“Everything happens for a reason”

1803 illustration of the two monkeys chasing their lovers. Candide shoots the monkeys, thinking they are attacking the women. HT- Wiki

The saying, “Everything happens for a reason” is commonly heard in the USA and obviously implies that things happen for a “good” reason.  Thus a variant is:  “all things work for the best”.  Inspiring this post is an interview with Drew Brees, the quarterback for the Superbowl’s 2010 victorious New Orleans Saints.  This interview was for a Christian station where Brees repeatedly evangelizes listeners that “all things works for the best” and that “everything happens for a reason”.   To illustrate this truth, he gives an example how a prior injury which, at the time he felt was the worse thing that could have happened to his career, instead ironically resulted with him being the quarterback for the victorious New Orleans Saints — you could almost hear the crowds roar has he gave his testimony in the video.  His god had it all planned.  A simple googling will find this video all over Christian sites — a sport celebrity selling their Jesus who will grant believers success in life just like Drew Brees.  This is a stepped-down version of the prosperity gospel.  But it is not just Christians who spout this mantra.  A simple googling for “Everything happens for a reason” will yield thousands of Christian, Muslim and New Age websites touting this apparent deep wisdom.

Voltaire

Candide

This ridiculously false idea has been attacked for centuries.  Voltaire (1694-1778), a philosopher and religious critic, took it to task in his superb short story, “Candide” (highly recommended).  Voltaire’s stark, harsh and often racy sarcasm attacks the philosophy of Leibniz (1646 – 1716, inventor of Calculus and foil for Kant).  Leibniz believed in an omnipotent, all-good, intervening God and to explain how such horrible suffering could exists in God’s world, Leibniz created his theory that “This is the best of all possible worlds”.   Voltaire disputes this Candide where Pangloss, Candide’s optimistic teacher, chants over and over “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” while Candide leads an outrageous life illustrating that it is patently false.

Leibniz was Christian and was trying to support his faith in the Age of Enlightenment (1700s).  But this idea had been around for a long time.  This is the major Christian Bible verse used to support this view.

We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
–Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

A Dangerous Meme

Not all religious people agree with this idea.  I am pleased to find that some Muslims, Jews and Christians understand that such a superficial understanding is mistaken.  Pastor Larry Osborne has written a book “10 Dumb Things that Smart Christians Believe” where “Everything happens for a reason” is listed right along with:

  • Faith can fix anything
  • God brings good luck
  • Forgiveness means forgetting
  • A godly home guarantees good kids

I have not read Pastor Osborne’s book and don’t know how he deals with Romans 8, but I wanted to illustrate that the notion of a puppet-master god manipulating the world is not necessarily a universal Christian idea.   Of course, my position rejects it too but only because I no longer believe in an omnipotent, all-powerful, all-good, intervening deity posited by theists.  I don’t view the world as having gods or spirits controlling the fate of humans, squirrels, amoeba or rocks.  And likewise, all things are certainly not for the best.  This world does not have a master plan, yet alone a puppet master guiding all events to some wonderful, albeit mysterious, end.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

But here we are, Atheists and a few Christians agree that this meme is repulsive.  We both see this as a dangerous idea.  But how could such a dangerous, mistaken idea be so widespread?  As a quick diversion, let me mention a recent Behavior and Brain Sciences Journal issue dedicated to discussing “misbelief”.   Philosopher Daniel Dennett (one of the New Atheist’s 4 horsemen) has an article in the issue entitled “The Evolution of Misbelief” and several other authors respond to his theory.  I disagree with Dennett, as does Konrad Talmont-Kaminski who I have started reading today.  Konrad runs an educational atheist site called “Just Another Deisidaimon” where, like me, he plainly confesses that he is superstitious (a “deisidaimon“).

Though I judge this meme as a misbelief,  sometimes in casual or polite conversation I judge it a little more generously.  So when my superstitious acquaintance says, “Well, I believe everything happens for a reason.”  I may just tell myself they mean: “I try not to let bad things get me down and look for something good to be gained”.   This generous translation just reinterprets them saying something less superstitious like “When the world throws lemons at you, make lemonade.”

--Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef-- ---Head of All Sages--- (click to read more)

Akiva ben Yossef

As I said, these idea of “everything happening for a reason” is found in many cultures and religions — it is a pervasive human meme.   I heard it time and time again as an explanation for karma when I lived in Hindu and Buddhist countries.  Below is a famous story from the Jewish Talmud by Akiva ben Yossef (50-135 CE,  a famous Jewish rabbi).  Akiva is referred to in the Talmud as “Rosh la-Chachomim” (Head of all the Sages) and is considered by many to be one of the earliest founders of rabbinical Judaism.  The story goes like this:

Once, being unable to find any sleeping accommodation in a certain city, he was compelled to pass the night outside its walls. Without a murmur he resigned himself to this hardship; and even when a lion devoured his donkey, and a cat killed the rooster whose crowing was to herald the dawn to him, and the wind extinguished his candle, the only remark he made was, “All that God does is for the good.” When morning dawned he learned how true his words were. A band of robbers had fallen upon the city and carried its inhabitants into captivity, but he had escaped because his abiding place had not been noticed in the darkness, and neither beast nor fowl had betrayed him (Ber. 60b).

A Misbelief’s Pros and Cons

So, what does this meme offer people in spite of its obvious mistaken cognitive notions?  What function does it offer people while sacrificing propositional truth?  Remember, people are willing to sacrifice reason if they feel the gain is worth it.    Below I undertake an exercise to see if I can list the pros and cons of embracing this meme.  You can see that it depends on the way one uses the meme as to the affect it can have on you.

Pros Cons
Offers optimism through hard times. Encourages passivity in hard times, waiting for the good to happen.
Nurtures humility that one’s success is not of one’s own doing. Offers pride that due to a belief in God, “the Good” is secured for you.  Or worse, it implies that when bad things happens to unbelievers, it allows the believer to assume they deserve it.
Helps people understand that the world is complex and that just because they can’t see hope, doesn’t mean it isn’t waiting. Makes the world too simple and dismisses the complexity of events.  Dismisses that for many good things may not occur in this life that even begin off-setting the suffering they undergo.
Used to reinforce social bonding of religious groups Sets up an Us. vs. Them mentality

The most important con for atheists is probably that this platitude encourages superstitious, irrational thinking.  But look at all the pros.  My question:  Since this meme offers so much to believers, is there something the atheist can offer to offset these benefits so that the believer can have a true belief which has comparable benefits?

Liezi 列子 500s BCE

The Taoist Farmer Parable

I have always enjoyed this parable as my counter to the common “Everything works for the best” mantra.  This is a Taoist parable reportedly told by Master Lie (Lie Yukou) in the 500s BCE.   The Taoist farmer is surrounded by neighbors who are swayed easily by any condition in life but he chooses to take things in pace, neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic– he abides in the Tao.  Here is the story:

A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?” Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a disaster?” Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?”

A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other. Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.

– from Lieze (500 BCE)
As told by Ellen J. Langer, in” The Power of Mindful Learning” (1997).

This simple Taoist reply to misfortune reminds me of the infamous, humorous list of religious stereotypical replies to the question of “Why do bad things happen?”  Below I list a few:

Believer Response
Taoists & Buddhists Shit happens.
Presbyterian This shit was bound to happen.
Catholic If shit happens, you deserve it.
Conservative Protestant Let this shit happen to someone else.
Jew Why does shit always happen to us?
Mormon Shit’s going to happen.  Stockpile !
Atheist No shit !

———–

Questions for Readers:

  • What are common ideas which you feel are wrong but can be used well?
  • What are some of your favorite atheist-friend fables?
  • How do you translate “Everything happens for a reason” in your mind?
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41 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

41 responses to ““Everything happens for a reason”

  1. What a fun post. You’ve done your homework, and you have presented it nicely.

    And now, I want to read Candide again. Loved it several times . . .

