Alternatively, can you escape fate? Can it be cheated?
If you believe in fate, what will happen to you is already written in the stars.
In some cultures in the world there seems to be more of a tendency to believe in fate. Ahsan Ul Haq Kayani is a senior patrolling officer with the national highways police in Pakistan. He did some research in three cities there, interviewing professional drivers, police officers, and policy makers. It became clear that, across the board, fatalism about death extends to fatalism about risky driving. For example, one police officer said, “If a disaster has to come in your life, you cannot escape, no matter what you do – even if a driver follows safety measures.”
Consequences of believing in fate
In some places, tragically there are downtrodden people who are defeatist for understandable reasons. They live in dire poverty, and lack opportunities to better themselves. Their situation reminds me of the laboratory research on dogs by Martin Seligman in the 1960’s at the University of Pennsylvania. Whatever the dogs did to escape their cages, they were punished with an electric shock, and so they became passive and gave up trying. Likewise, if oppressed people were to try to escape their dreadful circumstances only to be continually defeated, then, like the laboratory dogs, it would not be surprising that they might learn to feel helpless and passively resign themselves to their fate.
Usually, however, for most of us only some things in life turn out badly – perhaps you fail your exams, your boss at work is overcritical, or you catch a dangerous bug.
If you were to blame fate for misfortune you would see the future as inevitable and might actually give up studying, stop trying to work well, or no longer live in a hygienic manner. Nevertheless, in so doing, would you not be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? Bringing about the very things, you do not want?
Fate and religion
Since the time of active belief in Roman, Greek and other mythologies, fate has often been thought of as divinely inspired.
It seems difficult to think about a God who can be all-powerful but who does not actually control everything that is going on in the world.
The Pew Foundation in 2012 asked Muslims in twenty-three countries ranging from Bosnia to Indonesia, “Do you believe: in predestination or fate?” and found widespread fatalism.
Over the years, there have been deadly stampedes and other crowd disasters during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Yet, each year thousands continue to make the journey. After a building crane fell into Mecca’s Grand Mosque in September 2015, killing 114 and injuring 394, the mosque’s Imam Abdul Rahman Al Sudais visited the injured and, as he met each one, told them, “This is the will of Allah.”
“Whatever man is or does and whatever happens to him is directly willed by Allah”(Raphael Patai, anthropologist referring to Muslim belief)
Many critics say that until the Saudi authorities do something the deaths are likely to continue. It seems to me they are using the excuse of fate for not taking responsibility.
We also find a similar idea of fate – what theologians call pre-destination – in some strands of Christianity.
Yet paradoxically, even when religion has this idea of fate, it is not thought to take away individual freedom to make personal choices. So, how could these two ideas – divine omnipotence and free will – be mutually compatible? Even today, this question is a matter of great study and interest.
Fate and free will
I think the teaching of Emanuel Swedenborg regarding the nature of God offers an answer. The all-powerful force behind the universe is said to so love us that we are allowed the freedom to think and be what we want. In other words, it is not in the divine nature of loving others to want to impose one’s will on them; but rather to permit us all to learn from our mistakes and freely choose our own character.
“If there is freedom, things are not inevitable” (Emanuel Swedenborg)
I would suggest that if we did not have this inner freedom to choose, then we would be inhuman – mere robots – following our inbuilt software to obey the dictate of the engineer who designed us.
Swedenborg’s idea is that it is God’s priority is to work in a hidden way to provide us with what we deeply need for a peaceful and contented eternal life – wisdom, forgiveness, a kind generous heart etc. This happy fate is what God wants for all people. A lower priority is that we get what we physically need for pleasure during this temporary life on earth. Therefore, according to this doctrine, improvement to one’s inner life can only come when one freely chooses to respond positively to the divine leading.
If all this is true then it follows that the all-powerful God will not necessarily stop me being a victim of circumstances and human folly. But when evil things happen, it is not the will of God. God never wills bad things on anybody. Instead, God’s love wants us all to be inwardly happy.
My advice is do not be resigned to what you imagine is your earthly fate but trust in Divine Providence for your eventual destiny. Likewise, a common attitude seems to be that life is full of bad things and we just have to hope for the best and get on with it.
“A person’s fate after death is determined by the kind of life he led in the world” (Emanuel Swedenborg)
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands