Position Paper #22, June 1981
The doctrine of Karma is one of the most important religious doctrines invented by man. Its origins are Brahmanic, but its great development is Buddhist. Perhaps no other non-Biblical doctrine is more important and more perceptive, however deadly. Karma is the law of cause and effect as it regulates the present and future life of man. Karma says that what a man sows, that shall he also reap; every man inherits his own burden of sin and guilt, and no man can inherit the good or evil acts of another man. Karma holds that sin cannot be destroyed by sacrifice, penance, or repentance, but only by self-expiation. A man thus spends his life (and future reincarnations, according to this doctrine) working out the atonement for sin. The important fact about Karma is that this doctrine does justice to the reality of cause and effect; it recognizes the reality of sin in man, and the burden which sin imposes on the present and the future. Modern humanism is unable to cope with this fact of causality and chooses to ignore it. It does not escape causality thereby and only compounds its problem.
According to Karma, the past determines the present and the future. Man’s sin most surely finds him out and will not let him go.
The karma faiths have no savior, but they are at least aware of the reality of sin and its demand for expiation. Their doctrines of self-atonement are ineffectual, but their realism as to man’s condition make them wiser than those moderns who choose to deny causality.
The doctrine of karma was current in the world of the Bible, especially the New Testament era. The Bible speaks emphatically of causality, and the consequences of sin (Gen. 2:17; 3:7). Moses declares, “ye have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Paul warns, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). However, rather than an abstract world of causality, for the Bible the cosmos is the creation of the personal God. This fact creates a vast gulf between the Bible and the doctrine of Karma.
But Karma does stress a fact that the modern world chooses to forget: causality. It is this fact that Keynesian economists choose to forget. Keynes himself, when asked about the long-run consequences of his economics, replied, “In the long run, we are all dead.” Because of its disregard for causality, Keynesianism creates an inflationary economy; long-term consequences are dismissed in favor of short-term benefits.
The average American and European is not familiar with Keynesian as a body of economic thought; they are familiar with it as a way of life, their own way of life. In Keynesian terms, all sin is assessed in terms of present benefits, not in terms of long-term consequences. As a result, debt living has become a way of life. From a moral liability at the beginning of the century, debt has become now an asset, and the word credit, which once meant reliability, now means the ability to contract debt. The world’s monetary systems are no longer based on the gold standard but on debt; paper money represents debt, not wealth.
The modern Keynesian world is a rejection of the triune God and His law-word, which prohibits debt beyond a six-year limit, and then for necessities only, which requires covetous-free living, and which regards debt as a form of slavery. Between 1945 and 1980, many fortunes were built (and many lost) by pyramiding debt.
But debt,like sin, has its consequences. Karma holds that past sins govern our present and future lives. With its concomitant doctrine of re-incarnation, Karma holds that thousands of generations or re-incarnations may be necessary in some cases to work out the self-expiation necessary. The burden of sin and guilt is not lightly discarded simply because man wills it. Causality rules all things unrelentingly.
This brings us to the deadly aspect of the doctrine of Karma. Because of its unrelenting doctrine of causality, the past rules the present and the future. Only insofar as we have a better past or Karma can we have a better future. The world of Karma is a past-oriented world.
The same is true of the world of debt. For those who are in debt, the past governs the present. The first claimant on their monthly check is the past: the house payment, and other debts have a fixed claim on their income before either they or God can touch it. One of the most common questions I encounter with respect to the tithe is this: “How can I tithe, and still meet my payments on my debts?” The house is on “the never-never plan;” the car and furniture get old and shabby before they are paid for, and man's days are dominated by the past.
Modern man may not believe in Karma, but he has created a new world of Karma in debt.
The same is true in politics. Cause and effect in politics has brought the world’s many nations to the raw edge of judgment. In politics, this has brought some vaguely conservative parties and administrations to power. All are looking for cosmetic solutions and avoiding the long and ugly chain of causality which has led to the present crisis. The Karma of modern politics threatens them like a crumbling cliff over a cottage, and all are offering a more modest table fare as the solution.
All around us a host of things have created a vast chain of causes and effects which threaten our world: debt, the minimum wage law, statist education and the new illiteracy, welfarism, and much, much more. The world may say, Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, but God says, Tomorrow the judgment. (One is reminded of the cartoon, picturing a sad-faced man carrying a sign on a busy street, reading: “We are all doomed: the world will not end!” Man has no escape from his sins in any way of his own devising.)
