I've listened to a lot of Ken's talks over the years, and as far as I can tell he doesn't believe in rebirth. His views on karma are shaped by that - and I think the notion that he just doesn't like some of the issues it raises.
Karma according to the Buddhist view certainly does explain everything - just not to his taste. In my opinion it tastes bad because it's samsara. And samsara tastes disgusting.
Saying "he just doesn't like some of the issues it raises" suggests that his views on karma are a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. If you read the articles I think what comes across is that what isn't to his taste is the way religious teachings are often quite childish in intent and execution. I find not many religious teachers dare to approach people as adults, playing to their strengths as opposed to their fears you might say....
Besides, I was trying to get across to Mag that there are alternative opinions out there that carry just as much weight as the ones that are put across here as absolute truths. Which actually backs up my previous statement.
I've heard many, many hours of his teachings and read his comments on karma several times before. I really don't think his arguments against it hold water as a successful criticism of Buddhism. After a long time I eventually decided I wasn't interested in listening to any more of his stuff.
Once we accept the idea that karma ensures that the universe is a just place, the prevailing political system can use karma to "justify" the inequities that it produces. If you are born into a ruling family, you enjoy the results of the good you did in past lives. If you are born a slave, then your fate is the result of what you did in past lives.
So we return to the children killed in the civil war. How do we explain this event if we believe in karma? Our only explanation is that, yes, these children did commit horrendous actions in past lives and the karma has now ripened.
For me that "explanation" is not only unconvincing but also unnecessary. The children died. They did nothing to "deserve" such deaths. The reason I look for an explanation is to avoid the mystery of their deaths, to protect myself from the pain it brings up in me, a pain that reminds me that I, too, am subject to tragic and arbitrary death, that my life could end at any time, and that I have no idea what the future holds for me. That is the mystery of life.
With respect to these two quotes, my reaction is 'sorry, that's how karma works'. Pain and suffering are a result of karma. That's how samsara is. Ken says that it 'removes the mystery of life'. This is quite a weird argument in my opinion, based on aesthetics rather than anything else. Suffering is the starting point of Buddhist analysis of experience and the end conclusion to the origin of suffering isn't "Gee, who knows?" Karma is complex but can certainly be 100% understood by a buddha.
it can be used to justify horrific inequities and rigid moral positions
that would be a complete failure on the person who lost compassion as a result. That
would be acting in a childish way. Looking at the Buddha, the lineages of teaching and Buddhist masters you most certainly don't find this kind of reaction to suffering - it seems to be more of an argument that starts with its own conclusion.