Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
Thorny problems with karma #3: charity is selfish and inconsiderate

Why should we take karmic worldviews seriously when they encourage cruelty and indifference over charity and mercy, and have produced the most backward, poverty-stricken cultures in the world?

← Continued from part 2, on who sets the moral rules that karma works by

One of the striking problems with karmic worldviews is the implications they have for human suffering, and our attitude towards it. According to these worldviews, suffering is a result of past actions, and is not merely justified, but necessary for a person to move closer to achieving enlightenment.

This has the very counterintuitive implication that we ought not to interfere with the suffering of others, because to do so would interfere with justice (or balance or harmony or whatever term you prefer), and delay their being freed from the cycle of life and death.

This conclusion, combined with the belief that the key to achieving enlightenment is in cultivating indifference to the material world—including other people and their problems—is one of the chief forces behind the fact that India contains a third of the world’s poor. Just 8 Indian states house more of the world’s poor than 26 of the poorest African countries, according to a 2010 report by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. One in three Indians lives below the poverty line, and 97% of them live on less than $5 USD a day.

A religion or philosophy which logically cultivates an inhumane attitude toward other people seems, on the face of it, to be probably false. This is because we know we should be charitable and merciful toward others, and especially toward those in dire need—we certainly should not be cruel and indifferent to them. But the only clear reason to be charitable and merciful under a karmic worldview is to improve your own karma…at the expense of someone else’s. In other words, karmic worldviews seem to make charity and mercy vices, rather than virtues; and indifference and cruelty virtues, rather than vices. (Which sounds suspiciously like Isaiah 5:20-21.)

This is why I have always found it so strange that many westerners are enamored with the idea of traveling to places like India and Tibet to seek wisdom. Surely some of the obvious baselines for wisdom are things like right judgment and virtuous living. You won’t find wisdom without those.

But then why look for it in places of abject poverty and inhumanity, caused by a philosophy which leads to poor judgment, lack of virtue, and fatalism?

Karmic religions seem to have largely produced societies which promote cruelty, poverty, oppression and stagnation. Christianity, by contrast, has largely produced societies which promote charity, economic flourishing, personal liberty and scientific advancement. Why then do people who claim to value wisdom seem unwilling to investigate Christianity over karmic religions?

Continued in part 4, on how the karmic system could get started in the first place →

11 comments

  1. Kevin

    Intuitively, it seems to me that people reject cultural christendom simply on the basis of two of its attributes in the West: foundational ubiquity; and the fact that Christianity makes definite moral demands. The first is simply a case of familiarity breeding contempt. The second — well, no one likes being told no. The idea that there is a “force” or something in the universe that will agree with me (and reward me) when I feel I have been good, but which will not sneak in any standard to reign in my impulses, is very attractive. But, as you point out, you really can’t have one without the other.

  2. Tony

    “This has the very counterintuitive implication that we ought not to interfere with the suffering of others, because to do so would interfere with justice (or balance or harmony or whatever term you prefer), and delay their being freed from the cycle of life and death.”

    really? i always thought it implies we should be nice to people who are suffering because you are being nice when they dont really deserve it, which therofore improves your karma, and also helps the other person in improving their karma by teaching them how to behave properly. So its not at the expense of anyone else. (Though its probably just wishful thinking in the end) ” Christianity, by contrast, has largely produced societies which promote charity, economic flourishing, personal liberty and scientific advancement”

    maybe you should look at the laws of 18th century England or some of the German Princapalties and see how much “freedom” existed or how much “charity” there was

    “Just 8 Indian states house more of the world’s poor than 26 of the poorest African countries, according to a 2010 report by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative”

    well according to my university professors its all the fault of the english who made the indians poor……

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    we should be nice to people who are suffering because you are being nice when they dont really deserve it, which therofore improves your karma

    So charity is still selfish under your interpretation of karma.

    and also helps the other person in improving their karma by teaching them how to behave properly.

    Even if modeling good behavior teaches good behavior, the fact remains that you are mitigating your efforts by deliberately prolonging their karmic deserts. If you were taking the long view of charity under karma, you should be as harsh as possible to those in miserable situations so as to help them rapidly repay their karmic debt. You could still model good behavior for them by treating those who deserved it well.

    maybe you should look at the laws of 18th century England or some of the German Princapalties and see how much “freedom” existed or how much “charity” there was

    A vague mention of some supposedly nefarious societies built on particular interpretations of the Bible is hardly a persuasive rejoinder to books like Sampson’s 6 Modern Myths About Christianity & Western Civilization which documents the influence Christianity had on building the sorts of societies we regard as ideal.

    well according to my university professors its all the fault of the english who made the indians poor……

    Right. The Indians are all poor. There’s no money in India at all. There aren’t any rich Indians oppressing poor Indians. In fact, they are a great and noble people full of wisdom and grace, and everything that happened in India is the fault of the evil white Christian man. Indians haven’t benefited in the slightest from the modern technology evil white Christian men invented, or the political and economic ideas they introduced. There are no call centers in India providing jobs to people who would otherwise be beggars. Etc. Perhaps your problem is that you need to learn to think for yourself, instead of deciding what is true based on whether some “expert” or other is saying something that conforms to your pre-selected ideology.

