3 thoughts on “Everything happens for a reason

  1. Delany

    I very much agree with and appreciate what you’re saying. “Everything happens for a reason” — according to some deity’s complicated and inscrutable secret plan — is offensive and child-like (it mirrors the parent’s instruction to the child that the things the parent forces the child to do — brush her teeth, do his homework — are for her/his own good; we take this human experience and attribute it to the adult’s relationship with “god”).

    But, yes, you have a good point — if we toss aside “it all happens for a [secret] reason,” where does that leave us? For some, it leads to a kind of despair. But saying that there is a “reason” of any sort is not the only way to manage this in a healthy way; how about just asking: “What can I learn from this?” And, if we conclude there is really nothing to “learn,” we can ask: “Am I willing to engage in the practice of experiencing the pain of this catastrophe while going on to live a good life?” We need not mimic the “there is a reason” believers in order to benefit from the many miseries and catastrophes of life.

  2. James Buchanan

    Strangely enough I was in a minor accident with a car a few months ago. Based on that experience, I think your argument completely breaks down in the paragraph that begins with “If I’m a completely irreligious materialists…” You’re hypothetical atheist is still more of an animist. To say it another way, you’re really comparing someone who thinks things happen for a “good” reason, with some one who think things happen for a “malevolent” reason. You weren’t really talking about someone who understands their agency in an indifferent universe.

    When the car hit me, I didn’t take it as the universe throwing a large metal object at me– that would be nutty. I was always aware there was some danger crossing the street. If anything my thought was, “Hmm, I guess today I’m the one who got injured crossing the street.” To get the full benefit of you atheism you really have to appreciate the indifference of the universe. The universe is not cruel, nor is it ever kind.

    You’re right in that people create their own meaning. I take the universes indifference as a call to action. Since the universe is indifferent, whenever I see someone suffering my first thought is: “This isn’t there fault.” Thus, I’m called to help fight unfairness of the indifferent universe. I know it’s not a test, or some punishment. It’s just a misfortune that I should help with. Luckily, while indifferent the universe is predictable; while things don’t always have reasons, they always have causes. Thus, when we see people suffering we can move to lessen it. We can invent cars with collision detection, find drugs to fight AIDS, we can work to end poverty, but ONLY if we accept that there is no good reason for the suffering in the first place.

    Suffering is pointless, unfair, and we have the power to stamp it out.

    That is the first maxim of a real ethics, and atheism only supports that claim. I can see the psychological value of thinking things happen for a “good” reason, but the psychological value of understanding reality is more.

    Thanks for the article and for the chance to rebut.

  3. sigfried@sigfried.org Post author

    Hi James. You’re right that I kind of mix things up with the “universe is throwing hunks of metal at me” stuff. I recall thinking that when I wrote it and then letting it pass because I liked the phrase. And I also think it’s amazing that we aren’t all constantly being hit by cars–there really are way too many hunks of metal around nearly taking our lives every day.

    As to your main point, the fact is, I can’t really address it because I haven’t been practicing the skill of ascribing meaning to chance events lately. I wrote this article at a time when I hearing more about how people actually do this (because they believe in God), and when I tried it myself now and then (without giving up my understanding that the meaning was only being ascribed by me, I wasn’t discovering a pre-existing meaning) — I found it to have a powerful, positive effect. It’s hard to do. The fact that I found it valuable and still believe it’s a worthwhile practice even though I haven’t done it in a long time is evidence of how hard it is. If I can get myself to start doing it again, maybe I’ll write about it more.


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