Let’s Pause Here

Dhyan_pandaI would describe myself as someone who embraces change, even when it sometimes isn’t easy. To me, change is the one true constant in the universe. My son is 20 months old and there are times, where I would swear that I could live at this time forever, because he is so sweet, and so pure. I think in an instant it makes us remember a time when things were simple, and completely joyful in their simplicity. So when I look at my son, I know that is what he is thinking and feeling right now.  Sticking a straw out of my mouth is amazing, that picture of an elephant is amazing, this rice is amazing.  Life is amazing. They don’t even know enough to appreciate it and the best part is that you get to appreciate it for them. And that is a beautiful feeling. The idea that such innocence and purity could last forever is a fantasy, but an extremely good one to hold on to. Because if you can just add just a little bit of that into the world, happiness can only grow.

The choice of having children: Not having children

In this series I have tried to take a look at the process of having children from the standpoint of essentially energy. In that what we have is a finite amount of it, and having children requires quite a lot. I have also tried to show that having children is a decision that is related to both the individual and the community. Population control is something practiced by man since we first became a species both through planned pregnancies and the unfortunate act of infanticide in extreme cases where the individual or group was threatened by a severe lack of resources. As we make our way into the modern era we find more and more couples in western countries with strong economies to be choosing to have fewer or no children. Should we be concerned by this?

Dhya_iowaAs someone who has entered the community of being a parent, I can honestly say there is a great joy to being a parent that no amount of rational thought beforehand could have prepared me for. No matter how many other parents I talked to and even if they could tell me their joy I would not know what it is like to have one of my own. Part of me wants to shout out to the world that this is an experience that is worth doing and yell at people to have some babies! But what do I know? We all know people who are extremely stressed, who are burning candles at both ends. Some are in imperfect marriages and feel unsupported by their spouse, or don’t get any joy about the combined effort of working with their spouse to raise children. Some people may have had horrible parents themselves, thus feeling ill-equipped to do the same. Some feel driven by their careers, feeling fulfilled in their everyday life, liking what they do and may actually prefer to give to the world in this way. Some, simply through deep introspection feel that they don’t have what it takes to be a parent, whether it’s a lack of energy or patience, too much anxiety or stress, depression, or other reasons. I came across this article, and I really loved it. There is lots of good stuff in it, but the important point that I got from it is, “Is it anymore selfish to have children than to not?”

If having kids is as wonderful as I’m feeling about it, and I’m doing this act that gives me an intense amount of joy, what difference is there between me and the woman who wants to focus on her career, wants to travel, wants to have smashing social gatherings with her friends? Should we force anybody to give up the things they want to do so that they can instead save money for her child’s tuition, travel less because every trip requires more money than it did before, seeing their friends less socially because babysitters are expensive, or trading a night out for dinner for a play date with a fellow parent? In todays world, having children may actual decrease happiness for many people, and is this the environment we want kids raised in?  If I’m honest there is a part of me who misses my life before children, but not so much that I regret it in any way. None of it feels like a sacrifice and I had a lot of freedom for a lot of years, and then I chose, with my wife, to have children.  We did, and are happy with our choice in every possible way. Why should it feel like sacrifice if it is what I wanted?  And if you’re a parent and it does feel like a sacrifice you probably should have thought about it more before having children. There are some hard days, but it’s just part of being a parent and I really don’t mind.

In my last post I looked at the issue of abortion, because here is a situation in which we judge women for terminating a pregnancy and killing an unborn fetus, and yet we also find we are treating many women who choose not to have children with nearly the same level of incredulity.  I am not saying the anti-abortion crowd is the same as those that are critical of women who don’t have children, but it’s sad that women really can’t win it seems unless they are popping out babies and loving every minute of it. Regardless of whether it was planned, or unplanned if you don’t want kids women are made to feel that there is something wrong with them. Like they are “going against the natural order of things”, to quote the article above.  And this is not a fair judgment.

But this is why I wrote this series is because human life is not simply about reproduction. Certainly a species needs to reproduce, but remember what I said in the first post? Our evolutionary advantage is intelligence. So here we have this social species, living in a now global community, who is intelligent. We are the most intelligent species on the planet (at least in theory) and our survival is not just about a numbers game. There is a reason other species have big litters, lay a 1000 eggs, or reproduce more frequently.  It is simply because if they didn’t, they would not survive. They are preyed upon, they have more accidents, they cannot cure themselves of disease, they cannot heal their injuries. Living in the wild is a hard life. In fact given that we evolved in the wild, and were limited in our rate of reproduction given our non-sedentary lifestyle, it reveals how important our intelligence was to our survival. But even if you wanted to argue that it was a numbers game for humans too, well you might have something…we’ve quite successfully made it to 7 billion people, I would say that we aren’t in any danger of dying off too quickly unless some gigantic asteroid hits the planet without warning.

As we move into the modern world, the newly acquired sedentary lifestyle which has led to a massive population has also led to a wide variety of roles that people can play in society and specialize in. Instead of everyone being a jack of all trades, we have people who are just really good at a few things and really just do one job. Whether that is a better way to live, I can’t say, but that’s sort of how society is right now, and we all work together with our different skill sets to make society function. Some people really want to be parents, some people really don’t. And we really need to be okay with that, because we are just fine. I can guarantee you that should something happen that would leave only a few thousand of us standing, everybody would pull together and start breeding like bunnies again to the best of our ability. Even homosexuals would probably kick in a few sperm here and a few eggs there to help humanity out. And if you want to be a lover of the natural order of things, I ask you to think about what is natural about dumping massive amounts of carbon and other pollutants into the air, hunting species to extinction, dumping plastic and toxic waste into the oceans, collective radioactive material and bringing it to the surface, and then expecting everybody to create even more people to do even more of all this stuff we are doing to the planet, all so they can experience the joy of having children. Now who is selfish?

But listen, I’m not knocking parents either, I’m only saying that we need to all relax and recognize that we all might feel passionate about different things and this is okay, because it is that diversity that enriches humanity.   What is best is that we all fulfill our roles well, not all fulfill the same role. If civilization is to have any advantage to our hunter-gatherer days it is that we can use the extra time that farming has given the rest of us to make the world a better place, and this doesn’t need to be done by everybody having children. For many there are some pretty good reasons not to have children, and we should respect the intelligence that was shown to make that decision, and the same intelligence should be put into those who want to have children as well. Raise your children well. Raise them to decrease the suffering of others. Raise them to make the world a better place.   Spend less time worrying about whether or not other people are having children, because there are many ways to make the world better. Future generations will be fine as long as, whatever we do, we use that intelligence that has helped make it this far.