  2. Pingback: Sunday Scripture: Purpose | Irreducible Complexity

  3. CRL

    “It all happens for a reason” is not the domain of believers alone. I hear it from fellow atheists all the time.

    Your parable reminds me of a joke I heard years ago:

    One day, a man decided to jump out of an airplane.
    The good news one was, he had a parachute.
    The bad news was, it didn’t work.
    The good news, there was a haystack.
    The bad news was,there was a pitchfork in the haystack.
    The good news was, he missed the pitchfork.
    The bad news was, he missed the haystack.

    Shows how good news is often bad news as well, and vice versa.

  4. @ tysdaddy: You made my day ! I try to create if to be fun and to offer some info (and of course, throw in a little opinion). Smile

    @ Ian: My doppelganger is at it again.

    @ CRL : Yeah, superstition respects no ideology. Smile !
    Funny story !

  5. Steve Wiggins

    I most often hear “everything happens for a reason” from my friends who’ve gone through 12-step programs. To my ear it sounds simplistic, but I see how for many of them it has given them the grip they needed to get their lives back on track. One friend still tells me this as things tend to go from bad to worse in my career, but when I want to rebuff him I recall how he was before recovery and just keep my mouth shut. It is a faulty premise, but it can have good results.

  6. @ Steve

    And so it is with many religious beliefs – it makes you wonder, if you’ve got nothing better to offer and they ain’t hurtin’ no one …
    That goes for New Agers, Mormons, Catholics, Muslims or others.
    But if someone is busy trying to convert others or telling others they are damned (as happened to my 7 year-old son), then the gloves are off.
    Don’t you think?

  7. Boz

    I notice that there are dozens of these memes in popular culture, and many are contradictory. e.g.:

    .

    Everything happens for a reason. shit happens.

    slow and steady wins the race. first in best dressed.

    better safe than sorry. nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Actions speak louder than words. The pen is mightier than the sword.

    Look before you leap. He who hesitates is lost.

    Many hands make light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

    A silent man is a wise one. A man without words is a man without thoughts.

    Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

    Clothes make the man. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
    The bigger, the better. The best things come in small packages.

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Out of sight, out of mind.

    What will be, will be. Life is what you make it.

    Cross your bridges when you come to them. Forewarned is forearmed.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

    With age comes wisdom. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings come all wise sayings.

    The more, the merrier. Two’s company; three’s a crowd

    .

    There really is a trite saying for every occasion!

  8. Doooood! you some how manage to pack in all my favorite things! Voltaire, the Taoist parable (mine has the farmer saying “We shall see.”) and the chart with the varying degrees of “shit happening.” i used to have a poster in college with those ideas on it, but i’m not sure where it has gone.

    great philosophical journey here. i’m a being caught between absolute freedom and total destiny. sometimes the world looks so random and chaotic; i felt this many times standing in the trauma ward. yet others i have felt that the events up until now have been working towards this present moment. also, times in the trauma ward but mostly in the longer-term areas of the hospital and especially in the maturity ward.

    i admire the grace in which you explore this… and as the Tao says “when the opposing forces unite within, there comes a power abundant in its giving and unerring in its effect.” (28). i’ll ponder some more and post my own thoughts as this is something that has really been on my mind as of late.

  9. I’ve never liked the “Everything happens for a reason” trope. Then again, probably the lynch pin of me getting my life back on track was realizing that I was in control of my life and responsible for my own happiness, not someone or something else.

    The idea that everything that happens is for some greater purpose, at its root, disempowers people and takes credit for the eventual good that happens away from the people who actually brought it about.

    If there’s one thing that I’ve come to understand, it’s that human beings have a tremendous capability to change their environment. When something happens to us, we can’t rely on any self-rectifying force to bring our lives back into balance. Likewise, if we find ourselves brought out of a bad situation, simply saying that things work out doesn’t do justice to the people in our lives that have our interests in mind when we’re in a bad way.

    I am an admirer of the human spirit. I’m against any idea that attributes the fortitude and sheer will of mankind to something ethereal or incorporeal.

  10. geoih

    “Everything happens for a reason”: Cause and effect.

    “All things work for the best”: You never hear about the bad things (the seen versus the unseen).

  11. There are different ways of looking at things. Ultimately we are talking about what we choose to believe in regards to our origins. Some will say that there is a beginning that has intelligence behind it and others will say it is a fluke or by a “Big Bang” that we are here. What determines how we see the events in our lives is determined by our original take on our inception. To label all belief systems in the same way is a fallacy. I believe life has meaning and purpose behind it(the Shit included). As I believe there is an eternal quality to my essence whatever happens to me in this world has temporary qualities to it. I cant prove that scientifically, nor can someone prove it false. I would ask this, If I dont push that belief on others, what does it matter?

    Arent most atheists objections to people of faith based on the extreme Theists who try to dictate culture?

  12. Tim Smith

    .Sabio: Re My translation of Everything happens for a reason’ I would want to guard against confusing causes with reasons. For example: Why did Jones shoot Smith? A cause could be advanced by a physiologist that given the activation of nerves x, y&z etc the gun fired. Conversely the reason Smith shot Jones would need to invoke motive. Point? We must distinguish ‘with a purpose’ from ‘for a purpose’ and, due to the inherent difficulty of achieving this distinction, must be wary of glibly maintaining we can unveil destiny. Faith can take up the gauntlet of this task but must do so very humbly. Please spare us the dogma! ..Great post!

  13. @ Tim Smith :
    Indeed, the “caused” vs “intent” (teleology) is key. But it would be trite to say, “Everything happened due to a cause” and is not what anyone really means by the statement “Everything happens for a reason.” Instead, I am thinking that most people mean, “Some Actor (read, ‘God’) caused this thing to happen because that actor had an intent or a plan or a purpose.”
    So, to put it simply, do you feel some non-terrestrial has intentionally planned out everything that is occurring in our lives and in the universe?

  14. @ Boz:
    I love that list. In Japanese the word for such short sayings is “Kotowaza” (word techniques). Learning hundreds of these is actually part of Japanese standard education — and I memorized them to improve my conversation skills and comprehension. During the process I noticed contradictory sayings and realized that Japanese just use them a convenient heuristics to be applied to the correct situation for quick communication and are not trying to wrap consistent systematic truth into pithy aphorisms. Their use is simply to communicate and influence, not to philosophize. That was one experience that helped me change my view of language.

    @ Luke:
    Glad you enjoyed. I am looking forward to your post. For a fruitful debate, Tibetan monks have the rule that it is important to declare the level of reality so as to avoid unnecessary paradoxes. I think a similar technique would aid discussions we have here, but it is not in our tradition and hard for most to think of “level’s of truth”.

    @ Janus:
    You put forward other good reasons to resist such a reflexive misbelief.

    @ Titfortat:
    I personally don’t think many people boil down what they think to “what [they] choose to believe in regards to [their] origins.” I understand your declarations to say: “I believe I have a eternal soul” , “I believe their is intent, intelligence and purpose in the universe and in all our lives.” You are right, it can’t be proven or even hinted at scientifically. So it is a matter of faith especially because you don’t have any way you can even possible put forward as a way of testing that. I think understand your faith, even if I disagree. I think my post shows how someone with your beliefs could use them well, even if I disagree. But it also shows the many ways they could be used poorly. I think people “push” their beliefs on each other when they say little misbeliefs like this. Language is rarely neutral. Does that make sense?

  15. I think people “push” their beliefs on each other when they say little misbeliefs like this. Language is rarely neutral. Does that make sense?(Sabio)

    I understand what you mean about the language thing. Isnt your use of “misbelief” an example of this? When it comes to science and the act of supposing, who gets to determine which suppositions are misbelief and which arent? 3000 yrs ago if you “supposed” or “believed” your heart could be replaced by a artificial one you would have been considered nuts. I wonder what else will be known about our beginnings 3000 yrs. from now.

