SocraticGadfly: Karma — as offensive as hell

March 20, 2011

Karma — as offensive as hell

This extended CNN blog, with broadly multifaith comments on "why suffering" in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear worries, following the Japanese tsunami and eaerthquake, makes the case well for me.

Is it any worse for a fundamentalist Christian to say:
1. God is inscrutable;
2. Original sin brought on this disaster for you;
3. It's God's prerogative to damn some people to hell.

Or a hardcore Buddhist to say:
1. Karma is inscrutable;
2. Your past life that you can't even remember brought on this disaster for you;
3. It's a cyclical universe's "prerogative" to damn some people to recurring rounds of bad karma.
(The Buddhist version is more offensive than the Hindu version because it claims that not even a person or personality, but just a "life force" is reincarnated and the "self" [nonexistent as it allegedly is] is STILL punished in a new life.)

I know of people who are skeptics, and atheists, even, in the sense of not believing in a western monotheist divinity, that still believe in the metaphysics of karma. Well, sorry, but, karma's as offensive as the heaven-hell of western monotheism.

Beyond that, both western and eastern religion offer the same pablum when confronted with the problem of evil.

And, a "shout out" to "it's not a religion" Buddhist Sam Harris — what say you now?


Briniac0 said...

I read through the extended CNN blog, "Finding faith amid disaster", that you linked to. None of the buddhist leaders interviewed said anything to support what you claim, that karma is
1. "inscrutable",
2. due to "Your past life",
3. "a cyclical universe's 'prerogative' to damn some people to recurring rounds of bad karma."

Regarding your three points, respectively,

1. One buddhist leader said that the law of cause and effect was at work in an understandable (i.e., scrutable) way, specifically plate tectonics.
2. Past lives were not mentioned, much less given as bringing on the disaster.
3. Not mentioned in any way either.

Further comments, respectively again.
1. In general, if "inscrutable" is taken to mean "impossible to understand or interpret" as in a dictionary definition, then karma is not inscrutable. Karma simply means action, and action is something we can examine and explore and, yes, scrutinize.
2. Karma can also mean patterns of action in an individual's life. This is normally what is referred to when karma is the reason given for something happening in a person's life. Most people do not remember their past lives, as you say in 2 above. However, karma does not bring things on. Our personal karma patterns are personal as in personal responsibility. We reap what we sow in other words.
3. In buddhism, the universe does not damn anyone. I have never heard or seen anything to the contrary. If you have a reference, please share.

Gadfly said...

RE your first points.
1. Is a laughable analogy.
2. Given that Buddhism generally believes a personal soul is NOT reincarnated, a Buddhist could make that claim straightforwardly. I've obviously already dealt with it in saying this is exactly why Buddhist reincarnation-karma is more offensive even than the Hindu version.
3. Ditto.

Your further comments?
1. No, if a past life can't be remembered, then karma IS inscrutable. We CANNOT scrutinize how it allegedly caused personal woe (or benefits). That IS inscrutable. Period.
2. Karma can't be proven even in this way. Per the scientific motto, correlation is not causation. That's true with non-sentient scientific interactions and true in spaces with human life.
3. Karma is interwoven with the universe. Therefore it DOES damn.

Briniac0 said...

More on first points:

1.a. Laughable - i. the example is from the article you linked. I am working with what you presented. Puzzled why you would choose something "laughable".
1.a.ii Whether it is laughable or not, it is scrutable.
1.b. Analogy - It is not an analogy.

Please do not take my word for the historical positions in 2. Be skeptical. Educate yourself on what buddhist views are.

2. Personal soul - given Siddhartha Shakyamuni's rejection of the Brahman atman, it is safe to say that buddhists do not accept the existence of a personal soul. Reincarnation is a Brahmanic/Hindu concept and it involved the atman. Reincarnation is not a buddhist view. The buddhist view is rebirth. A self is reborn, but not a fixed self in the sense of atman or soul. The buddhist self is existent as relations among skandhas, but, importantly, the self is not existent in an ontological sense.
For the record, the third position historically is metempsychosis. It was held by Greeks such as Pythagoras and Plato. It was more similar to Brahmanism than buddhism. It tended to involve random chance a lot more though.

3. Perhaps knowing a little about rebirth will give you new thoughts here and on 2 as well.

Further comments:

1. a. Your reply completely ignored the definition of karma as action. Look it up and please respond. By this definition, karma is scrutable.
1.b. Karma from past lives would be inscrutable. For the purposes of this discussion, I concede that point.

2. Karma can't be proven - Do you think that humans/sentient beings cause things? At least some of the time? That is what personal karma refers to. If you accept personal agency, then I doubt you think a proof of karma is necessary any more than a proof of causation, karma's equivalent, is necessary.
Or maybe you do subscribe to Hume's view that all we can know in non-sentient scientific interactions and in spaces with human life is correlation? I confess to having a little admiration for his view actually. If that is the case, I doubt you think a proof is possible.

3. prerogative to damn - So you think the universe damns? You think universe has agency like god is reputed to have? Your comparison really breaks down here. The universe just does not have agency. Where do you get such an idea? It is certainly not a buddhist position. If you personally think the universe has agency like God does, then fine. But do not set up a straw man and claim your position is the same as buddhism's.

Gadfly said...

Your first comments, part 2:
1. It IS an analogy. We will either agree to disagree, or simply disagree. But it IS an analogy.
2. I never said Buddhists do believe in a personal soul. In fact, I explicitly said the opposite in the original post.
Let me repeat that.
I explicitly said the opposite in the original post.
3. I think I know enough. Whether you meant to be patronizing or not, it came off that way.

Response to "further comments."
1. I and about 99.98 percent of the human species would consider a person's actions driven by a person's personality. Therefore, there's no reason to distinguish between the two. Therefore, karma remains inscrutable. You conceded that at the tail end.
2. Ties to point one, and the issue of past lives.
3. Second, a number of philosophers distinguish between "agency" and "consciousness." I've previously blogged about that, in fact. Do not claim I am setting up strawmen. See point 2 on first comments for more background.