The choice of having children: Why abortions happen

In having a discussion with someone a while back who is anti-abortion she said, “Isn’t it interesting how when they don’t want it, it’s a fetus, but when they do want it, it’s a child”.  The implication being that the argument on when personhood occurs is arbitrary.  Aside from the fact that she’s wrong, because a lot of people, even when they want a child and get pregnant, they still don’t think of the fetus at 14 weeks as a person, she made an important point without realizing it.  There is a big difference in our attitude when want to have children (even if it isn’t exactly planned) and when we don’t.  Meaning that the important question to ask is, if we don’t want the child, why would someone get an abortion?  Given that it has happened since we existed as a species, either there are a significant proportion of psychopathic humans who love murdering babies, or there is a natural and logical explanation for it.

In my last post, I talked a little bit about the fact that we are wired not only to procreate, but also to sustain ourselves and our community.  Community is much different than it was in hunter-gatherer days and in some ways it is much worse.  Western society especially can be very individualistic and so support may come from nowhere else but yourself, and you’re often lucky if you have a partner who is willing to support you if you become unexpectedly pregnant.  To our Paleolithic brains the worry about the scarcity of resources to care for our child is going to make us look for options other than not having the child.  If you feel like you have inadequate resources to care for the child, you will likely not want to carry it to full term.  I read a blog just recently about how great Christian communities can be when someone loses a job in helping them through that, but it’s a very different story when a teenage girl has a pregnancy out of wedlock.  She risks being shunned by family and friends. And I don’t mean to just single out Christians, because there are great many other cultures that stigmatize girls for getting pregnant outside of marriage.  So no matter how supportive a community might be in other aspects, when an unwed girl gets pregnant she is often treated much differently.

When you look at countries that have the lowest rate of abortions you find that these are societies that give adequate health care to pre-natal mothers, give financial support to mothers once their babies arrive such as 1-2 years of maternity leave for the mother, and even a good deal for the fathers.  Women have free access to birth control, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on sex education and proper child care.  Is it any wonder that such countries have low abortion rates?  The country I’m in right now is Poland.  Poland has banned abortion for social reasons and only allows for abortions in the case of 1) Risk to the health of the mother 2) serious birth defects 3) Cases of rapes and incest.  I can say that there is at least some compassion here as many in the U.S. do not even want to give women these options.  That being said, as this article indicates, the policy was put into effect (in 1993 before which abortions were allowed for social reasons) with little forethought in supporting mothers and thus abortions have not stopped and have simply had to go underground and try to terminate pregnancies less safely.  And this is the important point.  Making abortions illegal does not stop abortions.  This article is a bit old, but looks at abortion rates worldwide.  In countries where abortions are illegal they have a hard time getting data on the number of illegal abortions, but use techniques based on estimates of how many women have to be hospitalized after getting an illegal abortion.  There are about 5 times more women getting illegal abortions than those hospitalized after the illegal abortion.  And despite a country like Brazil having several hundred thousand women hospitalized it does not deter women from having abortions.  When abortions are banned they still happen and are unregulated.  They happen more expensively if you want it done right, but for most people, they will simply not be able to afford it or the more qualified person will simply be too far away or too booked up, and women will use a cheaper, less qualified, and less sanitary, less safe method for the abortion.  Perhaps heard of “coat hanger abortion”, this was a reality when abortions were banned in this country when some women would try to terminate their own pregnancy.  A follower on the last blog post said she knew someone that used abortion as a form of birth control and had multiple abortions.  I agree wholeheartedly that this is a terrible situation, and one does have to wonder what would be wrong with someone who thinks that it is a valid form of birth control.  It seems fairly clear that such a person is not mentally sound, but one therefore must also ask the question, if abortions were illegal, would such a person be deterred from having multiple abortions?  Once again we must go back to the question, why would a woman want to terminate her pregnancy if the drive to reproduce is so strong in life, and if we can answer that, what are the necessary conditions to deter women from having abortions?

If you were paying attention to the last post and this one you will realize that one factor is of primary importance to the brain in determining whether to keep one’s baby.  The first is to feel supported.  This means feeling supported by your family and community and feeling that you have the material resources available to care for your child.  Now it’s probably true to say that there or many women who may have the resources or have the support, but simply perceive that they don’t but perception is also relevant.  Just because you may see someone as having more options than they have, we build our own realities. Furthermore, no matter how much we may love and be willing to sacrifice for our child a perceived strain on being able to proffer our own survival or drain the resources of our supporting community will impact our decision.  For instance a woman might think that they could have the baby, but they would need financial help, and while she might know her parents would help, she also knows they would have to blow through their retirement nest egg to do so.  And it’s important to remember that there are other factors that come into play.  Perhaps the father of the child is abusive.  Perhaps the parents will simply kick the mother out of the house for shaming the family.  A woman using abortion as a form of birth control might be doing so to continue her heavy drinking, drug use, and wild unprotected sex lifestyle.  Is this the type of person we want to raise a child?  Becoming pregnant can be a transformative experience for some, but for others simply makes matters worse and now there is a child in the world with a parent or parents ill-equipped to care for it.

Personally I feel there is a lot of vitriol aimed at the pro-choice crowd, but I don’t think any of us are opening up a bottle of champagne every time there is an abortion.  We have common ground, and we’d all like to see a respect for life that is equal to the respect for women who have unplanned pregnancies.  Shaming, blaming, and scorn only exacerbates the feelings of isolation and a lack of support and simply doesn’t help.  So if you love babies and you want every child to have a chance at life here are some things you can do to help:

  1. Fight for all women to get a minimum of 1 month maternity leave.  In that first year, she shouldn’t have to worry about money while doing the very difficult job of trying to adjust to having a new person in her life.  And if you can give the father 6 months paternity leave, that would be awesome too.
  2. Fight for universal health care. Don’t like the APA then improve it.  This helps all women have easy access to birth control.
  3. Make sure the education system treats sex openly and responsibly. Enough with this abstinence only stuff.  It doesn’t work.  Make sure your kids can get actual information about sex.  Instead of pretending it’s not going to happen to your kid because you taught them it is a sin to not have sex until marriage, accept that they might have sex and make sure that if they do they don’t get pregnant.  Fight to make sure your kids are informed.
  4. My cousin had 3 children by the time she was 19, and my aunt, like a champ stepped up and supported her daughter. I am sure she sacrificed a lot for her child, but knew that if she wanted those girls to have a chance, and her daughter to have a chance to improve her station in life she was going to need help.  Let’s stop shaming our daughters, our sisters, and friends for getting pregnant accidentally and make sure they know you are there for them no matter what.
  5. As a community of people against abortion, use your combined resources to not lobby the government but start funds to help young mothers, adopt babies yourself, and spread the word about adoption as a viable options and convince people that their child will not end up in the foster care system because it spends the first part of its life without being adopted. There are a lot of myths about adoption out there, and for some people it is very costly compared to having your own and having it covered by health care.  Help parents who might want to adopt with the cost, so that pregnant women know that the option is there for them.  I think there is a lot of positive and negative information about adoption out there, and we can do better to make the system more efficient and make women who have unplanned pregnancies more confident about giving their child up for adoption.   I do think things are getting better.
  6. Fight to improve the foster care system, so that children who end up being born to unfit parents have a chance at something better.

