Sunday, 6 November 2011

Religion, Procreation and A Divine Hatred of Life

That divine hatred of life that marks the deepest and most sensitive souls – HP Lovecraft on the Puritanical character

From the dawn of civilisations, man dreamt of casting off his flesh and ascending from the physical world; until the modern sham of "life is great/wonderful/..." with its "child-friendly" blinders upon education, the average man was capable of judging this world for something not worth attaching to – Bazompora

I’m not a believer; I have no faith, but unlike a lot of Liberals, Rationalists, Secularists and fellow travellers on the Antinatal road, I’m not particularly hostile to religion. One reason, as I’ve stated previously on this blog, is my visceral loathing for the arrogant self-certainty of Hitchens, Dawkins and company. For people who declare themselves so against irrationality and faith they fail spectacularly when it comes to examining their own groundless beliefs in concepts such as “humanity”, “the future”, “reason”, “freedom” and so on. In short, for such die-hard empiricists and materialists they wilfully ignore the abundant evidence provided by history that would allow anyone to easily arrive at what are fairly unflattering conclusions about our species, its character and its future.

That aside, my other reason for not loathing religion in the way that so many others do is connected with the quotations from Lovecraft and Bazompora above. To my mind, genuine religion stems from an honest realisation that this world is fundamentally a place of suffering and unhappiness. In spite of all of our dreams and plans and efforts, the world is simply not good enough. We are trapped in our minds, always yearning for elsewhere, rarely content to be where and what we are. Naturally, we dream of the beyond, of other realms that lie beyond the pitifully small and dirty prison yard of our being.

For some, this leads directly to religious faith. The idea that this world, with all of its horrors and injustices, is all there is is simply too much to be borne. There simply must be something else, some retribution and justice for the horror of it all. I don’t for one moment condemn or blame this impulse; if anything, I condone and applaud it, as it reflects that divine hatred of life of which Lovecraft speaks. To my mind, it’s far nobler than the smug indifference of the rational empiricist who simply shrugs his shoulders and carries on eating and procreating, a comfortable dweller in his own ego.

Furthermore, one thing that has always baffled me is how anyone could procreate unless they had religious belief. When trying to think of possible refutations of antinatalism, the only one that ever strikes me as plausible when measured on its own terms is the religious one. On an ontic level, the world is a hellhole, no matter how wealthy, successful or beautiful one may be; surely the only way one could justify procreation to oneself is a firm conviction that the ontological level is fundamentally one of goodness and divine love, as otherwise the world is just one big abattoir where all meet the same end. Or as Quentin Crisp puts it:

I do not understand how anyone can procreate without certain knowledge of the ultimate cosmic destination of those they bring into the world. It is beyond my comprehension that people do this. It seems to me that the sensible thing to do would be to await certain knowledge. If certain knowledge does not come (which would probably mean a knowledge shared by the entire human race), I would have thought that one would have to ask the question, "Why on Earth do I want to have children? What am I thinking of?”

http://my.opera.com/quentinscrisp/blog/andre-com

So for me the antinatalist and the genuinely religious person aren’t a million miles apart. They have far more in common with each other than they do with the indifferent rationalist. Neither the religious person nor the antinatalist believes in the human future; they are both interested in what surrounds human life. In the one case, it’s a void; in the other, it’s some indefinable form of goodness (obviously Buddhism differs almost entirely from the Abrahamic monotheisms in seeking a release into the nothingness of Nirvana, and is probably the form of religion closest to pure antinatalism). Each makes a judgement on life’s value based on this broader perspective. The antinatalist views life as fundamentally a version of hell and abstains from procreation; the religious individual may decide to procreate because they believe that Being in and of itself is fundamentally good and an unasked for divine gift. Clearly these conclusions are not ultimately reconcilable, but the path each walks runs beside the other for a great deal of the journey. The antinatalist may vehemently disagree with the believer and the decision to procreate, but the religious individual has a far more coherent position than the atheist who merely takes a punt on the future for no plausible reason at all and who, to my mind, is the ultimate irresponsible procreator.

To conclude, let’s reflect on the following fact: the only society in human history that has ever encouraged antinatalism on moral grounds was a Christian one, the Cathars of Languedoc. The Cathars practiced a form of Christianity closely related to Gnosticism, one that preached that the world was the domain of an evil god, and that procreation was only a means by which further hostages to fortune were created. Non-procreation was urged upon the people, although generally celibacy was practiced only successfully by the upper echelons of the priesthood. (They were also firmly in favour of vegetarianism.) Surprisingly, the Cathars survived for quite a while before Rome took notice and launched a merciless genocidal crusade to reassert its hegemony.

