Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Are You Touched by the Babies in the Womb?

            Have you ever seen the following script?

Two twins were talking in the womb:
Tell me, do you believe in life after birth?
Of course. After birth comes life. Perhaps we are here to prepare for what comes after birth.
Forget it! After birth there is nothing! From there, no one has returned! And besides, what would it look like?
I do not know exactly, but I feel that there are lights everywhere … Perhaps we walk on our own feet, and eat with our mouth.
This is utterly stupid! Walking isn’t possible! And how can we eat with that ridiculous mouth? Can’t you see the umbilical cord? And for that matter, think about it for a second: postnatal life isn’t possible because the cord is too short.
Yes, but I think there is definitely something, just in a different way than what we call life.
You’re stupid. Birth is the end of life and that’s it.
Look, I do not know exactly what will happen, but Mother will help us…
The Mother? Do you believe in the Mother? !
Do not be ridiculous! Have you seen the Mother anywhere? Has anyone seen her at all?
No, but she is all around us. We live within her. And certainly, it is thanks to her that we exist.
Well, now leave me alone with this stupidity, right? I’ll believe in Mother when I see her.
You cannot see her, but if you’re quiet, you can hear her song, you can feel her love. If you’re quiet, you can feel her caress and you will feel her protective hands.

            This was making its rounds a little while back in social media circles, accompanied by gushing comments about how beautiful it is. And it was kind of aggravating to me, because from my perspective it’s ugly and dishonest. Let me explain why.
            Now, obviously, this is meant as an analogy to belief in a god and the afterlife, with one baby representing the “atheist,” and the other representing the “believer.” Which brings me immediately to the first reason this little vignette is both ugly and dishonest: Atheist Baby is a blatant asshole. His questions aren’t honest inquiries, but simply set-ups for insults that he delivers with strident exclamations. You’re supposed to dislike Atheist Baby because he has a shitty personality. By contrast, Believer Baby is portrayed as calm and reasonable and likable. This is pure emotional manipulation aimed at making the reader like Believer Baby’s position better because they like Believer Baby himself better. It also plays to the stereotype that atheists are just nasty, condescending jerks.
            The other dishonest thing it’s supposed to do is distract you from the fact that both babies are arguing in exactly the same manner. Each one is simply declaring things that they have no way of knowing. One is being a jerk about it, and the other is being nice, but they are both doing the same thing. Of course, here’s where the author cheats: he always has Atheist Baby assert with absolute conviction and contempt things that we know are wrong, and Believer Baby assert in a reasonable-sounding and friendly manner things that we know are true.
            And that’s the trick. The author is trying to make you think that this analogy of birth and life is comparable to real questions about death and the afterlife. There’s never any reason given in the story to think that either baby could possibly know anything about what happens after birth. But the author, and anyone reading this thing, lives in the world that Believer Baby is describing. Believer Baby says correct things only because the author knows they’re correct and puts those words in his mouth. Atheist Baby says incorrect things only because the author knows they’re incorrect and puts those words in his mouth.
            The thing is Believer Baby could have spoken any nonsense at all, and Atheist Baby would have had exactly as much reason to believe it as he has to believe what was actually said in the story. It’s the fact that you already know what happens after birth that the author counts on to get you to skate past the fact that Believer Baby hasn’t actually justified anything he said. The author wants you to believe that, because Believer Baby is right about birth, then you ought to accept that religious believers are right about death. Which is why it’s funny that I’ve found this story on different sites promoting different religions, each of which have different beliefs about what the afterlife is like. The story is, conveniently, vague enough to be useful to promote pretty much any afterlife you want.

             All of that in addition to just the practical questions about the story itself. Such as:

·         How do these babies even know about birth in the first place? They would never have been in the womb to see one.
·         Where did Believer Baby get the idea of walking? It isn’t even a concept that would make sense to someone whose only experience is floating in a cramped uterus.
·         Are we supposed to think all this knowledge was inherent, or mystically imparted? If so, why was only one baby gifted with the knowledge of what the outside world is like, when both were gifted with the knowledge of what birth is?

Further, the analogy of birth with death is just a bad one because they are very different processes. An observer in the womb sees a completely different situation during birth than an observer in the world sees during death. If you were watching a birth from inside the womb, you would see a physical baby moving through an aperture in a physical barrier. You’d probably still hear their voice from the other side, suggesting they continue to exist in some other space. You might know little to nothing about it, but there should be little doubt that the baby has gone someplace else. It’s literally just like someone walking into another room – a change of location rather than a change of state. Whereas in death, the dead person physically remains here, but has lost the quality of being animate and able to interact volitionally with others. You don’t see him pass through anything, you don’t see him going anywhere, he didn’t leave. He has changed state without changing location. This is just a terrible analogy.

            This is not a beautiful story. It’s ugly from its core. It’s a deception, and a manipulation, based entirely on using unpleasant stereotypes to hide bad reasoning. And it is those things, even if you ultimately agree with what it’s selling.