When we treat women as only having value for the ability to procreate we also commit a heinous crime to the living.  When we create laws that takes away a women’s right to decide what happens to her body this, to me, is also immoral and is harmful to women.  Especially given that it does not deter abortions from happening.  Can we really force someone to raise a child?  Especially when we make no provisions for how they do so? And speaking of the how, what about the fact that we hold no parents responsible for what crimes their child commits?  Parents are free to teach their children to hate, lust for power, oppress, be greedy, etc.  What of the parents of Dylann Roof, Timothy McVeigh, or an Adam Lanza?  You might argue that these are unique cases, but I bring them up to show the possibilities of what can happen when parents are ill-equipped to raise a child.  What harm to the world have such parents caused, and none are accountable for how they have raised their child.  Are these not crimes as well?  What are the results of having parents who raise a child who genuinely feel like they should not?  The foster system is full of children removed from parents who neglect and harm their children, and the system tries hard, but ultimately many who go through that system end up committing crimes and not having productive lives.  It is this multitude of people who increases the financial burden on others as well, increasing the need for taxation.  Something the conservative crowd that is often anti-abortion is also against.  If we are also against paying for all these unwanted children brought into the world, what is the option?  Letting them starve?  Letting them live in the streets? Is this demonstrative of this love of children that would have scorn those who have an abortion?

Perhaps these crimes are no worse than aborting a fetus, but coming together on this divisive issue requires that we find a solution that tries to minimize all these crimes.  It requires us to minimize the overall harm.  It is completely simplistic to simply tell someone they shouldn’t have sex, or they should have used protection.  It’s quite possible that the reason you have been able to make good decisions in your life, and others have not is because of completely different set of variables in their environment.  There could be a multitude of reasons why that person feels like they have inadequate resources and insufficient energy to raise a child.  But all of us who are pro-choice and pro-life must come together to deal with this issue.  The things I outlined above are a good start and reflect the values that are held in countries that have low rates of abortions.  Of course most of the people I know are pro-choice and you need only to talk to them for a short time to know that there desire to preserve life is as great as anyone.  In some ways moreso as they are anti-war and anti-death penalty and often fight for the preservation of life in many important issues we face today.  As a result I refuse to refer to those who are anti-abortion as those who are pro-life.   We all value life in our own way, so let’s work on solutions that meet that common goal.   As someone who has a child now, that I love an immeasurable amount it is hard for me to imagine life without him now.  Abortion seems all the more tragic, but I also know there are many couples who regret having children when they did, or at all, and it makes me wonder if they would have been better served waiting until a later time, or not having children at all.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and of course I know if I didn’t have my son, I would never know what I was missing.  Most women, not surprisingly don’t regret having an abortion.  Somewhere in the Bible I believe God says to “Be fruitful and multiply”.  We have certainly multiplied, but we have yet to ensure that all people on this planet can be fruitful.  It is the being fruitful that gives people the freedom to multiply.  To feel fruitful, mothers-to-be need to feel supported by their spouses, but their family, by their community, and by their government.  It may never be possible to stop abortion completely, something that has always been part of our nature, but we have the ability to reduce it greatly if we work together and create the environment that mothers need to keep and support their child.

Blogging about abortion is the one way ticket to getting people to hate your gets, but it is important to talk about, even very divisive issues, and hopefully I have made a case for how we can all work together on this issue.  I will finish off this series by talking about the choice to not have children at all, which seems to be increasingly common these days and why having a family with children is not the ultimate life goal in today’s age.

The choice of having children: The Nuts and Bolts

One of the things that has been on my mind a lot lately was inspired by article that talked about why women aren’t choosing to have children in our society.  I was originally going to write about that first, but in my mind I ended up always going into the topic of abortion, and given how much the defunding of Planned Parenthood is being talked about today, I thought I would talk about this controversial subject first, and then follow up with a piece about wanting or not wanting to raise children, because ultimately much of what I will talk about here feeds into that.

Recently my wife and I had our first night away, together, from our child who is now 19 months old.  It was a weird place in both our minds because it felt like we were fighting some primal urge, vs some rational thinking machine.  One was very emotional and was worried about the stress on my wife’s parents who were watching him, worried about whether he would wonder if we just left him, worried that he was crying helpless wondering where mommy and daddy was.  The other part of us was thinking how good this was for him and us.  He was with people who loved him and quite capable of taking care of him.  And it was healthy for us to have some time away together, because it certainly is a good thing for a baby who have parents who have a strong friendship and love and some time away certainly helped that.  Also in the long run this was beneficial for healthy sleep patterns, gaining independence and trust.

The trap in the thinking here, is that we often believe that these are almost two separate parts of us.  One might criticize us for being too emotional, and another would criticize us for being too rational about it.  Of course both are evolved and necessary parts of what makes us who we are.  Those strong emotions we feel are extremely important for protecting and bonding with the child.  That rational part of us is there to make sure we do it in the best way possible.  It can be a see saw at times and we all vary in how much we let one side take a hold over the other.  The point is that regardless of the emotions you feel, it is also sensible.  It is sensible to be emotional, and it is sensible to be rational.