  16. @ T4t :
    You are right. I shouldn’t have used the word misbelief. My bad. Now, any other thoughts on what I wrote?

  17. Sabio

    I have many thoughts on what you wrote here and in some of your past posts. I get somewhat confused because many times your posts include a wide variety of ways to look at things which are quite interesting and informative. Yet the essence of much of them seem to point to a right way or a wrong way to believe. I wonder, have you ever considered that you may sometimes use your understanding of science and empirical thought in the same way a Devout Religious person uses their holy texts? Not enough wiggle room potentially?

    I am pretty certain that all things have purpose in our world. In fact, the way we learn is through a break down/build up kind of system. It is exactly the same way nature seems to work. Constantly in flux between the opposing forces. Now we may debate if there is intention behind this purpose.
    Interestingly enough there are some studies that seem to point to the idea that “Faith” may play a role in our evolutionary process. Now that is intriquing, dont you think?

  18. Really great post and The Taoist story was lovely.

  19. @ Heather : Thank you

    @ T4T : You are right, I don’t embrace the view that everything is cool and we can all believe whatever we want. I think beliefs have effects. Of course it matters how we use them. As I have written many times: I view beliefs as having both functional value and propositional value — perhaps it is when I examine the propositional value of a belief that bothers you.

    And again, I strongly disagree that “all things have a purpose” from an intelligent designer with a plan. Of course things are in relationship and effect each other but that is the trite sense of “purpose”. I am talking about the anthropocentric notion of purpose.

    Concerning “faith” — it ain’t a muscle, it is just an attitude concerning some belief. A person has “faith” in something, it is not something that resides in their soul. If you want to discuss the articles, please quote them and we will see if they are well done studies and exactly what their operational definitions of “faith” are. But since any mental attitude has a role in evolution, the conclusion of the studies you mention sound like common-sense by my definition of “faith” above.

    In summary, from reading your site and comments, I doubt my essential positions will ever be satisfactory to you and unless you can show me how they are mistaken, I will probably continue to hold them.

  20. Tim Smith

    Sabio: My response to your post needs to be considered in light of the legitimacy of positing a teleological point of view regarding the world we live in. Of course ‘Everything happens for a reason’ as a locution of our everyday speech is generally meant to imply that God caused it. The intent of my response was in direct response to your last bullet … my translation (not Joe or Sue) per your question. To illustrate: Within a theistic framework I could maintain that my birth and life on this earth had some purpose with more consensual legitimacy than that it was God’s will that a parking spot opened up because I was in a hurry. Here it is by no means trite to be on guard against confusing reasons and causes. This is a plea for cautious enlightened theism, certainly one of the options that should be placed on the table in our pluralistic world. Truthfully are not atheism and theism both underdetermined, each with their seams, inconsistencies and mysteries? An ecumenical hermeneutic is in order where there are antinomies that militate against any ‘slam dunk.’

  21. Sabio

    Thanks for the response. You confirmed some things that have been on my mind lately. Enjoy your blog. Au revoir.

  22. @ Tim :
    Did you just say that you feel that God occasionally opens a parking spot for you when you are in a hurry?

  23. dreadpiratescetis

    I be liking your scrawlings! I like the table of the pros and cons of believing in destiny. I don’t be having to remind you that this concept is everywhere in many different religions. Taoism, Hinduism, and the Judeo-faiths as well. Thar be something to it and it comes down to how ye be interpreting time. Be it a line or a spiral or a spring or a corkscrew or a feather in the wind or a network of unrelated yet interconnected dots? Tell me your image of time and I will tell you how you go through life.

    This is another doctrine I find believers screwing up time and time again. The point of the Christian Doctrine of Providence is to recognize that humans are not the ordering principle of the universe and we are subject to the limits of time and space. We are not powerless however. This is where the doctrine of sin and freedom both come into play here where humanity has the choice to “Choose Good/God/Gospel” or not, in any given situation. That situation then will play out until time ends. We have a great responsibility for our actions is what the doctrine try to say, although they often are used for the opposite reason.

