It Happened for a Reason July 7, 2008

It Happened for a Reason

Talking to a somewhat religious friend the other day, I heard her use the phrase “It happened for a reason” to describe an event in her life.

The first thought running through my mind was, “No, it didn’t.”

But I remembered when I was religious, I felt the same way.

Letting go of that notion was probably the hardest barrier to overcome when I became an atheist.

It means you go from seeing life as a series of steps in God’s Master Plan to seeing it as an infinite set of coincidences, one piled on top of another.

When you met your future husband/wife at that one friend’s party? Just luck.

When you didn’t get into the car that later crashed? Just a twist of fate.

When your parents met and conceived you at just the exact right moment for you to be born, and their parents did the same, and their parents, and their parents, and all the ancestors before them at all those precisely right times?

Chance. Pure chance.

Nothing was meant to happen.

There are so many ways a particular trail can branch off. You’ll walk down just one of the paths. Maybe some paths end up in the same place. Maybe the one you’re on veers so far away from all the rest. But you’ll never know.

It’s a vulnerable feeling. No one’s in charge. No one’s looking over you…

How mindblowing is that?! To think: of all the ways everything could have gone, they fell together by chance to create your life story.

The sooner you can accept that — the sooner you realize you’re the only person responsible for your life and what happens in it — the easier it is to let go of your faith.


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  • Carlos

    Funny, even though I’ve never been religious, I used to humor the notion of fate and things “happening for a reason”. The reason, however, was never the will of some god.

    But I wouldn’t discount your religious friend’s statement – things do happen for a reason. The reason is “Because they can.” It’s just not a very satisfying reason.

    – Carlos

  • Awesomesauce

    Ah yes, destiny. It’s the element that most strongly made the movie “Wanted” suck.

  • Susan

    I have had a notion for many years that things do happen for a reason, although it has nothing to do with the presence of a god. It’s very difficult concept, and I think one which simply has no solid answer:

    If I hadn’t stopped for gas at the convenient market one evening, I wouldn’t have encountered black and white puppy who had been abandoned there. She has been the joy of my life for six years now.

    What made me choose a college which I knew very little about and which I never visited until the first day of class? I don’t know, but I’ve been given more support in every way than I could ever dreamed about.


  • Larry Huffman

    While I was still religious my wife and I had our first child. She was born with a terminal illness. She lived two and a half long painful years, always in need of medical care…turning the lives of her family upside down. This happened, according to the religious…for a reason.

    They offered many of those ‘reasons’ up for our edification…god needed an angel, she was so special god wanted her back, blah blah, blah…We even heard from other religious people in our family who disliked our particular sect, that it happened because we were not following the lord correctly. We heard that maybe we had some grievious sin in our lives. There were lots of reasons, none of which constituted making an infant suffer and waste away for 2 years, only to die a sad little wimper of a death.

    Want to know what the real reason was? A virus infected her as a fetus, so early in her formation that her mother and I did not even know she had been conceived. As an added kick to the religious viewpoint, we were told that most pregnencies with this syndrome would be self-aborted…hmmm, a discussion could be waged on that item alone. That virus tore through her newly forming systems, causing defects that would not sustain her life for very long at all.

    So…yes…there are reasons for everything…but of those that were given to me by all of those well meaning religious people, I prefer the virus reason. To begin with, it is based in fact and actual provable, knowable and bona fide intelligence and information (unlike any reason I was given that remotely involved god)…and it is the only one that will keep a loving father from going mad trying to rationalize an irrational god and doctrine with the irrational act of taking an infant.

  • I love the power of numbers and statistics too. I believe in my percentage. I am continually surprised at how many people don’t believe in coincidence, and that after a while the numbers make sense. Hey, it could even explain the origin of our universe and of life! Just a thought…

  • Adrian

    I find the “it all happened for a reason” thing to be very depressing. It is all-too-often used as a way to blame the victim or to minimize the impact of a trauma. Car accident? Don’t worry, there’s a reason. Friend died? Don’t worry, there’s a reason. Mugged or raped? There’s a reason. Holocaust, famine, disease? Reason, reason, reason.

    What sick, twisted, depraved,…


    I mean, what sort of reason could justify these events? What does it say about God? Pretty disgusting if these things are intentional, if you ask me.

    What does it say about the people who make these arguments? I know it’s bad form to think negatively about other people, but you’ve got to have some shocking ignorance, lack of introspection or delusion if you can think there’s a reason for everything and not see God as a monster.

