Religion as Protest Against Existence

Constitutive of religion in the broadest sense is human beings’ dissatisfaction with the quality and the finitude of their existence. When the human being hungry for bread or the human being hungry for meaning in all times and regions of the world creates religions and post-mortal paradises for himself as post-mortal compensation-institutions and begins to believe in these latter, he declares thereby the insufficiency of the reality into which his begetting has brought him and into which, equipped with religious power of attorney, he nonetheless brings children himself. Religions, with their paradises, are the hedged claims to that which is owed to every person begotten without consent as compensation for their own  >Givenness.

The more diligently a person, a group or a sect aspires to Paradise, the more marked will be their subliminal protest against having been called against their will into this existence: if existence at all, then only a paradise-like existence with one’s claim to happiness guaranteed.

Reincarnation Test

Reincarnation is a complicated topic because we most often have great difficulty expressing just what we mean by the term. Because, if it is really “me” who is reborn in such a case, would this not mean that I would have to be able to recall my previous existence? On the other hand, however, we have no doubt that, in the case where we should develop grave senile dementia, it would still be “we ourselves” and no one else who would continue to exist, even though we would no longer be able to remember anything. If we were able here and now to take certain measures which would bring it about that in such a condition of senile dementia we would not have also to suffer certain further pains, we would, it must be supposed, indeed take such measures; we would not say: what happens to me some decades from now is a matter of indifference, if the “I” that exists then will have no memory and will, consequently, be a different person from me. This phenomenon of grave senile dementia is clear evidence that our continued existence is not necessarily linked to the ability to remember. With a little imagination, then, one can envisage how a “second existence” (after one or another form of reincarnation or rebirth) might likewise not necessarily have to involve any memory of the past. For this reason, it would seem not to be entirely unreasonable to try to develop a “reincarnation test” for the purpose of testing nativistic theses and beliefs.

 

Eduard von Hartmann (1842–1906)

One interesting model for such a “reincarnation test” was developed by Eduard von Hartmann in his “Philosophy of the Unconscious”. This involved taking away all his memories from the test subject, without said subject ceasing thereby to be himself (a phenomenon which we do indeed encounter in the most serious cases of senile dementia):

“Imagine a man who, though no genius, is nonetheless a man of up-to-date general culture, equipped with all the material goods of someone in an enviable social position, in the prime of life, and fully aware of the advantages he enjoys over the members of the lower classes, the inhabitants of more primitive nations, and the subjects of more savage times, and who in no way envies the man placed above him who is tormented by all the discomforts that he himself has been spared – a man, in short, who has neither been worn out and made blasé by excessive pleasures nor been oppressed by any especially heavy blows of fate.

Now imagine Death stepping up to this man and speaking as follows: “The time allotted to you has run out and in this very hour you shall fall prey to annihilation. But it is up to you to decide in this moment whether or not, after completely forgetting all that has hitherto transpired, you live through once again, in exactly the same way, this life of yours which is just now coming to an end. Now choose!”

I doubt that the man in question will prefer, to non-being, this repetition of all that has already played out once before – assuming that he considers the matter quietly and without intimidation and that he has not lived his life in a way so lacking in thought or reflection that, unable to perform any brief critique of his own life-experiences, his answer will give expression only to the will to live at any price or his judgment will be entirely distorted thereby. How much more, then, would this man have to prefer simple non-being to a re-entry into a life which would not guarantee to him those favourable conditions that his former life had and which would, on the contrary, leave it entirely up to chance what new conditions of life he might find himself entering into – that is to say, would, with a probability verging on certainty, provide him only with worse life-conditions than those that he had just scorned.

