TOPICS : Karma comedians

So Sharon Stone thinks the Sichuan earthquake was caused not by friction between tectonic plates on the Longmenshan fault, but by Beijing being “not nice” to the Dalai Lama. Given that Tibet has been under Chinese rule since 1951, karmic retribution must have a 57-year time lag, but that didn’t stop Stone musing on the seismic catastrophe: “I thought, ‘Is that karma?’ When you are not nice, bad things happen to you.” Bad things did happen: within 24 hours of her statement, the Xinhua had dubbed Sharon the “public enemy of all mankind”, perhaps an epithet more suited to US televangelist John Hagee, who in 2005 announced that God unleashed Hurricane Katrina because He was cross after a “homosexual parade”.

And, to prove that retribution-based stupidity hasn’t bypassed the UK, footballer Glenn Hoddle also asserted in 1999 that “some people have not been born [with two hands and two legs and half-decent brains] for a reason ... the karma is working from another lifetime. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.” Worryingly, though all this lunacy generated the ridicule it deserved, the last few years have seen a spate of new age “self-help” books blaring out an identical, if less targeted, message: that everything in an individual’s life is created by them.

It’s religion for the non-religious, with all the shame, guilt and illogical pronouncements but none of the community. Instead of acts of God, we are told there are no accidents; instead of God’s will, all happenings are manifestations of our own consciousness. And many people accept either the religious or new age explanations because, given the devastation caused by disasters and traumatic events, it’s less scary to think they are a response to wayward human behaviour.

In truth, we can only make sense of the world by rejecting these ideas and the more pervasive “everything happens for a reason” mentality. Bad things happen to kind people every day for no reason. Our chances in life are largely predetermined by our place of birth, and religious people are as likely to die in tragedies as atheists. Earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes hit for scientific reasons alone; to attribute them to the wrath of God or “the universe” is to deny the victims their innocence. Paradoxically, though Stone apologised for her errant statement — which seemed more an ill thought-out comment on China’s treatment of the Dalai Lama than an intentional slur on the victims of the disaster — she has been pulled from the country’s billboards, and her films are now banned in its cinemas.

The authors of books like The Secret have profited from pushing anti-scientific nonsense on to the sick and desperate, but have never been forced to deliver an acknowledgement or apology. And homophobe John Hagee has become a millionaire by driving the fear of God into the weak and gullible while also endorsing John McCain, who might just become the next US president. “Is that karma?” No, Sharon. It’s anything but. — The Guardian