Birth as a Grave Misfortune
| Christ died for|
our articles about
|Devil's in the details|
|The pearly gates|
Birth as a Grave Misfortune: The Traditional Doctrine of Hell and Christian Salvific Exclusivism is an article by American philosopher and academic Kenneth Himma, written in 2009 and appearing in the 2010 publication The Problem of Hell: A Philosophical Anthology by Joel Buenting. In this paper, Himma (who is a Christian) argues convincingly that the doctrine of Hell — and the idea that many people will end up there — makes it morally wrong to have children. The article's abstract summarises the argument very well:
Christians typically view it as morally good for married persons to have children, although some believe that there are limits to how many children it is good to have. In this essay, I wish to argue from the standpoint of ordinary moral intuitions that if Christian exclusivism and the traditional doctrine of hell are true, then this view is mistaken. In particular, I argue that it is morally wrong, given these traditional Christian doctrines, to bring a child in the world when the odds that he or she will spend an eternal afterlife suffering the torments of hell are as significantly high as they would be if these two doctrines are true.:1
In this argument, Himma skewers the tendency of Hell-believing religious people to breed at higher rates than non-believers, which they seemingly do without any qualms about subjecting their newborn children to the risk of being eternally tortured.
The Bible promotes both Hell (throughout the New Testament) and procreation (through verses such as Genesis 1:28[note 1]). Surprisingly, Himma's paper appears to be the first time that the repugnant moral corollaries of this combination have been acknowledged in academia, although he does build partly on the antinatalist philosophy of David Benatar and the writings of Seana Shiffrin on procreative responsibility. While Benatar holds the strong position that procreation causes unjustified harm based on earthly consequences alone, Himma only finds this conclusion justified when the prospect of Hell is taken into account:
However, once you bring Christian exclusivism, the traditional doctrine of hell, and some contestable views about what constitutes authentic Christian faith into the picture, there is enough to make that inference based on what Benatar seems to have gotten right. Indeed, I will go even further below, arguing that the harm caused to every child by having been brought into existence is, assuming certain traditional doctrines of Christianity are true, sufficiently great in most, if not all, cases to entail that it is morally wrong to have children – notwithstanding the Scriptural passages to the contrary – in order to show that either Christian exclusivism or the traditional doctrine of hell should be abandoned or modified.:14
Himma's article initiated an academic discussion, including a back-and-forth between him and a respondent in the journal Faith and Philosophy. Numerous other authors have come to the same conclusion as Himma, including similar comparisons to Benatar in a religious context.
When Pope Benedict XVI reinstated the doctrine of a real Hell for all non-Catholics to burn in forever, and when the Southern Baptist Convention made a similar statement effectively consigning millions to the Lake of Fire, they showed absolutely no sign of telling believers that the only certain way to protect their children from Hell is to not conceive them in the first place, suggesting a widespread cognitive dissonance that could be interpreted as cluelessness at best, and extremely callous recklessness at worst. As philosopher and author Francois Tremblay expressed it:
Either every single Christian breeder doesn't really believe in Hell, or every single one of them has more guilt in bringing about suffering than all serial killers, dictators and rapists put together, for no finite amount can be compared to any infinite!
Although Himma intended his thesis as a reductio ad absurdum to expose beliefs about people going to Hell as fallacious,:34 diehard Hell-believers may choose instead to see it as a modus ponens argument for being childfree. It's also been noted that Himma's argument becomes even more damning in the face of the Augustininan doctrine holding that some individuals are predestined for Hell; the question remains as to whether their prospective parents could still save them from this infinitely horrible fate by using contraception.
- God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number..."
- Himma, Kenneth Einar (2010). "Birth as a Grave Misfortune: The Traditional Doctrine of Hell and Christian Salvific Exclusivism". Social Science Research Network.
- The Problem of Hell: A Philosophical Anthology, edited by Joel Buenting (2016). Routledge. ISBN 1138265969.
- Bering, Jesse (December 22, 2010). "God's little rabbits: Religious people out-reproduce secular ones by a landslide". Scientific American.
- Felker, Stewart James (February 16, 2016). "The Christian Moral Imperative to Not Have Children". Patheos.
- Benatar, David (2006). Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0199549265.
- Shiffrin, Seana Valentine (1999). "Wrongful Life, Procreative Responsibilty, and the Significance of Harm". Cambridge University Press. pp. 117-148.
- Bawulski, Shawn (2013). "Do Hell and Exclusivism Make Procreation Morally Impermissible?: A Reply to Kenneth Himma". Faith and Philosophy 30 (3): 330-344.
- Himma, Kenneth (January 2016). "The Ethics of Subjecting a Child to the Risk of Eternal Torment: A Reply to Shawn Bawulski". Faith and Philosophy 33 (1): 94-108.
- Southan, Rhys (March 12, 2013). "Life: Why Bother?". The New Enquiry.
- Tremblay, Francois (April 9, 2011). "Antinatalism as a challenge against Christianity". Wordpress.
- All Things Considered (November 30, 2005). "Catholic Doctrine on Limbo and Baptism Revisited". NPR.
- "On The Reality Of Hell". Southern Baptist Convention. 2011.
- Manis, R. Zachary (February 19, 2015). "The Doxastic Problem of Hell". In Kvanvig, Jonathan. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion. 6. Oxford University Press. p. 221. ISBN 0198722338.
- Talbott, Thomas (April 23, 2013). "Heaven and Hell in Christian Thought". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.