When the past governs the present, it has a paralyzing effect on it. As J. Estlin Carpenter pointed out many years ago, the doctrine of Karma froze society and led to the caste system. Basic to the dogma was this principle: “a man is born into the world that he has made.” The present is read in terms of the past.
Our current Karma culture is also seeing a like stratification. Despite the talk of equality, the premise of welfarism and more is the incapacity of vast numbers of peoples. The ghettos of America have seen successive waves of immigrants come and go as they worked their way into more advanced positions. Now we have, as a policy of state, an assumption that a permanent ghetto resident is a fact of life. (of course, because of environmentalism, we now seem to hold that a man is born into the world others made for him.)
The two principles of Karma are, first, “A man is born into the world that he has made,” and second, “The Deed does not perish,” i.e., consequences continue until they are fully expiated. Karma cannot be destroyed, neither by fire, flood, wind, or the gods. It must proceed unrelentingly and unerringly to its results. A man might briefly postpone the workings of his Karma, but he could never frustrate nor destroy them. All else passes, but acts and their consequences remain. Destiny, Karma, reigns and rules. The word deva is gods, and daiva, derived from it, means destiny, and, for the Buddhist, destiny is simply past acts, according to L. de la Vallee Poussin. Since Karma includes in its unrelenting causality mental acts as well, man’s waking thoughts as well as his dreams in sleep govern his life and add to his Karma. Only through good acts can man expiate his past sins, and “the good act has three roots: the absence of lust, of hatred, and of error” (Poussin). Thus, we have a negative idea of good, so that its essential function is to diminish the retribution for the vast accumulation of past acts.
The very clear fact which emerges from this is that, in the world of Karma, there can be passivity and withdrawal, but definitely not rest. The Biblical doctrine of the Sabbath is thus unique. We are commanded to observe the Sabbath in Deuteronomy and to “remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath Day” (Deut. 5:15). Redeemed man can rest because he knows that the Lord has saved him. The meaning of the cross is not that the consequences of our sin are simply overlooked, but that Jesus Christ makes full expiation for our sins. The causality is worked out on the cross; atonement is made for our sins, and we are free from the guilt and the burden of sin. Where men deny the causality of sin, they deny also the atonement, and they become antinomians.
But only Christ’s atonement can free man from sin and death and give him rest. The answer to the doctrine of Karma is the atonement and the Sabbath rest which the atonement creates. The Sabbath law follows the Passover event, and it sets forth the salvation-rest of the Old Israel. The Christian Sabbath follows the atonement and the resurrection, the first day of the week, and it celebrates the salvation-rest of the New Israel of God.
The redeemed in Christ now are governed, not by the past, not by their sins, nor by Karma, but by the Lord, who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). They are to live righteously, to render to all their due honor, to love their neighbor as themselves, and, as a normal practice, to owe no man anything, save to love one another (Rom. 7-10).
The true Sabbath enables us to rest, because, first it is Christ’s finished work of atonement and continuing work of providence that is our life, not our deeds and past acts. Second, we can rest, because we are not past-bound and past-oppressed and haunted. We can say with David, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). We have the blessedness of restful, trusting, sleep. Instead of a burden, the past has become an asset in the Lord, who makes all things work together for good to them that love Him, to them who are the called according to His purpose. (The converse of this is that all things work together for evil for those who hate God, Obadiah 15; Jeremiah 50:29; Lamentations l:22.)
Third, because we are now future oriented, we become Dominion Men, working for godly reconstruction in every area of life and thought. Our lives are dominated, not by past burdens but by present responsibilities and the assurance of power (John 1:12). Together with Joshua (and the apostles, Matt. 28:18-20), we have the assurance: “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you...There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Joshua 1:3, 5). The sad fact today is that many church members profess Christ but live in the world of Karma. To illustrate, one church officer, an able and talented man but a despiser of God's law, has twice been bankrupt, several times a failure in business because of lawless policies and debts, and is a sour and critical leader whose ways are oppressive to many. There is no Sabbath in his life, nor any freedom and power; he has the aura of a hunted man, and, in his work, is a “plunger,” one who prefers risks to sound practices. We have all too many pastors whose sermons are trumpets always sounding defeat, and echoing with the oppressiveness of sin, not the freedom and joy of victory and redemption. Their sermons echo the death of the tomb, not the triumph of the resurrection.
To all such we must say with Paul, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14). (June, 1981)
- R. J. Rushdoony
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.