What I think this may prove is that only a society based on principles of care, compassion and world-rejection could ever embrace Antinatalism. Liberal societies are based on the principal that the self should be as free as possible from outside interference in order to enjoy maximum freedom and pleasure. For most, procreation is a right that should brook no interference. Whether people procreate or not is based on whether it will add hedonic utility to the lives of the parents. That’s why I tend to strictly divorce in my mind antinatalism from the child-free brigade. If the latter decide their interests are better served by having babies, they’ll do it. There’s very little moral basis to their decision.

So to finish, whenever tempted to launch into a one-sided tirade against religion, remember the Cathars!

23 comments:

  1. I do agree with a lot of what you say here. It is true that several religions have a very negative view of human beings (including the two largest, Islam and Christianity), and have more of a focus on the afterlife, since they know that life on earth is not so great. I also think this is why many Christians are hopeful for the apocalypse to happen soon. People often imagine heaven as being much better than our lives here on earth. They imagine it as peaceful, without violence or pain, and imagine everyone being happy and enjoying themselves. They recognize that life on earth is not “heaven”.

    But I don’t think the belief in afterlife is necessarily a positive belief from an antinatalist standpoint, since it still promotes people continuing the species, for as long as it is part of “God’s plan” for humanity to continue. If enough religious people truly believed the apocalypse was right around the corner, people might stop having children at that point, but as it stands now, some of the most religious people, including many Muslims, continue producing many children. Some of this is due to Islam being so negative toward women, and women in Islamic societies often don’t have any say in sexual matters, such as if birth control is used.

    I think part of what drives some people like Richard Dawkins to promote so strongly the idea that life is wonderful is they have to come up with some sort of justification for continuing the species, and continuing the species is almost universally accepted as being the right thing to do, except by those of us who are antinatalists. Before I became an antinatalist, I also had difficulty trying to justify to myself why we should continue the suffering of generation after generation of human beings when it was all for no reason. It is one of the things that starting moving me into the antinatalist direction.

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  2. Stacy,

    It depends on the religion, plus one's own honest and objective interpretation of the religion. I find nothing in the New Testament (which supercedes the OT) saying anything either way about childbirth. Therefore, a convention of 20 of the most brilliant Christian theologians of today can't come to a consensus about this any more than 20 people pulled at random off the IRS tax rolls. This tells me that there's no contradiction between being at least Christian and antinatalist (esp if you're thinking in terms of preventing another soul from going to Hell - which you can do by not having children in the first place).

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  3. Aren't you romanticizing religion a bit?

    The antinatalist may vehemently disagree with the believer and the decision to procreate, but the religious individual has a far more coherent position than the atheist who merely takes a punt on the future for no plausible reason at all and who, to my mind, is the ultimate irresponsible procreator.

    This, for example, I find entirely over the top. When we're talking about taking punts with no evidence at all, the religious person strikes me as the ultimate offender: they see the world as a terrible place, and they procreate nonetheless and bet that there is an afterlife and that their children will achieve the good side of it, as opposed to ending up in hell.

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  4. I could only come up with a question concerning your statement:

    "the only society in human history that has ever encouraged antinatalism on moral grounds was a Christian one, the Cathars of Languedoc."

    I really wonder if the Cathars were the *only* one... the Shakers came to my mind but their motivation for complete sexual abstinence may have been a different one, namely the Original Sin (aka "the cesspit that's been handed down for generations?")
    Anyway, could you give a source for your claim?

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  5. Karl,

    Lots of awesome ideas here. And getting quite polemic, as one can see from the comments.

    * Nail on the Cathars.

    * Nail on Liberal societies and their principles of maximal egotism to pleasure;

    * Nail on the child-free people from the antinatal ones;

    Although people are disagreeing (discord is good to reveal some good points and to create deeper understanding), I can see that

    "So for me the antinatalist and the genuinely religious person aren’t a million miles apart. They have far more in common with each other than they do with the indifferent rationalist."

    I agree with it.

    Fellow commenters seem to understanding that you are urging religion upon antinatalists; but you are just highlighting the not ugly parts.

    Guys, Karl is just taking a step further to evalute the whole scenario. He is not demanding that everyone pick one for him/herself.

    He even says: "Clearly these conclusions are not ultimately reconcilable, but the path each walks runs beside the other for a great deal of the journey".

    He is just acknowledging that religious thought consider that we live in a fundamentally wrong place. Now, what those religious people do with thought is another thing altogether. They still continue to be humans underneath, and thus lying bags of bones. It almost can´t be helped.

    Cheers to everyone.

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  6. Thanks for all the comments thusfar, guys. Particular heads-up to Shadow, whose remarks pretty much sum up what I was going to say here. (And anyone who found this post interesting should check out his latest one, which is pretty much along similiar lines: http://antinatalismo.blogspot.com/2011/11/demiurge-is-weaving-and-weaving-and.html)

    Martin: Thanks for the reminder about the Shakers. The Bogomils also encouraged a form of material abstinence, but I'm not quite up on their attitude to sexual intercourse and procreation.

