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The FAQs: What (and Why) You Should Know About Anti-Natalism

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What just happened?

A 27-year-old Indian man plans to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent. Raphael Samuel, whose claim is based on anti-natalism, told the BBC that it’s wrong to bring children into the world because they then have to put up with lifelong suffering.

“There’s no point to humanity. So many people are suffering,” said Samuel. “If humanity is extinct, Earth and animals would be happier. They’ll certainly be better off. Also no human will then suffer. Human existence is totally pointless.”

What is Anti-Natalism?

Anti-natalism (sometimes spelled antinatalism) is the view that it is immoral to bring new people into existence because doing so would be a harm to them. Anti-natalists assign a negative value to birth. (The term is the opposite of natalism, the view that childbearing and parenthood are desirable for social reasons and should therefore be promoted.)

What are the types of anti-natalism?

There are two general categories of anti-natalism: misanthropic and philanthropic.

Misanthropic anti-natalism is the position that humans have a presumptive duty to desist from bringing into existence new members of our species because they cause harm. Ecological anti-natalism (sometimes called “environmental anti-natalism”) is a subset of misanthropic anti-natalism that believes procreation is wrong because of the inherent environmental damage caused by human beings and the suffering we inflict on other sentient organisms.In the 2018 film First Reformed, the character of Michael Mensana is an ecological anti-natalist. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is also representative of this type of anti-natalism.

Philanthropic anti-natalism is the position that humans should not have children for the good of the (unborn) children because, in bringing children in the world, the parents are subjecting them to pain, suffering, illness, and—eventually—death. In Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, the character of Septimus Warren Smith expresses a philanthropic anti-natalist view when he says, “One cannot bring children into a world like this. One cannot perpetuate suffering, or increase the breed of these lustful animals, who have no lasting emotions, but only whims and vanities, eddying them now this way, now that.”

Is anti-natalism a new idea?

No, despite its current (modest) resurgence, anti-natalism is an ancient philosophical position.

Forms of anti-natalist thought have surfaced in ancient Greek philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Manichaeism. It has also been a view espoused by heretical gnostic Christian sects, such as the Bogomils, Cathars, Encratites, and Marcionites.

The most influential anti-natalist currently living is David Benatar, head of the University of Cape Town Philosophy Department in South Africa. Benatar’s view, as outlined in this book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, is that (1) Coming into existence is always a serious harm; (2) It is always wrong to have children; (3) It is wrong not to abort fetuses at the earlier stages of gestation; and (4) It would be better if, as a result of there being no new people, humanity became extinct.

What is the Christian view of anti-natalism?

Because Christianity is pro-natalism, it is inherently anti-anti-natalism.

The basis for Christian natalism is found in the very first command God gave humankind: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28) That command (along with verses 28b-30) provides a solidly biblical rejection of the premises of misanthropic anti-natalism.

Similarly, in Isaiah 43:6b-7 we find a reason to reject philanthropic anti-natalism:

Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

While God has “formed and made” all humans that have ever lived, he creates his “sons and daughters” for his glory. As John Piper explains, “what Isaiah 43:7 means is that he created us to display his glory, that is, that his glory might be known and praised.” We cannot know before a person is born whether they will be among God’s elect. But by claiming it is better for all future children to never be born we are attempting to rob God of his glory.

Why should Christians be concerned about a fringe idea like anti-natalism?

Even Benatar admits that, “Anti-natalism will only ever be a minority view because it runs counter to a deep biological drive to have children.” Anti-natalists must win converts by convincing currently existing humans; natalists can literally create new people to convince.

But despite its numerical inferiority, a minority of anti-natalists can have an outsized influence on public policy. For example, anti-natalist conclusions have been used to support pre-viability abortion and to oppose economic growth (if you love babies, you should love economic growth). Anti-natalism is also often the hidden driver of attempts to limit population growth.

Anti-natalism also presents a challenge to the doctrine of hell. “If the default state of humanity is to spend a lifetime enduring some forms of suffering followed by an eternity in hell,” asks the anti-natalist, “wouldn’t it be better off to have never been born?” *

If we are to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), we need to think about we respond to the challenges of anti-natalist philosophy.

 

* Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry has a brief, helpful response that is indirectly related to this question.

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