One of my father’s favourite couplets goes like this:
कर्म किये जा फल की चिंता मत कर ऐ इंसान,
कर्म अच्छा करेगा फल देगा भगवान्।
Keep working and don’t worry about results. If you do good deeds, god will reward you with a positive outcome.
This is often combined with the note that human beings are free to do whatever they please, that we enjoy free will. It’s only the results that we have no control over.
Every time I hear someone make this argument, my mind starts coming up with these counter-arguments that are always the same. I thought it would be interesting to round up these loose threads of reason and bring them into a cohesive whole.
Let’s imagine that a guy is walking down the street and is run over by a speeding car and dies on the way to the hospital. Ask any religious person if there is an explanation for the death of an innocent person in this fashion and they will be quick to conjecture that he must have done something sinful to deserve such a fate. This is divine retribution, they will say, for wrongdoings in this or a past life.
But in a world that has free will, how can an all-powerful god always arrange for the distribution of this sort of justice?
Did that car driver intend to recklessly drive on that particular street at that time of that day just so he could kill a person and ensure that god’s plan was carried out? Of course not.
So then does it follow that god made him commit this murder by pre-arranging for the victim and the car driver to cross paths with each other on the fateful day in this brutal fashion? Will the driver eventually have to pay for a crime that god made him do?
Like everything else in religion, the concept of divine justice simply does not fly in a world where we have free will. Either god has to force all the sinners in the world to flock to Japan just in time to be swept away in a tsunami or we have to accept that the people who died in the tragedy were innocent and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on their own free will.
The couplet above sets out that we have to work towards achieving our goals, but in a world where divine justice is in effect, there can be no free will, and it therefore wouldn’t make any sense for anyone to work for anything.
Why study hard for that exam when your passing or failing is entirely in the hands of god? Why drive sensibly when you know that you can only die in an accident if it is in your destiny? Why get out of the bed in the morning at all?
Look at the world around you: is it more likely that our actions are being governed by an all-powerful being and that none of us are in control of our destinies, or does it make more sense that there is no divine justice, that we are free to do what we want, that the universe is utterly indifferent?