This leads us to a very uncomfortable thing that few of us want to admit about child rearing.  It really boils down to a lot of math.  We need both the emotional and the rational, but the one that win depends a lot on circumstances.  It could be circumstances of the environment, culture, family values, etc, but there is natural state of a human that favors one side or the other.  My mom told me once that she couldn’t accept that I was just a biological thing that happened, and that part of her belief in religion is founded on the fact that she sees things as much more than the sum of their parts.  The thing is, I feel the same way, but I also know that it is part of our biology to do so.  And all of that to me is amazing even if it is explainable.  But our brains are constantly working to make decisions that ensure both our survival and our genes survival, and the emotions we feel, and the rational decisions we make support that drive in us.  It gets even more confusing given that the rational part of us tends to actually make us feel like our emotions are rational.  “I really want that piece of cheesecake, but am trying to lose weight.”  Suddenly you start to rationalize…well I’ll just have a small piece, or so-and-so makes such good cheesecake it would be rude not to have some…I’ll spend an extra half hour at the gym tomorrow.  We’ve all been in this situation before, even if not about cheesecake. 🙂

So let’s take a look at some of the math of having children.  But before we start let’s remind ourselves that while we may live in a modern world where we have smartphones, cable TV, and airplanes, but from an evolutionary standpoint our brains haven’t progressed much from the stone age.  A couple hundred thousand years ago, when man was relatively what is today in terms of brain size and structure, is really a blink of an eye on the time scale of evolution.  Now we know that we are a social creature, but we didn’t live in populations like we do today.  As hunter gatherers we searched every day for food and lived in groups of around 200 people.  If you or someone you know has been pregnant and you’ve seen them go through it, you know a lot changes in them.  They tend to have less energy on average, and they tend to require more resources.  More water and more food.  In a group of 200 people where everybody has to pull their own weight, having less to give to the tribe in terms of energy, and you are taking more energy away from them as you require more resources.  You are a drain to your group.  Now certainly a necessary one, and I’m sure no one minds since in egalitarian groups such as hunter gatherers the ability to help as a community was strong, and of course later you’d be expected to do extra duty to help out other women who were pregnant.  But that doesn’t change the math one bit.  So one woman getting pregnant wasn’t too bad, but if all the women got pregnant at the same time, that would probably be bad.  Once the child is born of course resources get even more drained, because that new member will need calories as well.  Hunter gatherers needed to practice population control making sure the group didn’t get too big and also not too small.  Furthermore, small children were a strain on mobility.  My son at his age, still requires being carried a lot, and even though he sometimes likes to walk it’s not overly fast and, more importantly, not the direction you want him to move in.  His cousin however who is 4 and half and can keep up quite well, and will respond to voice commands even if somewhat reluctantly. 🙂  Anthropological evidence shows that women spaced their children apart about 4 years apart at minimum so make sure that their child was old enough to keep up with a tribe.  Most hunter gatherer tribes were not sedentary for very long.  After using the resources in one area that had to move until that previous areas recovered.  And depending on the environment, they may have had to make very long treks.  The luxury of having children at will, would not come until the age of agriculture.  An important theme that I will by discussing throughout this series, is to remember that our evolutionary advantage is our intelligence.  Everything reproduces, but we found a way to make having one children at a time work and make smart decisions about how many children to have and when to have them.

Abortion is by far not a new thing, but it is at the very least a more advanced process considering what life was like pre-civilization.  Despite the cool rational population control practiced by hunter gatherers, mistakes were going to happen.  Sex after all is pretty fun, as it needs to be, in order for us to want to reproduce, but the best laid plans go awry.  They do today and they did back then.  For them it could have been not as many people got eaten by lions that year, or not as many of the older people in the tribe died and populations were approaching critical.  Likely they would still try to survive, but the wild card that likely created the most population pressure was the environment (A great book on the impact of the medieval warming period on aboriginal tribes throughout north america and Europe can be found on Amazon here).  Perhaps it was a long term climate trend, drought, or some geological catastrophe blocked a passage they normally took to areas where they knew food was, or some other resource was scarce.  Whatever the case, evidence also indicates that infanticide was common.  It’s likely the rates were around 15-20% (I’m sorry the source is wikipedia here under the paleolithic and neolithic sections, but references are given on the page), which is extremely high given that even the worse abortion rates now are at around 5%.  Despite the emotional trauma the parents must have went through, with abortions not possible, this was the only way to make sure that a larger portions of the group didn’t starve to death.  And in an extremely cold and rational way, the truth is, the mother can always have another baby when situations allow, but an extra member of the tribe, until early adulthood, was a drain on resources.  We are made of finite energy, and we have to unfortunately look at ourselves as an energy budget, a tribe or group as the combined energy budget, which while more efficient is still finite.  So if anything, human history has helped us not only have more children, but see less overall (as a percentage) die.

I am going to end this here with the thought of our finite nature, and continue in my next post to talk about some of the more modern day points about abortion, and why people who are anti-abortion aren’t helping (and in fact making things worse), and give them some realistic suggestions about how they can actually help reach their goal of an abortion free world.

What Makes A Good Human?: Love

My second quality for what makes a good human comes as no surprise to anyone.  Who doesn’t like love?  Who doesn’t want love?  Is this a quality I really have to try at? Is this something that I have to be vigilant about?  The word love tends to conjure up images romance and being in love.  But anybody who has thought about love for any length of time knows that romantic love is really just one aspect of love.  In fact I would argue that your ability to romantically love someone has little to do (at least in a direct sense) with your ability to be a good human.  We all have the capacity for love and this wonderful human trait gives rise to many of other ideals and qualities that make the world a better place.

If you’ve tried to define love before, most likely you’ve had difficulty.  Music, poetry, art have all had their attempts, and one could argue that through the medium of the arts one might be more successful. Love, like art, is often open to some degree of interpretation and means different things to different people.  While neuroscience has made a lot of headway in look at love and attachment as a biological drive, I want to go back to older Socratic definition of love that separates love into four categories.

  1. Eros – Romantic love
  2. Storge – Familial love
  3. Philia – “Brotherly love”, or the love between friends
  4. Agape – Love of humanity

So in terms of having the quality of love, I assert that every one of these is important to both ourselves and others on a variety of scales.  Think how much happiness all these types of love can bring, both in loving others and feeling that love towards you.  Now from a biological level storge, and philia are shown to both to be important drives in our brain, with eros still up for debate, but at the very least eros is a secondary drive that helps give us the attachment and friendship to a possible mate.  And it is our capacity to love that I believe gives us agape as an emergent property that can extend to all humanity.  It should also be noted that most of us learn first about love from the familial love.  How our parents love each other and love us.  This, perhaps, makes storge the most important in giving us a healthy sense of what loving each other is really about.  And since loving is learned, it should also be noted that there are those who adopt and raise children that are not their own that do wonderful jobs, so the biological connection of family need not be there for familial love to be shown to children.  In fact one of the strongest cross-cultural morals we have is protecting children from harm, so it’s not surprising that love and bonding can occur between adults and children who are not their own.

