An Introduction to Fate

What is my fate? Is it predetermined? What if I had made different choices? Can I change my fate? These are questions that people have wrestled with throughout history. The synonyms of fate such as destiny and karma—and even their antonyms, like chance and free will—are all variations on the theme of the eternal question of why things are and how they will be. 

What is the meaning of fate?

The word fate comes from the Latin word fatum. It means “that which has been spoken.” The suggestion is that there is no choice in fate, that it is inevitable. Fate encompasses events and circumstances in all times past, present, and future. Individuals and societies are both said to have fates. Examples of fate range from the fall of the Roman Empire to making a decision to turn left instead of right and getting into an accident. 

Fate is often personified as a woman. In Greek mythology, three goddesses known as the Moirai, or the Fates, represented the cycle of life—spinning, weaving, and cutting the threads of birth, life, and death. A person who believes that all events are inevitable, so that one’s choices and actions make no difference, is called a fatalist. The positive acceptance of one’s fate, including suffering and loss, is sometimes called amor fati, “love of one’s fate.”

If we feel like something is our fate, we feel it’s beyond our control. Fate is often referred to directly, as if it were a supernatural power. It operates in our relationships and is responsible for our lot in life. We can say, “fate tore me apart from” or “fate brought me together with,” the love of my life. Or “it was my fate to be born into this family.” Or “fate caused me to live in this city or to hold that particular job.” 

What is the difference between destiny and fate?

The words “fate” and “destiny” are often used interchangeably. The difference between them is that fate is often blamed for unhappy circumstances, while destiny implies the attainment of a happy, or longed-for situation. Further, while fate is completely out of our control, we are said to be able to “shape our destiny.” This often means taking advantage of the situation we are in to steer the direction of our future. We may feel destined to become wealthy because we work hard. But if we work hard and are still poor, we are more likely to blame it on fate. 

What does it mean when someone “meets their fate”?

Fate can have the element of unpredictability. It can have “twists” or seem “quirky” at times. But when it is “my” or “your” fate, there is one universal meaning: “to meet your fate” means to die or be killed. It is something that happens to each of us just as sure as we are born.

Is free will the opposite of faith?

The line between our fate and our destiny is not always bright. It has been noted that “fate is the destiny that is pre-planned for you, but it’s up to you to do something with it.” In other words, there are many possibilities for our lives, and it is free will that allows us to seize our opportunities. 

Whether we have free will or not is a much debated question, one that doesn’t have a ready answer, but one that points to what it means to be human. Is fate related to biology as determined by our brain’s architecture and chemistry? This type of fate, also known as scientific determinism, can sometimes undermine our sense of responsibility for our actions and ability to fulfill our potential. Religious faiths have long wrestled with the questions of free will, fate, and destiny.

What is fate in religion?

Monotheistic religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism generally believe in predestination, a form of religious determinism created and governed by an all-knowing, all-seeing God. The Christian theology of Calvinism holds that God has already chosen whether each of us will be saved or damned no matter what we do. The majority of Christian doctrines, on the other hand, make space for the idea of free will in the context of attaining salvation. 

Most Jewish theologies affirm belief in free will, with an omniscient God choosing not to interfere in human affairs. The Arabic phrase inshallah, translated as “if God wills,” reflects the Muslim doctrine of an all-powerful God who has set the length of every person’s life as well as their fortunes. Shia Islam places an emphasis on free will as the key to accountability for one’s actions and thus an important consideration on the Day of Judgment by God.

This emphasis on accountability and responsibility is also present in the major Eastern religions. The “Law of Karma” refers to the cycle of cause and effect that governs human life. Karma is the sum of our individual and collective actions. While the Hindu concept of fate understands the Divine to be actively involved in the karmic cycle, Jains and Buddhists see karma as an impersonal force. For Buddhists, karma is simultaneously characterized by both determinism and free will. While past actions have certainly shaped this moment, our skillful intentions and actions in the present moment shape our future, including the possibility for liberation.

Whether we believe in fate, positive or negative, it is a question we have all pondered. While we may never know for sure the answer to this mystery, we do know there is plenty to explore on the topic.

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