The way I was raising them they could never be saved. … Better for someone
else to tie a millstone around their neck and cast them in a river than
stumble. They were going to perish.
No, I don’t believe in god. Although I do think it can be relevant.
Probably not the way you imagine. Do you believe in hell?
Well, if you’re going to entertain this impossible idea of mine — that
having children is at a minimum an imposition, then your belief system puts you
in a far worse position, doesn’t it? — at least potentially. Being a
childless atheist, I guess by your account I can look forward to burning in hellfire. The truth is, I’m not all that worried. But
on your end, the stakes are raised.
Well, your kids. They’re in grade school, right? And
they go to church? Or Sunday school or whatever?
OK then, suppose they change their tune on the whole Jesus Christ story.
Suppose they come to reject it, like I did. Like millions of people do.
And then, not to be morbid, but…
But they’ll go to Hell, right? Fire and brimstone for eternity?
Isn’t that what you believe? Eternity is a long time.
The point is that it’s much worse for you. There’s a chance that
your condemning them to something far worse than prosaic disappointment and
eventual death. Endless punishment. That’s a serious fucking
ticket. If you’re not bulshitting, then you have to admit it’s a real
I guess accusations are inevitable. But am I wrong? I mean, if they
had never existed, then they would never suffer and die — like I said
before. So it comes back to
my point that it’s all preventable — that life is a death sentence, and
potentially at least, for you, much, much, much worse.
Children of (Godless) Men
What? You think this is all a joke? A supercilious sleight of
sophistry rooted in churlish pessimism and ostentatious misanthropy? You
suspect my purity of intention? Think I’m choking on the bitter backwash of too
many bad days?
I may never rise above well suspected cynicism, but I must offer my assurance, all
the same, that I am only too serious. Mortally serious. I’ve checked my
premises. I’ve charted the escape clauses and raked over the
eschatological implications of a logic at once compelling and impotent. And I
refuse, finally and without apology, to shrug it off. For all his
wishfully confused sentiment, Rothbard was off to a half decent start. But he
choked on the lede. The ethics of liberty is the moral negation of breathing.
This is libertarianism as existentially predicated ethical fascism. It’s what
I’m left with. And I mean it.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the existential dialectic proceeds
after a stark bias, a bias wrought by consciousness and blindly insistent
biochemical imperatives. Existence exists, said the homely Russian
dilettante. But kick away the objectivist stilts and mull, once again,
over the asymmetry that remains: sentient existence entails suffering and
implies doom; non-existence is the absence of pain, the absence of a dying
light. Metaphysics always misses the mark. In a phrase, you didn’t ask
for this. No one did, because they couldn’t have. Because they were not.
We are deducibly victims of existential harm, traceable to negligent
agency. Thus every apology and every demand follows after this grave and
The Hoover Hog has taken frequent issue with the oft-disingenuous lip
service paid in service to "critical thinking" by self-imagined
freethinkers who would sooner teabag Boris Yeltsin’s maggot-infested scrotum
than think critically about biological race differences or engage the arguments
of "holocaust deniers." But reflecting on the problem in our sights
has given me pause to wonder. Could it be that antinatalism provides the
most revealing litmus test of all? Unlike cookie-cutter taboos that evoke
secretive fascination, this one cuts to the quick of every epistemic bias in
one’s mental reserve. If you’re given to presuppose — or postulate —
rights or interests or any proscriptive order of ethical conduct, regardless of
your preferred philosophical edifices, the reconciliation you imagine does not
come easily, if at all.
My thoughts turn to a random handful of prominent freethinking gadflies and
skeptics whom I respect: Daniel
Dennett, Ian McEwan, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens,
Peter Singer — all intelligent and outspoken critical thinkers who in
various forums have provided subtle to devastating critiques of theism
and the folly of religion. Collectively, these guys form the vanguard
of the "new atheism" you’ve been reading so much about —
the more public-spirited in-your-face brand that’s ever more inclined to rattle
cages and pick fights. With a few unimportant caveats, I think it’s a healthy,
if somewhat over-hyped backlash. I respect each of these men for their public
courage and intellectual mien. And I agree, Q.E.D., with a major point of their
critique — that ethical norms can be reliably derived — or invented —
without reference supernatural order.