Love, at least to me, is the best cure we have for suffering, whether it is suffering from sickness, poverty, fear, depression or any other situation that causes harm and pain.  When you love you have a desire to stop another’s suffering.  Thus love leads us to both compassion and empathy.  Ultimately I find that our capacity to love motivates us to do so in the best way we know how.  I would also argue that love without feelings of compassion and empathy is pointless.  It’s insincere and unhealthy and can sometimes be destructive, because then you are just loving for your own sake and not because you truly care about the other person.  Perhaps that really isn’t love at all.

Now love as a verb can be tricky.  Above I said “the best way we know how” and this can often lead to honest attempts at love that are ineffective.  Sometimes loving someone is staying close, sometimes loving someone means to let them go, sometimes loving someone is being tough and unyielding.  At this point I’d rather not get into a discussion about how best to love, because when we talk about all the other qualities that will be discussed in this series, I believe the answers about how best to love someone reveal themselves. So knowing how best to love someone is another part of what makes love so difficult to define. However, I believe that love is love, it’s just that the ways in which we can experience love, show love and give love are far too numerous to list.

Biologically we are a social species that operates on reciprocal altruism.  Love is therefore the primary way in which we build attachments to each other for our long term survival, both for reproduction and bonding.  Thus the idea that there is no unselfish act is somewhat true as a whole.  However, we are not always so shallow that we expect kindness to be repaid right away, In general if we love, and show kindness and caring to others they will hopefully love us and thus want to do the same for us when we are in need.  In a broader sense, our ability to love tells us that we survive better when we cooperate, and your motivation for cooperation is increased by the love you feel for those in your group.

The downside of reciprocal altruism is that it makes love mostly beneficial for those in your immediate circle.  Loving humanity as a whole becomes a somewhat abstract extension of our ability to love those closest to us.  Showing love to humanity may involve acts of charity, but how do we know that we are helping?  We are used to having love returned when we show it, so how does humanity give back to us?  Trying to better humanity as a whole is also an extremely slow process. The impact you may have may not be felt until beyond your lifetime. The problems of humanity are large and it takes great momentum to affect change that no individual person can do on their own.  Even great people like Gandhi And Martin Luther King, Jr. needed the support of the people.  In this way acts of kindness and charity for the greater good may be the most unselfish acts other than it give you a sense of well-being and happiness.  But just because loving humanity as a whole is more abstract, and can feel like we are just adding a drop to the ocean, it does not excuse us from the fact that it is more moral for us to love humanity.  To move from the abstract to the tangible one has to remember that empathy and compassion also have an intellectual side that must be fed.  I will address this more in another part of the series, but for now remember the following:

  • All humans are of the same species.
  • The biggest factor in why you are what you are has much more to do with where you were born and the circumstances you were born in than any inherent ability you have (or think you have).
  • Any race or gender put into the same set of circumstances will produce similar outcomes.

Therefore when we feel empathy for those suffering that we can see, feel, hear, etc it takes little imagination to determine that even those beyond our senses suffer in the same way and that doing something to alleviate the suffering of others is the moral thing to do.  One of the chief ways to morally justify inflicting pain and suffering on others is to dehumanize them.  Getting people to believe that another group of people are not of the same species lessens our empathy, therefore, logically, dehumanizing is immoral.

If love has a darker side it is only perhaps to let it envelop you to the point of not paying attention to anything else.  The oft portrayed young couple in TV shows or movies who give no thought to other things claiming they can “live off love” are ridiculed for a reason.  We’d like to believe that John Lennon was right and that “love is all you need”, but anybody past about 30 years of age knows that’s a crock.  The world can be a shitty place, and love can be hard to muster at times, and so life has to be full of other things as well that are fulfilling and happy.  Love can also be unhealthy when we direct it towards inanimate objects.  We’ve all met people who love money too much, their car, sports teams, drugs, other material goods, etc.  While love shouldn’t be predicated on whether it can be returned, it should at least have the potential to be returned.  Pouring love into things that cannot feel your love, or return your love might be okay for a light hobby, but should never take a backseat to the suffering of the living. Perhaps the common theme to the darker side of love is obsession.  Obsessions usually don’t serve one well in the long run.

It could easily be argued that love is the most important of any virtue, and given how much of our lives are spent looking for it, maintaining it, and grieving over it, it’s probably true.  Nevertheless I hope to convince you with this series that there is more to life than love and there are many things we can do to be better at love.  I encourage you all to celebrate love and show love as often as you can, and keep striving to diversify the ways in which you add love to the world.

The Moral of the Story

I was ‘talking’ with a fellow blogger who is a nurse, and as I am a meteorologist we were trying to figure out who had it worse.  Was it more annoying to deal with the “climate change deniers” or the “anti-vaxxers”.   I agreed his was more annoying, because while human induced climate changed is well-evidenced it is always going to receive a lot of political blowback in a fossil fuel dependent world and it is both a complex and new problem facing us.  Vaccinations on the other hand have worked so well and have eradicated disease so completely that people don’t remember why they even get them and instead have invented dangers to receiving them because they can no longer see the purpose.    It’s as routine as opening your mouth and saying “Ahhh”.  People don’t really question that, but it doesn’t inject anything into you and is sort of hard to get upset about, but I think when some medical advancement has been around so long and so successful we forget the reason and just see it as possibly something that isn’t necessary.

This led me to wonder if the same thing wasn’t true for how we understand morals.  One of the common things you hear from atheists is that many theists are under the impression that we do not have a moral and ethical code.  That such thing is not possible if we don’t have God and some supernatural system of punishment and reward.  I remember my mom, who is Christian, telling me at some point that our sense of right and wrong must come from God or else where would we get it from?  The general answer is easy of course, we are taught them by our parents and others.  We have authority figures that tell us what is right and what is wrong (even though you can convince a child that things that are wrong are actually write, like prejudice and intolerance).  The point is if as children we seem to get our morality from the authority figures in our life, perhaps it’s not surprising that many people, especially those who have no qualms about relying on the “rightness” of authority, that morality comes from what many consider the ultimate authority, God.  But it seems obvious to me that morality can easily be derived through scientific investigation.  Morality though has been around well before the scientific method, but humans have been around for a long enough time that we’ve been living a social experiment of morality and have simply been learning.  At one time the things we take as obvious might not have been overtly obvious, even though I think some of the big ones we could figure out rather quickly as they would not be a beneficial for survival.  Just like we stopped questioning why vaccines are important, perhaps we stopped questioning why certain immoral acts are wrong, such that people assume that it all must have come from some other plane of existence.

