I Didn’t Say That

Right now my book club is reading Christopher Hitchens’ Portable Atheist. And I have also just finished Hitchens’ God is Not Great. So at the moment I am well-steeped in religious philosophies, and especially in the shortcomings, of the world’s major organized religions.

I won’t get into the big stuff right now (like whether God exists), maybe later (just you wait). But I do want to address a couple of things that always seem to get said to me in times of need (and as such seem to fit into the religious space).

One of them is:

Everything happens for a reason.

This is said with absolute conviction. To me this is like saying “your keys are always in the last place you look.” Of course they are in the last place you look because you are not so stupid as to keep looking for your keys once you’ve found them, are you? If you look for a reason, you find a reason. Did it happen for a reason? Or were there consequences of that event that didn’t suck? It’s not very likely that every consequence of an event will be bad. You can always find a silver lining and attach a big pile of meaning to it. So it all happens for a reason, a reason that we recognize after the fact, almost as a justification for an event that we are unhappy enough about to bother to say “everything happens for a reason.”

If you followed me through that then I’ll keep with it…

The next thing people always seem to say, or maybe it’s just Mom (who has a Ph.D in Religious Studies) who says it, is:

We are always where we need to be, learning what we need to learn.

This is patent bullshit. I don’t need to be raped and murdered to learn whatever special lesson that holds. We humans are capable of great subtly and, dare I say it, inference. We can watch someone else go through hell and realize that perhaps we don’t need to go there ourselves. (Well, sometimes, some of us, with some kinds of hell.)

There are some lessons I don’t need. I don’t need my attorney to be shot in the face 2 blocks from my home (yes this happened), it’s not a lesson that’s important to me. I don’t need my husband to be afraid of being kidnapped when we are eating shitty tacos from a street vendor (he is). I don’t need to see yet another street dog that has been killed by a car at high speed and lays, pathetically, in the middle of the highway getting slowly ground to an unrecognizable pulp by the repeated cars that hit it (this happens daily here). I don’t need to walk down the beach and find large quantities of drugs washed up on the shore (I know nothing).

If you think these are lessons worth learning then be my guest, fucking learn them! I think this statement is something that is said by people who don’t have enough lessons under their belts and feel compelled to latch onto whatever lesson passes by (sorry Mom). And maybe, just maybe, there are more lessons to learn when you live in a 3rd world country, where suffering is a common everyday experience.

Thank you, good night and God bless…or whatever.

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12 Responses to “I Didn’t Say That”

  1. Jonna
    May 19th, 2008 22:53

    Oh girl! I am so with you on all of this. Some of these sayings are such BS I just want to scream. How about when something horrible happens to say a child, like it has some awful cancer, and it responds well to some treatment and they all say that God answered their prayers or God helped. Hello… if God were real and taking requests why give the poor kid cancer in the first place? Why don’t they ever say Oh, God gave my kid cancer? Argh! Yea, God gave your kid cancer because it had lessons to learn. Oh, and the other 3 examples, they suck. Nothing good about them, they suck.

  2. heatherinparadise
    May 20th, 2008 08:20

    I think that both of these sayings, perhaps the first one more strongly, are important to help people feel as though there is reason/meaning behind their lives/suffering. How does one make sense of nonsensical things that happen? Living is hard. Although I don’t subscribe to either sentiment myself, if either brings comfort to someone else, I say “go for it.”

  3. lisaloveloca
    May 20th, 2008 08:52

    Please come stay with me and protect me from the Testigos de Jeovah that keep lurking around my house, waiting to knock on the door when I am in the bathroom or sneak up from behind while I am fixing my car!! Please? I’s skeered of dem!!

  4. RiverGirl
    May 20th, 2008 09:17

    Heather – You are right, people want reasons for the bad things that happen and they need the comfort. And that’s OK, for them.

    Lisa – My husband is pretty good at running of Witnesses, they don’t stand a chance with them.

    Jonna – I’m with you, people want to believe that God is involved in their daily lives and “cares” about them.

    My own belief system doesn’t involve a God that judges me or tries to teach me lessons. I learn plenty on my own and judge myself too harshly already.

  5. Gary Denness
    May 20th, 2008 12:23

    You (or at least I) can learn in many ways from hardships. Although it is difficult to say what can be learned from being killed. I’m sure there is a bibelbasher out there somewhere who can tell you, and I’ll bet it isn’t 42, which we all know to be the real answer. To all questions.

    But being able to learn and improve yourself is a long way off from ‘Everything happens for a reaso’. Not least because the same christians who’ll tell you this will later tell you that you have free will. Duh.