Yet the next thought, the one that always follows, turns on what I cannot but see as a contradiction. Or
at least a mystery. All of these men — every one of them — has children. Even
Am I wrong to puzzle over this? Am I mistaken or naive to wonder: did
the questions that seem so obvious to me elude these thinkers? Did they
arrive at different conclusions? Could it be that in some fleeting adumbration,
the dire problem of procreation crossed their better minds, only to be
deflected as untenable or hopelessly nihilistic. Or are they simply blinkered
by base carnality? I bristle with curiosity.
Again, in the absence of divine guidance, most atheists would
agree that ethical reasoning is a secular enterprise of considerable
import. It could plausibly be argued that it is the only branch of
philosophy that may never fully yield to scientific dethronement. Yet and thus,
secularists of laudably inquiring disposition seldom find cause to articulate
their reasons for bringing new life into existence. How and why this elision
persists is the question that preoccupies me.
My money is on rank biology, abetted by habit. They’re blinded, I suspect, by the
same ecumenical gloss that afflicts the god-believing throng. They’re
victims of the same evolved moral sense, a sense long adapted to avoid certain
show-stopping questions. And I fear that in some tragic sense, they are
caught up the same pointless game.
That antinatalist arguments should so consistently be overlooked by superior
minds is at first suggestive. That such arguments, once confronted,
should typically be met with hostile or dismissive reception is, I submit, a
testament not to any rational deficit in their formulation, but rather, and
more acutely, to the same Darwinian bias. As sentient critters, our moral
sense is at once informed by and limited by preprogrammed genetic
interests. Our existential fate being at bottom a natural phenomenon, it
follows that all this hard-wired brainstuff would have been
selected for a staggering variety of reasons, most or all of which, it seems
safe to assume, would have been intrinsically incompatible with antinatalist
Indeed, it would be truly surprising if our viscera did not rebel
against a moral conclusion that demands the cessation of generational
propagation, which is reason enough to ask why the problem never came to focus
in your otherwise searching mental machinery. And it is further reason to
triple check your reflexive rebuttal once the matter is put. Only by
recognizing the pre-rational constitution of one’s reflexive discomfiture can
we ward against the predictable temptation to fall back on the sort of lazily
conceived and ill-supported axiomatic rejoinder that proceeds after this very
special flavor of dissonance.
The point is not lost on Benatar, who writes:
…there is a good evolutionary explanation for the deep-seated
belief that people do not harm their children seriously by bringing them into
existence. Those who do not have this belief are less likely to
reproduce. Those with reproduction-enhancing beliefs are more likely to breed
and pass on whatever attributes incline one to such beliefs.
So what happens is, you assume a dismissive posture. Or maybe you just
get pissed off.
A crass but telling illustration of this hostility may found in the
negative reviews of Better Never to Have Been posted on Amazon.
"So let me get this straight," sneers one reviewer, "Mankind
would be better of [sic] had he never been born? Has this author offed himself?
If not, what is his justification for his continued existence? Certainly not to
produce laughably idiotic tomes like this."
Or consider the more syntactically confused splenetic pronouncement offered
by one "Edgy Evangelical," who writes:
I have not read the book, but from reading the title, I do beleive [sic] the
cosmic stupidity of it would have proven fatal. The author should apologize to
all his teachers and instructors throughout his whole education by insinuating
their incompetence through his stupidity [sic], and then he should be made to plant 5
trees to make up for the waste of paper that was this book. Then he should be
forced to work in the real world until his brain works again. My life is
lessened because I know of the existance [sic] of this book.
So antinatalist reasoning is branded as misanthropic. This may be no
surprise, but it is nevertheless profoundly wrongheaded. Whatever his motives,
Benatar’s argument is essentially and explicitly philanthropic. And so,
despite my intermittently flaring hostility, is mine. The iterations cannot be exhausted. Creating people increases
suffering. Or creating people violates rights. There is nothing
misanthropic or hostile in the mission to reduce suffering, to spare people an
unknowable fate that could entail terrible illness or be defined by desperation
and psychic malaise. There is nothing morally suspect about an ethical
imperative that denies the multiplication of hangnails, holocausts, and gravestones.
