Justin Bieber was talked about quite a bit a while ago, and not for the normal, preteen-girls-giggling sort of way. He made some comments to Rolling Stone magazine, in which he came out against abortion. More shocking was his comment on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape. He said “everything happens for a reason.” Now, as TheAmazingAtheist said on YouTube, the quote as a whole wasn’t very shocking, being appended by “I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

Now, I really don’t give a shit what Justin Bieber has to say. There are millions of people in this country who agree with him, and there are millions of people who disagree with him. Hopefully more people disagree than agree with him on the abortion issue, or at the very least the rape instance of the abortion issue, but what I want to talk about is his comment that “everything happens for a reason.”

TheAmazingAtheist, in the video I linked to above, replied to Justin’s remarks by saying that in a random universe, things don’t happen for a reason. He didn’t really go into this and moved on to his next topic. However, I think I would agree that, as an atheist, I do not agree with the phrase the way it is usually meant. That is, that there is some greater purpose to the universe, and that everything that happens — good or bad — is part of this purpose.

Theists would chalk this purpose up to “God’s Plan” or “God’s Will.” New Age types would probably talk about some “force” or “energy” within the universe that influences events. These spiritual-types are usually comfortable with the idea that there is something greater out there, and that that great thing or being or whatever it is has some influence over events and cares about us.

I, on the other hand, will only accept “everything happens for a reason” insofar as it is literally correct. Everything happens for a very specific reason. Why did the ball fall to the ground? Well, because you let it go and gravity had its way with it. Why did you catch a cold? Because your immune system could not deal with a certain virus it encountered. This, however, is not what is normally meant by the phrase.

This reminds me of a personal story. This was a little less than a year ago, when my father and I were shopping around for a used car. If you’ve ever shopped for a used car on a budget with a guy who has different tastes in cars than you, you know it can be a very frustrating experience. We had just left a dealership and were pretty happy with the car, but were going to check out a couple more places before going for it. Anyway, I’m not sure if it was because of my atheism or if he just wanted to impart upon me some of his philosophy/wisdom, but he told me that if we didn’t get the car because someone else bought it or whatever, it was for a reason.

You see, it is his opinion that if something doesn’t go your way, it was because something better is supposed to happen to you later. For this car shopping example, he thought that if I was unable to buy the car I wanted, then that car was not “the one for me.” The first couple times he said it I politely mumbled agreement but after hearing it about ten times (perhaps he wanted me to explicitly agree) I had to tell him that wasn’t how I saw things.

What causes people to adhere to this worldview? I am going to estimate that a vast majority of people in the world subscribe to it. I have a few ideas.

First, I think this is one of the main reasons religion and spirituality are so appealing. It is probably very comforting to believe that some higher power is looking out for you. Shit could be hitting the fan all around the world, , but you’d at least have an out in thinking that The Big Guy (or Girl, I guess; usually Guy) has things under control.

Second, it may have a lot to do with confirmation bias. A nonreligious person like me views all events as “not planned by a powerful being.” As such, my confirmation bias keeps me square in this worldview. Most people, however, see things completely differently. They are taught from a young age that whatever God they’re worshiping controls some subset of the events that take place in the universe, and that these events are directed in such a way that a divine plan is being fulfilled. Confirmation bias leads to even the most mundane events being attributed to God if they are beneficial to us, and if they aren’t good we forget about them.

The interesting thing is which things are attributed to God and which aren’t. Depending on your level of religiosity, you may attribute everything to God (even the really bad things) or you may attribute only the good things. You may attribute the motion of every atom in the universe to God and you may only attribute smiles, butterflies, and rainbows. You may take Satan into account and you may not.

The typically one-sidedness of event attribution is most easily observed through what language we use. Take the words “blessed,” “lucky,” and “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “lucky” is “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “blessed” is “cursed.” But have you ever heard someone actually use the word “cursed” in actual conversation? Use of the word “blessed” is a huge, blinking sign that a person grew up very religiously and/or is currently somewhat spiritual themselves. But they will not use “cursed” as the opposite of “blessed,” opting instead for the word “unlucky.”

Some examples: “Oh, when we were in Ireland it was really nice and sunny; we were so blessed.” (Real example from a date, at which point I’m like crap…) “He got hit by a car. Man that’s unlucky.”

Other nonbelievers and I are consistent with our lucky/unlucky usage, attributing neither good events nor bad events to the influence of some greater being. Theists, on the other hand, wish to attribute only good things to their God, and leave the bad things to random chance. I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.

This is starting to drag on a bit, so I’ll cut to the chase: we need to return to a literal usage of the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” We need to start looking at the world scientifically, empirically, and with the assumption that nobody is going to come to our rescue. They say “a pair of hands working does more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” I agree. Let’s stop begging daddy to come help us and start fixing the world’s problems ourselves.

~peace, RR

The idea for this post was provided by a reader like you! If you have any issues, subjects, or topics, specific or broad, that you want me to weigh-in on, please leave a comment below or send me an email at radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

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