But the unconscious would itself be in the same position as this man at every moment of a new birth, assuming it really had the possibility of making such a choice.”  (Eduard v. Hartmann, Philosophie des Unbewussten)

Even a generally contented man, Hartmann supposes, would not cherish the wish to be reborn in the sense of having, after having forgotten his past life, to live this life through once again.  All the more, then, would a contented man decline to accept his own rebirth under altered conditions: namely, if it were left up to chance (>the Lottery) or to the unconscious just which social or biological condition he would be reborn in. Against the background of the necessity that ethical principles be universalizable we must now ask: if I decline to accept that in my own case my life should be lived through again – let alone that the journey through life should be made anew under biological and social conditions that remain unknown to me – how I can reasonably impose such a life-journey on someone else by begetting him and surrendering him up to the unknown?  Were that “unconscious” (which in Hartmann’s philosophy is blind) endowed with foresight, it would flinch back in horror from every such begetting. We ourselves, however, do possess such foresight, for which reason – and this is the logical antinatalist conclusion of Hartmann’s own exposition, a conclusion he does not share – we should not act in such a way that new human beings begin to exist.

Right to Progeny as a Basic Right to the Free Development of One’s Personality?

The right to beget one’s own progeny is generally held to be a part of the basic right to the free development of one’s personality. The notion of such a basic right is flawed already by reason of the fact that it is not clear why or how the expansion of one personality would be compatible with the generation of a second personality (the child). However broadly one individual (something “un-dividable” by definition) might develop himself, this does not imply any second person.

But if the right to progeny is, nonetheless, still after all considered as a part of our basic right to the development of our own personality, then this means: I am to have the right, with a view to the free development of my own personality, to instrumentalize another personality (one which is unable to adopt an attitude either of affirmation or of refusal vis-à-vis my progenerative behaviour or which, in other words, is unfree with regard to the start of its existence) in such a way that I cause it to begin to be. But there follows in turn from this: whenever any of my progeny find themselves unsatisfied with a state or a phase of their life I need to face the fact that I have practiced the free development of my personality at their expense. My right to progeny of my own as part of a basic right to the free development of my personality results in wrong done to some other person in every case where the basic rights of this person, instrumentalized by me, are not respected. These latter basic rights have been collected and recorded in the UN Convention on Children’s Rights; they relate to health, free time and play, upbringing, education and training without violence, and parental care.

Where we pay attention to the words, which are hardly casually to be dismissed, of the author Friedrich Spielhagen who writes that “no human being has ever seen the light of day for whom there did not come an hour in which he wished he had not been born” (>Spielhagens Sentence) it becomes clear that, by the exercising of my “right to progeny of my own as part of a basic right to the free development of my personality”, I am bringing it about, in an irresponsible way (i.e. in a way that indicates I am only concerned about myself) that someone else gets repeatedly into serious physical and/or mental difficulties. My supposed basic right conflicts in an absolutely non-negotiable way with the equally fundamental imperative to forgo all actions which bring it about that human beings land up in existentially intolerable situations of need and distress. But even where such a situation of existential distress arises, neither the UN’s Children’s Rights Convention nor any other human-rights convention or institution can currently function as a court of appeal before which the persons suffering harm can lay claim to compensation for those harms that these conventions and institutions supposedly exist to defend against. This being the case, Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany certainly requires some supplementation. Currently, the text runs:

“Every person shall have the right to the free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.”

We propose supplementing this as follows:

Nobody shall have the right to freely develop his personality in such a manner that in the course of such a free development a person shall begin to exist whose rights shall sooner or later be infringed.

Pseudo-Humboldt

Memoirs claiming to be those of Alexander von Humboldt were published in 1861 by a hitherto unknown author. We cite below, from this supposed forgery[1], an antinatalist passage: “I was not made to be the father of a family. What is more, I consider marriage to be a sin and the begetting of children to be a crime. I am also of the belief that that man is a fool, and still more a sinner, who takes the yoke of marriage upon himself. A fool because he thereby throws his freedom away without receiving any fitting compensation; a sinner because he gives life to children without being able to give them the certainty of happiness. I despise human beings in all their various strata; I foresee our posterity being much more unhappy than us – ; would I not be a sinner, then, if, despite seeing things this way, acted in such a way that progeny, that is, more unhappy people, came to be?–

