Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Karma Is Immoral

I wrote this article because I was fed up with people spouting BS about harmless beliefs and how vocal skeptics were being "mean". Grow up and get rational people.

What's wrong with Karma? It's seems pretty harmless doesn't it? It's just about good people being rewarded and bad people being punished. What's wrong with cosmic justice?

On first inspection, Karma seems to be something we would want to have governing reality. When we see somebody doing something bad we don't want to see them get away with it; we want to see them punished. When we see people who perform good deeds get rewarded we say things like "she deserved it" or "it couldn't happen to a more deserving person". For those who don't know exactly what Karma is about; basically it is the belief in a cosmic force that conspires to even the playing field, to make sure good people receive rewards later on and bad people are repaid the misery that they inflict on others.

I think everybody agrees we should try and make the world a fair place and we all want to see justice being done. What is fair and what is just is a whole separate philosophical debate and I'm keen to keep clear of it. But as a system of justice, how does Karma hold up? On the face of it, good people being 
rewarded and bad people being punished by an all-seeing and fair judge seems like a good idea. But if you follow the idea to its logical conclusion you are left with a grotesque and immoral system that punishes people for crimes they were not responsible for.

Let's start with a murder; Bill kills Jack. Bill is now a murderer and is considered a bad person. A few days later, Bill is killed by Jill. You could say that Karma has worked its magic and Bill had paid the price for his crime. But the interesting question is whether Jill is an instrument of justice, in meting out the punishment, or is she also a murderer? Will she soon be the target of cosmic retribution by another assassin? If not, then should she be put in prison? She was carrying out a just and deserved punishment and to punish her for doing so would seem to unbalance the scales again.

And what about good people that have bad things happen to them? Jack was a very nice guy and had never wronged Bill, or anyone else for that matter. Why did he deserve death? One way this is solved by proponents of metaphysical Karma is to say that he was being punished for something he did in a previous life. If, for the sake of argument, we accept that reincarnation is true, it still doesn't help develop it as a moral system except hide the evidence behind closed doors. If Jack has no memories of his previous life then in what sense was it "him" who comitted the crime? What strange concept of an immortal soul involves poor memory? Just like Christianity's Original Sin, people are being punished for something that they can't be held responsible for.

And the absurdity continues: a woman is raped. If Karma is true then we must say that she deserved it. Not only that, but we must now say that the rapist is simply handing out justice and should not be punished, perhaps even praised. Maybe, in a previous life, the rapist was wronged by the woman and this is simply balancing the scales. If so, it would be unfair to punish him in any way because we would be interfering with the cosmic order and would perhaps end up being punished ourselves. In a world of Karma it is not possible to tell the difference between an original crime and just retribution.

So people who truly believe in Karma should be calling for the abolition of prisons and advocating letting the cosmic judge sort everything out instead. I'm sure it would save the tax payer a lot of money, but would the believer want all those criminals on the streets? And even if we take the position that human actions should be excluded, for the sake of maintaining free-will, the believer must still say that people born with disabilities deserve their lifelong pain and suffering.

Perhaps you could even overlook the immorality of the whole victim-blaming concept if it was demonstrably true. But in this reality good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people in proportions that match an uncaring, indifferent reality. There is no evidence for Karma, and we should be glad because it would be a terrible world to live in.

Should we be telling our children that they deserve the suffering they endure, promoting nonsense such as Karma and Original Sin? Or should we empower them with the knowledge that the world is indifferent but, being agents of change, they are the ones who can make a real difference? I think teaching children immoral ethical frameworks is damaging to human society and it is about time we stopped with the bronze-age superstitions. Don't tell me there's no harm in it.


  1. Very nice article. I think superstitions are reinforced by chance and this is what leads to people believing in karma? It's almost baked into the cosmos that karma will sometimes appear to be true based on random actions that appear to support it. Kinda disconcerting. In other words, the imperfection and evil will continue . . . the false beliefs will continue. The bronze-age superstitions will continue forever :-(

  2. Karma is all about confirmation bias. If a believer sees someone apparently getting what they deserve then it confirms the existence of transcendental justice. All counter-examples are ignored or rationalised away.

  3. What also bothers me about karma is that people think that if you're having a crummy day it's because of something you did wrong in a past life. Bull, bad things just happen sometimes. It's an excuse not to use free will.

  4. I know someone who was raped as a young boy and had his parents say that he deserved it for past life transgressions... That bit about Rape isn't theoretical. His parents thought like that.

  5. Karma isn't about good or evil at all. It just means action, or rather it represents cause and effect. Ignoring someone's suffering justifying it with sins of their past life is just as bad as actively causing the suffering.
    As the theory of karma rests on the premise that reincarnation takes place, we cannot say that all repercussions will take place in this life. It will extend to several rebirths.
    As to why we need to suffer for the actions of our previous reincarnations, whom we have no knowledge of, even though it seems unfair, it can be explained.
    The soul, or your consciousness, is timeless. Even though your body and personality might change, to that of a human or animal, your soul will exist forever.
    To escape this cycle of suffering, i.e, this cycle of death and rebirth, one must obtain the Truth, to recognise that they are one with their soul, all a part of the cosmos, its entirety termed Brahman.
    This quest for truth will likely be impossible for humans right now, as we are. But does that mean that we should not make an effort?
    Defeatism is beneath us. Accept the lack of meaning in this world, that the question of purpose is one that will not be answered any time soon. It is as good as a lack of meaning. And that is fine. We humans must unite and try to reduce the suffering in this world.
    We are all in this together.
    Isn't it better to have a happier home?

  6. Appealing to "timeless souls" doesn't help persuade anyone but the already existing believer. You need to first demonstrate the existence of a "soul" and "the truth"; then we can talk. Your post-hoc rationalisation reminds me of the knots Christians tie themselves in to explain Original Sin (an immoral dogma).

    1. Currently, there is no conclusive evidence for either the presence of a soul or some higher objective truth.
      At least not scientific evidence. Any other form of evidence will probably be rejected by you.
      I do not seek to convince you that it is true or not.
      As I said earlier, ignoring somebody's suffering justifying it with karma, will cause bad karma for you. Balancing of karma happens across many rebirths, each with their own set of good karma and bad karma.
      Following this theory, there must be infinite deaths and rebirths, which is why we should try to escape it. This escape is known as achieving Nirvana, or uniting with Brahman, etc.
      Karma is natural law. Cause and effect. Reaping what you sow.
      There is much more to this in fact, which someone much smarter than me can explain more eloquently.
      What is want to put across is that the system of karma is not immoral, it is amoral. And it is the most logically consistent system I have read about.
      I don't believe in any hell or heaven, or in any God. As far as humans are concerned, karma is a natural law that even gods can't interfere with, so it unnecessary for any worship.
      I don't know about the Original Sin, so I will not comment upon that. But really, victim blaming is the completely wrong lesson to take from the karma theory.