Fate and Faith

The relationship between luck and religion

Claire Chang and Rucha Soman

Shaking before a big test, sophomore Anand Kathkadekar clasps his hands together and prays. In his mind, he goes through everything he’s grateful for, and reminds himself not to worry. If he doesn’t do well, Kathkadekar tells himself, he just has to work harder.

Thank you, God, he thinks. While praying before a test appears to be linked to faith and the desire to do well, Kathkadekar reaffirms that what he does isn’t particularly religious.

“It’s not super specific to Hinduism, it’s kind of just praying in general,” Kathkadekar said. “Praying has nothing to do with luck, I feel like it more has to do with calming yourself down and things like that.”

Junior Arvind Jagdish agrees with this as he believes that it helps calm him down when he’s nervous about his grade. He thinks that it is a common thing to do regardless if the student it religious or not, however, he takes the religious route with his praying.

“Whatever to calm myself, sometimes it’s just thinking about what I want and asking God like ‘yo help me out’ and if not there’s a couple things my mom taught me how to do so I just do those” Jagdish said. “Just a couple of mini prayers, things like that.”

The phenomenon of praying before tests, and appealing to a higher power to help boost performance, reveals the connection between religion and luck, and the concept of karma.

According to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, karma, a concept of Hinduism, is the view that good deeds, words and thoughts lead to beneficial effects, while bad deeds, words and thoughts lead to future consequences. These effects don’t have to be realized immediately, and may manifest in another life. Karma is an idea that junior Varsha Subramanyam, as a Hindu, believes in strongly.

“The main thing I know about Hinduism is karma, and that your actions do have consequences,” Subramanyam said. “In that way I think that it’s not related to luck because everything is calculated and what you do is reflected in how you’re being treated by the world. [It’s] calculated in the way you can choose how the world treats you, by doing good, so in that way there is no luck.”

Karma is one of the bedrock beliefs of Hinduism, and for Subramanyam, that means that luck doesn’t exist. In her eyes, things happen because of past actions, which rules out luck as a factor in life . Her view on luck makes it difficult for Subramanyam to understand why people pray before big events or tests. She thinks that in this case, faith is being misused.

“I know [that for] a lot of people, their religion is something that they use for comfort,” Subramanyam said. “But in [praying before tests], it’s being used as ‘God might be able to help me so I’m going to [pray] for selfish purposes and not as a form of faith.’”

However, religion can be interpreted in different ways. Subramanyam’s view of Hinduism in relation to luck contrasts that of junior Arvind Jagdish’s. While Jagdish, a Hindu, believes in karma, he also believes that luck factors into success and achievements.

“[Karma] just makes sense,” Jagdish said. “It just makes sense to me [that] everybody gets what’s coming to them. [But] some people are handed more than they deserve. There can be a chance that something bad happens and there can be a chance that something good happens. Nobody is ever successful without luck, every time they’re successful it’s hard work met with a little bit of luck.”

Karma and luck, and the effect that faith has on them, varies based on religion, and Jagdish’s Hindu interpretation of karma and luck differs from the Christian view. Junior Yoanna Lee, an officer of  Roots Christian Club, says that within the Christian faith, karma is close to nonexistent. It might, she says, even go against what they believe.

Lee says that once you connect your  with God, and blame them on Him, you lose an objective view of the Christian faith. She emphasizes that it’s not about what happens to you, it’s how you respond and grow from it.

“We believe in something that’s grace, and for us that’s more important than your words or your actions in this world,” Lee said. “We don’t think your actions determine a certain outcome, and in that sense we don’t believe in karma. We believe that everyone is equally horrible and equally good in every sense of the word. You could go either way.”

The idea of grace Lee mentions is a principle in direct contrast with karma. According to her, grace balances the positive and negative of everyone and doesn’t connect to past actions. Lee says that another large part of the lack of karma or luck in the Christian faith is that Christians believe that God has a specific plan for everyone, and will guide them through certain things.

“When something bad happens I come to God and I say: ‘Why did you do this?’ I’m not afraid of coming to God and praying and seeking out answers on the internet, or in the Bible [to figure] out why certain things happen, what is a potential greater plan and seeing how everything correlates,” Lee said. “If something bad happens, I might be upset about it but I know that that just means I have a different direction, and that I can max out my life in a different sense.”

In Lee’s view of Christianity, everything happens for a reason, which means that luck is impossible. This is in contrasts with senior Afrah Ali’s Islamic view of luck as she believes that luck has a direct correlation with religion.

“I think that good deeds and following religion closely provides you with luck and good things happening to you, which are basically known as blessings,” Ali said. “If you do follow Islam, pray five times a day and read the Quran, more things will work out for you.”

While Ali believes in luck under Islam, her view of praying for good luck before big tests first requires a relationship with God, where He helps you put in effort to perform well and show your commitment to doing so.

“You can’t just pray five times a day to God [so] you’ll do well on the next test,” Ali said. “It’s a commitment between you putting in effort and God helping you put in that effort instead of you just relying on God to get that good grade.”

The phenomenon of praying before tests for good luck is related to the deeper connection between certain religions and their relationship with luck and karma. Lee maintains that praying before a test does not mean that you do well, because  simply asking God for a good grade is not going to get you that grade.

She believes that people should not pray for their test to go well, do badly and then blame it on God. There is another aspect, she argues, where you have to put in the work and study — echoing Ali’s belief about the issue as well.

“If I was God, who cares about a stupid test?” Lee said. “If I was God, I care that you do well, I care that you do all these things and I love you, but c’mon. I’m not gonna let you abuse my power for a test. [Praying] is something you can do, and it’s not necessarily bad … but it’s not something that should determine your judgement or how you perceive God.”