Some morals are certainly cross-cultural, like physical and sexual harm to other people’s children.  This one would be a pretty obvious natural (perhaps genetic) trait because our survival does depend on the survival of the next generation.  Anything that threatens that would be considered immoral.  Unfortunately in many places physically or psychologically hurting your own child is not seen as wrong.  It wasn’t so long ago here that, unless something got really severe, you were hardly considered in the wrong for disciplining your child with a belt or the back of your hand.  Some people still adopt that attitude unfortunately in North America, and it can be worse in other countries.  Regardless though we generally do go to ridiculous (and perhaps psychologically detrimental) lengths to protect children.  In general though killing is not quite viewed the same way.  Many think it’s okay to kill criminals (apparently it sometimes doesn’t even matter the crime…resisting arrest is enough), and killing in war is not only tolerated, but often cheered about.   For some time killing your wife in a crime of passion was often considered justifiable.  And many civilizations have committed genocide in our past and that has gone unpunished.   So even of the most basic commandments “thou shall not kill” isn’t clear cut, so this obvious sense of right and wrong we are supposed to get from God looks pretty muddy.  And if we are worried about some sort of eternal punishment system it’s amazing the ways we can justify killing when we need to dodge that one.

But let’s look at it from the perspective of “unlawful killing” which is why modern translations say “murder” instead of kill in the 10 commandments.  Thus we already have human law deciding what killing is lawful and unlawful.  This is not an overly divine commandment already.  We know that before civilization we roamed in smallish hunter gatherer bands.  Maybe a few hundred people at most.  This was a time before Christianity, before the 10 commandments, so let’s assume this group doesn’t know right from wrong.  Like a small town, in these small groups, you knew everyone.  Surviving in the wild is not easy and everybody had a role to play, and everybody shared and worked together.  Studies of hunter-gatherer tribes today show them to be rather egalitarian in compared with much of civilized society so let’s look at this as a group that gets along.  So we have a group of a few 100 people, and because they have no God to tell them between right and wrong they think murder might be just something that’s okay to do.  What would be the results of a few people that decided to commit a murder every once in awhile:

  1. Population decline and lack of genetic diversity – We could at the very least learn that there is a murder rate that is not healthy for the survival of the group. Through cooperation, life was made easier, but the group gets smaller, things get harder. Population can only increase so fast. So at the very least, if murder is okay, we can’t do it too often.
  2. Loss of those with specialized or exceptional skill. While daily tasks required teamwork there would have been certain people with more extraordinary skill. A tribe may also only have one person who does a particular job. Murder could reduce the chance for survival if such people are killed.
  3. Growing fear and distrust. If people are being murdered, people are less likely to cooperative. Some people will simply be scared they will be next and be more cautious and protective. Some people will be angry at the loss of their child, brother, sister, etc. This will cause others to fight back. There may be false accusations, which builds more anger and distrust.
  4. They are diminishing their own chance for survival. Once a murderer is discovered, those that committed the murders may find themselves a victim.

Now there are probably even more things that could be listed as to why murdering would not be a good idea, the least of which that we are by definition a social species for whom survival depends on our being in a group, and being able to work well in that group.  It simply isn’t in our nature to murder our own, and there is a lot of good reasons why murder would not be a good idea.  However when it comes to other groups, all bets are off.  We may be xenophobic due to bad experiences with other groups before, or simply be xenophobic because someone who we don’t know simply isn’t somebody we can implicitly trust, and thus we can justify killing others that are not part of our society.  This is why war is not against the law, but murder is.  We can do similar thought experiments with many other basic things that cause harm, like stealing, or any action that causes harm both physically and emotionally.   But even if it was not in our nature, this social experiment has been going on for some time and it seems quite reasonable to assume that even if there was not a morality inherent in us through birth, if at the very least we have a driving force to survive then many of the morals we have today would result through experience and observation and concluding how to survive better.

As a population we continue to adjust.  Different groups share moral truths just as they would share any other type of knowledge.  And so perhaps much of what we consider right and wrong is handed to us without that rediscovering process, but you can still see the impact of people doing the right thing and wrong thing today.  Because even though I think that on average humans are more moral in civilized society today than in the earlier days of civilization, we still have a ways to go.  People who are doing good and bad things are not of one particular faith or philosophy.  If you have compassion and care about how you make others feel, you will discover yourself how to behave in a way that’s more positive everyday as you grow and learn also.  It is the scientist in us that helps us become more moral.  If anything, the Bible demonstrates this more completely as the old testament has very much an eye-for-an-eye mentality, but the new testament is very much about forgiveness, redemption, and compassion.  Even God seemed to find a more moral way of dealing with enemies. Thus I don’t think it’s surprising that morality should progress in the same way that science does.

 

Headlong

Well between being a dad and a professor, blogging has taken a backseat.  This of course doesn’t stop the ideas from flowing, so I just thought I’d get at least one of them out even though I’m having to wake up at 5:30 am to do it!

My blog post is once again inspired by my son.  One of the things my son likes to do is drink, whatever we might be drinking, from our glasses.  I find myself enjoying this quite a bit, because it’s clear that he wants to do things like we do.  At times he will often try picking up our glasses and try to drink from them, with of course disastrous results, but his drive to be like us is clearly strong.  The reason why I enjoy this so much though is because there is something wonderful just being around someone who is clear is striving each day to be more than they are.  You might say, well of course babies/children strive to be more than they are, because they have to grow and develop those basic cognitive and locomotive skills.  So I know I’m not saying anything groundbreaking, but it made me reflect on a number of things that I think have meaning at any age, and gave me some important reminders as I move forward in life both as an individual and parent.

As I was reflecting on this last night it occurred to me the importance of failure.  While, as parents we marvel at our child’s successes I wonder how often we think of their failures.  If I really start to think about it I know that every achievement of my

From http://www.wholeheartedleaders.com

son is built on the back of many more failures.  Whether it was a failure sit up, stand up, walk, or clutch an object in his hands, these activities failed numerous times before he was able to master them in any meaningful way.  And it occurred to me that if you are not failing at anything right now, you quite simply are not growing.  In these early stages of life the failure to success ratio is high.  My son is constantly reaching in ways that exceed his grasp, but is undeterred by failure and this is something I find wonderful and inspiring.  While he still needs help sipping from a drinking glass because he cannot lift it up to his lips in a controlled way on his own, I know that he will get it.   Sometimes I wonder if I slow his progress by helping him though.  He’d probably learn a lot faster if I let him fail more often, but of course the amount of spills I’d have to clean would be a drain on my time and resources.  It takes away from other things that I could be doing which would be important for parenting or important for myself.  And of course in some cases these failures might be detrimental to him as well.  We need fluids, and if we are constantly spilling ours then we aren’t getting the sustenance we need.  This is, of course, one of the things we must balance in life.  Doing an activity that we’ll fail at is an energy cost, and thus we must have energy in excess to afford to fail.  Growth implies risk, and risks can be costly.  That doesn’t change the fact that without taking risks we tend to stagnate.

