Karma isn’t for Atheists

My wife asked me the other day what’s the story with Karma. I guess there have been some memes on Facebook floating around on the subject. Got me to thinking.

So, I haven’t done any research on the origins of karma, but I’m pretty sure it’s rooted in Eastern philosophy like Buddhism – ie. “if you are a cruel to animals in this life, then in the next life, you’re going to end up as an animal” kind of thing.

More so than the historical context, I’m interested in the popular use of karma in our culture, especially on the internet. You may recognize dialogues like these:

  • A man was really rude to a clerk at the store. Later on that day, he gets hit by a drunk driver and is paralyzed for life.
  • A young girl waits on tables at a local diner, juggling school, a child, and a mountain of debt. She’s always cheerful and greets her customers with a smile. One day, she learns an elderly gentleman that she’s been serving for years turned out to be a multimillionaire who rewards her kindness with a scholarship to pay for all of her tuition.
  • A Hollywood celebrity has a reputation for being wholly self-centered, indulgent, and reckless. Years later, she’s broke, homeless, and addicted to drugs.

In each of these examples, some would say things like “you reap what you sow” or “instant karma’s gonna getcha”. The idea is that there’s some right (or wrong) that’s been done and the universe will somehow balance that out. It’s the moral equivalent of Newton’s 3rd Law – for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

The problem with this idea of universal balance is that it assumes there is a right and wrong. In fact, in order for universal karma to play itself out, there has to exist an absolute standard of morality that predates man and will continue long after man. Otherwise, this cosmic force is ever changing which then leads one to think this force must be sentient – alive, conscious, and with a will, like that of a Creator.

If things had no moral value, if everything was relative, then why would the universe need to balance anything out? Why would karma repay bad for bad or reward good for good if neither existed?

Now, there are many atheists out there that will tell you that morality does exist. It’s not absolute, but each person can basically define his or her own morality based on his life experience, education, etc. And further, they might say karma isn’t necessarily a universal force at work. Rather, it’s people that react favorably to ‘good’ people and poorly to ‘bad’.

But good things happen to bad people and vice versa all the time.

As a Christian, I believe God is Good. His ways are Good. His Word is Good.

He is also just. Every thought and deed that we have, He sees them all. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Thankfully, He is also full of Grace. Because of the sacrifice that was made for sinners like me by Jesus the Christ, I have been redeemed and freed from my sin. And because much has been forgiven, I can now learn to forgive.

It’s reassuring to me to know that God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and not some universal penny tray, keeps track of every good and evil that surrounds us each and every day.


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