Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

Thorny problems with karma #2: who sets the rules?

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2 minutes to read If karma is basically a system for balancing your morally bad choices, who exactly is it that makes the moral rules you must follow?

Continued from part 1, on what makes karma tick

Karma functions, as I understand it, by balancing evil actions with good ones. This seems to imply that it works according to moral laws which exist independently of any particular person, and to which all people are subject.

This obviously raises the question of where these person-independent moral laws come from.

On the face of it, it seems impossible to account for the existence of objective moral laws in the absence of an objective moral lawgiver. Since morality only applies to persons, where would such rules originate, if not from a personal, moral being? So it seems we need something like the Christian God to underwrite moral values in a karmic worldview—but karmic belief systems reject the existence of God (again, I am speaking of the most popular versions in the West—Hindus may be able to slip around this problem).

You could try to answer this with moral relativism, and say that karma functions to balance only the actions a person perceives to be bad based on his own moral code. But this comes at a very high price. It implies, for example, that a sociopath like Ted Bundy has no need to balance his many rapes and murders, because he had no moral qualms about committing them. Indeed, the very counterintuitive conclusion we’d have to draw here is that the more blind a person is to their immorality, the less karma will affect them.

As with the issue of who “supervises” karma, this problem seems to reveal a fundamental contradiction in karmic worldviews that don’t also believe in a supreme god. I’d be interested to hear any responses that try to solve it.

Continued in part 3, on how karma turns charity into something selfish and inconsiderate

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