    As Shadow said, I'm not attempting to foist religious belief on anyone. As stated, I have none myself and was merely attemtping to outline what I percieve are the more authentic and admirable aspects of the religious urge. In my opinion, if more people lifted their heads up from the trough they're all so busy guzzling in and contemplated such matters perhaps the world wouldn't be such a pigsty, but who knows....

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  7. Spot on, brother. It's all fundamentally garbage at it's core. You can't fix what was broken from the start. If there's any chance at something better, it requires a new beginning within an entirely different realm of consciousness. I don't pretend to have any answers (because I'm not an arrogant lying windbag like most humans) but I can't stand the likes of DNA worshipping blowhards of any creed... whether they claim to be athiest or "god fearing". Continued manifestation of physical matter is just someone else's striving for their own egocentric ends and nothing more. To put it another way: Fuck this shit. Glad to see you're still putting your thoughts out there man. All my best.

    Hey Shadow,
    Sorry I didn't get back to you on Jim's blog. I've been distracted with life in general lately. Anyway here's the link to my channel you asked for. No vids of my own making are up at this point. It might happen in the future... it might not. We'll see.

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  8. Garrett, great to see you around here, man! Long time. Yup, tick the boxes to everything you said. Revulsion at the physical manifestation that is our being has been pretty prominent in me lately. (Just had a facetious thought, literally. Is excreting so satisfying because of the sensation of ridding ourselves of matter? Is death the ultimate ecxretion?)Fuck this shit indeed.

    By the way, I think you may have forgotten that link to your channel.

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  9. "I think part of what drives some people like Richard Dawkins to promote so strongly the idea that life is wonderful is they have to come up with some sort of justification for continuing the species, and continuing the species is almost universally accepted as being the right thing to do, except by those of us who are antinatalists."

    It's basically a gimmick very attractive to "heads" as it's put in "Two Arms and A Head" puts it (you can find a link to it on Shadow's blog). Do read the book, that explains why.

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  10. Oops, I again confused Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. But yeah, they're the same kind in the philsophy, though Dawkins isn't a "head".

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  11. I also think that Dawkins' optimism is mostly a knee-jerk reaction to accusations that "scientism" is "spiritually bankrupt". It reminds me of how Thunderf00t, in response to accusations of "scientism" being "morally bankrupt", has apparently convinced himself that what's moral is that which conserves society. (It is easy to paint yourself into a corner if you are a public spokesman for "the atheist community" or just about anything -- every idea you publicly put forward reinforces itself in your brain. Also, you can use evolution to predict anything after the fact.)

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  12. Death as the ultimate excretion? The final shedding of all physical matter? Hey, you might be on to something there!

    *facepalm* Here it is, thanks for catching that, Karl ;) http://www.youtube.com/user/antinatalist

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  13. "The antinatalist views life as fundamentally a version of hell and abstains from procreation"
    Sums it up neatly, as far as I am concerned. Though I am among the lucky ones, who's place is to gnaw the meat of the bones of the pitchforked and the boiled; works out well when you close your eyes. To illustrate that this comparison is not a fantasy far from the truth: during most of my life, I was frequently fed products from Chiquita, aka United Fruit Company, that over a century, up into my lifetime, has been funding the violent destabilisation of South American nations to bargain the agriculturable land and exploitable disposessed farmers from puppet regimes without the slightest of decency. Colombia is still a dictatorship owned by Chiquita and god knows how many other deaths still are this man's bread today. The notion that we First-Worlders are more ghouls than archetypical humans, imparts a strong moral imperative not to procreate among the host of reason.

    Also: good source material, Karl. ;-)

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  14. Garrett: Your youtube profile is fantastic. Without doubt the most honest and wholly agreeable one I've ever read. Kudos!

    Bazompora: Thanks for the comment. Yes, by even continuing to exist and maintaining our existence off the backs of others whose suffering we cannot see directly but know exists, we prove that we are, alas, selfish scumbags. Sins of ommision and so on. As for the source material, like others have said, your prose style is so good that you should really start your own blog.

    Thanks to everyone else thusfar for the comments. Hawking, Dawkins and co. will always push the pro-life line as it's the object of their studies and they need to get the masses on side to sell books and act as public guardians of what can and cannot be thought. It baffles me that my reaction to the cold, dead facts of science can be so different from theirs. To paraphrase Ligotti, the universe is MALIGNANTLY USELESS and there is absolutely nothing innately impressive about it. As for those who express awe and wonder by asking "Why is there something rather than nothing?" try asking that if you ever get cancer. "Why is there cancer rather than no cancer?" How much awe will that inspire? Maybe "Awww fuck, why do I have to endure this meaningless bullshit?"

