joel Osteen mega-church crap saying that faith in Jesus will make you rich and give you a hot wife, and you get the Gospels and early Church history, where we see that even if you follow Jesus, you may still suffer and face persecution (ask St. Peter, the first Pope, whose faithful reward was an upside down crucifixion).
Any honest religion, or any honest philosophy of life, yes, will urge you to live the right way and be a good person, but will also teach that suffering is an unavoidable part of life even (and often especially) if you live the right way. So follow a real religion. Or, if you’ve honestly lost your faith, be an atheist. But, please, don’t follow trendy crap offering cheap answers. Anytime someone says some Westernized version of Karma or magical unseen “Law of Attraction” is behind everything (wow, that’s pretty much the entirety of Rhonda Byrne’s horrendous book “The Secret”), run far far away.