The Dangerous Idea of Karma

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(ed note – As Stan and Lacey have both pointed out in the comments, I am not referring to the actual ancient idea of karma when I talk about karma here, but the more common use of the word in modern society, which seems to be based more on the idea of instant karma, where good things happen when you perform good acts, and bad things when you do something bad. That is the idea I am offended by as a survivor of childhood abuse, which I could not possibly have “deserved”. I apologize to anyone who has felt like I was mocking a spiritual belief. As many of you know, I try very hard not to do that here, but in this case I did by not properly defining the term I was using, and I am sorry.)

You see a lot about karma these days. Most people seem to think of karma as a not-religious-specific god-like character that makes sure that it all comes out even in the end, although it does have a religious background. It’s a nice idea. If you’re basically a good person, karma will reward you, and if you’re not, karma can be b*&^h, right?

It’s all a bunch of crap.

Clearly, we all want to believe that life is basically fair. The thought that it isn’t fair is terrifying to us. We rail loudly for fairness and justice, because we value those things. We deeply want people to be rewarded to the good that they do, and punished for the bad. It’s part of who we are, and part of what makes us human. But wanting it does not make it so.

The fact of the matter is, bad stuff happens. It happens everywhere and whether you acted in a good way or bad way, it’s going to happen. People do not win the lottery because they “deserve to”, it just happens. When a natural disaster misses an area it’s not because the people who live there are good, or prayed harder, it just did.

Because if we accept that karma, God, Buddha, Allah, fate, whatever, rewarded the people who had these good things happen, then we also have to accept the opposite; when something bad happens, you deserved it. So when that hurricane moves away from Florida to the Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast, boy those people on the Gulf must have been pretty awful, or at least they didn’t pray as much as the Floridians.

Again, whether you call it karma or religion or fate, the idea is the same and it’s dangerous.

  • “Good things happen to good people.”
  • “You reap what you sow.”
  • “You get what you give.”
  • “What goes around comes around.”

I bet we’ve all said one or more of these. I’m also willing to believe that many of us live our lives daily based on some similar premise.

Every one of them assumes that good will come to us when we do good, and bad will come to people who don’t.

Now I want you to go explain to someone who lost their spouse, parent, or child to cancer how they reaped what they sowed, or talk to an abused child about how good things happen to good people. How about the thousands of people who die in natural disasters and wars every single year? Want to go to their funerals and talk about karma? Of course not, you’d be unbelievably rude to do that, but we have no qualms talking about it everywhere else without any consideration for the message we are actually sending. Quit it.

Quit expecting life to be fair. It isn’t. Quit taking religious ideas about the rewards of the afterlife and trying to apply them to this life. Seriously, the Bible does not promise a life full of good things for the faithful, and anyone telling you that is lying. Don’t believe me? Go read Job, or study the life of Paul. (As a start…)

As uncomfortable as it is, we have to come to grips with the fact that bad things happen to anyone at any time, regardless of whether they deserve it, and good things happen in the same way. Yes, sometimes we can draw a straight line from an action to the consequences of that action, but there are a whole lot of things that happen in life that do not fall into that category. When we start talking of karma, or we start viewing ourselves as somehow deserving of the good luck we’ve had, we dehumanize the victims of abuse and invite them to blame themselves for the tragedies that have occurred. Being abused as a child, or dealing with a mental illness, is not a consequence of some action we took, and it is not a judgment of our character! It is a bad thing that happened to us that has no bearing on our character.

It may feel nice and comfy to believe in karma, but for those of us who have survived child abuse, the idea is not helping. Quite the opposite.


