Life isn’t fair. Anyone who says Differently is Selling Something.
Over the weekend, I went to a Minnesota Atheist meeting in Minneapolis to hear Stephanie Svan speak on justice in a “just world.”
Her talk coincided with a Christian posting a comment on my Inherit the Wind blog in which she said, in part:
I don’t feel my children are growing up ignorant because we teach them that they are gifts on loan from God to us, and they are loved and cared for by parents and a God who loves them dearly and has an awesome plan and purpose for their lives.
If I had a fundamental objection to religion, it is this idea that god has a “plan” for us. It plays into this idea that the universe is inherently a “fair” place. Yet the facts suggest that this is not the case.
If our world was fair, would the majority of the children born on this planet be born into poverty and famine?
If our world was fair, would people like Mao Tse Tung, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot be permitted to murder millions of their own people in a quest to consolidate and maintain power?
If our world were fair, income growth would be proportional, rather than heavily favoring those who already have a disproportionate amount of the wealth.
The world is not fair. Telling our children that “god has a plan” for them is not encouraging them to create a more just society. It is telling them that they don’t have to do anything because all the heavy lifting is being done by god.
And what is the plan, exactly? How much of our lives has god planned out? Did god plan that I would eventually become an atheist and go to hell as a result? What is “fair” in that equation?
Stephanie talked about the ways we avoid dealing with the fact that the world is unfair. We blame the victim (she was dressed like a slut, poor people are lazy), we pretend there isn’t a problem (I’ve never been raped so the problem can’t be that bad), we demonize the problem (Trayvon Martin smoked pot), or we leave it to a higher power (god has a plan). All of these techniques are used to abdicate the responsibility that all of us have to create a more just world.
It is all well and good to figure that Pol Pot is getting his because he is burning in hell but my question is this: how is that a just punishment when I am going to receive similar treatment? The one-size-fits-all-punishment we presume that god is going to mete out is no more just than the world we live in now.
And what good does punishment in the next world do for any of us? It doesn’t make an unjust act in this life any less unjust. It doesn’t fix the lives of the people who experienced the injustice. We tell them that they can hope for reparations in the next life but that isn’t exactly true, is it?
If a serial rapist is never caught and goes to hell when he dies, his victims don’t automatically end up in heaven, right? There is no fair exchange of prisoners. His victims don’t get eternal justice unless they follow certain arbitrary rules. Or not. That depends on who you ask.
Justice is not the default setting. For any of us.
I don’t like that fundamental fact of our existence but it is there. A presumption of a divine plan does not eliminate that fact. It obscures it, I suppose. It make it easier to ignore. But it doesn’t go away.
And when we abdicate justice to god, we abdicate responsibility to fix anything. I’ll admit, it makes life easier.
I’d like it a lot more if I didn’t have to tell people that homosexual marriage should be a basic human right.
I’d like it a lot more if a Tsunami couldn’t wipe out thousands of people without notice.
I’d like it a lot more if the Catholic Church had turned pedophiles over to the authorities rather than hiding their acts.
I’d like all of those things and many more. It is foolhardy to assume that they will simply happen. What goes around does not come around.
Life is not fair and it never will be.
But we can make it more fair if we accept that fact and stop believing that all this injustice is part of a (really fucked up) plan.
I was speaking with someone recently who said that all they need to do is walk into nature and watch what happens. Leave people out of it for a moment – the world is just a cruel place and there is no reason for it. Natural disasters have no rhyme or reason; animals kill each other to survive.
When people say everyone is born for a reason, I always ask about the baby in Africa, born with AIDS who dies within days, weeks or months.
You’re absolutely right, that taking the judgement out of this life and putting it into the next, takes the onus off of us to make things right, now! I wish more people could see the detriment that mindset has on making this world a better place.