Dhyan_box
Sometimes my son even enjoys falling. 🙂

So what deters us from this completely necessary quality of risk?  Since risk involves the uses of resources and energy, there are environmental factors that simply put limits on the risks we can take.  The beautiful thing about children (and often scary at times) is that they think nothing of the risks they take.  No matter how many times he fell trying to walk, or get down from the sofa or bed, he still did it.  As we grow and become aware of more things we learn restraint.  If I lived in one of many places in Africa where clean drinking water is scarce, one of the things I would make dead sure of is that I didn’t leave a glass of drinking water within in reach of my son, because drinking water is precious and we could ill afford to have any spilled.  So the risks we are willing to take or let others take are governed by the energy and resources (or the perceived energy and resources) we have available to us.  I think this is something we forget.  It is very common in the world to denigrate the poor and criticize them for not lifting themselves out of their poverty.  Since risk leads to growth, and risk is at least partly a function of the security of energy and resources in our lives, those that have limited resources simply cannot achieve as much as those of us with privilege can achieve.  While there are always remarkable stories of people crossing that boundary, on average a person who starts off with more will always have the potential of achieving more.  Therefore we’d be well served to stop judging those in poverty and that they require our compassion to help raise them up.  Should I wish to let my son fail at drinking water from a drinking glass I have the resources to supply him with endless amounts of water.  It seems that the path to a better society comes from those of us who have an excess in resources finding a way to create an environment for those in need to have some minimum level of security so that they feel safe to take risks.

Our inability to take risks can also be impacted by our memories of failures.  There comes a point where feelings of failure can be somewhat traumatic.  It can make us not want to try something again.  I have postulated, not sure if it’s true, that one of the reasons why babies don’t form a lot of memories is because if they did they might be scared to take risks.  This is something that a young child absolutely has to do just to be able to master basic movement and communication skills.  My son has fallen hard at times, and after a few minutes he is back trying the same thing again.  This short term memory seems a blessing at this age but it won’t last forever.  Of course if we reflect on failure we would see that it is teaching us something, and that we probably should worry about failure a lot less than we do.  If you’ve tried something a number of times and still failed, well maybe the lesson to be learned is to not do that activity anymore.  That in of itself can be a success.  Learning about what you can’t do, moves you in a different direction to try things that you have a better chance of succeeding.  If energy and resources are finite then there is wisdom in not continuing in an activity once we realize that it is beyond us.  This means the only truly detrimental failure is the failure to never try.

dhyan_cutlery
My son, failing to use cutlery in any meaningful way. 🙂

 

It’s easy once you get to the age of 40 to play it safe.  Likely your life is already full of failure and it’s simple to say “enough is enough” and just survive.  I was joking yesterday with my wife, given the extremely fast rate my son is figuring out how to use an iPad (and believe me we don’t give him a lot of access) that maybe that’s why kids always have to figure out technology for their parents, because once you have kids it’s easier to stop learning and let them (who learn things much faster and easier than you) do it for you.  Ultimately this is not the type of person I want to be.  I want to continue to grow, and over the last couple of months I’ve realized there are numerous areas of personal growth that I want to achieve and while I may like myself, to rest on my laurels would also be a mistake.  I watch my son attempt tasks that are beyond his abilities and must remind myself that I must never stop trying to push my limits, and to take chances doing things that have a high chance of failure.  It’s surprising how cautious we become as we age.  It seems that perhaps the real secret to staying young is to maintain at least a shred of fearlessness and at least an ounce of self-confidence that defies what we think we know of ourselves.   I must also remember to turn my parental instincts in a way that supports experiences of failure for my son.  I’m not saying that I would intentionally cause him to fail, but only to remember that loving my son is not about preventing him from ever failing, but rather allowing him to fail, and stepping in at the right time to help him learn the most from his failures.  So smile at your failures.  They got you this far, and here’s to hoping you have many more.

Equality, I Spoke The Word As If A Wedding Vow

Recently I’ve been thinking about the word “equality” and what it really means. I always think that when you are thinking about word and are unsure what it means a good place to start is the dictionary.  But that didn’t help much because the major definition simply says “the state of being equal” or defines equality in terms of mathematics. I think most of who think equality is important would define it in terms of equal status, equal rights, and equal opportunities.  Such equality might be easy to legislate, but it is not easily found.

The interesting question to me is why equality is something that some people thing is important and others don’t. Part of the reason is that many simply don’t see other people as equal.  And most troubling are those who see someone as inherently unequal simply due gender or race.  It seems to me that those who fight for equality and who believe that equality is important in a society don’t see inequality as inherent, but rather a product of environment.

Equality, like freedom may be a difficult ideal to obtain, but it seems to me the true inequality in this world is between those who think we can attain it and those who think inequality is inherent for whatever reason. And so I wonder, what is the common bond between people in both those groups of people?  Since race and gender have nothing to do with how smart you are, your physical abilities, your potential to be successful, or your ability to show love and kindness, why are there people who think that race and gender automatically pre-determines such things?  Children carry no inherent sense of inequality in regards to race and gender, so where does it come from?  What trait oh of humanity leads people to adopt the idea that one person is less than another?  When does it start to develop?  Is it a desire for power? A fear that in balancing the equation that for one group of people to rise up, that we must then relinquish some power and come down?  Maybe equality isn’t something we can attain, but maybe we can at least see everybody as valuable if not equal.  To be honest, the fact that we are all equal regardless of race or gender seems so obvious to me that I find it vexing that anybody should think any other way, so I am interested in hearing thoughts from others.

How Our Will Is Not So Free – Part I

For any of you who are foolish enough to read my blog you are used to a lot of rambling.  I can’t promise this will be too different, but I would like to be a little formal and have an actual thesis for this post.  I have posted my thoughts about free will in respect to religion, but even if one is not religious the idea

From http://www.brandonragle.com

that we have free will is extremely pervasive and I think it is ultimately a not necessarily helpful concept to believe in.  The choices that we think people have are an illusion and we tend to instead judge others because people do not make choices that we would make.  It prevents us from really helping those who are violent, disturbed, hurting, depressed, etc.  It has us believe that there are people who are inherently evil allowing us to dehumanize them and cast them aside, when instead they might simply have brain abnormalities, be traumatized, influenced by people as messed up as they are, or simply lost and confused in a world that is beyond them and behave desperately.  I think it also acts to separate us from nature and is a great source of human conceit.  Free will is not something we ascribe to plants or animals and thus also gives us the illusion that we lie in a place above all else.  Whether you believe that the supernatural has imparted us this blessing of greatness or you think that evolution is a pyramid in which humans rest on top, both these notions are ultimately dangerous because they allow us to justify great atrocities against nature as we continue to satisfy our own self-importance.