  24. Thank you Scetis
    The table was a main focus of the article — I am glad you appreciated that way of analyzing. Yes, destiny is a thought in every culture — and every culture have those who argue against it. likewise, Astrology in some form is in every culture. Thank goodness ubiquity is not a characteristic of truth.

    Atheists certainly don’t think Humans are the ordering principle of the universe. I tend to think we have choice but I also feel choice is overblown.

    I think, theology aside, that we agree that all our little choices create our momentum and thus we must take care before our momentum imprisons our choices.

  25. How do you translate “Everything happens for a reason” in your mind?

    I was a big believer of this one when I was a Christian. “There is a purpose for everything, I told myself.

    I was surprised when, already an unbeliever, things often turned out well after a disaster. It made me think, “Is there really a god, do things happen for a reason?”

    But after a few months of observation, I concluded that it ain’t so. After a disaster, or an unexpected occurrence, things often seem to turnout better than expected for several reasons.

    (1) When expectations are low, just about anything seems great.

    (2) If we are willing to learn, we can learn from any life situation and become better people.

    I know some of my most efficient driving routes I found when I was lost.

    (3) What we think is disastrous really isn’t (sometimes). It’s just different from what we wanted. Once we get over the shock, we often realize that what we got was different and better than what we could’ve planned or wished for.

    (4) Lemonade is often better that straight lemon juice–if we’re willing to add sugar and water, that is.

  26. societyvs

    “How do you translate “Everything happens for a reason” in your mind?” (Sabio)

    I think the problem is the ambiguiousness of real life…we need to find meaning in most things for life to be meaningful (not saying this is bad – I think we all do this to some degree).

    It’s also connected to the idea of decision making ability of each human and their ability to influence various outcomes by their decisions. So :. we create rewards and consequences with the things we are able to do.

    For example, it is hard for us to figure out why someone would kill someone we know. After all, we seemed to get along with them fairly well; they seemed nice enough; you didn’t see a good reason to kill them. We are inquisitive.

    In that example we seek the answer to why ‘someone killed our friend’. Blame is the obvious route – one is to blame for their actions. It still leaves us with a few other questions – the ‘why they did it’ part.

    What if the friend has kids…were sympathetic and that is also part of us (feelings). In an explanation to ourselves or his family we seek for the reason that makes sense.

    Ultimately, we seek for purpose after his death and this is where the idea ‘everything happens for a purpose’ comes from (IMO).

  27. @ Lorena :
    Very nice ! Great essay and analysis. That was fun, thanx.

    @ Society I’m not exactly sure what you are saying. You seem to say we make up reasons to satisfy our need for explanations. If so, I agree, it is one of our tendencies.

  28. dreadpiratescetis

    Ye Scrawled: “I think, theology aside, that we agree that all our little choices create our momentum and thus we must take care before our momentum imprisons our choices.”

    Parker Palmer scrawled: “Hold the profoundly opposite truths that my sense of self is deeply dependent on others dancing with me and that I still have a self when no one wants to dance.”

    Gar! We be freely-destined people. independent to a point, interdependent totally. Now how about two bits for an ol’ man o’ the sea?

  29. dreadpiratescetis

    Oh, I be meaning to say that yer quote was about the most profound thing I’ve read on a blog in my life. Maybe even in me life period.

  30. @ dreadPS

    Glad you enjoyed. I momentum thing is just a practical notion of Karma in Buddhism. CS Lewis did a thing on a little demon on a man’s shoulder that became larger with each bad choice until the man was a little figure on the Demon’s shoulder.

    Also, mixing in my India experiences, I envision this self-made lack of freedom as a juggernaut.

    But in all these, the ‘fate’ part is not caused by an spirit-in-the-sky puppet master.

    I love Parker’s image of dancing with others. This matches the Buddhist notion of interdependence which is central to wisdom. But it is insight crucial to showing one how their normal sense of self is highly delusional.

