January 9, 2006
Following is the first installment of "Is It Christian," an interview with Greek Orthodox priest Father Johannes L. Jacobse.
Peter and Helen: Father Hans, a lot of people seem to believe that Karma is a sort of secular Christianity. According to Karma, we reap our "just deserts" here on earth, not in some transcendental, after-life place. Is judging a person on the fortunes of their present life a Christian approach? Is judging the World Trade Center attack as "chickens coming home to roost" within Christian doctrine?
Fr. Hans: Karma is an old idea that predates Christianity. It is deterministic: the world functions like a machine that is run by impersonal forces we can't know or understand. If life is hard, then we did wrong in the past. If life is prosperous or we don't suffer much, then we did right. Follow Karma and you end up thinking that 9/11 is payback for wrongs that America committed in the past. It's just the way the world works.
But here's the rub. The impersonal forces are the source of good and evil. Good and evil come from the same place. If this is true, we can't hold people accountable for their evil acts. The suffering we experience from evildoers is due to our bad Karma alone.
That is why a Karma follower won't blame the terrorists for their carnage. The real culprit is America, and the proof of our culpability is the scale and devastation of the attack.
Peter and Helen: Sounds a lot like "blame the victim" doesn't it? Inevitably, personal responsibility disappears.
Fr. Hans: Yes. The fact that a person can improve his lot in the next life shows that personal morality matters. But the personal morality is chained to how he views the world -- to Karmic determinism.
The real problem with Karma is that a person is morally powerless against evil. The Karma follower believes he should refrain from doing evil even when evil assaults him. The Christian would agree with him. But, since the evil serves as a punishment for past misdeeds, a Karma follower must also resign himself to it.
Christianity however, is not deterministic. Evil entered the world after it was created and does not really belong in the world. This changes our moral outlook. We can challenge the person who commits evil acts. We don't resign ourselves to the suffering that his evil causes.
For example, during the London Blitz, England was at the edge of catastrophic defeat after relentless pounding by the German Air Force. Our critic would argue that England's suffering was a judgment for past misdeeds. England should surrender because it faced superior Nazi forces.
Winston Churchill thought differently. He knew that England was right and Germany wrong. With great courage he inspired the English people to hold on and fight. A nearly insurmountable evil was turned back. Moral clarity, not fate, directed him.
Peter and Helen: What about the Christian teaching "you reap what you sow." Doesn't this sound a bit like Karma?
Fr. Hans: Yes, but Christianity and Karma mean different things by it. Bad things happen to good people. Take a child who has cancer for example. The follower of Karma cannot say that the child does not deserve to suffer because the cancer might be retribution for past sins. The Christians sees the cancer as an aberration, as something that must be defeated so the child can be healthy.
The Christian view allows standards of justice that apply to an entire society -- not just the individual. Not only does right and wrong apply to us individually, it applies to our neighbor as well. Conversely, when my neighbor suffers it is my responsibility to help him. The Christian has to do right because the world becomes a better place by it. Simple, everyday, moral decisions like how you treat the waitress or the person who cuts you off in traffic really matter because they change the world. Karma teaches the world cannot change and doing good things has a personal benefit only for the next life.
Peter and Helen: In other words, would you say that Christians at every moment could choose when to be good or bad, whereas those believing in the Karmic worldview are subject to fate?
Fr. Hans: Yes. Moral decisions take on a more urgent character in the Christian worldview because good acts, no matter how small, are a partial victory over the evil and suffering in the world and part of a greater struggle between good and evil. Fate and determinism are rejected.
Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse is a Greek Orthodox priest and edits the website OrthodoxyToday.org.
Peter and Helen Evans, this husband and wife team -- freelance writers and speakers -- teach a philosophical approach to conservatism. They are also real estate agents in the Washington, D.C., area. Visit the Peter and Helen Evans website.
© Copyright 2006 by Peter & Helen Evans
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