  • Aph

    I so needed to read this. It was just what I needed after today. It’s almost like I was meant to read this piece. Okay, I am lame.

    Seriously though, no reason. None. Nope. The thinking that things happen for a reason is incredibly pervasive. I understand it, I just don’t “get it.”

    @Adrian . . . and yeah agreed, totally depressing worldview.

  • When I handed a copy of your book to my minister, the first thing he noticed was that the forward was written by Rob Bell.

    He told me, “This is providence.”

    I told him, “No. No it isn’t.”

    He shot back, “YES IT IS!”

    Every time I bring up that book, he reminds me that the forward was the best part of your book.

  • Amber

    I still have a nasty habit of not accepting things as mere coincidence. Say, I’ll see an “inspiring” news story, let myself be wooed by some baby surviving a tornado, and later beat myself up for being so gullible as to think something in the sky protected it from getting minced by flying 2x4s.
    But, I’ve only been an atheist for 3 or so years. Hopefully it will wear off.
    Because honestly, it’s an even cooler feeling when you realize things lined up just right my their own means.

  • Grimalkin

    I found that the easiest way to let go of that kind of thinking was to think of the process of time in a different way.

    A lot of religious people see the present and think “isn’t it amazing that everything fell together perfectly to create the world as it is now?” In other words, they see the present as the end, the conclusion, the final product – more than that, they see it as the ONLY POSSIBLE conclusion. As though all of history has been building up to this one moment.

    Rather, see the process of time as just that – a process. It’s something on-going, there will be a tomorrow. We aren’t a conclusion. Furthermore, there are many paths that could be taken. With a little imagination, one can see how things could have happened differently and how consequences of those things could have led to other things and so forth.

    Some things are easier to let go of than others. You mentioned the parents coming together at just the right moment to make me – that never was an issue for me. I exist as I am because they decided to go at it at that particular moment. But I have no trouble imagining myself as not existing. Say they decided to have sex five seconds later and someone similar to me came into being instead of me. I know that for some people (probably the same people who get this frantic expression in their eyes and say “what if YOUR mother had decided to get an abortion?” as though that should be the worst possible thing that I could imagine), this would be a big deal. But it never was.

    The harder details to stop thinking of as examples of “divine intervention” are things like meeting my spouse. The way we met was so extraordinary and, within a few seconds, we both knew we wanted to be together. It’s hard not to believe in soul mates and all that when faced with that kind of thing. Not to mention how “blessed” I’ve been in my life – amazing parents and opportunities. I’m thankful in an abstract way for everything I have in my life that I never had to work for. I don’t thank a divine being, but rather thank my parents for being awesome, or just be thankful in a very general and non-directed way that I happened to have been in the right place at the right time so many times.

  • renascence

    I know why you’re writing this post, and I agree with the overarching idea. But…

    It means you go from seeing life as a series of steps in God’s Master Plan to seeing it as an infinite set of coincidences, one piled on top of another.

    I wouldn’t go so far to call life “an infinite set of coincidences”. Thrown in with the natural chaos that reserves the right to undo our own plans, I kind of perceive Earth as one huge battleground for everyone’s ideas, where only the most indomitable egos and most calculatingly intricate schemes cut through the multifaceted deadlock. Given that we have so much freedom to steer ourselves in another direction, it’d be odd to suddenly say what comes from it is simple coincidence, since we have some intention to shape our futures in a certain way. After all, even when a future husband and wife meet at a party, wasn’t it their idea to get to know each other better and tie the knot afterward?

  • The thing I’ve found about letting go of “everything happens for a reason” is that it makes me much more humble. I don’t have what I have because the Universe is looking out for me/ trying to teach me a lesson. I have what I have through a combination of work and luck. And way more of the latter than I usually care to admit.

    It is hard to let go of, though. Just the other day we went to the fancy ice cream place: there was a line out the door and down the block, but there was also a rock-star parking spot right in front. We were trying to decide if the ice cream would be worth the wait, and the impulse to say, “Look at that parking spot, clearly the universe wants us to get ice cream” was strangely compelling.

    So how I look at those little serendipities and accidents now is not as a clue to the universe — which couldn’t give less of a shit about me — but as a clue to my own psyche. If my reaction to seeing a parking spot in front of the crazy- busy ice cream place is “The universe wants us to have ice cream,” then that’s a clue that I do, in fact, want to wait in line for 20 minutes for ice cream.