    Thanks for the into to Parker Palmer–a mystic Quaker, it seems. I found this quote from this lecture of his:

    Faith is not a set of attitudes that we are supposed to adopt. Faith is not a set of beliefs that we are supposed to sign up for. I think faith is the courage to face into our illusions and allow ourselves to be disillusioned about them, the courage to walk through our illusions and dispel them. Faith I would define (for the moment, at least) as a “disillusioned view of reality.” Faith is a way of viewing reality that lets the beauty behind the illusions shine through.”
    — P.Palmer

    Mind you, I find it odd that people keep redefining “faith” so they can keep it in their bag of tricks, but if you are going to have the tool, best make it a good one!

  31. Tim Smith

    Sabio: Am I saying that God sometimes opens up parking spaces? Not at all. I am saying be cautious in what you claim and let it be reasonable within a Christian context; “God has a purpose for my life” is a more reasonable, less contentious proposition than is ” God opened up a parking space for me.” To an atheist both statements are equally misguided. Of course! My comments are domain specific. The former statement is more in line with my (inner) definition of ” reason why”; God loves mankind. The latter assertion re convenient parking is more explainable in my mind in terms of car x left space y because of the key, driver intentions, fortuitous timing of my arrival etc.; a causal chain less worthy of metaphysical speculation and closer to what I label ” cause” Car x did not leave for the reason (purpose) of my convenience. The departure of car x allowed me to stop and place vehicle in reverse etc. It would seem to cheapen divine purpose to have it considered in such a cavalier light. At least to me it would. Consensual legitimacy within a given domain weighs in here. Thank you for your response to my response. You are a goad for my thinking.

  32. @ Tim :
    Thanx for the reply dude.

    So, I am relieved to hear that such claims as, “God got me a parkin’ spot” are outrageous to you too. [FYI readers, Tim is a very open-minded inclusive Christian — I know him personally].

    But I can’t help but thing that the only way the claim “God has a purpose for my life.” makes sense is one of two ways:

    (1) God has something he wants me to do — if I don’t he will be disappointed, but I have free will.

    (2) God is directing me now and again to fulfill some larger plan of his which I don’t know about and probably could not fathom.

    Well, if you meant #1, that is not what I am discussing in my post. #1 would be another discussion.

    But if you mean something like # 2, then I must say that I would imagine to make sense of such a claim, a god/spirit would have to intervene in this world and do little things kind of like changing someone’s mind about a parking decision or career choice or business deal. I can’t imagine #2 making sense without those. thus claiming # 2 is just like claiming a parking lot intervention. And one would think that there would be someway to test this sort of interventionalism and we have not come up with any to date. But since there is absolutely no external evidence pointing at such interventionalism, it seems the classic burden of proof is on those making such an extravagant claim. Especially in light that many believers with different gods with different purposes are making the same darn claim !

  33. Tim Smith

    Sense #1 of ” God has a purpose for my life” should, I agree, be set aside for another post, except to the degree that it shades into sense #2 Re sense #2 you put forth the notion that ” to make sense of such a claim” a god or spirit would have to intervene and change somebody s mind ( parking decision, career choice, business deal) and that this should be testable. The test of a change of mind is first party not third party verifiable. What would you accept as external evidence? Would it not be the testimony of the one who claimed their mind was changed? Or we could accept the fruits of their devotion such as the human intervention of Wilberforce who claimed that God intervened in his life to take up the cause of anti-slavery. We stray here into sense# 1 but the requirement of “external evidence” opens up the door. If one said that a decision made was based on prayer, searching and an asking for divine guidance the proof of that would be the path followed subsequent to the claim, such as graduating from nursing school to serve the cause of God in Africa like Schweitzer, or adopting that orphan etc. To say there is absolutely no evidence is then, according to your criteria, not true, if a change of mind is claimed, and that claim serves as the justification for intervention. Should we let Watson, Skinner and the neo-behaviorists decide the issue? A Leibnizian world as you so richly illustrated, is yet another thing entirely.