Life in its entirety is the most utter nonsense. (…) If we just knew, at least, why we are here on this earth. But everything is and remains an enigma to the thinking man and the greatest of all good fortunes is to be born shallow and stupid.” (Quoted in: Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie der Erlösung. Erster Band) Interestingly, the French philosopher Rémi Brague says of this passage that it is, in the end, a matter of no importance whether the text is a forgery or not, since nihilism was, at that period, a very widely-held view. (see Brague, Les Ancres dans le ciel). In fact, however, we have to do here with antinatalistic formulations of a very emphatic nature which cannot have been widely subscribed to even in nihilistic circles – although it is certainly true that so-called nihilistic currents of thought may have promoted the emergence of just such an emphatic antinatalism such as that which we encounter in >Kurnig.

[1] The decisive role in this discovery was played by Kurt-R. Biermann: Die „Memoiren Alexander von Humboldt’s“, in: ders.: Miscellanea Humboldtiana. Berlin 1990, p. 257 – 264 (Beiträge zur Alexander-von-Humboldt-Forschung 15).

Proto-Self

Before “I” was, there was “it”: the consciousness-less, functioning, embryonic organism, generated either in vitro or directly by the parents, which succeeded in forming for itself a nervous system and a brain which then, at some point, brought forth indeed a consciousness, through which “I” began to exist. When might this have been? We will surely never be able to measure it nor indeed to learn anything precise about it at all. Perhaps we can agree on the fact that a certain knot of nerves, or a brain, is an indispensable precondition for a larva or an embryo’s acquiring a basic consciousness or awareness. A good candidate for the point marking this transition both in human beings and in the higher animals is perhaps that stage of development that is designated by the word “foetus”. When the embryo developed this minimal consciousness or “proto-self” and became a “foetus”, at this point “my” existence began. Had that still-consciousness-less embryo which came later in fact to constitute ME been destroyed before this occurred, then “I” would not have been killed thereby (since “I” did not yet exist). What was destroyed would rather have been an inanimate embryo, although this destruction would have prevented a killable “I” (an “I” capable of dying) from beginning to exist (>Abortion).

Where one takes into account this pre-natal “proto-self”, that “new beginning” so celebrated by advocates of natality (and so vehemently insisted upon against a supposed “stream of death” in philosophy – not just at the point of our birth but already some months prior to this. We can clearly see from this that the attempt to oppose, to the supposedly death-obsessed philosophy so far produced by Man a “philosophy of natality” suffers ab ovo from a certain important flaw. If we begin, in fact, to live already some months before our birth – namely, as soon as a “proto-self” emerges from a merely embryonal “it” – then what ought to give occasion to celebration is this initial constitution of “I-ness” and not the birth occurring several months later.

Pronatal Meta-Level of Ethics

If one is to draw a distinction between ethics and morality, then one may say that ethics is a philosophical questioning of the presuppositions of morality with a view to grounding and justifying this latter; or, in other words, ethics is a theory of morality. For this reason, it is to be expected of an ethics that it take up a distanced and reflectively examined perspective upon those moral notions that count as “self-evident” for a society, or for an era, or for humanity as a whole. It is all the more astonishing, then, that, with the exception of Utilitarianism (more precisely: negative Utilitarianism) no system of ethics has ever thought even to address the question of whether there ought to exist at all those human beings the moral rightness of whose actions then go on to form the objects of ethical debate. Instead of beginning, in a distanced and reflective manner, with this most basic question of whether subjects susceptible of doing good and having good done to them, and of suffering evil, should exist in the world at all, traditional ethics concerns itself with how all the other ideas we have about morality – excepting this question about whether the subjects of ethics should exist at all – can be rationally justified. An example: When Peter Singer writes that there should be chosen “that course of action which, when the books are finally balanced, has the best consequences for all concerned” (Praktische Ethik, S. 24) there remains as a “blind spot” in the reasoning leading to this proposition the issue of whether there should exist people “concerned” by our deeds and misdeeds at all. But an ethics that fails in this way to reflect, besides upon the problems it is aware of, also upon its own “blind spots” is justifiably to be described as “unmindful”.  This, indeed, is what we may call “the unmindfulness of ethics”. Any ethics which fails to take up into its questioning the question of whether there ought to be a human race at all (and which therefore offers no anthropodicy, be it implicit or explicit) necessarily becomes objectively an accomplice in all those misdeeds that those freely-acting subjects, the existence of which such an ethics simply presupposes, are capable of committing. An “unmindful” ethics in the sense we have described implicitly surrenders human beings over to all these terrible misdeeds. All systems of ethics justify (albeit mostly merely implicitly) the facilitation of the contravention of their own norms in ways likely to occasion suffering inasmuch as they are obliged to posit as their highest value a freedom which is also a freedom to infringe values. They are subject, therefore, to the same accusation – in the form of the pointing out of their lack of an anthropodicy – as God is subject to in the form of the pointing out of a lacking theodicy, i.e. of the pointing out that God Himself must somehow be complicit in the existence of Evil.

