Does Belief in Fate Rule Your Life?
IN September 1988 disaster struck. The relentless waters in the vast delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers rose 30 feet [9 m] and engulfed three fourths of Bangladesh. Thousands drowned. Some 37,000,000 were left homeless. Over 40,000 miles [60,000 km] of roads disappeared.
Since such floods have overwhelmed Bangladesh time after time, one newspaper called the country “Delta of Doom.” That depiction reflects what many people view as the cause of such staggering disasters: doom, or fate.
Though others may feel that fate does not rule life, fatalistic views indeed span the globe. Why do so many believe in fate, and what is fatalism?
The word “fate” comes from the Latin fatum, meaning “what has been spoken.”* Fatalists believe that events are fixed in advance and that humans are powerless to change things. This view has been spread by various religions and has molded the outlook of millions of believers. A glance at the world’s three largest religions shows that fate wears a face with diverse expressions—as diverse as the shapes of Hindu temples, Islāmic mosques, and churches of Christendom.
The world’s some 900 million Muslims, for instance, hold that fate (Kismet) is fixed by divine will.* The Qurʼān declares: “No evil befalls on the earth . . . , but it is in a book before we bring it into existence.” “And a soul will not die but with the permission of Allah; the term is fixed.”—Surah 57:22; 3:145.
Karma is the law of cause and effect—another face of fate—that affects the lives of the world’s nearly 700 million Hindus. It is held that the events that happen in a Hindu’s present life are decreed by his actions in a previous incarnation. The Garuda Purana, an ancient Hindu writing, says: “It is the works of this self in a prior existence which determine the nature of its organism in the next, as well as the character of the diseases, whether physical or mental, which it is to fall a prey to . . . A man gets in life what he is fated to get.”
What about the approximately 1,700 million members of Christendom? Granted, some in Christendom may claim to have replaced fate with God, and fatalism with predestination. But the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics acknowledges: “It cannot be said that Christianity is . . . entirely free from the belief in Fate.” Some denominations still echo the belief of 16th-century reformer Martin Luther, who once stated that man is as “unfree as a block of wood, a rock, a lump of clay, or a pillar of salt.”
Tossing Coins and Reading Stars
Though such rigid views have now fallen into the backwaters of the beliefs of mainstream Christendom, one theologian admits that many of its members still accept the belief “in a secularized form.” In that form, fate may wear a fleeting smile and be christened fortune. You likely know of many who occasionally toss a coin in an appeal to fortune, or fate. Though they may try to pass this off as a mere custom, they continue to do it, and, at times, it seems to them to work. For example, The New York Times recently reported that a man living in the United States found a heads-up penny (coin) after he bought lottery tickets. He said: “Every time I’ve ever found a heads-up penny, something’s always happened good to me.” In this case, he won 25.7 million dollars. Do you think that his belief in fortune, or fate, has lessened?
Some people chuckle about flipping coins. Yet, they may believe that their future is predestined by the movements of the stars—another face of fate. In North America alone, some 1,200 newspapers carry astrology columns. One poll showed that 55 percent of the youths in the United States believe that astrology works.
Yes, whether it is called Kismet, Karma, God, fortune, or the stars, belief in fate spans the globe and has done so for ages. Did you know, for example, that of all the historical persons listed here, only one did not believe in fatalism? Who did not? And how can his view of fate influence yours?
The Encyclopedia of Religion, Volume 5, page 290, states: “FATE. Derived from the Latin fatum (something spoken, a prophetic declaration, an oracle, a divine determination).”
“Kismet differs from Fate only in its being referred to an all-powerful Will; all human appeal against either is in vain.”—Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, Volume V, page 774.
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WHO BELIEVED IN FATALISM?
Maskarīputra Gośāla Jesus Christ
Indian ascetic, Founder of Christianity,
6th/5th century B.C.E. 1st century C.E.
Zeno of Citium Jahm, son of Safwān
Greek philosopher, Muslim teacher,
4th/3rd century B.C.E. 8th century C.E.
Publius Vergilius Maro John Calvin
Roman poet, French theologian and
1st century B.C.E. reformer,16th century C.E.