About a month ago I started to write a blog concerning my strong dislike of the philosophical worldview that, “everything happens for a reason.” Included in my dislike are other such implications of some grand master plan imposed by a mysterious being who orchestrates both wonderful acts of love and horrid atrocities; in other words, providence. I stopped writing the blog because it was drawing out such anger and angst within me that I realized such an emotional reaction was much more indicative of something far deeper within me that needed to be addressed in my own psyche.
Perhaps it was stirring my own self-loathing that I once used to subscribe to this belief as taught to me by those who I thought knew better than I on such matters. I realize I still hold resentment toward those who would be bestow such providential propaganda, as well as toward myself for actually buying it. In classic argumentation, claiming providence is both a fallacy of an “appeal to ignorance” (as one cannot prove it did not happen for a reason therefore it supposedly did) as well as “argumentum ad verecundiam,” aka, an “appeal to authority,” as one can never challenge the authoritative source (read: god) behind the one who makes everything happen for a reason. It is a fallacial argument one cannot win.
To be clear, in writing that still unpublished blog, I realized that I have no issue with one who subscribes to such a belief system, that is their business, rather it is when that belief is imposed without discretion on others, particularly in times of grief, that troubles me so greatly. I find it both incredibly insulting and arrogant beyond explanation; it is like telling a Jew or Muslim not to worry because their deceased loved one is now in the arms of the baby Jesus. It is the flippant public spouting of a personal worldview without regard for the enormous troubling implications it holds.
As I will address a bit later, even if everything does happen for a reason, we could never possibly know what that reason is in the grand scheme of things, so what is the point?
This is hubris to the fullest extent of the law.
So fast forward just a few days later when my 84 year-old, seemingly quite healthy, mom suddenly passes away. It has now been about 26 days since her passing and I have been inundated with cards, gifts and condolences of all varieties, for which I am extremely grateful. More now than ever I can certainly understand why we humans have a propensity for creating belief systems that help us deal with the pain of a loved one passing, as it hurts like nothing else; yet I hold firmly that whatever it is we choose to believe –be it Heaven, Hell, Nothing, White Lights, Spirit Beings, Purgatory or Pittsburgh, it will never change what is.
Yes, the power of belief can be quite strong as illusions can provide the human mind great emotional comfort and solace, yet one cannot believe something into being. Whether one chooses to believe in a god or not, does not change the fact if there is a god or not. Heaven, hell, nothingness…same thing.
Back in the days of yore when I was a pastor and provided spiritual guidance for a living, I held very similar views. Even in the days of my strongest adherence to particular theological belief systems, I realized what I believed was of very little value to what really is. It was this theological and belief flexibility (and not taking myself too seriously) that was the primary root of my ultimate abandoning of the ministry and finding much deeper and greater satisfaction in spreading the gospel of communication and instructing people how to question…everything.
Praise Socrates and pass the plate of uncertainty.
Do I believe my mom’s passing happened for a reason? Do I believe I will see her again one day in some spiritual way, shape or form? The answer is very straightforward: How would I know? How could I know? If it did happen “for a reason” I have no way of knowing what that reason might be so why would I waste my time trying to figure out the un-figureoutable? (I think you can begin to see why I was such a shitty pastor.)
Does this mean I do not have faith? No, it does not. My faith is my business and what my faith is or is not should have no bearing whatsoever on what another’s faith is or is not.
I actually find great peace and comfort in uncertainty. A belief in uncertainty holds out for the possibility and hope that things could be far greater than my faith would have me believe…or worse, I guess. Life is a perpetual anticipation of finding out what is behind doors 1, 2, or 3. Sure, we may get zonked, but we could also get a brand new caaaaaaar.
Perhaps my anger toward the “everything happens for a reason” blowhards was a rhythmic foreshadowing from the universe in emotional preparation for the impending death to come….or not. How could I know? I cannot know, so I can never make such a claim, for then that would have happened for a reason. And in the 26 days since her passing, not one person of the dozens upon dozens of well-wishers has even remotely implied she passed “for a reason.”
So I conclude with the message I have been “preaching” for decades. In the last few weeks one of the very few things I DO know is the power of love, namely loving relationships. I have felt a new license in life to freely and unabashedly love as well as to receive the love of those around me; to tell those around me that I love them; to share tears and hugs; to express thoughts and feelings that typically go unstated when things are “normal.” It has been a tremendously freeing experience. The naked emotional vulnerability brought about by the sting of death serves to let my egotistical guard down and lean on the loving connections I have with family and friends.
I preach the gospel of love. Whether you are a Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew or Gentile, we can KNOW love. We can be sure of it. To be the most loving Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew or Gentile is the certain path towards true contentment. Love destroys the need to determine whether or not “everything happens for a reason.”
Let’s just say things happen…and love makes them bearable.
Probably a good thing you didn’t finish (or publish) that other blog post.
I understand that some–if not most–of what you write is meant to provoke responses from your students/readers. But provoking immaterial, unprovable/disprovable ideas brings out a lot of passion, a lot of circular arguments, and a lot of headaches for both sides.
