To Have Never Been Born

September 19, 2010

A friend of mine visits the sick in hospitals. For the last few weeks, he has been spending time with a young mother and her deformed baby. This baby was born without parts of the stomach, can’t digest food, has a laundry list of problems that have largely kept the baby in a place of suffering for almost a year. The baby is swollen, bloated from problems associated with her illness, “She’s going to die.” my friend told me. When he visits, the mother just cries and talks about how she is angry at God, if she believes in Him at all.

Should this baby have been born? The mother knew about the deformation while the baby was just a fetus. We could all do this baby a favor and get rid of it, right?

Wrong. Life is good. That’s not mitigated by suffering. Nor is life made good simply through experiencing pleasure. This little girl knows her mother loves her. My pal can tell that both the baby and the mother love each other, and respond to each other’s presence. While grotesque suffering is a powerful thing, it’s not as powerful as the love between a mother and her child. It’s easy to see suffering, but harder to see relationships, bonding and love.

We are terrified of suffering. That’s what a culture of comfort, pleasure and a lack of suffering has gotten us… an unreasonable standard of living. In the olden days, people would have 8 kids and only a few would survive into adulthood. More people in general were exposed to a difficult life, it lowered expectations which will always produce a more grateful, happy individual.

The classic definition of happiness used to be a life well lived in pursuit of virtue. Now it’s been changed to a life in pursuit of pleasure. So more than ever, the idea that a life can be worthwhile though full of pain and suffering with little pleasure is unfathomable. That’s why you’ll hear the justification for abortion as being “a mercy killing for a child born into poverty with no chance to have a good life.”

At the end of time, I can imagine that suffering baby standing before God. The Almighty asks the baby girl, born into suffering and pain if she would rather have lived her life or never to have been born. Mind you, to never have been born means she would never have a name, would not know the beauty of another person’s face, to hear the voice of her mother, to love and be loved. I can’t think of a life that would rather not exist, even if existence meant living just 24 hours in pain.

I would ask the same of the Holocaust survivor. You can never have been born and been spared starvation, torture and the gas chambers, but you also couldn’t experience love, sex, fatherhood, that time your granddaughter made you laugh so hard you were brought to tears, your children wouldn’t be born, nor their children, etc. They would likely rather choose existence over being blotted out from history. One of the few things more terrifying than living a life in suffering is to never have existed at all. Even a fetus would rather have a few months than nothing. In short, all life loves to live.

Finally, I’d like to make a case that the good is more powerful than suffering. I know abusive people whom I’ve also shared good times with. The abuse is bad, it’s always bad, but it can’t remove the good times. Suffering can’t take an absolute good away. Think of a kiss shared with an ex girlfriend or boyfriend. If the kiss was good at the time, even a bitter break up can’t kill that kiss. Or as they used to say, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

To have never been born is to never have loved at all. There are worse things than suffering.


21 Responses to “To Have Never Been Born”

  1. Joel Bain Says:

    Good stuff, Doug. I appreciated the read and the thoughts you’ve shared on the topic. Relevant stuff to be thinking about. Thanks. =)

  2. Yes there are worse things than suffering.

    I live with chronic pain. I am in pain 24/7, and pain killers make it merely bearable.

    But I teach. I write. I live. I love. And somehow it’s all the more sweet and received with more gratitude because of the pain.

    Suffering is very real. But it’s also invaluable.

    Would I like it to be gone. YES! But I see the proverbial silver lining…the sweetness and joy that peeps through the grey storm clouds, through the pain.

    And it’s worth living through the pain, the suffering.

    So very worth it.

    Thanks for posting, Doug. Very thought-provoking.

  3. Paul Reilly Says:

    Once again, you display a profound wisdom in your words. None of us wishes to suffer but at the same time I’ve always likened suffering to “working out for the soul.” Many people don’t mind the pain and work (essentially a form of suffering) that goes into physical exercise. Yet none can deny the good that it does your body. I think suffering works the same way. Those that suffer best often have “leaner and more fit” souls. It’s the principal behind such self denying practices as fasting or keeping a night vigil.

  4. Joules Says:

    Good thoughts.

  5. Glenna Sauer Says:

    I suppose only those who have been through suffering will really understand your thoughts, Doug. Thanks for sharing a perspective that many aren’t willing to think about–so much truth there!

  6. John Steinklauber Says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I have often wondered where God was in situations like these, but I have only considered it through my own perspective. Good words thanks.

    “You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” – James T. Kirk

    Sorry for the geek quote… It seemed appropriate.


    • tennapel Says:

      Oh, good God, John, I just repeated that quote to a good friend of mine yesterday! I apologized that it was a total obscure geek quote but one of my life’s mantras! Well done, sir.

  7. will le fey Says:

    Eggs and sperm replenish. Just try again, I say.

  8. .ghost Says:

    First, I must say that Earthworm Jim owned – kudos for his creation.

    However, to suggest that you can speak for any other human being by saying that life is good, regardless of any pain or suffering, seems a bit pompous. Who are you – or any of us – to say what the value of life is to another living being? Perhaps to you, all life is worth living, regardless of the circumstance, but to another it may not be so. What of those that commit or attempt to commit suicide? Clearly they would disagree with that statement!

    As far as your Holocaust example goes – how can you even begin to make a judgement with regard to life value after their suffering? I guarantee nobody that reads this will EVER experience such anguish – therefore how can any of us even attempt to remotely understand if any of them would have rather not existed than go through the horror that was their life?

