I started reading Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler before I realized it was on Bill Gates’ summer reading list. In reading Gates’ review, I can see why it’s on his list. He says he spends his days asking Why?
Why do people live in poverty? Why do some people die young? Why? Why? Why?
As a young woman facing stage IV colon cancer, no one would begrudge Bowler’s right to herself the same question, Why me?
Her previous book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel discussed the prosperity theology, which is a religious belief held by some Christians that material wealth and health is related to their acts of faith. Throughout the book she discusses this belief, along with other beliefs that try to rectify unfairness of the world.
She speaks of some spritual laws as creating a “Newtonian universe in which the chaos of the world seems reducible to simple cause and effect.” In this world, if you follow the rules, things go well. And when something goes wrong, such as becoming sick, you must look for what caused it.
She speaks of not only the big why’s of life, but also the little tricks people follow in the name of religion to garner favor. One that is familiar to me, having been raised Catholic is burying a St. Joseph statue in your yard. Doing so is thought to help you sell your house.
As someone facing a serious illness, she becomes subject to everyone’s advice and beliefs on how to handle it, and people’s own “whys”. After writing about her illness in a well-publicized article she is subject to well-meaning, but often terrible advice from letter writers across the country. Much of it is only slightly more terrible than the things people she knows say to her thinking that they are helping.
Some people have advice for her, some try to minimize her situation and others just want to share their own stories. Some things people say is appalling, others are funny. She quips that God must be busy opening and closing doors and windows based on how many times she hears this line. She receives so much advice, she even includes an appendix of things never to say to someone experiencing something terrible.
In the end, Bowler’s subtitle tells us where she ultimately lands on the “Why” of her disease. Subtitled: And Other Lies I’ve Loved speaks to the security she too has found in believing in the cause and effect narrative. If only we learn to do the right things, everything will be all right. But sometimes things just happen.
A version of this post was previously published on CatherineLanser and is republished here with permission from author.
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Photo credit: Catherine Lanser