I happened to bump up against an article about psychological belief systems, varied between “the world is a just place” and “the world is an uncaring place.” I don’t think saying the world is uncaring is a pessimistic or nihilistic viewpoint, I would argue that it is just fact. Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, it is a refrain that echoes through all of history. The reason it has found a home on my blog is the way it echoes through religion, especially where certain factions are concerned.
I was actually looking for a specific reference for the belief in a just world when I came across a wikipedia page showing not just one reason that people believed Hurricane Katrina was divine retribution, but that there were so many reasons that it has its own page! It wasn’t a tragedy, some claimed; New Orleans deserved it. But it goes deeper than that, doesn’t it? If Sodom and Gomorrah were historical, I’d say we could call it some kind of syndrome named after them; bad news comes from that place, so only bad things must happen there.
For those who believe the world is an unjust place, Hurricane Katrina was simply an unfortunate tragedy. We offer our sympathy, we support however it is that we can, and we move on. But for some, that isn’t the case, and after 1800 died, and countless had their lives ruined, they went on the air to spew hateful rhetoric about how people in New Orleans deserved it. Victim blaming, it was, but not like someone who was raped being blamed for “asking for it,” it is worse. No one asks to be raped, but there is a motive; the rapist is a terrible person. Was New Orleans “asking for it?” If they were, does that make your God the rapist in your own analogy?
Pat Robertson (always a classy guy [that was sarcasm]) suggested that the hurricane was God’s punishment for America’s stance on abortion, and obviously God lets it rain on the just and unjust alike. Ignore the fact that your all powerful, all knowing God apparently can’t target his cataclysms any better than a 3 year old shooting a shotgun at a target a foot from the barrel. It’s ok, certainly of the thousands whose lives were ruined, of those killed, I am sure none were pious, God-fearing people. I am sure they all deserved it in some way. Right?
For a religion that preaches an eternally loving, endlessly forgiving God, it is amazing how quickly they resort to hateful rhetoric. The Westboro Baptist Church is low hanging fruit in this debate, but they aren’t the only ones who have found an angry, spiteful God in the pages of their book.
I am making a bit of an unfair argument against religion in this case, but I believe those who think the world is a just place have to believe in some outside force that keeps the justice in check. Perhaps it is Karma, that eternal force that balances the Hindu and Buddhist world, but I don’t think many of my readers subscribe to that view. Given the polling, I’d say most of my readers are atheist or Christian, and very few of my atheist friends believe in a just world. The Christian may believe in a just world, through the inscrutable hand of God, but I don’t understand how.
I think the world could be a better place, that is a theme that runs through all of my writing. The issue that I have is that for the world to be a better place, we would all have to rely on some level of sympathy or empathy, and if your first reaction to a horrible disaster is “they deserved it”, your empathy is effectively shut off.
If you believe your God enforces a just world, why can HIV pass from an infected mother to her child? What sin has the child committed, for God to put such a burden upon it? Why does the child of a cocaine addicted mother inherit that lovely addiction (and likely die from withdrawal as a consequence)? Where is the justice in that?
If you will quote Exodus 20:5 to me (the inequity of the father passes to the child unto the third and fourth generation), then are you saying our legal system these days is better than God’s? Worse? Should we be arresting the children of murderers? Would that be justice?
Step back, and don’t assume the world is a just place. Ironically, we have empirical evidence showing that the very belief in a just world reduces the justice in that world (as per top linked article). Instead, just be empathetic, and help those in need. If something terrible happens, give some sympathy to those affected. Spread some love. Be kind.