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  15. Being sincere is hard, acting out of sincerity is harder, doing so successfully enough that people can't find anything to hang you for is harder still. I do not doubt that at least Dawkins is sincere. The others I can't tell, but probably neither can you. Don't just assume malice.

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  16. Hi, Tim. I certainly wouldn't accuse anyone of malice, but to anyone living in Britain it's extremely clear that Dawkins does believe he's on a moral crusade and has no difficulty laying down the law as to what he thinks merits respect and what doesn't. (Incidentally, his publicists/managers are certainly cashing in. In London, it generally costs around £10 to attend a talk by a well-known author. To attend Dawkins' latest talk costs £50.)

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  17. I'm alright with hyperbole and figures of speech, but it's not clear to me what concretely you mean by "moral crusade" and "laying down the law", what it is that makes it "extremely clear", and what kinds of things (laws? medicine? education? epistemology?) he is claiming do or don't merit respect. It's not that I have much interest in defending Dawkins (hey, he's just another guy), but I might have an interest in defending his ideas and/or decisions.

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  18. By "moral crusade" I refer to the fact that Dawkins and his colleagues are forever appearing on British media, telling the general populace what they should and shouldn't think, and what they should and shouldn't approve,and what is "rational" and "irrational". Worse, due to the fawning docility of the media presenters here, they are rarely, if ever, challenged. It is all so annoying and predictable.

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  19. "the atheist who merely takes a punt on the future for no plausible reason at all and who, to my mind, is the ultimate irresponsible procreator"

    Karl, with great respect, I have to say you are totally and completely wrong (with no qualifying "I think" or "I believe" in front of it).

    Atheists may be irresponsible procreators, but Christians as taught directly by Jesus believe that a certain sizeable fraction of people -- probably the majority of people -- will be sent to Hell where they will tormented forever and ever and ever.

    At least atheists are risking a suffering (mixed with possible some joys, even great ones) that is finite.

    And that is a non-trivial distinction; in fact, it's an infinite distinction.

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  20. Hi there.

    A few ideas have come to mind while reading your article. I enjoy reading bold statements that are fearleaaly honest because it is real. Since we often, as humans, enjoy living in a bubble, realness is, to me, very refreshing. But here are my thoughts.

    First let me say that I hav eactively sought direct experience with ultimate truths and do not subscribe to religions.

    The main point I want to say is that while life has been hellish at times it has also been incredible and better than I can put into words. Life surprises me, baffles me and often breaks my heart. I almost see life as not so much an experience, but an entity expressing itself through me. The only thing I know for sure is not that I know nothing (as socrates said). But that I know very little and that which I know for sure does not translate into words but rather a clarity that allows me peace, not happiness.

    Having said this I cannot say for sure whether life is hellish or heavenly, just that it is an incredible journey that can be both simultaniously. I do have children and believe the journey is worthwhile. But the only way it is worthwhile is viewing it as this adventure, this struggle, and conducting yourself accordingly.

    That is my 2 cents that I know for sure--at least in my life it has been so.

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  21. Anon, good for you that you have peace, but bear in mind that for many the 'adventure' consists of starvation, struggle, torture, sexual abuse, slavery, death camps etc etc. Good fortune is precisely that: fortune. And the wheel can turn at any time.

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  22. I was thinking about the Cathars just today actually. I'm a Buddhist, but I don't actually believe Nirvana is "nothingness" (And there are many Buddhists who would agree with me. There are many other Buddhists who would disagree with me. Which only proves that as in all religions... Buddhists don't all think the same way! LOL)

    For me antinatalism was the rationale that... because I truly want to end my cycle of reincarnation with this life and not come back here, if I were to foist this world of suffering onto another innocent soul I would be contradicting my own mission and would, IMO, cause a karmic situation which would cause me to return again. Kind of not my goal!

    However, there are lots of other reasons I don't want to have children. Some of those reasons are "selfish" and align with the reasons of many Child-free so I often find myself aligned with their goals. I just wanted to point out that the Child-free are not necessarily going to do whatever makes them happy on a whim, since many of them ALSO have antinatalist views for moral reasons regarding the immorality of bringing children here... whether they believe it's just immoral right now because of the world population or immoral period.

    But, if tomorrow I woke up and for some reason had some overwhelming urge to parent, I would adopt a kid already here, I would NOT decide to "have a baby". Even if my personal desires changed, I would still consider it immoral to bring a soul here, and counter to my ultimate spiritual goals of release from endless incarnations here.

    "Luckily" at this point my desires and morals mesh, but truly moral people do not make the immoral choice when their desires change. So don't count out all the "Child-free". Many of them are probably closer allies than you think.

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    1. Hi, Anonymous. Many thanks for your thoughful comment. Yes, I'm sure you're right about the child-free. It's perfectly possible that many are antinatalists, but are worried about 'coming out' so find the CF movement the most convenient way to express their beliefs.

      Hope this incarnation is your last!

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