Inasmuch as our ethical systems have proven so rarely capable of distancing themselves from, and of reflecting upon, our traditional notions of morality to a degree sufficient for the desirability or otherwise of the engendering of new human beings to enter into the field of their considerations (have proven, in other words, so rarely capable of rising into the sphere of meta-ethics) the suspicion must necessarily arise that a certain “biological radical” – namely, the life-instinct driving toward procreation – may have remained spared by all reflection and that there may have occurred, as yet, little or no pushback against its imperatives. In this case, then, we would have to reckon with a biologically-anchored pronatal fatalism in all systems of ethics. In contrast to this, anything deserving of the name of “human dignity” would consist precisely in a reflective self-distantiation from all biological imperatives.

Pronatalists

It may serve, perhaps, as an encouragement for some pronatalist to compose a handbook on pronatalism if we briefly review the ideas of several convinced pronatalists:

Holtug, Nils

Holtug attempted to establish a pronatalist position. In his essay “ON THE VALUE OF COMING INTO EXISTENCE” he propounds the “Value of Existence View”. According to this view the beginning of a person’s existence can either benefit or harm said person and it can be better (or worse) for this latter to exist than not to exist. Holtung thus defends the bold idea that someone can be harmed by reason of their having never come to exist. He is indeed aware that these claims of his must immediately raise the question of how one can possibly either harm or benefit some non-existent “something” by bringing about an existence paradoxically said to be “its” (“something” and “its” are placed in inverted commas here so as to indicate that that neither term really has any ontic referent to which anything could really be done – i.e. they are not referents at all in the strict sense). Holtug appears to understand, then, that the beginning of an entity’s existence is not something that happens to said entity but rather a precondition that must already obtain if anything is ever to happen to said entity at all. It is clearly against this background that he explains his notion that a person can be harmed or benefited by beginning to exist. He does so as follows:

“The thought is that a person is benefited by coming into existence if, on balance, his life is worth living, and harmed if, on balance, it is worth not living.” In this light we can see that what we are meant to understand here by a benefit/harm ensuing from the beginning of an existence is not at all that which one tends, irresistibly, to think of but rather something else entirely. The “benefit” or “harm” in question here corresponds to the answer given by an already-existing person to the question of whether their life Is worth living or not (or to the judgment of the value of the life of such a person by others).

Holtug attempts to “smuggle in” a certain harmful or beneficial quality of existence’s beginning by means of a sort of trick which illegitimately presupposes a continuity between non-existence and existence, as if “I” were to pass out of the state of non-existence into that of existence just as I pass from a state of illness into one of health. Thus, for Holtug, the fact that a certain Jeremy prefers his own existence to his potential non-existence suffices to prove the proposition that he has benefited from the beginning of the former: “Since, then, Jeremy prefers existing to never existing, he has benefited from coming into existence. Had he preferred never to exist, he would have been harmed instead.”