But if the best of god’s enemies have failed to step up on this crucial
point, maybe I shouldn’t crucify them for their lapse. After all, they’re
smarter than I, which means, of course and alas, they are also better than
I. Thoughtless murderers though I believe they are. To paraphrase the old
antisemitic quip, some of my best friends are breeders.
It is better instead that we should study on the implications of
antinatalism for those who nakedly assert their claim to transcendentally
based moral righteousness. Because once you think about it, most followers of
the Nicene Creed have a lot more explaining to do.
Benatar is largely silent on the subject of religion, making only a passing
reference to Shaker celibacy in observing that "religious traditions
can embody views that superficial religious thinkers would take to be antithetical
He might have thought better, because for
Christians, at least for the practicing majority who embrace a scriptural
mandate for damnation, the inherent problems of procreation are
infinitely magnified. To understand this, it is not necessary to
entertain the veracity of preposterous christian claims about the fate awaits
unsaved sinners. To borrow Dennett’s expression, we need only posit a
"belief in belief." If the hell-fearing christians mean what they
say, then their conduct should be judged accordingly. When heaven and hell are
introduced into the calculus, the import of antinatalist reasoning is cast so
starkly that it defies credulity to believe that one could overlook the potential harm
of their doing. Yet even with the stakes raised immeasurably, the christians seem at least as blind as the atheists.
All but one, that is.
The First and Last Pro-Mortalist Christian Martyr
I remember you, Mrs.Andrea Yates.
You who were so obviously — biochemically, hormonally, legally, certifiably
— insane. That you drowned your five beloved broodlings, lest
they should suffer the torment of eternal hellfire. You poor, haplessly
afflicted christian-mother-wife-victim. So beleaguered and bedraggled and
brainsick. So deserving of our enlightened compassion, yet so unfairly
condemned by the masses of unthinking remote-control moralists. All the best
people agree: we can learn from your plight.
But my dear Andrea, could it be that your detractors as well as your
enlightened defenders have somehow missed the central lesson? As I recall, you
were very clear about this. Those voices in your head, the one’s you heeded in
your unquestionably psychotic lapse of innate maternal judgment, the voices
informing your unthinkable fillicidal deed, were they not consonant with the
voices so long resonating in the minds of your flock? Were they not
the same sermonically sanctioned voices long ratified by your chosen
Let’s be honest, dear. You had your reasons. Reasons more soundly deduced
than delusional. You knew what you were doing. Your mistake, Saint Andrea, was
in believing too earnestly.
I do not intend to be airily mordacious or snide. I want instead to
play on a forgotten thread of Szaszian skepticism by suggesting that Andrea
Yates’ actions can be understood without appeal to theories of insanity or
feminist-enabled hormone-sickness. I want to suggest — nay, insist
— that her crimes, considered in the context of clearly stated and widely
believed church dogma, were inescapably rational. Katie Couric’s
postpartum psychosis poster child was acting, as they say, in her
children’s best interest.
Stop sighing and listen. Andrea Yates was a member of the Clear Lake
Church of Christ, a Texas-based tendril of a fiercely but by no means uniquely fundamentalist
sect of protestant christianity boasting a mostly southern American membership
of more than two million people — some of whom we might imagine, just for the
sake of argument, to be very sincere. As with most sectarian strands of
christendom, The Church of Christ embraces and promotes certain doctrines. With
general reference to the subject of damnation, and with specific reference to
this imaginatively dreadful place called hell, the Church of Christ is as abominably
fanciful as they come. If you don’t accept the j-man and submit to proper
baptismal rites, you can look forward to an an unimaginable eternity of
It’s a vicious and tawdry idea, I know. But if you honestly believe
it; if you sincerely ascribe to the notion that such inconceivable punishment
awaits the nonbeliever, then how fucking dare you have children? Children
who, by dint of free will (CoC votaries reject predestination), may
succumb not merely to worldly misery and death, but to never-ending torturous
Thus it is for you that I must reserve my harshest sentiments. Fuck you, careless
christian procreators. Because of what you believe, you have placed yourselves beyond the
bounds of human turpitude. You have consigned yourselves to the bottom depth of human iniquity. When the killing machines are fueled and ready, I hope you’re
the first in line.