  4. Tony


    Even if modeling good behavior teaches good behavior, the fact remains that you are mitigating your efforts by deliberately prolonging their karmic deserts”
    no you wouldnt because you are showing them how to end their problems

    “Right. The Indians are all poor. There’s no money in India at all. There aren’t any rich Indians oppressing poor Indians. In fact, they are a great and noble people full of wisdom and grace, and everything that happened in India is the fault of the evil white Christian man. Indians haven’t benefited in the slightest from the modern technology evil white Christian men invented, or the political and economic ideas they introduced. There are no call centers in India providing jobs to people who would otherwise be beggars. Etc. Perhaps your problem is that you need to learn to think for yourself, instead of deciding what is true based on whether some “expert” or other is saying something that conforms to your pre-selected ideology”

    that last part about indians was a joke yeesh…. (but it is still sort of true)

    “So charity is still selfish under your interpretation of karma”
    not really, besides any interpreation of morality that invovles supernatural rewards/benefits at the end can be intepretated as “selfish”…. including yours

    “If you were taking the long view of charity under karma, you should be as harsh as possible to those in miserable situations so as to help them rapidly repay their karmic debt”
    that made no sense what so ever, if anything it would only make things worse for both people! as the harshness would just cause suffering to both people in this life and the next

  5. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    no you wouldnt because you are showing them how to end their problems

    Contradicting me doesn’t show how I am wrong. Your comment is completely unresponsive to my argument.

    not really, besides any interpreation of morality that invovles supernatural rewards/benefits at the end can be intepretated as “selfish”…. including yours

    So it’s not selfish…but it is? I’ll take that as an admission that I’m right.

    as the harshness would just cause suffering to both people in this life and the next

    Needless to say, this is another contradiction within karmic views which I’ve already pointed out.

  6. Tony

    “Needless to say, this is another contradiction within karmic views which I’ve already pointed out.”

    i really see no contradiction sorry

  7. Tony

    “So it’s not selfish…but it is? I’ll take that as an admission that I’m right.”
    i dont think you understand what i am trying to say, its that you shoot yourself in the foot when you try to claim that someone else’s morality system is “selfish” when you yourself believe that morality would be pointless if there isnt a god that hold you accountable at the end of your life. In other words according to your own reasoning ALL systems of morality are ultimately selfish.

  8. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Where have I ever said morality would be “pointless” if there were no God to hold us accountable? I have said that there would be no morality if there were no God. The value of morality is grounded in the character of God, not in our obedience to him. So your objection is fundamentally misplaced. You don’t seem to have even a basic understanding of the Christian position, so I’d suggest you stop trying to critique it.

    All that said, you haven’t defused my objection that charity under karma is selfish.

  9. Tony

    ” The value of morality is grounded in the character of God, not in our obedience to him”

    i think again you missed the point- mainly that charity under ANY morality is “selfish” according to your own logic. you might have thinked i accidentaly equicated value of morally with its existence due to the way i talk, as when i claim something is pointless it means its existence is void and null.

    “All that said, you haven’t defused my objection that charity under karma is selfish.”
    it improves both the karma of the giver and the one that’s being helped, it doesnt really delay others from breaking the cycle, it allows EVERYONE to break the cycle faster, to anwser some of your previous objections:

    “You could still model good behavior for them by treating those who deserved it well.”
    but that only teaches them to treat SOME people well, not all. If they only treat SOME people well and others poorly it would still cause them to suffer in the next life.

    “If you were taking the long view of charity under karma, you should be as harsh as possible to those in miserable situations so as to help them rapidly repay their karmic debt.”
    this only causes trouble to you and as well it doesnt help the other person either it might cause them to die faster but it doesnt help them repay anything-their next life is supposed to be based on their actions in this life not how others had treated them in this life. It would also cause you to suffer in the next life as well

    The main point being that the only way for the cycle to be forever broken is to to be nice to as many people as possible, as being mean to people in miserable situations would only cause the cycle to prepeutate forever. This solution i told you can wipe out all karmic debt eventually,your ideas about karma just perpetuates suffering needlessly

  10. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    i think again you missed the point- mainly that charity under ANY morality is “selfish” according to your own logic

    Then you don’t understand my logic. Charity, under karma, improves your own karma, at the expense of someone else’s. That makes charity selfish.

    Charity, under Christianity, is seeking the good of someone at your own expense because it is good to do so. If you believe that is selfish, then present an argument.

    you might have thinked i accidentaly equicated value of morally with its existence due to the way i talk

    If the way you talk is any reflection of the way you think(ed?), then I can see why you’re having problems.

    it improves both the karma of the giver and the one that’s being helped, it doesnt really delay others from breaking the cycle

    You’re going to need to start making counter-arguments that engage with the arguments I’ve already given, instead of simply repeating the same naked assertions.

    but that only teaches them to treat SOME people well, not all.

    But why think that we should treat all people well, under a karmic worldview? You’re begging the question. Moreover, this is a conclusion taught by many gurus and mystics in India itself!

    their next life is supposed to be based on their actions in this life

    No, their next life is culmination of all their previous lives. Don’t post here without acquainting yourself with the basics of the views involved.

    The main point being that the only way for the cycle to be forever broken is to to be nice to as many people as possible

    Which ignores the sustainability paradox I’ve raised in another post.

  11. Tony

    “Moreover, this is a conclusion taught by many gurus and mystics in India itself!”

    According to Buddhist beliefs sustaining the cycle will only cause needless suffering for all parties invovled. Being kind to people in the long run even if they really didnt deserve it will in the end break the cycle of suffering forever. So in the long run its good for both people that does not benefit one person at the expense of others. I got taught about karma elsewere sorry:(

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