  34. @ Tim
    Nah, change of state of mind does not work for substantial evidence. Suicide bombers, cult leaders, US presidents and many more claim that God changes their minds. Every religion claims this. If Yahweh of the OT is still your god, then we can expect much bigger than just a change of mind. Sure, I get why you count it as evidence — so does every religion, cult, sect and every nut job in the world. We would need much more. Kind of weak evidence in my humble opinion.

  35. Tim Smith

    Change of mind was proffered as your criteria ( response on 2/19) not mine. The god/spirit must change someones mind; this was the test for intervention per your response. Again I ask how this is third party verifiable? It obviously is not so we rely on first party testimony. Evidence is ostensive or it is not. Testimony is not ostensive, we cannot point to it and say” look at that.” This testimony can be made by ” every nut job in the world” so we would need to somehow spiritually discern between rival claims. To deny the application of spiritual discernment throughout cultures is not a viable option in that history tells us otherwise. So if the one that intervenes (god/spirit) is, per rival claims not strictly identifiable, it does not mean there is not divine intervention but just that we need to keep searching, analogous perhaps to the theory of everything in physics. We see the world but not all the details. Faith is not a spiritual cloak to hide behind though it is often so used; it is where you wait for more evidence with patience according to your own sentiment of rationality. We all have sentiments of rationality, emotional stances through which we filter the “facts.”

  36. I am a Christian pastor so obviously we disagree on many major issues. I ran across your article because I am doing a series entitled, “Lies Christians Tell”. “All things happen for a reason” is this week’s lie. I agree that it is a damaging belief and certainly not grounded in the Bible. Thanks for your input on it.

    I comment becuase I thought you might be interested in a Christian’s take on this and other “lies” Christians tell. All are available my website. This week’s will be avaialable by next Wednesday. A commercial? Perhaps, but I hope you’ll check it out. http://www.summitcorpuschristi.com/category/morning-messages/

  37. Yeah, it was a commercial — I will let it slide this time. If you come back and respond to this, we will know it wasn’t just a cheap commercial.

    Because you didn’t interact with the post at all, but just plugged for your Jesus — not too shocking.

  38. Since my email response won’t be seen by others and you specifically asked me to respond, decided I should do so here too.

    I really think you are being a little too sensitive, man. I never even mentioned Jesus and I did respond to the article. I agreed with you that it is a damaging and dangerous idea to think all things happen for some good reason. I even thanked you for you input since I was researching the concept.

    It seems obvious a civil conversation about disagreements would be out of the question since I can’t even agree with you without you getting snippy. That’s too bad.

  39. @ Rick:

    Really? I didn’t see you respond to the Pros and Cons issues, the Taoist parable or the universality of the thinking. So it didn’t feel like your were really responding to the post but merely using the post to put your word out — the Jesus Word.

    Here is what your e-mail said that you did not include for my readers:

    “I thought the fact that I commented at all indicated an appreciation for what you had to say. I didn’t get the Emily Post Memo. So who makes up these “rules” anyway? I think perhaps you are being a little too overly sensitive indicating perhaps you have been hurt by Christians or “The Church”. If so, sorry about that. Perhaps their offense was as innocent/ignorant as mine.”
    –Rick

    Your generic Christian analysis that all Atheists must have been hurt by Christians or the Church show hows simple you are approaching things and how you are not reading the post. As far as you little cut about “Emily Post Memo” — I have clearly posted a Comment Policy — but again, you are not reading but just blasting in to make advertisements.

    Some people moderate comments to avoid these sort of encounters, but I prefer to be honest. Take it or leave it.

  40. Pingback: Lynda Dumais

  41. Alan

    During my last tour in Afghanistan, I had a boss who would comment, “Everything happens for a reason” whenever things did not work out as planned. After a few months, I started to mutter under my breath to my coherts, “Yeah, and the reason is that somebody screwed up.”

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