  6. RiverGirl
    May 20th, 2008 13:05

    I probably learn more from hard times than from easy ones. But what do I learn from repeatedly seeing the same bad things, like dead lumps, that used to be dogs, lying in the road? I don’t know that I learn anything.

    Ah yes, free will! The big question. I would be pretty depressed if I didn’t believe I had free will.

    Oh yes, 42. For anyone who doesn’t get that reference check out the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

  7. Steve Jones
    May 22nd, 2008 08:21

    Great post! As the father of a child (Chris) who died after a lengthy illness (21 yrs old, had Cerebral Palsy and shunt malfunction), I used to hear “God will never give you more than you can handle”.

    Oh really? I am not angry at God, in fact, I consider myself to be pretty “cool” with the man upstairs…. at a bible study when the leader gave me that line, I asked him if I had been a weaker person, would my son then still be alive? Would God have decided not to give me a handicapped son? Why was I “made” such a strong person?

    I have never seen this man speechless, but there he was. All he could do was embrace me and cry. I cried, too.

    My son has been gone 4 years now (Tue 2/20 was the 4th anniversary of his death). I have come to an inner peace by telling myself that God didn’t “give me something I couldn’t handle”, but rather God helped me to be come a strong enough person to handle whatever “life” threw my way.

    I wouldn’t trade a minute spent with my son, but I also know that Chris is now in a better place.

    Steve – coming to Cancun June 3-18 with my family. Any chance of saying “hi” to you and yours?

  8. RiverGirl
    May 22nd, 2008 10:28

    Wow Steve! So you know better than I do what I was getting at. Your son was lucky to have a father with such a good perspective. And I’m sure he is in a better place now. And I’m glad you’ve found some peace.

    Contact me when you get here, we can grab a cup of coffee or something.

  9. Fned
    May 23rd, 2008 03:51

    I used to go against anything to do with religion. I used to say things like “believing in God is stupid, it’s clear he doesn’t exist” and refusing to go into churches and that sort of stuff. I admit I was a dumb teenager and would do this mostly to shock/impress those around me (when you live in country where 99% of the population is Catholic and you want to stand out, now you know what to do).

    I think I’ve come a long way since then living in a such a melting pot city as Paris.

    I still don’t believe in any religion or particular God and it still pisses me off when people start to get all judgmental and religious on me (I used to work for a Jewish company and get nasty looks for not eating kosher and staying to work after sundown on Fridays, specially because my last name is Shapiro)….

    I hate how people stand behind the wall of their “faith” in order to impose ridiculous and even ludicrous regimes to the easy-to-manipulate masses. I’m not thinking of any religion in particular but when people go to the extremes… it simply pisses me off because I feel they are being ignorant: by refusing to accept any other “truth” can be plausible they are shutting themselves from the world and thus not allowing it to evolve. What a shame.

    However, I have also seen what having faith can do to a person. It can get them through the hard times and it can give them courage to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise, all by feeling that someone is “watching over them”. I’ve come to realize that if that is what it takes to get them through the day, then ok, good. I know, it’s not what it takes ME to get me through MY day, but that’s what diversity and free-thinking is all about, right?

    Which leads me to a new dilemma. What can you say to a mother who has lost a child? In what words can you offer comfort to her without sounding fake? I ask this because, I too HATE the “everything happens for a reason” line (it just sounds sooo…. fake) but then again, what CAN you say?

    P.S. Great post.

  10. RiverGirl
    May 23rd, 2008 09:02

    Fned – I’m with you that. For me diversity of thought and belief is what make people great. I don’t agree with my own husband on politics or religion (though we are not too far apart). I don’t think we should all be trying to agree on all that, diversity gives society strength imho.

    I’m not always sure how to comfort people, especially if their religious ideas are more, say, rigid than my own. Perhaps all we can really do is express our sorrow over their loss.

  11. Steve Jones
    May 28th, 2008 05:30

    Great thread. I have a student who was telling me about how angry he is over the loss of his child. His ex-wife was on vacation – in Cancun – with the 5-year old and (if I remember this right) they were on a catamaran tour and the catamaran overturned. The boy and his mom were thrown overboard and even with a lifebest, the boy drowned. Listening to him tell me this I could physically feel the anger that he had. I expressed my sorry at his loss, and asked when this happened. He said the boy would now be 17 years old had he survived. 12 years? That is a long time to harbor such anger. Not for me to meddle, but perhaps some belief system could have helped him get through this and come to terms…… 12 years.
    My oh my.


  12. RiverGirl
    May 28th, 2008 10:51

    Steve – It’s clear to me that there’s a human need for faith and meaning. And twelve years is much too long to hold on to anger, that’s not healthy. I hope your friend can let go of that anger and remember the good times with his son. What a sad thing.

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