A Response to Paulo Coelho

A few days ago, I was browsing (okay, wasting time on) Pinterest–which is a chief passion of mine–, and I eventually happened upon the following quote:

A jaunt on over to that ever-resourceful compendium of vaguely unreliable knowledge, Wikipedia, revealed to me that Paulo Coelho is an extremely famous author. Admittedly, I am ashamed that I’ve never heard of him. I love books and yet. . . .

That aside, I find that I, quite frankly, violently disagree with the above quote and another quote of Coelho’s:

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Why do I so disagree? Because, practically, both these quotes are utter nonsense and, biblically, they are entirely incorrect.

Practically

I can see how trying to please others could make one feel depressed, anxious, or stressed. Why, expending a lot of energy on anything can lead to any of these things. For example, I find that sometimes I’ll be working on a story, reach a roadblock, and start to feel all of those things because I feel like I’m not doing well enough by not meeting my deadlines/self-appointed goals (which are entirely for my own benefit, by the way). As long as you take time to “recharge” after spending time pleasing others and don’t help others to the point that you compromise your own health (you need sleep too), you should not feel depressed, anxious, or stressed. Actually, you should feel quite the opposite.

I (and this is coming from someone who is a bit misanthropic) find great joy in genuinely helping and pleasing those I love. For instance, my grandma is currently trying to organize and minimize so that she can move this fall, which means she needs my help. Sure, it’s great for me because I get paid more than minimum wage. However, the money isn’t my motivation. My real motivation is that I want to serve my grandma so that things are easier for her. My ability to help her gives me a sense of joy that vastly overshadows any depression/anxiety/stress conjured by this extra responsibility.

Finally, how would one live truly only for oneself? Would that not exclude doing anything to benefit another person? In other words, screw those starving people in Africa and the millions of people who are trafficked every year? Push that person off the cliff if that means that you survive? If so, you may have antisocial personality disorder.

On to the second quote. I haven’t the slightest idea how Coelho came to this conclusion or how anyone could believe this. One look at the world dashes this idea to the ground. I’m sure the aforementioned trafficked people want very much to be free. Yet they aren’t and, unfortunately, some of them never will be. Their captors certainly don’t want to let them go. This is a business worth tens of billions of dollars, after all. And far from helping them, the majority of the world is either ignorant of the suffering these people experience or lack the means or will to assist anti-trafficking organizations. The universe is hardly conspiring to give these people what they want.

Further, how does this quote apply to people with opposing views? To reach into the fire of controversy, think back to the recent election. A great many people wanted Hillary Clinton to be president. Another great many wanted Donald Trump to be president. Others wanted neither, thanks. But, as of January 20, 2017, Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States. Soo, what happened here? Did the people on President Trump’s side want him to be president more than Mrs. Clinton’s supporters wanted her to be president? Is that why he won? And this is simply the United States. What about people in other countries who, frankly, would like everyone to shut up about American politics and give them their change already? Regardless, the whole universe did not conspire toward a single outcome.

Even on a smaller scale, I really wanted to go to college for free (and I mean really free, not paying for it via taxes for the rest of my life). Did that happen? No. Was the universe chipping in to cover the cost of higher education? Well, if it had, I would be going to my top choice college.

Coelho’s ideas are entirely unfounded in logic. While there is a possibility that living to please others could give you stress, depression, and anxiety, this is unlikely when you continue to take care of yourself while you help others. And the joy that comes from helping others completely overshadows any of these feelings. In addition, the universe simply does not work to make everything you want come true.

Biblically

The first quote advocates selfishness, which is contrary to the teachings of the Bible (Philippians 2:3-8, Romans 15:1-3). After all, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves:

“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

-Matthew 22:39, English Standard Version

Of course, to understand this, we must understand what love is. So what is love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth.”

-1 Corinthians 13:4-6, English Standard Version (emphasis added)

The connotations of Coelho’s statement is in direct violation of the Gospel and, therefore, entirely incorrect.

The second quote is similarly incorrect. Your spiritual father is either God or Satan. If it is Satan, he is for you. Or, more accurately, is using you to corrupt. If your spiritual father is God, Satan is continually warring against you, but you have God to rely on (1 Peter 5:8-9, 1 John 4:4, James 4:7-8). Either way, there is a force constantly warring against you, making it impossible for “all the universe” to work for what you want.

For claiming to be Catholic, I’m not sure Coelho has ever opened a Bible.

The Bible makes an excellent case for the falsity of Coelho’s words. And whether you are a Christian or not, whether you believe that the Bible is God-breathed and complete truth or not, the ways of the world itself contradict his assumptions. Serving others fulfills God’s commandments and brings joy, and something is always fighting against what you want.