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  1. I don’t know if you did any research about karma and it’s meaning/ application, but you’re way off base regarding fairness playing a role.
    Most who use the word karma in a spiritual belief system context, also believe in past lives and reincarnation. This life may well be chosen as a response to a past life lesson not learned, or as a debt to be paid from, oh say, being a slave owner in a past life.
    In some future life, you will be made to know and learn from choosing such an abusive life toward others. Profiting from the hard work and sweat of other souls will eventually land you in a life of servitude or worse for your transgressions. The souls you enslaved may be erasing a karmic debt incurred in a previous life and your position as their owner may have had less to do with your debt and more to do with theirs. We are not made to know while here in a human body, but when we translate to the other side, we get a kind of report card from souls in a higher consciousness, who have elevated their awareness and enlightenment to a level they need not return to earth, their choice.
    We choose our parents, that we might have spiritual growth while on earth. The goal is to not have to return, as the other side is where soul longs to be. Some lifetimes are resting ones, especially if the last one was difficult. My wife is the CSA survivor, and her belief in these tenets have sustained and comforted her through her pain, rage and struggles of her abuse. She believes she choose her childhood as a way to move on into another life lesson.
    We see earth as a very large school, we are given a body to house our soul. Senses, emotions, and feelings to experience the many painful struggles we must go through to reach true God consciousness.
    We do not run from pain or suffering. We view it as an opportunity for spiritual unfoldment and growth, on our path home to God. If you can possibly wrap your head around this concept, you will fear death no longer. Fear is not an option, knowing that nothing can harm us as soul. Being an eternal soul living forever, we are liberated from the many traps and snares brought to bear on us in human form.
    A most liberating feeling, spiritual freedom is ours as we brake the chains of suffering, abuse and pain.
    If you can grasp the idea that everything happens for a reason, whatever that may be, it will change the dynamic of how one chooses to view it, and what one does about it. We can become angry, claim that the world/universe is against us and not fair, or we can choose to search for the silver lining, waiting PATIENTLY for the revelation to appear.
    If you’ve ever said to yourself, days, weeks or months after something negative has found it’s way into your life, oh, that’s why that happened, I see now, that’s a life lesson.
    If you’ve ever felt that you know someone from somewhere, but can’t place them, that’s a past life crossing your path.
    If you ever felt that you been somewhere you were sure you hadn’t been in this life, deja vu, or a past life.
    So karma and the beliefs we (religious) folks hold as truths, is a cool comfort to us in this life. The truths revealed to me since I have sought the true meaning of life has at times overwhelmed me, other times amazes me, but always it brings me back to the true principle of life: LOVE all souls as your brothers and sisters, because they well may have been in a past life. LOVE is all there is, it will see you through the darkest of nights.
    Good luck on your journey, my friend.


    1. Stan, thanks for the reminder. In fact, I am not referring to the true definition of karma, I am referring to the shallow understanding that most people have of karma and the way it is referred to in Western culture commonly. You and I can agree to disagree on the religious aspects, that’s a religious debate for some other time and place, but I am firmly against the idea that people “get what they deserve” in this life. Clearly, that is a message that does any survivor a disservice.

    2. Unfortunately, most people grasp only a very shallow but, nevertheless, popular definition or comprehension of Karma. What goes around does and must come around. We do, indeed, get what we deserve. There are no accidents and shit certainly doesn’t just happen. All occurs with reason and for purpose. When we are without understanding most unusual happenings or even daily occurrences pretend to be mysteries, puzzles, conundrums beyond our comprehension. It is our obligation as well as prime directive to live more, larger and elevate the human life wave to glorious dimensions that only our imaginations may now access with determination beyond befuddlement. I usually find great resonance with the concepts of your column, Mike McBride, but am compelled to find great exception as does Stan to your recent sharing on “the dangerous idea of karma.” Respectfully, I submit this preachment keeps us stumbling in the dark about a subject that is anciently demands light, elucidation and love as platform on which to move us forward. Deep and heartfelt gratitude for what you do so excellently in boldly telling your story to connect with and comfort those traumatized by childhood sexual abuse. In truth, we must all come to realize, that we are privileged as well as favored to come to this physical reality for the prize of spiritual advancement. All is not easy or good but our individual as well as group contract is to touch, transform by experience and action to make it so. There are tremendous opportunities for joy and excellence on this iridescent blue, green, pearl planet of an oasis which with call earth. Trauma, however, lives in abundance here and it embraces us all in some form or fashion. CSA is just one of the many garbs that trauma wears. Trauma is necessary if not existential to cause awakening which could not be achieved in alternative, efficacious methodology.
      So, we must broaden our spiritual awareness beyond the myopic philosophical boxes and walls of orthodox religious regimentation and restriction. We are all innocent in the context of a single life time and new identity. Before the century is gone, I expect that most will know that we are essentially eternal beings exploring this limited, human drama to fulfill contracts for the purpose of greater awareness and spiritual promotion. For we are more spiritual and eternal than we are physical, limited identities of here and now. Eventually, the science of DNA, code breaking confirm we come with design for particular emotional experiences, physical attributes as well as talents and maladies. Thrust, change, improvement by conversion is what we must do. This can be achieved through adherence to greater capacities of light and love. My many years of study, research and practice of astrology affirms that trauma is predictable, scheduled and necessary when others alternatives are not accessible to consciousness. Therefore, it is possible to reliably predict the potential for abuse as well as perpetrators of the same. Often reasoning with greater light one understands these are opposing ends of the same continuum: victim vs perpetrator or, another variation, victim vs survivor (advocate, champion). In summary, it is difficult if not impossible to understand or find solution to an ancient complexity using the same logic or mindset that propagates or fuels the offensive behavior. Please leave the notion of Karma alone without a deeper appreciation or explanation of the same. However, I earnestly encourage you to continue your usual uplift of our understanding, empathy and advocacy for those harmed by abuse of any kind.

      1. Lacey, as I mentioned to Stan, I’m not really talking about the spiritual, ancient, idea of karma in this article. I’m just addressing the people who think of karma at the shallow level, where if you do good, you’ll be rewarded, and if you do something bad, you’ll have something bad happen to you. That simply is demonstrably false, and that kind of belief is harmful to victims of child abuse, or any number of things because it leaves them questioning what sort of bad thing they might have done to deserve being abused. That’s not right in any way shape or form.

        A discussion of whether karma from the ancient tradition actually exists or not is a discussion for a theological form, which this is not, and I do not wish to engage in that debate.

        1. Then why use the word, without knowing or describing how you meant it? Theology has nothing to do with spiritual beliefs, many believe and know karma exists in their soul. Theology is related to organized religion, and the study of religions and books such as the Bible.

          With all due respect, you need to research the words you use before writing such a negative, alarming article on karma or any other subject.

          I was offended, but did not take it personally. Instead, I will keep positive, kind thoughts in my heart for as you struggle on your journey to the truth. You are blessed you are loved, and you are love.

          You state in your original piece to “quit it”. Talk about preaching, many more humans believe in the afterlife than not, and many of them believe we have been here before. Calling karma crap will indeed lead you back to learn the lesson you could and should have learned the first time around, namely that karma is not crap, but it is a bitch.

          Good luck with your learning curve on the way to an enlightened awareness, full of revelation and wonder.

          You are divine, magnificent, complete and enough just the way you are. We all pray for the day you know that to be the truth.

          1. Stan, I appreciate you not taking it personally, as there was no offense meant to anyone who truly believes in karma as you define it. Again, this isn’t a theological forum and I’m not arguing about religious or spiritual concepts.

            However, I chose the word precisely because that meaning is not the popular one in modern society. If you spend much time on social media or online forums, you would see that most people who talk about karma, are not talking about the same thing that you are. What they are talking about is crap, the idea that somehow fate will punish people who do bad things and reward those who do good, during their lifetime. That idea is dangerous, because it defines being a victim of anything or anyone else as something that was somehow deserved. I will argue against that in whatever form it takes, whether that form is religious, psuedo-religious or otherwise, because it is wrong.

    3. Poppycock, Stan. The foolish rationale of those who buy into such fairytale concepts. Religions are just man-made fairytales as well. No thanks.

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