    And that’s true for the larger serendipities and accidents, too. If I’m seeing patterns and intentions, prophecies and omens in them, then that clues me in, not to what God or the World-Soul wants, but to what I want.

  • And Larry: I’m so sorry about your daughter. For what it’s worth, I totally agree with you: when something terrible happens, it is actually a comfort to know that it was simple physical cause and effect, just the way the world goes sometimes… instead of racking your brains and your heart trying to figure out what God was thinking, or what you did to deserve it.

  • Chion

    I think Grimalkin really locked it in, and i’m so glad this subject came up… When people claim “everything happens for a reason”, well, the reason isn’t DONE yet!

    Let’s imagine – you swerve to avoid a minor fender-bender. You think, “good thing i avoided that! looking for that extra 5 seconds for my car keys this morning happened in order to avoid that accident!”. you stay at work an extra minute or two, telling a co-worker about your near-hit. then, you get into a fatal car accident and die.

    Greta Christina also made a good point about being humble – how entitled of us to assume that our lives are carefully orchestrated?

    Which brings me to my ultimate conclusion on the God’s Plan idea… If you were a god, would you make a planet where you know exactly what happens with everybody and everything? What’s the point in that, coming from a goddish (goddish?) point of view? What use is that? It doesn’t make any sense for there to be a plan at all, so “it was meant to be” is just a cop-out for being accountable for your actions, and is indicative of entitlement of purpose.

    Thanks for bringing this up for discussion, Hemant! it’s always bugged me.

  • I am troubled by this “it happened for a reason” concept because it gets misconstrued to sound like we’re just puppets with God pulling our strings.

    As a Christian, I can assure you that no one is pulling my strings. I have free will over my actions … sometimes my actions are “Christ-like” but other times I screw up.

    However, the idea that God is in control is very much a part of my life. It’s the “how” of His control that non-Christians as well as many Christians do not understand.

    It is not that God is pulling strings but rather that He works through the Holy Spirit filling His followers’ lives. When we are attuned to the Holy Spirit and following God’s direction on our lives, then we can make good come out of bad situations, prompting the idea of “it happened for a reason”.

    I do think that sometimes God calls us to situations which test us to see how we will respond but ultimately we have free will. Some of the things we go through end up being lessons for us that ultimately help us to better align our hearts and lives with the Holy Spirit, allowing God to work through His people and make good things happen.

    It isn’t that things “happen for a reason” — it is instead that the Holy Spirit, when alive through God’s people, can use any situation or event for ultimate good.

    I like this topic of discussion — excellent!

  • Churn

    Search for Connie Ten Bloom and her Tapestry metaphor. It’s the best thing I’ve read that gives me a way to understand why God would allow or cause seemingly horrible things to happen. She says that we are looking at the back side of a tapestry, seeing knots and a jumble of threads. Most of it is not very pretty. Our lives make up these threads. But its not till you cross over and see the other side that Gods plan becomes clear and you see the beautiful picture.

    After you read about the Tapestry, imagine that when God needs a “short bright thread” for the Tapestry, that is when He needs a child’s life.

    I find this comforting. Maybe some of you will too.

  • stephanie

    I think people who see coincidence as proof of the divine are looking at events from the wrong direction, like taking a single result from a tree diagram and jumping back to its initial premise. If you look at the ‘miracle of your birth’ you should also take into account how many times your parents had sex and conception failed or how many sperm didn’t make the podium in the race on that fateful night. When you start stacking those numbers up, that whole ‘miracle’ seems an awful lot like simple probability theory.
    Things don’t happen for a reason. I find that more consoling than frightening because knowing the universe doesn’t take charge of such things allows me to find my own reason for being.

  • Well, of course everything happens for a reason. And if those things hadn’t happened, why, we’d find a reason for that too. You’d think these two facts would cancel out somehow.

  • Anthony

    My family, still religious, have countless times in their life made it clear that they feel happy/relieved/thankful that everything’s in god’s hands. If they’re making mistakes or something isn’t going their way, it’s god trying to tell them something, such that they should adjust their path. If things are going great, it was god’s plans and blessings.

    It’s somewhat ironic in the fact that in my (secret to them) rejection of their god, I’m actually trying to praise and credit them. For instance, if mom talks about their gorgeous big house, she’ll inevitably jump to how god’s given them so many blessings to be there… whereas I really want to say, it wasn’t that this happened for a reason and was in god’s hands… you have this big beautiful house because you and dad worked your butts off, driving insane distances for stressful jobs that would pay enough to support this… got raises, were smart with investments and avoided common pitfalls.

