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Is Helping Earthquake Victims Bad Karma?

Actress Sharon Stone’s recent suggestion that the devastating Chinese earthquake was “karma” for their government’s treatment of Tibet, has landed her in hot water. Why is it that politicians, celebrities and televangelists are always blaming natural disasters on reincarnation1.jpg“higher” causes? Remember, Katrina was cited either as a sign of global warming or the judgment of God. And now, karma is thrown into the mix of possible catastrophic factors.

The brouhaha raises several important questions for me.

First — at the risk of appearing totally insensitive — isn’t this the way karma is supposed to work? Mind you, I’m not a believer in it. If I was repayed for all the bad things I’ve done, I’d probably find myself somewhere below a crustacean or a cabbage. Nevertheless, if what goes around comes around, why is it so appalling to believe that an evil government could bring a massive earthquake upon itself?

This Hindu monastery, in an article entitled Karma and Reincarnation, suggests as much:

Karma operates not only individually, but also in ever-enlarging circles of group karma where we participate in the sum karma of multiple souls. This includes family, community, nation, race and religion, even planetary group karma.

So is Ms. Stone really that far off?

But this leads to a second, even more disturbing thought. For if we get what we deserve, then why should we ever help anyone? Follow me on this. If I live badly, pollute the earth, take advantage of others, and root for east coast teams, and then some evil befalls me as a result, helping me only prevents me from learning the lesson of karma! Reincarnation is the working out of bad karma. It’s why disease and poverty are so rampant in India. While many attempt to downplay it, the idea of karma is intrinsic to India’s poverty. Part of the problem, as Os Guiness summarizes, is that “Action to relieve suffering is the abortion of karma.” In other words, by helping someone on the downside of the Wheel of Reincarnation, we nullify or short-circuit their karma.

This creates a conundrum for folks like Sharon Stone. By helping earthquake victims, we may raise our personal karma. But if their suffering is due to their own badness — as the law of karma suggests — then by helping them we are interrupting the natural cosmic retributive processes, thereby bringing bad karma on ourselves. That’s why the true blue Hindu leaves the old beggar to die on the streets of Calcutta — to help him would be bad karma.

If the law of karma is legit, then by assisting casualties of bad karma, we hurt them and ourselves.

This is why most Westerners detach Hinduism from it spiritual roots. We cannot tolerate the logical outworking of old school karma. Sure, we’ll burn the incense, wear the jewelry, and practice yoga. But when it comes right down to it — some people are simply victims who need our help. It’s one of the many ways that the good old Judeo Christian worldview has saved Western civilization.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Heather May 29, 2008, 2:55 PM

    This is exactly why I’ve wondered how Hinduism has gotten to be so trendy–do people know that it means we should leave the poor, the destitute, the oppressed to their punishment? That we shouldn’t be involved in Africa or freeing slaves in India or relieving victims in China?

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller May 29, 2008, 5:24 PM

    I thought they believed they needed to help the other person as a way to reach a higher state. Or is that Buddhism?

    Becky

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller May 29, 2008, 5:34 PM

    Oh, and what I meant to comment on, Doesn’t God still speak through earthquakes and fires and floods? I mean, isn’t there perhaps a warning for us all in the tornadoes of the Midwest? I don’t think Scripture supports the “judgment on those sinful people” concept, but maybe “judgment is coming for you all if you don’t repent.”

    I wrestle with this. God sent Israel drought and famine and military opposition, all in an effort to get His people’s attention. Instead of turning to Him, they blamed Him, especially after Josiah had torn down the altars and re-instituted worship of the one true God. In fact, because of their external circumstances, they resumed idol worship, saying all the trouble came, not as a judgment for their previous behavior but for leaving the idols they had previously embraced.

    So has God stopped dealing with us in that way? Was that use of the physical, natural only for His working with His theocratic nation?

    Becky

  • Xdpaul May 29, 2008, 6:47 PM

    God also sent prophets with these pre-apocalypses, too. To absolutely swipe Freud’s old adage: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a tornado is just a tornado.

    Having said that, creation, both in its normally stable, fruitful (if often hard) state as well as its broken disasters are, indeed, signs from God.

    As far as karma goes, because it is a response to pain, it also relies on pain. Those in pain not only “deserve” it at some level, but they also need to maintain it in order to “advance.” The poor and downtrodden, in this way, provide the imperfect atonement for what we would call sin.

    If the pain religions of the East ever achieved a solution to pain, their structure would collapse.

  • dayle May 29, 2008, 11:25 PM

    This logical fallicy is also inherent in some of our modern Christian distortions such as prosperity and faith movements.

    If the lack of prosperity is the result of not being obedient to God in the correct way – therefore a disciplinary action from God – then to intervene ( i.e. help the poor) becomes pre-meditated interference with the will of God.

    And who are we to interfere with the will of God?

    Ideas have consequences.

  • Mike Duran May 29, 2008, 11:50 PM

    Yes, Buddhism broke from Hinduism primarily as a reaction toward the caste system. It gained in popularity because it offered hope to those who had been oppressed by tradition and orthodoxy. One of the primary tenets of Buddhism remains compassion toward all living things, whereas Hinduism presents a more detached view.

    And regarding the “disaster” question…

    I struck several paragraphs from this post that addressed that subject because it seems to flow so logically. When I was writing about John Hagee several posts ago, I recalled he’d also been castigated for suggesting Katrina was an act of judgment upon a wicked New Orleans. I think Jerry Falwell did too… or was that 9/11? Anyway, the media is so quick to huff and puff at those claims. But, like you suggested Becky, God still uses natural catastrophes. The moment we stop believing that, we’re in trouble (or due for a hurricane). The sticky part is, no one exactly knows to what degree it was an act of judgment or a result of living in a fallen world. Either way, if God is sovereign then He is behind every catastrophe — even if it’s just in “allowing” it to happen. But this is a hard pill for many to swallow… including believers.

  • Xdpaul May 30, 2008, 2:31 PM

    But in a way, both Buddhism and prosperity gospel teaching don’t dispense entirely with the “earned pain” dilemma – they just bury the lede.

    While both offer hope for those who feel or are oppressed or disadvantaged, that hope hinges on the fact that, ultimately, the universe grants reward and punishment as it is earned. There’s a direct, unwitting connection from “name it and claim it” to “fake it and take it.”

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller May 31, 2008, 5:39 PM

    Interesting discussion. I’m really ignorant of Eastern religions. This idea of pain being a necessary element is intriguing. I wonder how many hungry people living in squalor on the streets of New Delhi are plugged into this tangibly. Are they thankful for their misery because they think, Now certainly better will come in the next life.

    It’s odd, especially for me raised in the culture of immediacy. My constant struggle is to set my eyes on things above, not on thing on this earth.

    As to the whole karma issue, a part of me thinks this is a little like C.S. Lewis’s discovery that myths were nothing but the precursor or the echo of the True Myth. I mean, there will be a judgment day. So, what goes around does come around. What we sow we will reap. Couldn’t it be that karma is Man’s explanation of an eternal Truth?

    It also reminds me of the argument Job’s friends made. They were most adamant that Job had to have sinned in some way or he wouldn’t be experiencing the suffering heaped on him.

    And Dayle, I’ve never thought about the prosperity gospel providing a rationale for a person to refrain from giving. Hmmm. Let’s care this out to the prosperity gospel ministries. If they really had faith, then God would meet their financial needs, so for a congregant to give would be to thwart what God wants to do with that ministry. 😮

    Becky

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