There’s a reason you’re a communications professor after all.
though I am a conformist to the religious sect, I agree with you about the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” From my view it makes God out to be a great controlling orchestrator who wills good to some and bad to others, when it is much more complex than that.
I do have a clarifying question for you though: you say that you like to push people to question everything (which I appreciate), but it sounds as though you are settled in your uncertainty? Isn’t the point of questioning to find truth? It seems pointless to end your search by contenting yourself with uncertainty.
Am I wrong?
Hi Emma! I was just telling Rene’ this evening how highly I think of you Riley kids….seriously, I respect you all so much as each of you are so grounded, intellectual, while wholly committed to your faith. I seriously respect the “horse poop” out of you all. I also thank you for allowing me to assist with judging your speech contest and completely expect I will be invited back again….I hope. Sure this heathen was uncomfortable as hell residing in “Purityville” for a few hours, yet I find such weird sadistic pleasure while being in such discomfort :).
Sooo…..when you spend 4 decades of your life searching for “truth” (which is different from “faith”) and conclude uncertainty, uncertainty becomes your truth (lower case t). The question you pose assumes all searches must end in certainty and assumes there is a truth to be found. This is why I believe the distinction between truth and faith is so important…faith is a belief in something unseen that one decides to follow while truth is declaring the ultimate answer without dispute or question. But, hey, I committed long ago to never engage in theological dispute ever again. I completely support your wonderful faith and religion and am so pleased the expression of your faith makes the world a much better place…so I genuinely thank you. Please send my best regards to Seth and Rebekah.
I’m supposed to argue with a post, and I chose this- not because I want to argue, but comment. Everything happens for a reason is the WORST. It plays into dogmatic understandings and leads to the opposite of the comfort it is wishing to convey, in most cases. I find it super interesting you were once a pastor, but not surprising. I think the idea of questioning, is usually met with some sort of faith or study thereof. Hopefully, it doesn’t end with a, “oh, cool that’s it then, I guess I don’t need to question anything anymore, it’s all figured out for me.”, no matter how comforting that place can be. I admit, I have vacationed my emotions, and my mind there for some time, and thankfully no longer look to that comfort in seeking peace, solace or answers. I have for the majority realized answers are never what you think they should be, and hardly ever are what they are. I know it sounds like garbage, and in obvious instances it is completely untrue, but when you’re looking for the meaning of life, why bad things happen or any other thing that is beyond comprehension, you can’t really rest on the simple answer. It’s usually a bit more than you think, and maybe evolving with the time in which you ask it. At certain points plague was caused by sin, then economic turmoil was caused by immigrants, and now we conflate both to sanitary practices and money trends. Our understandings of things are constantly changing based on our information sets, experiences, and perspectives. We can’t agree wholeheartedly with anyone’s beliefs because when it comes down to it, we haven’t been them, and we really cant see fully the way we see. I don’t really know why I felt the need to jump on this exact post, but I do agree with the, fuck “just have faith” as a comforting argument in any case. Second rabbit hole, and then I will be done (at least this part will connect slightly better), I posted about the impeachment of Trump being scary, because then that would mean we would get Pence. The first response I got was a laughing emoji, to which I responded I did not find it a funny situation. This resulted in a long winded post about trusting in God’s purpose, having faith, and having nothing to fear as a believer in God. What. The. Fuck. I have been there though, I have been to those depths of belief in which any bodily, worldly harm seemed meaningless in the scope of eternity. This is the level of faith that usually makes it hard for non-believers to ever take a religious person seriously. It can be infuriating, and in most cases offensive to the people’s who are most concerned by whatever ill effects are being ‘faithed’ away. It started brewing a little on my post, but was mostly mediated, because it’s hard enough to read that stuff from someone you know and marginally like, let alone a stranger you could give two fucks about. So maybe the point of this post is to treat people with the filter that, while you may think they are stupid, they more than likely have no ill intentions. Or, and this one is more likely- I agree, thanks for giving me a space to pre-schizophrenic rant, (pre, because I hope it’s somewhat easier to follow than most alien people, conspiracy theory, corner rants).
Thanks Kristin. I agree, I think. And I absolutely want what you are both smoking and drinking at some point. 🙂
I think when most people, at least for me when I say things “happen for a reason,” I think of it as a lesson or it is part of life. Maybe I also think of it as “God’s plan.” I think I do that as a way to make myself feel better about a crappy situation; to be positive because that is just who I am, but not always. It is also okay to say, “this just sucks, and I am sorry that this is happening.” It is better than saying, “that’s life man,” which could be another way of saying, “things happen for a reason.” I really appreciate what you said about things being uncertain in the unknown can bring new hope. I have never thought about it that way. That can be scary, but in a good way. I am going to have to remember that in the future.
I know I am suppose to argue this, but I agree with so much. It gives me more perspective on life and death that I haven’t ever thought about before. The reason I chose to reply to this one is because I agree that things do happen for a reason because it is apart of life. With that said, life can be pretty hard and crappy, and great and wonderful. We can’t help that things that happen to us. I don’t believe that people pass away for a reason. That’s silly. But a lot of other stuff does happen for a reason. At least that’s what I believe.