    Same goes for the job.. god didn’t fate you to take a bad job so you’d learn a lesson, some jobs just turn out bad. And landing that good one wasn’t god either, it’s because you have a great resume from working hard and proved yourself.

    They appreciate life, but in their amazement of everything related to god, I feel they miss out on the exact sort of emotions you’re mentioning. The amount of carefully orchestrated, bizarre circumstances I met my soon-to-be-wife under are absolutely incredible to me, but it would take it down significantly if I just said a god planned it all.

    It reminds me of something I’ve felt for a long time… if you truly believe in this wondrous heaven and believe you’re headed there, would you ever truly be able to appreciate life the way someone who knows this is our only one amazing shot at it? I don’t see how one could if he/she absolutely knew paradise was awaiting them.

  • Desert Son

    Churn said,

    After you read about the Tapestry, imagine that when God needs a “short bright thread” for the Tapestry, that is when He needs a child’s life.

    I find this comforting. Maybe some of you will too.

    I find this appalling. Maybe you will, too, if you consider that God is supposedly Love (depending on the tradition, I suppose).

    But it’s always easy to explain, I guess, when God and God’s love are inexplicable. After all, it was for a reason, right, inexplicable though that may be?

    There’s always room for Jello, supposedly. Looks like there’s always room for platitudes, too.

    No kings,


  • Marcus

    Posted in Friendly Atheist at 6:00 pm by Hemant Mehta
    When you didn’t get into the car that later crashed? Just a twist of fate.

    Wouldn’t “fate” imply that there was a specific, preordained end and by the “twist” you mean it was changed somehow? I don’t understand this. You say that you don’t believe things happen for a reason and yet you still subscribe to the notion of “fate”. Where do you draw a line that distinguishes “fate” from “things happening for a reason/destiny”?

  • Axegrrl

    I have a friend who believes that ‘everything happens for a reason’, as in: ‘everything that happens, happens because it is meant to be a ‘lesson’ for us’…..

    why do some people seem to _need_ a grand ‘architect’ at the bottom of such things in order to see the process of learning-from-experience as being wonderful or ‘transcendent’?

  • Darryl

    if you truly believe in this wondrous heaven and believe you’re headed there, would you ever truly be able to appreciate life the way someone who knows this is our only one amazing shot at it? I don’t see how one could if he/she absolutely knew paradise was awaiting them.

    I love the final scene of Blade Runner when you can feel what Roy feels, that his too-short life is slipping away, and with it everything, and all he can do is embrace it profoundly, in a final struggle–a fury, and then to concede: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe . . . all those moments will be lost, in time, like tears in rain.”

    Perhaps this is why some people fear death: they have never come to grips with life, so when it comes time to end it, they are unprepared.

  • Arnold

    If I hadn’t stopped for gas at the convenient market one evening, I wouldn’t have encountered black and white puppy who had been abandoned there. She has been the joy of my life for six years now.

    So the reason why you met your puppy is that you stopped for gas. I think there is nothing more to that. We could colloquially say you were lucky (whitout starting a discussion about Luck vs. Fate vs. Reason) but to me the reason why things happen is essentially cause-effect driven.

    A little story. I have a little baby daughter. We had to resort to assisted reproduction because my fertility is very, very low. When I had to collect my semen I was tense and I spilled half. What if I hadn’t? Probably a different baby would have born. I totally love my daughter, I can’t imagine my life without her now, but I certainly don’t think that there was Reason with capital R why it happened. The reason is that I was tense and I spilled half. That’s it.

  • great post.

    I like wondering why people need this kind of belief. It fills a psychological need, what exactly I’m not sure. I think Darryl pointed toward it with the scene from Blade Runner. (I haven’t seen it.) It responds to a fear of death, and a fear of inconsequence, I suppose.

    When those special moments happen, I often think of parallel worlds, and that in some other parallel world some other Heidi did not start a meditation practice but instead became a sick drunk. Or some other Heidi really did swerve off the road into a deep ravine when Driving While too Emotional. Those close calls remind us of our mortality, and our victory over death seems to be a gift.

    When those moments happen like a great parking spot happen, I like to say, “the cosmos is smiling on me.” with a smile at myself for needing a little something more poetic than gratitude for mere coincidence.

