Sunday, March 11, 2012

On Karma

A friend of mine posted this on his blog "A Tiger's Got My Back" a few years ago. I've found myself thinking about it many times since so I thought I'd just post it on my blog for easy access.

Karma is ubiquitous in today's American culture. I hear this term bantered about on the radio, on TV and in conversations. For some reason that, quite honestly, escapes me, people actually believe in karma. I wish to show two reasons why the idea of karma is not viable.

Karma is the idea that moral actions are rewarded or punished through an impersonal system, whether it be some kind of law, or the universe itself, etc.* Let us note first of all that, in order to believe in good and bad actions as the inputs to the karmic system, one must hold to some standard of Good. After all, how can good behavior be rewarded--and more importantly, bad behavior be punished--if there is no standard on which to judge? Karma without the idea of the Good is like a capricious master, deciding your fate on a whim. This is hardly a fair scenario, and if karma isn't about fairness, then what is it about? But this idea of the Good must also be a universal standard, if the universe or a universal law is responsible for punishment and reward. Now, every good postmodernist knows that the first rule of postmodernism is "there are no moral absolutes." So the relativist who believes in karma (and I have yet to meet, see or hear a karma-espouser who is not a moral relativist) is faced with a contradiction--there both is and is not a universal standard of Good.

Now I myself do believe in a universal standard of Good. Should I therefore admit that karma is at least possible, given my worldview? Not quite. Karma runs into another issue when one recalls that it is believed to be an impersonal system: Put a good action into the system, get rewarded; put a bad action into the system, get punished. Here's the rub: How does an impersonal system differentiate between good and bad? Good and bad are moral categories, and only persons have an understanding of moral actions. If, for example, I were to use my computer to hack into Wal-Mart's customer database and steal all of their information, my computer would not stand in my way. It would not send me an email letting me know it disapproved of my actions because they were morally wrong. But were my wife to walk in while I was breaking into the database, she would immediately let me know that what I was doing was wrong. For her, the distinction would be immediate and obvious. For my computer, no distinction would ever be forthcoming. Karma is an impersonal agent, just like a computer. Therefore, karma is not able to know the difference between good and bad.

To reiterate, karma presupposes an absolute standard of Good, which contradicts postmodern moral theory, and it posits the existence of an impersonal agent that can differentiate between good and bad, which is another contradiction, since only persons understand this distinction. This leaves the believer in karma with an untenable assertion on two counts.

In other words, in postmodern America, karma simply cannot be.

1 comment:

christian soldier said...

I do not always comment-I do come and read your insights...