Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Just World Theory, or How Religion Punishes Victims

The just world theory, essentially, says that we like to think of the world as a just and fair place, and so rationalize any evidence to the contrary.

In an article for Santa Clara University, two ethicists put it thus:
According to the hypothesis, people have a strong desire or need to believe that the world is an orderly, predictable, and just place, where people get what they deserve. Such a belief plays an important function in our lives since in order to plan our lives or achieve our goals we need to assume that our actions will have predictable consequences. Moreover, when we encounter evidence suggesting that the world is not just, we quickly act to restore justice by helping the victim or we persuade ourselves that no injustice has occurred.
This theory is used to explain some sickening reactions to misfortune. You may have heard that a woman who was raped was "asking for it" by the way she was dressed, by where she chose to be, or any other reason. This is disgusting. It's sickening, and it makes me mad.

And it makes me think.

There is a real, concrete philosophy that acknowledges the just world theory - and agrees with it. That philosophy is called religion. Nearly all religions explicitly support the just world theory. They tell us that the world is just and orderly, whether or not it seems that way to us.

"Everything happens for a reason." You hear this a lot.
Does everything happen for a reason, or does the narrative of our lives always follow the events as they actually occur? We're resilient animals, and there isn't one path toward happiness. Good things make us happy, and bad things make us strong - regardless of what happens, we wouldn't be who we are if things didn't happen the way they did.

What I'm getting at, is that our focus on narrative makes it easy for us to find order where there is none. Perhaps that is ok. What is emphatically not ok is any belief system that encourages us to believe that there are no victims. That encourages us to believe that there was a good reason these particular people were targeted for tragedy. There is not. They were not. To believe otherwise is to punish people who have already had awful things happen to them.

What would it be like to be told that the man who raped you is going free? More than that, what would it be like to be told that, really, you deserved what he did to you? That, somehow, you caused this thing to happen - this event that was traumatic partly because of the loss of control you experienced.

I am lucky enough to have never been in this position, but if I ever am, I hope that your belief in a god does not lead you to feel that "everything happens for a reason."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sometimes, This is How I Feel

I'm not always sure what I'm doing is art.

Credit goes to Silhouette Masterpiece Theatre.

The Only Difference Between Men and Boys

Cross-posted on Air Theremin

For your edification, Nicholas Ozment explains.

This work of short fiction is one of many posted on Every Day Fiction: "Short fiction in your inbox, daily!"

It's a cool concept, and I think I'm going to sign up. Who knows how many good stories I could discover that way?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lies That are True

Whatever happened to Jeffery Harrell?

He used to have a great page of stories online and a blog, both of which appear to be AWOL.

His book is here - and I may buy it, because the stories are wonderful.

This appears to be his twitter - which offers no clues to his site's disappearance.

If I can't get some information on the site, I'll have to take it off of my blogroll. Sad face.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


First off, hello again! I have been fairly busy and have not blogged here in some time, especially given my new status as a blogger at Air Theremin.

I've been having some conversations recently about religion, and a new opinion has blossomed from these talks.

If your religion features a hell, it is the most important thing about your beliefs.

We can talk for hours about loving thy neighbor and turning the other cheek and, eventually, basking in the presence of god; None of these things approach the importance of avoiding eternal agony.

How can you claim a peaceful religion if any sin or collection of sins committed over the course of one mortal life can be (and will be) punished by a sentence of perpetual, unending pain?

Furthermore, if you accept the existence of hell as true, what could be more important in your life than avoiding it? Yeah, paradise sounds good, but I'll settle for avoiding eternal torment.

Interestingly, this change in my thoughts has been accompanied by an increase in my understanding of Evangelicals and a proportional decrease in my approval of religious moderates.

If you believe, truly believe that your secular friend's soul is in danger - that if she does not accept Jesus Christ as her savior, she will burn in agony forever, then I would expect you to do everything you can to aid her salvation, up to and including alienating her as a friend.

What is your friendship compared with saving her from hellfire?

Which is why my opinion of moderates has also changed. You hear a lot of talk of tolerance, but is that really the best way to frame what is going on? Moderates tolerate your beliefs, but what does that say about any who believe in hell? That keeping social interaction smooth is more important to them than attempting to help someone avoid infinite suffering? If even one person could be helped to avoid such a ghastly fate, wouldn't the price in social capital be worth it?

So, those of you who believe hell exists - are you tolerant? Do you care so little for your fellow man? Or, deep inside, do you think that maybe hell doesn't exist after all?