    I think psychologically there’s a need to respond to something that feels bigger than this puny human existence. The simple way is to ascribe something happening for a reason so this existence can feel equal to the grand chaotic universe. Perhaps a more sophisticated way is to recognize the puniness and the grandness as equally important and that yes, my experience is the whole world, for me, and I am just a small part in the whole world.

    I guess I am trying to flush out the psychological need for a spiritual existence. If I can understand, I can understand why people believe the things they do.

  • Ron in Houston

    Dammit, something has to there for me to blame, it can’t be me!

  • It isn’t that things “happen for a reason” — it is instead that the Holy Spirit, when alive through God’s people, can use any situation or event for ultimate good.

    The Holy Spirit doesn’t enter into it. To simplify your statement, “Humans can use any situation for ultimate good.” Humans can accomplish great things when they combine, effort, brains, and desire. Overcoming tough circumstances is what “we” do, it is how we survive, we adapt and move forward. Did the Holy Spirit help build the pyramids or the Great Wall? What about early humans, did the Holy Spirit help them discover the wheel, or basic shelter?

  • Hi HappyNat. Good to make your acquaintance. I appreciate the discussion.

    I did not mean to imply that good things happen only because of the Holy Spirit. Man does have intelligence and reasoning ability.

    Curious whether you have ever read CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity?

    Along the lines of Lewis, I believe that humans do have a moral compass and that the Holy Spirit, when indwelling in an individual, works through people and via the moral compass to make good things happen even out of very tragic and bad situations.

    I just returned from a trip to Tijuana where we were researching human trafficking and child prostitution. I heard some of the most disgusting and deplorable stories you can imagine. And yet I also saw faith-based ministries that are huge lights of brightness amidst the darkness because of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

    In this particular instance and my time in Tijuana I unfortunately never saw any brightness coming from a source that did not have in my view and at the admission of those involved the Holy Spirit at work. It wasn’t because we weren’t looking for it but we sure never saw it.

    I understand your argument that people make things happen, not the Holy Spirit. I understand that good things can happen without the Holy Spirit.

    I just personally see lots of good things happening because of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that you won’t see it that way and that is okay. Let’s just both be glad that good things do happen in this world that has some incredible darkness to it.

  • Steven

    It always makes me grind my teeth whenever my sister says “Oh well, everything happens for a reason”.
    It’s almost enough to turn me into an unfriendly atheist.
    I suppose I shouldn’t take it personally, but it seems to show a terrible disrespect to any of my personal tragedies and to those of everyone else to dismiss them with “everything happens for a reason”.
    I can’t think of any “reasons” that are good enough to satisfy me.
    It’s as bad as saying something is “God’s will” because I suspect there are plenty of folks who would have something to say to God about what he can do with his “will”.
    The only thing that makes sense to me is that things happen – because they happen.
    At times I’m partially or completely responsible for the good or bad things in my life and other times I’m an innocent bystander.

  • Recently, someone put in an offer on our house that was for sale. When the deal fell through because the idiots decided to get a divorce *rolleyes*, one of the people I know said “Well, it must have happened for a reason.”. My first reaction to this was, “Yes, it happened because those people got a divorce, probably because they were idiots”.

    There’s always a ‘reason’ for events, that’s obvious. Cause and effect. But it’s also obvious that that’s not what people mean when they say things like that.

  • Todd,

    Thanks for the response. I understand where you are coming from and we agree people can overcome great things. One of my problems with many religions are that people are quick to give credit to their god and not give enough (any) credit to the hard work they have done. I guess it comes from the helplessness that is implied in any system that requires god worship. I hate to see people selling themselves short and limiting what they can accomplish.

    I read Mere Christianity 15 or so years ago when I was a believer. Even at the time I didn’t find it as “deep” as many of my friends. I remember being diappointed as I considered myself a CS Lewis fan.

    It sounds like you are doing great work, I don’t question that, but from my seat the good work you are doing comes from inside you, not a supernatural force. Whatever inspires you keep it up!

  • Julie


    Sitting here next to my newborn’s bassinet, I was moved to tears by your post. Our son has a health issue that may require surgery. He has a somewhat routine digestive issue and may outgrow it on his own. If not, the surgery to fix his problem is very common and he should be fine. Still, this is my first baby, and the level of intense emotion I feel over the situation was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Just hearing that there was something wrong tore me into pieces. My heart aches for you and the two years you went through. I’m sure there is no describing it to anyone. The love we feel for our babies is so primal and so ethereal at the same time. When I look at my son’s face, I think there is nothing lovelier in the world.

