Sunday, April 29, 2007

I Believe in Victims; I Believe in Accidents

No victims, no accidents. That is what I heard over and again while attending a New Age fair in Atlanta, GA this weekend. The topic was the murders at Virginia Tech. The victims—oh, sorry, the volunteers—who died during Mr. Cho’s rampage had agreed to die (just as Cho had agreed to play the murderer) before they were even born in order to make some greater point that God needed made. And what is true of Virginia Tech is also true of deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world. No victims, no accidents.

I believe in victims. A victim is a person who suffers from something over which she or he has no control, and for which she or he has no responsibility. Saying “I don’t believe in victims” is really saying, “You are responsible for whatever happens to you, and I don’t have to feel bad for or lend a hand to help you or anyone.”

I believe in accidents. Accidents are events that happen without intent. Note I didn’t say ‘without cause.” Everything has a cause. I knocked the class of orange juice off my writing table by accident. I didn’t intend to do it, but there were a number of causal factors in my doing it. I placed the glass too close to the table’s edge. I leaned too far across the table to grab a reference book. My elbow swung out and pushed the glass so far over the edge that gravity pulled it earthward. Lots of causes, no intent. An accident.

Intent, or rather the lack of it, is central to both victims and accidents. To say “no victims, no accidents” is to say everything that happens does so by intent. Everyone gets what they intend to get, good or bad, and there is no reason to be upset one way or the other.

One reason we believe in “no victims, no accidents” is that we, like Einstein, can’t stomach the idea that God plays dice with the universe. We don’t like chance; we want an ordered universe. But chance is not opposed to order. Toss a pair of dice one hundred times and you will get more sevens and elevens than twos and twelves. Guaranteed. What you cannot guarantee is what number will come up on any given roll of the dice.

Believing in order need not harden one’s heart to victims or close one’s mind to accident.
There are victims and we should feel deep sadness at their suffering. There are accidents and we should learn to live without certainty. Feeling sad and navigating anxiety open both heart and mind, and keep us humble. Living with reality is accepting what is, not excusing what is.

So many people I met this weekend wanted to be numb. They mistook this numbness for equanimity, even peace, even joy. They wore it like a badge of honor, a PHD in spiritual attainment. There is no suffering, there is no injustice, there is no horror. Everyone is simply playing out her or his agreed-to roles.

I couldn’t help noticing that everyone who told me this also told me that he or she had attained or was about to attain the American Dream of health, wealth, and happiness. It was clear to me that worrying about or feeling real sadness over the fate of others less fortunate then themselves was just going to muddy the waters of success, and they would have none of that. I can’t decide which is worse: a religion that robs us of mind or a spirituality that robs us of heart. Luckily in America we get to have both.

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