Grace Over Karma: Part 2, Grace Boggles Minds Wired for Karma

When Bono argues that belief in karma is "at the center of all religions" there is some psychological research that explains why this might be the case. 

Psychologists have studied what are called "just world beliefs." Here's how Wikipedia describes this cognitive bias:

The just-world hypothesis or just-world fallacy is the cognitive bias that assumes that "people get what they deserve" – that actions will necessarily have morally fair and fitting consequences for the actor. For example, the assumptions that noble actions will eventually be rewarded and evil actions will eventually be punished fall under this hypothesis. In other words, the just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to—or expect consequences as the result of— either a universal force that restores moral balance or a universal connection between the nature of actions and their results. This belief generally implies the existence of cosmic justice, destiny, divine providence, desert, stability, order, or the anglophone colloquial use of "Karma". It is often associated with a variety of fundamental fallacies, especially in regard to rationalizing suffering on the grounds that the sufferers "deserve" it.

The hypothesis popularly appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed punishment for wrongdoing, such as: "you got what was coming to you", "what goes around comes around", "chickens come home to roost", "everything happens for a reason", and "you reap what you sow". This hypothesis has been widely studied by social psychologists since Melvin J. Lerner conducted seminal work on the belief in a just world in the early 1960s.
Since the 60s, research has shown that our minds are wired for karma. We instinctively believe that people "get what they deserve," even when they don't control the cause of their suffering, like getting cancer or suffering from a natural disaster. Our cognitive bias is that the world is "just," that good people are rewarded and wicked people are punished. So when we see suffering, we reason backward to assume that the victims, somehow, "deserved it." 

Why do we believe in a just world? Lerner has argued that just world beliefs make the world feel predictable and controllable. In this sense, just world beliefs function as an implicit theodicy, as an explanation for why bad things happen to people. Those explanations, even if wrong, make the world feel less random and uncontrollable. 

Returning to Bono's observation, given what we know about just world beliefs it's not surprising that religious beliefs would be deployed to explain the mechanism of karma, how the good are rewarded and the wicked punished. And yet, as Bono goes on to argue, grace blows all this out of the water. Grace crosses our mental wires, defying expectations and interrupting our cognitive biases. 

Grace boggles minds that are wired for karma.

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