    Re this topic:

    My ex and I did not conceive together and actually did some fertility treatments. He wasn’t too into the whole thing and I eventually walked out on him. Met my old friend from college at a little party, called him up on the phone, and here I am not two years later with the world’s most beautiful sleeping child next to me.

    The weird thing–I used to say I wanted so badly to have my ex’s little red haired baby. He had the most beautiful red hair. My current partner and husband to be has black hair. Well, this little baby has red hair! His paternity is not in doubt. He’s our kid–where did this red hair come from? How did I get exactly what I wanted in the end?

    It’s funny, but right when I was leaving my failing relationship, I was also becoming more firm in my atheism. But right at that time of my life, so many things happened that people would normally describe as “blessings.” And yeah, I’m tempted to look back on them and see them that way, too. But then I remember, well, I up and left my ex. I did that. And then I made the call to my wonderful boyfriend. I took actions that led to some great consequences. And then–somehow the baby got red hair–I don’t understand genetics, but what can I say? It happened!

  • Darryl

    so many things happened that people would normally describe as “blessings.” And yeah, I’m tempted to look back on them and see them that way, too.

    One of the lessons I learned in church as a boy that I find still valuable is the benefit of “counting your blessings” as they used to say (perhaps still do). Because I no longer believe that the good that comes to me is a blessing from the Almighty does not inhibit me from being thankful for it and from reminding myself how good my life has been. Being human has its benefits; the world can be very good.

  • David D.G.

    Larry Huffman,

    I’m so sorry about your little girl — and the well-meaning but cruelly insensitive attempts at “comforting” that you received. Some people can be remarkably stupid and/or thoughtless regarding other people’s personal losses.


    GREAT topic! This subject could easily be enough to hang a large article on, if not a book.

    When someone says, “Everything happens for a reason,” my usual response is, “Yep — hydrogen.” I could go slightly further, of course, and say, “Yep — the Big Bang,” but I like the idea of referring to hydrogen because it seems to be better at catching people off guard and making them think. It still amounts to the same thing, though — that the “reason” is simply the process of natural laws at work, from the beginning of the universe up to the present moment. True, acts of individual free will are often involved as well — but those individuals, too, are the product of those same ancient physical processes!

    ~David D.G.

  • @Todd Miller:

    You said that:As a Christian, I can assure you that no one is pulling my strings. I have free will over my actions … sometimes my actions are “Christ-like” but other times I screw up.

    Take heart! You only screw up because God wills it so. Presumably he needs you to be less than Christ-like at that particular moment …

    If one believes in a god, and one accepts that that god is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then there is no free will.

    If god knows exactly how everything is going to fall out, and nothing takes place without his thinking of it and in thinking, acting, then there can be no room for free will. He watches the sparrow fall because he caused it to fall. He planned things that way in loving detail.

    Either that or he’s simply not in control, hence not omnipotent or omniscient … but in that case he would be no god at all, no?

    God made me an atheist. Who am I to deny his will?

  • Larry Huffman

    Thanks all for your condolances…it has been many years since that occured. A couple of notes…no, that did not make me turn from god. At the time, I pulled closer to god…I mean, I was a true believer and that is what I was supposed to do. When people told me those things, I hated and loved them for it all at the same time. I wanted everyone to stop trying to say something about it, as nothing really made it feel better…but I did appreciate that they wanted to help. I fully understand that they, as individuals, did not know that they were saying things that were hurtful…they were merely trying to impart their beliefs to me, and they truly thought they were helping.

    In fact, I was one of them. I caught myself, many years later couselling a young couple over the loss of their newborn…I was a member of the clergy and this was a part of my position. Of course, having lost a child myself, I could reach these people, and so it was going well…then I heard myself telling them in response to their sincere and pleading questions, “Everything happens for a reason”…as I tried to come up with answers to…what? make them feel better? It hit me like a ton of bricks…and it should be pointed out here, my faith was already wavering at this point…but I realized I was saying whatever i could think of to make them feel better. I thought back on my time as a scared and hurt parent losing a child and realized…that was the last thing I wanted. I did not want lies or imaginations…I really wanted something tangible and conrete to hang onto. The platitudes had ceased to work for me, when I realized that I had lost that precious little life. I also realized that these people were there as well. I stopped telling them what made them feel better…and I gave them all I could, which was to support them, keeping silent on the ‘where is he now’ and ‘why did god take him’ questions. It was an early lesson that I had to learn about being atheist…sometimes it is OK to not know something…better to not know than wrap a bunch of feel-good fairy tales up around something.

