Someone mentioned karma in a different discussion earlier today and that got me thinking - how many atheists out there believe in or dictate their lives with a consideration toward the idea of karma?
Karma, as I understand it, is the idea that bad behavior begets bad experiences and good behavior begets good experiences. However, I've heard the concept of karma described lots of different ways as well, so I'm curious, fellow atheists, what your definition for and opinion is of the concept of karma?
The idea that good deeds hold weight or add up on an imaginary scale and are reciprocated at an indeterminate amount of time later is clearly not a mechanism in the universe we live in. That being said, I do feel that spreading good will towards your fellow man does have it's own rewards. I've always been quick to help a friend and even quicker to lend a dollar and it has netted me a support structure that is infallible. People who know me wouldn't give me up for the world and that's good enough for one life, let alone a next.
I agree with you - as a 'comic device' karma is just as much woo as anything else. I think of karma as a kind of extension of the golden rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you because if you're nice, generally people will be nice back. I think karma goes astray of reality when people believe that being nice to others AUTOMATICALLY insures that bad things won't happen to you, or if bad things happen to you it's because you did something wrong or good things are only due to the good things you do, etc.
My boyfriend has degenerative neurological disease. I used to hold onto karma in desperate hope that someday he would be compensated for all his undeserved suffering. Of course, the flipside of the whole concept of karma is that it insinuates that no suffering is undeserved; it only logically follows that if happiness is a compensation for good deeds, then suffering is a cosmic punishment for past misdeeds. Of course, in no way could I adhere to this as I find it difficult to imagine what he possibly could have done to have earned an autosomal recessive genetic condition that is slowly draining his life away. Did he misbehave as an egg cell in his mother's ovary? Or perhaps he was an evil sperm cell.
In the end, I just see "karma" as yet another immaterial, unevidenced concept that gives people a sense of comfort in dealing with the lack of control we have over much of our lives. A feeling of powerlessness strongly motivates people to seek patterns; we want things to make "sense" and appease our innate desire for justice.
Karma is nothing more than the concept of divine judgment clothed in new age rhetoric. So I vote woo.
I agree that doing good deeds is a good standard to live by, but I am afraid that people could then use evidence of misfortune to infer that someone must have done a bad deed. I just think the concept could be used to absolve people of feeling obligated to help someone who is in a bad situation because it could be inferred that the person must deserve the bad situation.
Karma is actually one of the reasons I stopped calling myself a Buddhist when I was younger - any concept which argues that a baby born with a defect is being punished by some unseen force - be it a god or karma or whatever - is revolting to me. It seems like a cruel way for humans to justify the lack of 'fairness' that life sometimes exhibits. With things like god or karma around to explain why babies, arguably the most innocent form of human beings, are born with defects, people are able to reconcile unfair/unjust occurrences with their need for a fair/justice-based reality.
Karma as a supernatural force returning good for good and ill for ill is woo. There's no evidence that such a force exists, and plenty to suggest that it does not.
However, the concept that if you're a decent person, who treats other people decently, then other people are more likely to treat you decently in return (and likewise that if you are a jerk people are less likely to want to help you) seems valid enough.
Good distinction. The second definition is like a form of social reciprocation, and that I could understand. It's the supernatural force as the source of good and bad fortune that is the real woo. Unfortunately, I have a feeling most people think of the woo version when they imagine karma.
But that is not to say that doing good deeds and being a good person will not get you some rewards. Being the social primates that we are, people remember how you treat them and behave. Being a good person can lead to more pleasant interactions with others. And it works conversely, too. So, it is a little like karma, but nothing mystical about it.