August 07, 2008

Fate and Destiny: Jesse Ventura's Secular Superstition

Among an increasingly secular culture, I've noticed a curious thing. It is quite common to hear talk of fate, destiny, or what was "meant to be." It is an often-visited theme in movies (for instance, Serendipity and Sliding Doors) and can be heard in candid interviews with celebrities. Now, this may make sense under certain spiritual worldviews, but I take this as a meaningless sentiment from those who are opposed to religion in general.

The most recent example of this, in my experience, has come from the mouth of former Minnesota Governor, Jesse Ventura. One of the alleged charms of Mr. Ventura is that he is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. Unfortunately, one of the ways that he believes it is like involves the idea that "organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers." Given his anti-religious orientation, it struck me as very odd when I recently heard him say that he's always been a big believer in "fate and destiny." With that in mind, he entrusted his final decision regarding a bid for the Senate to the flip of a coin.

Of course, I understand that there is a difference between fatalism and fate in a broader, metaphysical sense. I understand that when some use the term "fate" they are simply speaking of what chance deals out. That's not what I have in mind, nor is it how others, like Jesse Ventura, speak of it. Jesse was not just indecisive about his political aspirations and lazily allowed a coin flip to put the issue to bed; he expected that the coin flip would be a portal to the right decision, the path that he was meant to follow.

I doubt very much that someone like Jesse Ventura would like to be thought of as superstitious, but how could one reconcile his idea that (some or all) things are meant to be with his inclination toward a secular worldview? Perhaps one might say that fate is what we would observe if we could take a time machine and travel into the future. That is, fate is what does and will happen. But you don't flip a coin to get on board with that fate, because you are always making that fate no matter what you do. And it is most certainly not an intended, or morally good, destiny; it is simply an amoral byproduct of random events and human choices.

In order for anything to be fated, there must be a fater. In order for anything to be destined, there must be a designer. In order for anything to be meant, there must be something that can grant meaning. In order for anything to happen for a reason, there must be something which can reason.

I contend that Ventura's substantive view of fate requires a theistic perspective — a God. And not just any God: a God who is involved in the course of history and even individual human lives. It requires a personal God who can plan and purpose. It requires a powerful God who can take the helm in history. It requires a "meddling" God who can influence human agents and even tamper with nature. All these things are required if Mr. Ventura's coin flip is insured to land according to plan — according to a good and meaningful plan — just as it was fated to do.

Unfortunately, this is the very type of God that might intervene in human history in even more profound ways than the subtleties of coin flips and serendipitous events. This is the very type of God explicitly affirmed and revered by those poor, "weak-minded" followers of organized religion. But it would appear that someone like Jesse Ventura much prefers disorganized religion.


At 8/09/2008 8:51 AM, Anonymous Andrea said...

I very much enjoyed this post. I am so glad I found your blog again after I'd added it to my favorites and lost it! I have some opinions on the story you've laid out. I should note that I hadn't heard this story so my only response is to the information you've provided. I don't know Jesse Ventura's theistic (or atheistic) beliefs, except for the quote you included about what he said regarding organized religion. Here's my humble and utterly undesired opinion. Someone does need to believe in organized religion in order to believe in God, or instead of "God" I'll say an "intelligent designer." Perhaps, for Ventura, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, or to put it another way, the Biblical God, holds no creedence for him. Perhaps when he speaks of fate or destiny, he has - in his mind - a much broader, vaguer, "creator" who can positively or negatively influence human events. While I find that such a deity existing is highly improbably, my only point is that one need not believe in organized religion in order to have a concept or even belief in some higher power.

At 8/09/2008 9:02 AM, Anonymous Andrea said...

I made a silly typo in what I wrote. The sentence should read: "Someone does NOT need to believe in organized religion in order to believe in God." Sorry bout the double post, just wanted to clarify.

At 8/09/2008 12:49 PM, Blogger SLW said...

Very nice indeed, to read something new from you. I enjoy not only what you communicate, but the way you do so. Blessings.

At 8/09/2008 9:14 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Paul! It's so good to see you posting again!

I've always understood fate to be very different than destiny. Fate is blind, and destiny depends on someone to destine. Fate is what will inevitably take place, but destiny is what somebody means to take place. A determinist could believe in fate, and one doesn't need a god to be a determinist.

But I could just be mistaken on what "fate" means. Maybe Ventura is, too.

At 8/11/2008 1:05 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Sorry to post and run, but I had to go out of town for a few days.


How flattering that you would enjoy my blog! Especially for one who believes that the existence of a deity is "highly improbable." That in itself would be an interesting topic of discussion, i.e., how one calculates probabilities regarding metaphysical entities and what physical evidence one allows or disallows in such equations. But that for another time.

You are absolutely right to say that one need not affirm "organized religion" (as most understand that phrase) in order to ground the idea of supernatural providence. In my post, I did not give enough information to demonstrate that Venture is an unqualified atheist. I'm not even sure that I can do so other than by making appeal to various derogatory statements and actions he's made against those who are inclined toward the deity, and his secular outlook in every other area that I can witness (note that it is not in a politician's best interest to admit to atheism, since this is sure to make the great spiritual-minded majority a bit squeamish at the polls).

However, my point is a larger one, in which Ventura was just a recent example that inspired the post. Actually, two points, I guess. In a culture that is very outwardly secular, it is interesting to see such common allusions to otherwise superstitious things like destiny. And, those who have no room for the divine have no right to such a concept. Further, I would say that those whose view of the divine is weak and impersonal have some work to do to in justifying providence in their metaphysic.


Thanks for the encouragement. Sorry I've been away. I hope to become more active again, though I'll have to avoid the temptation to dwell on political issues, since that is what's been on my mind (and iPod) in recent months.


You are probably right. I lumped them together here because Ventura did also (and seems to mean "destiny" in both cases), and because I have elsewhere seen them used interchangeably. You know how imprecise our modern culture is with words. I'm just dealing with the concept in spite of how it is often named.


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