    Julie…my heart is with you and your husband at this time. You see…not only was our first child born with a terminal syndrome…we have 4 others. 3 of them were severely premature and spent weeks in the hospital (my wife had a tipped uterus and had trouble carrying them in the later weeks)…and the one who was not premature, suffered a stroke the night she was born and has CP. The premmies were because of my wife’s uterus being tipped…but the terminal illness and the CP were actually just random issues. Not genetic. As you can imagine, religious people have even gone so far as to say there was a reason we were given sick and in need kids…ugh.

    But, as you may guess, I have spent hours, days, weeks…even years in the hospital with a sick child. I know what you are going through, and yet it is as personal to you as anything can be. No body knows just how you feel…many know the emotions that are playing on you, however, as they have been there before. I have two vital pieces of advice to impart to you: 1) Do not let this wedge between you and your husband. This can tear a marriage up, and yet, when that sick baby is ready to come home it will need you both. (My wife and I actually seperated for a month during it, though our ordeal lasted for 2.5 years without letting up…we were a wreck). 2) Get out of the hospital. I know it seems like you should stay there and be vigilent…but you also need some edification yourself individually and as a couple. Go get a coffee and piece of pie together…tear yourself from his bedside and go out. Let yourself smile and even laugh. It is ok. 🙂 Remember this…it is better that your baby have happy and mentally well parents to come home to, then have desperate and sad parents who never once left his bedside.

    hehe…sorry all…I know this has been a bit off topic.

  • Julie

    Larry, our baby is home now, and management seems to be working. We’re very, very lucky. If he does have surgery, he should only be in the hospital for a couple days, and this is the most routine infant surgery there is–prognosis is excellent. (But still hoping to avoid the operation, obviously.) Thanks for your thoughts. I’m sure what we’re dealing with is soooo mild compared to your ordeal. I can imagine that it would be tough on a relationship. We were just crying ourselves silly, even though we know our boy will be fine. Then we realized we had to hold it together, because we’re parents. And I thought about anyone in your situation, with a terminal kid. Really can’t imagine it.

  • Darryl

    One practical benefit of not believing that everything that happens happens for a reason is that one doesn’t have to rack one’s brains trying to understand the reason. This is especially important when a bad thing has happened. One can become self-deprecating (it’s my own fault; I must have done something wrong), superstitious (the Devil is harassing me; God is testing me), or a God-hater: God took my wife and child–I hate him. Mark Twain became quite bitter when his family was taken from him. He railed against God. I don’t know; was he really mad at a God he believed in, or was he just mad at life and took it out on the God idea?

  • Susan

    I am so pleased to hear that your little boy is doing well. My thoughts and best wisehs to you that he will continue to thrive.

  • Susan

    So the reason why you met your puppy is that you stopped for gas. I think there is nothing more to that. We could colloquially say you were lucky (whitout starting a discussion about Luck vs. Fate vs. Reason) but to me the reason why things happen is essentially cause-effect driven.

    I understand your point. There is the logical part of me which says that’s all there is to it. But it is intriguing to me to think about what would have happened in so many instances if I had or had not done something. Kind of like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Just because James Stewart didn’t marry Donna Reed doesn’t mean she turned into a bitter old woman, but I think you can see why it’s something to ponder.

  • I agree. This was the single biggest shock for me when I de-converted from evangelical Christianity. Scary as hell (no pun intended). I remember exactly when it hit me. I am a forester and was working in the middle of the Mississippi summer about 3 miles from my truck. I had waded through three feet of swamp and it had taken me about 4 hours to get where I was. I had seen a lot of snakes around, like you do when you’re in the MS swamps when it struck me that if were to get bitten out here alone there is no way I could get out to my truck in time. If I step in the wrong place I could die – and it wouldn’t matter one bit to the cosmos. It wouldn’t be “for the best” or part of a “perfect plan.” It would just be a shity piece of bad luck and a short end to my life. Tough break.

    I sat on a stump for a while after that absorbing the enormity of it. Does it mean I don’t have the automatic comfort I used to? Sure, but I’d rather have the truth.

  • Larry Huffman

    Susan…I would also put forward that…had there been ANY puppy in need that you picked up, you would have that feeling.

    Every dog I have ever owned gave me a feeling as though it was ‘meant to be’…until I realized that, in fact, every dog I have ever owned gave me that meant to be feeling. Get my point? If everything that happens is ‘meant to be’ then what is the point of stating it?