In the first 8 months of watching my son grow it is clear that free will is not something he was born with.  He started out simply crying when he was hurting, uncomfortable or hungry, and sleeping when he was sleepy.  Not a lot of free will going on there.  As I watch him change, I see him simply become aware of more things.  When he first could see our cats, not surprisingly he was curious and wanted to touch them.  Now that he’s been outside he asks to go outside (well not in words).  Now that he realizes the comfort of being held he asks to be held.  He also mimics.  He sees us eating something and he wants to eat it.  He sees us using a remote, our phones, computers, and he desperately wants to use those too (or rather put them in his mouth).

Before I formally begin my argument for the absence of free will I want to put an excellent quote from an article I read some time ago from the New Yorker which has had a large influence on my thoughts in trying to understand why we are the way we are and where this sense of self comes from that I blogged about some time ago.

I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.”

From http://www.eugenecascadescoast.org

The reason I want you to keep this in mind, because not only does it support the argument I am going to make (doesn’t of course make the statement true), but most importantly I want to reveal to you that just because I don’t think we have free will, doesn’t mean that I don’t find life absolutely amazing.  The idea expressed in this passage speaks to me in a way I cannot fully express, but I find this idea beautiful.  It tells me that we are product of processes that function over many different scales of time.  From what we learn each day, to what nature has molded us into over millions of years.  We can extend even further and look at the billions of years of evolution which has produced us , and we can go back further to old stars dying and being the seeds for our own sun and solar system which allowed one fortunate planet to even allow life to evolve.  So the fact I may not be quite as in control of the process is hardly depressing.  In fact it removes a lot of the pressure if anything.  I can simply marvel at all that has taken place for me to sit here and write these thoughts out today back to the beginning of time.  It is humbling, inspiring, and magnificent.

I shall now let you pause a bit before going on to the next blog post, because going back to the beginning of time is something that requires some deep reflection. 🙂

Returning Your ticket

Let’s say you are on a big cruise ship. Over 6,000 men, women, and children are on board.  This cruise ship promises to take you to paradise and it’s not a lie either. A place where everybody is happy, nothing bad ever happens, and everybody gets along in love and friendship.  Children are laughing and smiling and running around.  Nobody

From http://www.freefitnesstips.co.uk

is hungry or hurting.  Everybody lives in harmony.  There was no charge to even be one of the passengers.  You’re on for free and who wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity.

As you are making your way to paradise, the captain announces that due to some unknown structural defects that they need to get rid of about 100 passengers or the boat will sink.  Fortunately there are an equal amount of bad criminals who have done some bad things and don’t really deserve paradise on board and the captain knows who they are and asks everybody else to throw those people overboard.  Would you still want to be on that boat?  Keep in mind that by even looking the other way, you are an accessory.  But many people, I think, given the promise of such a wonderful destination they could make it work for their conscience.

Now rewind the scenario and the same announcement comes on and says we need to unload 100 passengers or we all sink, and paradise will never be reached.  It’s only 100 people and still some 6,000 people will get to go to paradise.  But everybody wants to go so nobody volunteers.  People get tense and some people start deciding for themselves who might be bad or good, who might be too old to survive the journey and thus can justify getting rid of them.   Would you still want to be on the boat?  Again doing nothing to help still makes you an accessory.  In this scenario, not that the group who stays must develop some sort of justification for why those people will have to die.  Judging them without evidence, making assumptions, perhaps developing a philosophy that gets people to volunteer, convincing the more gullible of passengers that they will get to paradise anyway by making the sacrifice (even though they don’t know that to be the case, no matter how strongly they believe it to be so).

Let’s rewind again except this time the captain announces that his good friend the Grim Reaper will be coming around and taking the lives of 100 people at random.  It

From http://wiki.urbandead.com

could be your child, your friend, your wife.  Slowly everybody watches 100 people keel over without knowing why they had to die.  Would you still want to be on that boat?  If you stayed, what justification would you come up with to be okay with those deaths?

Let’s rewind one more time.  Instead of the Grim Reaper, the captain announces that everybody will be restrained while a psychopathic killer, wrought by the same person who made the paradise, will be coming around to kill 100 random people.  Having little control over his actions and lack of moral center, he will beat, rape, and torture these people before he kills them.  Many or all of these people are innocent.  Most importantly some are children. Young children, perhaps even babies.  Children in their innocence and purity must be physically and sexually abused in order to reach this paradise.  Would you still want to be on the boat?  What justification would you invent to be okay with this if you stayed?

In one the most influential books to me was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  In that book one of the Brothers Ivan is having a conversation with his younger brother Alyosha in a chapter I believe called “Revolution”.  Ivan is an atheist and a collector of news stories around Russia of atrocities committed against children.  He questions the religious harmony that Christianity offers (I do not single out Christianity here, only relaying the religion that was used in the book).  We are all supposed to follow The Bible and follow its moral teachings.  The goal being that we will all come to know God on Earth and secure our place in Heaven afterwards.  But we are also supposedly given free will and thus some do not follow.  This allows for the possibility of great harm to innocent children: abuse, rape, torture, death (not even counting all the natural/accidental causes that take the lives of children).  Ivan claims that if this is the price of harmony then he would like to “respectfully return his ticket” to the Creator.

In reading that passage, I could not help but agree with Ivan.  Being a father now only reinforces that idea more.    If there is a Creator who is omnipotent and decides what happens to all His creation and that there is a reward of Heaven for those who are good, then I submit that this existence is simply not worth the price given all the suffering that does and has taken place already to get there.   There are of course many other atrocities that happen to adults, that make it not worth the price either, but it is especially hard when I think of the harm that comes to children.  The logic of a Creator who commands us to act according to His moral guidelines in order to achieve some post material existence paradise at the expense of harm to innocent people, simply does not add up.  It’s not enough for me to say that “God works in mysterious ways” or that “no one can know the mind of God”.  It’s not enough for me to know that God has taken the innocent up to Heaven either.  Because what is the point of this existence if they had to suffer here?  And for the life of me I really don’t understand why that can be enough of an explanation for anyone else.  I’m open to any and all explanations as to why the tears of a suffering child are worth this paradise?