The Comparative Religion Of “Shit Happens”

Circulating on the Internet, and also available in postcard form, is an extended riff on the theme of “Shit Happens” and the treatment of this fundamental truth in the various religions. It ranges from the theologically fairly serious (Lutheranism’s “Shit happens, but have faith anyway” and Calvinism’s “Shit happens to those who don’t work hard enough”) to the flippant (Zen’s “What is the sound of shit happening?” and Rastafarianism’s “Man, let’s smoke this shit”). For some reason they omitted the Oriental take, that you were bad in a previous life. The popularity of the jeu d’esprit may witness to people’s awareness that, yes, this is indeed the central question facing humanity: given the cosmic baseline that Shit Happens, how do we react?

As the more serious elements of the riff make clear, people deal with the bottom-line truth that Shit Happens in several broad ways: (1) denial that shit happens (Buddhism’s “When shit happens, is it really shit?”, Platonism’s “The shit that you see happening is not the true shit” and Christian Science’s “If shit happens, ignore it, it will go away”); (2) acceptance (Stoicism’s “So shit happens. Big deal, I can take it” and Islam’s “If shit happens, it is the will of God”); and (3) self-blame (Catholicism’s “Shit happens because you are bad”). The riff might equally have added the Prosperity Gospel’s 2Shit happens because you lack the faith to name and claim” or the televangelist’s “Shit happens because you didn’t send me enough money”.

In all seriousness, this would make an excellent organising principle for the academic analysis and classification of all philosophies, religions and cults. We can contract the above a further step by positing only two patterns: the religions that promise you that Shit will not Happen to you and those that help you to deal with the Shit that has just Happened.

“Health and love and safety are not earned,” writes John D. MacDonald. “They are not rewards for behavior. They are part of the luck that you have or don’t have. When you have it, in your blind human innocence you think you have earned it. And when it is gone, you feel you have offended your gods.” Not quite, Mr. MacDonald; this should read, “And when it is gone, you feel someone else has offended your gods.” And this is the fourth strategy, the one that is missing from all the versions of the riff that I have seen: Shit Happens, not because we have been bad, but because the other guy has been bad. Many people have been brought up to believe that it simply has to be one or the other. The results are anxiety and scapegoating respectively. In both cases a regular customer is created; the guilty person needs to get rid of his badness so that shit will stop happening, and the other person needs to be supplied with appropriate objects for his indignation and blame. Neither service comes free.

Human history could be written around the quest to find satisfactory scapegoats. And all the resulting horrors could have been avoided by the simple recognition that… Shit Happens.

Posted on June 10, 2009 at 10:46 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Shit Happens

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