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?”
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!