Living in a world without cosmic justice

Our desire for cosmic justice expresses itself in many ways.
Our desire for cosmic justice expresses itself in many ways.

It isn’t easy living in reality. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes bad people not only get away with being bad, they are rewarded for it.

It is very comforting to think that there might be some form of cosmic justice that would cause all these bad people to get their comeuppance eventually. Our desire for justice is so strong, that almost every religion in the world has apologia and theodicy to explain away this problem and reassure the faithful that justice will be done, eventually.

Naturalists have no such comfort. We have to accept the stark reality that sometimes the bad guys win. There is no cosmic justice.

But does the lack of cosmic justice have to depress us? No. It can empower us. And it should empower us.

I am a Humanist which means, among other things, that I believe in the power of human agency. We humans don’t have to accept the status quo if the status quo sucks. And when bad people win, it definitely sucks.

We have agency which means we can change things if we want to, but we have to work at it and take responsibility to do it.

This is why the absence of cosmic justice is so empowering to me. The universe is not sentient. It isn’t concerned with justice. It just is. This means the universe isn’t capable of taking on the job of punishing bad people no matter how much we might want it to.

If bad people are going to be brought to justice, it will be because good people stood up and did something.


Cosmic Justice is a bad idea

I find the idea of cosmic justice disempowering precisely because it takes the tools of justice away from us. Knowing that the only way justice will be served is if I make it my responsibility to do something empowers me.

So the next time you find yourself lamenting the lack of justice in the world, remind yourself that if justice is to be found, it will be through the actions of your fellow humans. Then come and join us and commit to making a difference.


Subscribe to The Spiritual Naturalist Society
Learn about Membership in the Spiritual Naturalist Society

The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.



7 thoughts on “Living in a world without cosmic justice”

  1. Thanks for this Jen!

    I agree that we need to be the justice we seek in the world. But I've also found that, the more convinced I become that virtue and wisdom are synonymous – that the good life is truly the better life, the more it seems to me that no one really ever 'gets away' with anything. This is not because of some cosmic power punishing them, but simply that they miss out on the inherent joy of living rightly, even if they may not ever realize how they've harmed themselves.

    For example, I can't imagine ever being hit on the head to have my wallet taken, only to think I would be better off if I had been the person who took it. I have never seen a liar and wished I could be like them. So, if they really 'won' then why aren't we out there lying, cheating, and stealing? I don't think it is simply from fear of getting caught, but rather from a sense that we are better off than being such a kind of person. So, as the joy of living with integrity becomes ever more clearly better than the 'gold' or other mundane reward they may have secured, then my definition of 'winning' changes.

    As this happens, the need or impulse to punish others diminishes in me. But rather than inaction, the impulse toward protecting people from the harm bad people do is instead motivated by love. 🙂

  2. Agreed DT. I think the benefits of being good are so overwhelming in the here and now it's bizarre to even think of why anyone would choose not to. However, for people new on the path of naturalism and humanism, this is the number one concern people have as to why it is difficult to choose to be good. People who cheat seem to win and watching them get ahead (even if it is only temporary) is upsetting to a lot of people and it pushes them off the path of goodness.

    So I thought it would be good to address it.

  3. I agree with the idea that believing in external agencies (gods, cosmic justice, purpose etc) may satisfy human yearnings, but falsely. Far better to take responsibility for your own yearnings.

    One thing in the article that struck me (and it may be inadvertent sub-heading formatting choices) is the different 'weights' of capitalized and un-capitalized words. So debating 'cosmic justice' is slightly different from debating 'Cosmic Justice' because one is a concept and the other a reified concept. Reification unconsciously implies existence. I understand that this is a well known cognitive bias (in English).

    Trouble is once you start picking up on 'reification by formatting' you start seeing everywhere. And usually the usage is inconsistent.

  4. DiscoveredJoys – sorry – the capitalization inconsistencies are entirely my fault. No intention there. I am trying to wean myself from all caps in titles to no caps, but I still tend to capitalize certain ideas – so yeah – I am totally and completely inconsistent. Don't read anything into it. It's just me trying to get used to different style rules than I grew up with.

  5. Jennifer

    No worries, I expected it was something like that.

    It sent me off on a train of thought – I wondered how much of Western philosophical and theological thought was affected by the simple matter of capitalization. The Victorians and earlier English writers were particularly prone to capitalizing words, even in the middle of sentences. Perhaps they tended to think in more concrete terms?

  6. I take your point that when confronted with someone who does evil we may question whether they are ‘really’ happy. Was Hitler happy? Obviously not at the end of his life… but while he was winning the war? In one sense he might have been happy in that he was fulfilling his desires but could one call a life based on brutality, oppression and mistrust a truly flourishing life? I also take your point about facing injustice and interpreting it as a call to me personally to try and make the world more just. But I think there is a third perspective that you have missed and that is the melancholy spectacle of the injustice that has already happened to countless millions of innocent people throughout history, some perpetrated by other humans and some by an indifferent nature. None of that suffering will ever be redeemed or compensated for. It’s just futility and loss. Just think of the last child you read about in the news who died in pain before the age of 4, either through disease or abuse. Surely we have to pass judgement on the world (both human and natural) and conclude that the world itself is wrong. Not a happy thought.


Leave a Reply to DiscoveredJoysCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.