If having children leads to some percentage of them ending up in hell, is it still reasonable to continue having them? Possibly.
I wish I had been buried like a baby who never saw the light of day.
~ Job 3:16
Should all children be left behind?
Controversial philosopher David Benatar argues in his book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence that since life begets pain, there is a moral imperative not to procreate:
“We infrequently contemplate the harms that await any new-born child—pain, disappointment, anxiety, grief, and death. For any given child we cannot predict what form these harms will take or how severe they will be, but we can be sure that at least some of them will occur. None of this befalls the nonexistent. Only existers suffer harm.”
I don’t know if I agree with David, but it’s certainly true that the unborn will never have to endure things like: sickness, hunger, bullies, work, disease, divorce, poison ivy, stress, depression, confusion, cancer, canker sores, rejection, miscarriage, migraines, the macarena, incontinence, paralyzation, disabilities, heartaches, toothaches, flu, traffic jams, vomiting, colonoscopies, seizures, strokes, surgery, sunburn, STDs, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, chemotherapy, the loss of loved ones, grieving, aging, dying, and all the other horrors that plague mankind.
It’s also true that the unborn won’t experience any of life’s pleasures, but we cannot reason that the unborn are being deprived of these pleasures, any more than we can reason that a rock is being deprived pleasure. As long as the atoms that would’ve gone into making a new life remain unassembled, these souls remain oblivious and at rest.
But if hell exists…
If hell exists, the situation becomes infinitely more dire. Now, not only are we sparing the unborn from the pain of this life, but potentially eternal pain in the next. If hell exists, we should all stop procreating immediately, lest we risk adding one more soul to hell.
As Balise Pascal might have reasoned, if there’s even the slightest chance of our ending up in hell, then it is in our best interest to never be born.
Even if 99 people out of 100 go to heaven, it’s still not worth the risk. We needn’t concern ourselves with the 99 who enter paradise, as they are in no pain. But for the 1 who must suffer eternal torment, it would’ve been better had none of them been born, as the sum total of those in torment would’ve remained zero.
So while it’s true that the unborn will never have the opportunity to enter heaven, we could reason that it doesn’t really matter, since: 1) the unborn are oblivious to this opportunity, 2) the odds of getting in were slim anyway (Matt. 7:13), and 3) bringing souls into existence only increases the total amount of pain in the universe.
So should Christians stop having children? Surprisingly… no.
If Christianity is true, then the above argument begins to fall apart when we factor in the unsaved.
Currently, 2000 years after Christ, roughly 2/3rds of the world remains unconvinced by Christianity. If all Christians were to suddenly stop procreating, it’s a safe bet that the beliefs of the other 2/3rds would take over, and Christianity might even disappear.
Christians, then, can logically argue that it’s better for 1/3 of each future generation to be “saved” than none at all. (They might even reason that Christians should try to have as many offspring as possible, to push out other faiths in future generations.)
The same argument could be made against Christians killing their young. While killing your young might ensure they get into heaven, if all Christians killed their children, then few would remain to carry the torch.
Should God stop creating children? If hell exists, yes!
How could God, at present, stand idly by while 2/3rds of every new generation enters hell? Why let such a travesty continue? If He’s going to end the world anyway, why not do it now, before any more souls can enter hell?
This harkens back to the problem of evil. If, in the beginning, God knew the majority of us would go to hell, then why create us at all? And why ask us to be fruitful and multiply, when He knows damn well the majority of these souls will go to hell?
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
~ Genesis 1:28
You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.
~ Matthew 7:13
This problem truly baffles me. The Bible tells us that God ultimately wins the war against Satan, but how can God declare Himself the victor when Satan has collected the most souls? God may win the final battle, but Satan appears to have won the war.
Should atheists/naturalists stop having children? It’s debatable.
Unlike the Christian, the atheist is under no mandate to be fruitful and multiply, or to spread the gospel. With no great commission, Christians will sometimes ask “Why don’t atheists just kill themselves?” I think most atheists would answer that their life is not filled with so much sorrow and despair that suicide is the most attractive option. Even when there is pain, there is almost always something to look forward to (e.g. love, laughter, music, movies, food, books, art, games, friends, family, travel, weekends, etc.). Life will end soon enough on its own, and we will have the rest of eternity to enjoy being dead. So right now, during our few short moments here, we might as well have a look around.
If you are fortunate enough not to be one of the millions of people who suffer in severe poverty or the horrors of some war, life can be a fantastic ride with or without gods.
~ Guy P. Harrison, 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
For these reasons, many atheists assume their children will also conclude that life is, overall, a worthwhile experience. But as Guy Harrison points out, quality of life is definitely an important factor to consider when having children.
Personally, I find there are very few days in which I can honestly say that I would prefer not to exist, (though, there are many days when I wish other people did not exist). My personal philosophy is that suffering and death are simply the price we pay for the opportunity to be alive.
If Christianity is true, then there are good reasons for Christians to continue procreating (which they seem to enjoy doing, anyway). But I don’t find any good reasons in the Bible for why God would want this experiment to continue (especially if there is a hell), or why He should desire it in the first place.
If God doesn’t exist, then the question of whether or not to continue procreating becomes more complicated. If there are no gods, then we are forced to occupy their roles, and we must ask ourselves ”Should we continue bringing more life into existence, even if it means creating more pain?”
Earlier today, I pondered this question as I walked alongside my 9-year-old son. I asked him point-blank “Are you glad you’re alive?” He answered (as if it wasn’t a totally stupid question): “Yes. I love my mom and dad, not only because they love me, but also because they chose to bring me into existence when they didn’t have to.” Both my children seem to be greatly enjoying their life experience, at least for now. And while I hope that they will experience far more pleasure than pain in life, I also realize that there are no guarantees. Life is a gamble, but the odds are often good that a person will find ways to feel happy and fulfilled, and that this will outweigh any suffering. Still, we owe it to our children to carefully consider what kind of environment they will be raised in before subjecting them to it.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.