We may be said to have to do with a metaphysical “smuggling in” here inasmuch as Holtug decides to give to the results of a survey taken of already-existing human beings the final deciding word regarding the question of whether “someone” is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of their own existence. Holtug omits to consider here the fact that, if someone consents post festum to his own existence, he does not thereby make any meaningful enunciation regarding whether HE has benefitted or not through the beginning of this existence.  Holtug levels the problem down to the question of whether someone is glad to exist or not and leaves out of account the fact that the question of whether SOMEONE is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of his own existence is really a question without sense.

As regards the moral imperative to create more human beings Holtug argues as follows: Because it is the case that it may benefit human beings to begin to exist there exists a certain moral obligation to bring human beings into the world, provided only that it is to be expected that there will fall to the lot of these human beings a life that is worth living. But since it will never be possible to establish in advance whether such a coming into the world will benefit or harm a human being, Holtug’s pronatalism would have an extremely weak foundation even if one saw no problem with the deliberate misrepresentation at its base.

Parfit, Derek (1942–2017)

After detailed discussion of “never having been”, and of the starting and the ceasing of existence,  Parfit sums up, in his book “Reasons and Persons”, as follows: “I have suggested that, of these, starting to exist should be classed with ceasing to exist. Unlike never existing, starting to exist and ceasing to exist both happen to actual people. This is why we can claim that they can be either good or bad for these people.” „We can similarly claim that causing someone to exist who will have a life worth living, gives this person a peculiar benefit.“

But clearly Parfit is in error here: everything that happens to me presupposes my existence; for this reason, the start of my existence cannot be an event which befalls me. For me myself, therefore, the start of my existence can neither be a good thing nor a bad thing; as long as I have not yet begun to exist, no “I’ is there for whom beginning to exist could be “good” or “bad”; but if I exist, then the beginning of my existence already lies in the past and the question can then only be: “Is it good for me to exist?” The start of my existence can only be something good or bad for that which enfolds and comprises my existence in its entirety. This we express through the impersonal term > “it”. We can say: “it” was good or bad that I began to exist. That the start of my existence cannot be good (just as it cannot be bad) for me becomes clear as soon as we pose the question of what the actual point of commencement is for that action which brings about the effect of a new human being’s beginning to exist. This point of commencement is not the human being him- or herself but rather the entire structure linking humanity and the world that was there already before his/her existence.

 

Singer, Peter (*1946)

Like other metaphysical >Damnators Singer would prefer – had he the choice – a world with beings susceptible both of suffering and of happiness over a world without sentient beings. He points to supposedly imminent improvements in the human condition which he believes confirm him in his choice: “I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/should-this-be-the-last-generation/) Singer does not consider the notion of a >Trial Period of the human species to be worth even wasting a thought on.

 

McMahan, Jeff (*1954)

McMahan dismisses out of hand the very idea of an ebbing away of humanity: “My own view, though I won’t argue for it here, is that the extinction of human beings would be the worst event that could possibly occur.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/predators-a-response/)

We might name, as examples of pronatalists among contemporary philosophers, such figures as Dieter Birnbacher, Vittorio Hösle, Hans Jonas, and Saul Smilansky.

Pronatalism

There may arise in the mind of someone reading this handbook on antinatalism the question of why we have not presented the pronatalist position in stronger terms. Instead of making any great effort to justify ourselves here, we prefer simply to urge that someone undertake to author a correspondent handbook on pronatalism.

 

Pronatalism Argument

There appears prima facie to be a watertight argument for pronatalism in a world containing   àLiving Beings whose constitution would permit only positively evaluated experiences. Would it not, in such a world, be a bad thing not to call into being further so-constituted beings? But initial appearances are deceptive here. It is surely a good thing not to beget beings susceptible of suffering (in this case there will be suffering beings); but it is not a bad thing to refrain from begetting beings that are susceptible exclusively of happiness and pleasure (in this case there will be no suffering beings).