    Perhaps to never have existed, to never know love, to never know pain and to never know life itself may not be so bad in some peoples’ eyes. However, as living beings, we cannot even begin to fathom what it is like to not exist – since memory, perception, and thought it self all requires us to exist. To use such blanket statements seems both arrogant and ignorant. Not all people believe in life itself or God – though the only proof resides in death. Maybe one day we’ll find the answer.

    • tennapel Says:

      To say that Earthworm Jim “owned” is at least at pompous. How would you presume to know that Earthworm Jim not being created would own more? Ah, because you have a general love an respect for creation. So do I. There’s no arrogance or hubris involved in making a case for love, life and creation.

  9. HarveyD Says:

    And another little dead baby comes to God and is asked the same question and he says ‘well I was born addicted to crack and my mother wanted nothi

  10. Patrick Says:

    “God is a being which has every perfection. (This is true as a matter of definition.) Existence is a perfection. Hence God exists.”

    Okay, I don’t pretend to completely grok the various ontological arguments (as soon as I think “I get it, that’s right!” I just read a rebuttal and think, “oh, that’s a good point, it can’t be right” and go back and forth like a donkey equidistant from two heaps of grain eventually expiring from starvation) but it seems that they all turn on the idea of existence being an unsurpassably good thing – better by far than non-existence.

    Although, I have to say, I’m a huge wimp – I don’t do pain and suffering – certainly not quietly. So nonexistence seems like a great option when I’m suffering (“What!? The book I ordered from Amazon won’t be in until next week!? Why must I suffer so!? Curse the day I was born! Woe is me!”).

    • tennapel Says:

      We also aren’t conditioned any more by our cry-baby, whimpy culture to get good at suffering. We’re good at being preoccupied with avoiding suffering and complaining about it.

  11. Mac Says:

    Hmmm, deep stuff… I suppose if I were in that baby’s position, I would want to live long enough to decide whether an entire life of nothing but pain would be worth the love. Or, if I could afford it, I’d just spend the rest of my days doped up on drugs to dull the constant pain. Until they found a way to cure the condition, of course. If they ever found a way to cure it. Some life is better than no life?

  12. Eggs Says:

    Dearest Douglas,

    I adore your blog and am always curious about what you have to say about life. I appreciate this blog and agree with it for the most part, but I feel the need to point out that not all pro-choice arguments are for the sake of “mercy killing.” The first question that comes into my mind when thinking on the topic of abortion is “Will the mother die in childbirth?”

    Especially in the rare and unfortunate case where a woman is raped, impregnated, and has a low chance of surviving the pregnancy…I don’t think it is my place to force a woman to sacrifice her life for a child she wasn’t prepared to conceive. Which life is more justified in ending, the hopeless damsel or the virgin youth?

    • tennapel Says:

      “will the mother die in childbirth” should never be your first questions when considering abortion, because it’s the last thing that can happen. It’s so rare that your first question might as well be “Should we allow mothers to watch TV?” because there is a far higher mortality rate. We ought to stay focused on the primary reasons of why people get abortions to think broadly on the topic. Those go more like “Should we justify murder so a woman can finish college or preserve the youthful look of her body?” or “If the father is a runaway deadbeat, can we declare the child a mass of meaningless cells?” That should come to our mind often when thinking about abortion, because then we’re actually being on topic.

      “Especially in the rare and unfortunate case where a woman is raped, impregnated, and has a low chance of surviving the pregnancy…”

      Uh, I think this particular instance has maybe happened twice in the history of man. Pregnancy from rape is rare (or unreported) and low survival chances are rare. But let’s call a spade a spade, you want to be pro life, but philosophically, you want to keep a foot in your culture so you don’t look like Pat Robertson. So you’ve concocted a near impossible scenario so when it comes up in conversation with the elites you can look cool and say, “I don’t think it’s my place to force a woman to…”

      What if a farmer is raped, impregnated and has a low chance of survival, can he still own another man? The Civil Rights of an unborn human aren’t removed because of what happens between the male and female that made him. You might still choose to kill the unborn baby, but give it the dignity to say, “When your mother is raped and going to die, I believe in the death penalty for the unborn baby.” At least now we’re dealing with reality, and I don’t mind immoral positions so much so long as we just level with what we’re actually doing. Don’t degrade another person by claiming the high moral ground as you won’t stop them from sucking him down the sink. It’s like being against slavery, but you could never tell a farmer how to run his farm.

      “I don’t think it is my place to force a woman to sacrifice her life for a child she wasn’t prepared to conceive.”

      Actually it’s the opposite of what you’re saying. It’s the fact that she is prepared to conceive that you provide her the opportunity for an abortion. And being a parent of four, and knowing every parent around me, nobody is prepared to conceive! Once again, it’s troubling to me that our people should be more rebellious than ever. We should be able to stand up to culture and make a fist more than ever. We can wear a mohawk or our men can wear a dress at work, but we carve, and retreat over the simple, normal, pro life stance.

      “Which life is more justified in ending, the hopeless damsel or the virgin youth?”

      All life is equally justified, made meaningful in the Image of God. Be cautious when you add a “but ______” after that statement. But in my experience, if a mother had to sacrifice her life for one of her children to live, I don’t know of many mothers who wouldn’t make that sacrifice. The tubal pregnancies are different in that you have the mother and the baby possibly dying, when an abortion would make it safer for the mother and take the baby. So you have a likelihood of one death, instead of two and that’s a pro life position, but so rare so as to be a non sequitor in most debate situations. We argue rape and incest, but those are really just used to justify the right to kill a baby who supposedly nobody wants to help… which is yet another lie.

      Remember, always remember for the rest of your life: The culture is almost always wrong. Always has been, always will be. The mass public evolution of morals creates some of the most monstrous positions people have ever held.

      • BandyRandy Says:

        Also, “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.”

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