    I think in some situations it is easy to impose that thought. A dog, for example. When you own a dog, there is a uniqueness to it. It feels meant to be…especially if you rescued the dog. The truth is, dogs are so adaptable, and in need of human care, that they make us all feel like them being in our lives just had to be. But had you picked Dog B instead of Dog A…then Dog B would be the one that was ‘meant to be’.

    Soon…when everything seems ‘meant to be’ you realize that it all cancels each other out, and it just is. Maybe a good arrangement…maybe one you value…maybe special to you and one you will always cherish…but it was not meant to be. It did not have to be though…and was not meant to be. It just is.

    Another aspect of this is the ones that were not. You are walking out of the grocery store and see a box of kittens being given away. You are tempted, but choose not to. had you, that kitten would have been your friend…and surly meant to be. but wait…you didn;t get him…hmmm…it wasn;t meant to be? lol…no, it just was not. And had you made the choice to get it, you would ahve had a feeling as if it was meant to be.

    It is really just our internal confirmation system letting us know a situation is good…and our superstitious side expressing it in terms that make us feel special about it.

    PS…It’s a wonderful life was a movie…and it only explored the example in terms of what the story wanted to tell. If you were to make a careful scientific study of the situation you would realize that it was mularky. I will give one quick example: In the story an entire plane full of soldiers died because his brother was not alive to save them. Well…hehe…if he was not alive, the military would have had someone else doing whatever job he was…and so another would have been in the right place at the right time to save them…maybe. The movie was full of assinine assumptions…as if there were only two possible outcomes of him being there or not. As you can imagine, it is not so simple…and when you look at the way everything would have filled in around his non-existence, you see nothing is meant to be…it just is…and the movie, while terribly warm hearted and fun to watch (yes, I like the movie…but it is a movie, not life)…is in no way a serious commentary on the repurcussions of someone not being alive.

  • Polly

    So much seems to have lined up in the right way to bring me to atheism.
    I often feel that my journey to, and now through, atheism is being directed by god. I know HE has a plan for me and it includes denying his existence for the rest of my life.

    My god is like the CIA. You know he’s there, because you don’t.


  • lynn

    I prefer “It had to happen to somebody…”

    Because the kind of thinking in the OP is backwards. Things didn’t happen to become what they are now; things became what they are now because things happened that led to now, and the things happening now will lead to other things. The past is not a series of means to an end, because the present is not an end.

    I also like the Anthropic Principle: that the universe has all these amazing coincidences of physical constants that happen to be just right to create the universe we see…because if it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. Some call that a cop-out, but there’s a kind of poetry to it that appeals to me. With regards to how everything amazingly came together to make you the person you are now, well yeah of course it did, because otherwise other things would have happened, and no matter what it was you’d still comfort yourself (if you had a hard life) or take pride in the fact (if you had a good life) that you wouldn’t be who you are if those things hadn’t happened.

    So…I think I said that right…

  • Anna N.

    It always infuriates me when people say that kind of thing, because they usually say that when, oh, another temp job fell through so I’m unemployed again, or a friend decided not to do whatever-it-was we’d planned to spend the weekend doing…they’re trying to be comforting, but it really makes me want to scream.

    No, I didn’t lose the temp job because something better is coming along, but thanks for telling me that it’s “for the best” that I’m now jobless! I really, really appreciate it!

    My favorite (more sarcasm) was reading a friend’s blog post once about how everything had to have happened just perfectly in order for her to meet her SO and it was just fate! Now, I think it’s great that the two of them met, I really do, but I don’t think it’s worth someone dying (which was on her list) or her having been in an abusive relationship (also on the list) or…I really REALLY wanted to reply to that post and ask if that person truly had to die just so she could meet him? How selfish of her…

  • Darryl

    Butch, good story. A friend once told me “the greatest act of humility is to die alone,” but that’s when you choose and not the snake.

  • I’ll admit that I had a hard time wrapping my head around the randomness of the universe at first. It clicked into place while I was watching the Clint Eastwood movie, Unforgiven. Little Bill says to Bill Munny, “I don’t deserve this.” Munny replies, “Deserve’s got nothin to do with it.”

    CLICK! I don’t know why. It just made perfect sense.

    Later on, I heard a physicist say at a lecture, “Either everything is predetermined, in which case there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, or everything is random, in which case there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.”

    Felt good.

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