The words “karma” and “Christian” do not naturally go together. Karma comes from Indian religions and is most definitely not a Christian concept. Karma refers to the concept of “action” or “deed” and is understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect. Thus people popularly speak of someone who experiences a lot of bad events in their life as “having bad karma.”
Karma is generally associated with spiritism and reincarnation. In this context “the law of cause and effect” is situated within a deeply spiritual way of understanding. Karma is even used to determine how one’s life should be lived. Spirits are encouraged to choose how (and when) to suffer retribution for the wrong that they did in previous lives. The problem with this kind of spirituality is simple–such teaching has no clear grasp of how we actually know this reality without remembering whether or not we had a choice in the first place. Disabilities, physical or mental impairment or even an unlucky life are all due, in some way, to the choices a spirit made before we were born to a new life through reincarnation. This thinking is both deeply spiritualistic and profoundly fatalistic.
I live just a few miles away from the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America. The idea of karma was popularized in the West through theosophy. In this conception, karma was a precursor to the Neopagan law of return or what has been called the Threefold Law. Here the idea is that the beneficial or harmful effects one has on the world will, in the end, return to oneself. Consequently this view may be summed up as “what goes around comes around.” This “truism” is what I would think most Americans believe, or at least something like this in an undeveloped fashion. Just listen to people talk and you will soon realize this is so.
So why do I refer to “Christian karma” in my title?
There is, I believe, a “Christian” version of karma that goes something like this: If I do good, God has to reward me in return. It’s like we have a business transaction with God. He owes us if we perform.
This thinking pervades a great deal of our life as modern Christians. As I thought about this I found the following segment on “karma” at Wikipedia quite helpful.
The modern view of karma, devoid of any spiritual exigencies, obviates an acceptance of reincarnation in Judeochristian societies and attempts to portray karma as a universal psychological phenomenon which behaves predictably, like other physical forces such as gravity.
This view of karma, as a universal and personally impacting emotional constant, correlates with Buddhist and Jungian understanding that volition (or libido, created from personal and cultural biases) is the primary instigator of karma. Any conscious thought, word and/or action, arising from a cognitively unresolved emotion (cognitive dissonance), results in karma.
Take a Christianity devoid of true mystery and spirituality and pour into it some popular notions that are deeply rooted in Jungian psychology and you have a toxic philosophy at work. This “Christian karma” is a breeding ground for arrogance, entitlement and resentment all wrapped into one.
Perhaps the most dangerous part of this thinking can be seen in the attitude many Christians have about God. God either “owes” us or we are locked into “fate” and cannot escape. Either way “Christian karma” is both bad and dangerous. It denies the role of the human will, repudiates grace and feeds profound resentment, ultimately leading to practical unbelief.
All of this should remind us that we may confess with loudest voice that we believe certain doctrinal points to be true and important when the real in both mind and heart.
Watch out for ideas inside the church community, and in our dialogue, that sound like “Christian karma.” This thinking is pervasive and will deeply harm your faith in the incarnate Logos.