But Andrea, only Andrea, in her perfect, tragic, pathetic, guileless,
lonely sanity, saw the writing on the wall. She knew what she had wrought. And she knew there was one last ditch. A loophole; a way to save
her children. It’s all spelled out quite clearly in a gratingly ingenuous church
lesson intended specifically for Andrea’s erstwhile congregants:
History can be a wonderful teacher and help us gain perspective on current
situations. We understand the Scriptures to teach that infants and small
children are innocent of the guilt of sin. Jesus used them as illustrations of
humility and innocence saying, in essence, “You adults need what they possess!”
(See Matthew 18:2-6; 19:13-15; Mark
9:36-37; 10:13-16; Luke 9:46-48;18:15-17.)
The baptism of infants and children was unknown during the New Testament period
but began early in Christian history. It began due to a misunderstanding of the
nature of God which led to unnecessary fear. There was fear that if an infant
or child died he or she would not go to heaven. Baptism was thus seen as the
method of providing assurance of salvation while giving the child the
opportunity to develop faith.
Although we have, thankfully, never practiced infant baptism in Churches of
Christ, we have sometimes fallen victim to the same false view of God and fear
for the salvation of our children. If Jesus is to be taken at his word in the
above scriptures, God is more interested in the salvation of your children than
you are! For this reason, we must trust him enough to believe that His mercy
and grace will extend to our children during their formative years and that His
grace will cover your children during the time they need to develop their
If I could wave a magic wand and change one concern in parent’s hearts in
regard to this matter, it would be to give them the peace and assurance they
need that God really is merciful and gracious. This way we can give our
attention to how we can best develop the faith of our children without fear
that they’ve got to get baptized quickly or God will not admit them to heaven.
Of course, Mother Yates put the matter a mite more bluntly, informing her
worldly persecutors that "[t]hese were their innocent years. God
would take them up." And whether it was meant as a baptismal precaution or
an oblique stab at irony, I have to admit the bathtub was a nice touch.
But look. Ten out of ten faithful followers agree: all children go to
heaven. Just ask one of the sheep: what fate befell these innocent victims?
They’ll tell you. Andrea’s babes are playing put-put with Jesus in the
heavenly hereafter, or something similarly trite. It’s the sinful adults
who are exclusively eligible for the other version of this Manichean
cartoon. For the true believer, a vastly greater cruelty resides in
foreclosing the fillicidal final solution. In heeding the command to be fruitful,
christians wantonly place countless lives at far worse than mortal risk.
Therein I submit lies a more resonant shade of insanity.
The droning liberal apologetics, inevitably fashioned in the language
of warmed-over pop-feminist victimology, stands as a crass disservice to a brave
Kierkegaardian heroine. Whose only real mistake was in sincerely
believing what others emptily profess to believe. This woman’s crimes were
rationally compassionate, conceived in perfect fidelity with scriptural
doctrine that she and millions of others insist upon being inescapably True.
It makes absolutely no difference that you and I reject such theistically
countenanced fantasies out of hand. Andrea didn’t. My apology may be
exploitive, but it is necessary and sincere. Make no mistake, I mean to corner
the argument. For the vast millions of hell-believing christians,
procreation entails a uniquely unconscionable measure of horror. For the
rest of us, it’s merely unconscionable.
Am I gilding the lily? Honestly, I can’t say that I care. The
unsubtle point, whatever triangulation is assumed, remains the
No one should ever have children.
Note: This is the penultimate installment
in a four-part series on antinatalism. Part Four will take a critical
look at David Benatar’s "pro-death" position on abortion, and will
consider the paradoxical
compatibility of antinatalism with the idea of "immortalism" as
expounded by contemporary proponents of transhumanism. How’s that for