Pronatal Suspension of Reason

According to an insight of Jonathan Swift’s the sole reason why humanity has not yet died out is because God on the one hand equipped this rational being, Man, who forms the crown of His creation with a certain pronatal rational “blind spot” and on the other hand implanted in him a certain centrifugal force with respect to death which causes him to feel his life to be so precious:

„Although reason were intended by Providence to govern our passions; yet it seems that in two points of the greatest moment to the being and continuance of the world, God has intended our passions to prevail over reason. The first is, the propagation of our species; since no wise man ever married from the dictates of reason. The other is, the love of life; which, from the dictates of reason, every man would despise, and wish it at an end, or that it never had a beginning.“

Trial Period of the Species

Of one thing, it seems, we can be certain: the “trial period” of the human species is by now fully elapsed. Elapsed because we have not yet shown ourselves able to find a way of applying all those intellectual and material riches which – along with all the suffering – our millennia-long species-history has accumulated in a way which is useful and beneficial to all. Matters may be expressed as follows:

With the Russian and Chinese revolutions and their countless millions of victims, with Auschwitz and the Gulag, with the World Wars and the Congo Wars, with the genocide perpetrated on the Armenians and that perpetrated on his own people by Pol Pot, along with that further genocide, which might so easily have been prevented by the global community, perpetrated on the Tutsis in Rwanda, humanity’s “probation period” has plainly run its course. The experiment “continuation of humanity’s history” – in which many billions of human beings have been involved – has proven a failure too many times (in the form of these civilizational ruptures) for it to be reasonable to push on with it. And whoever advocates, in view of the course of history up to the present day, that this experiment be indeed pushed on with necessarily accepts and condones that the past and present which have been, for billions of human beings, of unbearable pain and horror, should be extended on into the future.

The assessment that we must today, after the elapse of this probation period, ourselves accord to ourselves runs as follows: let us retire, in mutual agreement, from the course of the world; let us quit our >Service to the Species and send a human-being-less existence on its way with all our best wishes that it should never again bring forth such failures as ourselves.

Priority of Mortality

All men are mortal but not all men are necessarily “natal”.

Attempts to elevate human natality into the same metaphysical rank as human mortality must necessarily fail because natality is not an indispensable or structural factor in existence. Many foetuses die, unborn, in utero. And what woman will, after the invention of an artificial uterus – and after the ebbing away of an initial wave of worldwide protest against this latter – want still to take upon herself the pain and effort of pregnancy and giving birth?

Priority of Perdurability

That there should be, and will be, in future a human race is the absolute priority, which is almost never questioned or examined, of all ethics and of all sketching out of scenarios of the future. Even where it appears certain that future generations will have to suffer from the actions and omissions of past and present human beings, this “priority of humanity” continues to be held sacrosanct.

This “priority of humanity” is thrown sharply into relief by the so-called “greenhouse effect”, of which Amin Maalouf writes as follows: “We know already that the existence of our children and our grandchildren will be dramatically affected by it; it is probable that the generations born in the second half of the 20th century will still have, if I may put it like this, the time to suffer from it themselves.” (Amin Maalouf, Le Dérèglement du monde) We must note here the total absence of any notion that natal continence might be the appropriate means of preventing further human beings from having to suffer the consequences of climate change.

Preconceptive-Retrojective Symbolic Suicide (Also: Symbolically Retrojective Suicide)*

For many people the notion of “wanting never to have been at all” seems comprehensible only in terms of a “wanting no longer to be”: that is to say, as a painful dying rather than as an anticipated wish to have never become a being capable of death in the first place. For anyone for whom their non-being appears conceivable solely and exclusively in terms of a no-LONGER-being (death), all touching on the idea of “not having been born” necessarily presents itself as an implicit threat of murder. Thus, resistance to the ebbing-away of humanity draws no insignificant part of its impetus from something that might be called “symbolically pre-conceptive suicide”.

*(Concept outlined first by Guido Kohlbecher)