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."

No comments: