A message from our Minister, The Rev Dr Neil Dougall - March 2019
Early last month Raphael Samuel announced he intended to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent. Raphael is a 27 year old businessman who lives in Mumbai in India. He is educated and intelligent. His parents are both lawyers. There is no suggestion that they have mistreated him in any way. On the contrary, he has a good relationship with them. Yet he plans to sue them because they did not ask him if he wanted to be born. He did not give his consent. His birth was a done deal. He says, ‘My life is good but I’d rather not be here’.
Raphael believes it is wrong to bring children into the world because they face a lifetime of pain and suffering. The only thing we know for sure when we are born is that, one day, we will die. Between birth and death all people experience suffering and pain in some form or another. Raphael thinks that the best thing that could happen is that the human race should stop having babies. If this happened the world’s population would gradually decrease. Eventually humans would become extinct. The day that happened would be a win-win. It would bring an end to human suffering. Humans would no longer leave their imprint on the planet.
While the idea of suing your parents is novel, there’s nothing new about Raphael’s philosophy. It’s called anti-natalism and traces of it are found in ancient Greek philosophy. A version of it is found in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes which wrestles with the question, what is the point of life?
Suffering is inevitable. We may dream of a life free from trouble and difficulty. No one, whether rich or poor, experiences that. We can be certain that life will have its share of good and bad. For some, the bad will outweigh the good. What then is the point of life?
For many people life is about the pursuit of pleasure. I think that pursuing pleasure has become the dominant philosophy in our country today. People long to find joy. They want to experience happiness. This is the end to which they devote themselves.
The writer of Ecclesiastes tried this. He was fortunate. He had position and power, wealth and health. He was able to pursue pleasure to an extent that ordinary mortals can only dream of. Later he reflected on what he had learnt.
‘I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
I took delight in all my labour and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun’ (2:10,11).
He was deeply disappointed. The pursuit of pleasure left him empty. As did devoting himself to wisdom, seeking meaning in work and surrounding himself with wealth. Did he then draw the same conclusion as Raphael Samuel? Did he decide that actually it would be better not to be born, and that therefore people should stop having children?
Far from it. His conclusion at the end of the twelfth chapter is, ‘fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind’ (12:13).
‘Duty’ is not a popular word these days. Something which is a duty will, we assume, be drudgery and maybe difficult. It certainly will not be a delight. This is, though, where making pleasure the goal of life has foxed us. True pleasure is nearly always a by-product of something else. Pleasure is rarely found by seeking it. Very often pleasure happens when we do the best thing. We experience pleasure when we do the right thing. That is, we discover pleasure through duty.
One day Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is. He replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10:27 ).
Loving God with every part of our being, and loving our neighbour as ourselves: this is our duty. This is the answer to the question, ‘what is the point of life?’ As we try to live this way we find happiness. Finding happiness is not our goal, but it is the by-product of doing the right thing. Living this way will not exempt us from pain and suffering. Yet when people make it their goal to love God and their neighbour to their surprise, even in the midst of difficulty, they discover joy.
Image: Public Domain
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