Saturday, August 22, 2009

Personal sovereignty and "karma": perhaps Rick Warren has a point: when is it "about you"?


A couple of important ideas for me, as anyone familiar with my posts knows, are “personal sovereignty” and “karma”.

Generally, “individual sovereignty” means the ability (of an adult) to act lawfully as one pleases, in any matter of significance: too accept any employment that one successfully competes for, to buy and lawful good or service that one can afford, and particularly to choose one’s company and adult significant others without undue pressure from others. Once one has made a commitment (usually “marriage”, including gay marriage), one should behave according to what the other partner would expect according to the vow; that doesn’t contradict sovereignty. Once one has had children, one is obliged to support and raise them. Freedom to speak freely and now (with some controversy) to self-publish and distribute one’s own speech have become an important component of individual sovereignty.

People may lose sovereignty when they become incapacitated, with age. People with disabilities may maintain or get sovereignty and independence if they are given the accommodations required by law; even for libertarians, there’s no real controversy that this is how things should work. People may lose sovereignty if they are required or compelled to support others beyond the normal scope of their own choices. An example that may become increasingly troubling is provided by filial responsibility laws, which states may be more likely to enforce in the future. In practice, many people take on family responsibility that they did not “choose”. Christian theology makes a large effort to deal with how to share and deal with common and external hardships falling on a community.

A concept related to sovereignty (and "station in life") is karma. The “New Age” notion of karma became popular in the 1970s, although sometimes it seemed appealing to people who did not yet face immediate severe hardships. It seems “just”, doesn’t it, as if there could exist a “Cultural Revolution” that spans across many incarnations, guaranteeing that eventually everyone has to deal with what they personally “deserve”. Karma can be effective within a lifetime, and seem to take on a supernatural aspect; intense thoughts, sometimes expressed in writings, can become as powerful as actual instrumentalities of technology (like on the Internet). I know this is true of the events of my life (I am 66) that have taken on some bizarre and complex ironies.

There are reasonable and humane ways to present individual karma in trying circumstances. For example, an incapacitated individual can “take responsibility” by accepting help from others in a format that others find more “efficient” and not monopolize others. But some personal karma must be shared, especially within families, sometimes other groups, even nationalities (as, for example, with military service). If one person is incapacitated, someone else must “own” the karma. Marriage and parenthood seem to imply the “power” to set up social arrangements in which others will share karma, which is one reason why marriage and “family values” become so socially and politically controversial.

My own impression of the “afterlife” issue is that at the end of life, one may know whether he or she really wants eternal life as he or she is at the time. The answer could be, no. Then reincarnation, with rebirth in a new and challenged situation (possibly related to poverty or disability) where one can pay back some debts related to dependencies that may have remained hidden during one’s life (“off the books” legally) makes sense. Failure to comprehend a hidden debt can be a serious problem for one’s karma and for others in one’s family. This gets to be translated into a lot of political and religious conflicts that help explain some behavior that we sometimes see as self-destructive.

In a sense, Rick Warren is right; it isn’t always “about you.” Except that it is “about you” in that “you” have more dependence on circumstances beyond “your” control than “you” want to recognize. New Age theory does layer the idea of salvation: the Cross gives everyone a chance to save themselves, partially, first. Maybe that simply appeals to man's own idea of "personal responsibility" and "justice." But freedom and perfect justice cannot coexist.

I am aware of the "Who sinned" issue (John 9), an "Freedom Rings" has an interesting take on that here. Sometimes, it seems however, "sin" must be accounted for anyway. Even so, there is so much "sin" to go around that it may not pay to hunt for it, or we all pay--with loss of sovereignty.

"Karma" would seem to invoke the idea of mandatory generativity and sustainability. While losses and sacrifice are real under "karam", there is political protection in that aggression is not allowed. That's what makes the idea comport with libertarianism.

I have a discussion of some of the AMORC books by H. Spence Lewis my books blog here.

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