Recently, I have had some trying times. In talking with some of my friends (Christians), suicide came up. They were afraid I would do something like "kill myself". With that said, they gave me reason why I shouldn't: I would go to hell, some afterlife scenario...
Well, since I don't believe in heaven or hell or some type of punishment from God, what would stop me from doing it. Well, I have people who love me, that's why. However, that made me think...hmmmmm
Are atheists more prone to comitting suicide because they have no expectations of some type of punishment from God in the afterlife. Maybe, the fear of God has kept many people from doing that very thing. But what if you do not have a fear of God. What if you believe your purpose in life is to live and die. Nothing more, nothing less. What if you don't believe you have to fullfill some divine plan?
I think most people have to have that type of belief as a copng mechanism. In my trying time, I was told "God can do anything. Let go and let God...". And I so badly, wanted to believe that! But the harsh reality for me was no God was gonna come clean this mess up for me, ever!!!!! Which made me feel really down. But my friend had cancer, and was jolly as ever. Why? Because he knew God would heal him. Which he did finally become cancer free. His belief in God, kept him going thru it all.
I don't know. I just wondered if there were any statistics on suicide rates of atheists vs christians.
There is some information about suicide in Phil Zuckerman's excellent paper on atheism and societal well-being: http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Athe.... Apparently, at least in America, suicide rates are lower among churchgoers. It was the only metric by which religious countries fared better than secular countries.
Thanks for the link. I was trying to read thru it quickly, while at work. Interesting thus far!
Navitta, I hope you are not feeling suicidal. You are an interesting, thoughtful person. I want you in my world. I, too, have suffered with depression and some very hard times. It's true, atheists must give reason to our own lives. What would you like to change in the world? What can you do to promote those changes? Working toward those changes gives meaning. Also, joy, fun, affection, food, music, nature, intellectual curiosity, adventure, travel, and all the other pleasures, give us comfort, rest, and a respite from the troubles we face, and from our work of improving this, our only, world.
I intend to commit suicide when, and if, my health fails, and a long, painful death seems inevitable. Until that time, I'm here. I'll try to accomplish something.
You, Navitta, are full of potential. I wish you happiness, love, and purpose!
Thanks, so much. Time are hard, right now. But, I am trying to keep up the fight!
It would be hard to find useful data on that since people lie while they are alive and we can't ask them what they truly believed after they're dead. I'm fine with there not being a reason for life. I've had my bouts with depression and considered suicide many times, but I was always able to understand that my feelings were a result of being depressed and that they would eventually pass. I only speak from my experience, of course. My point is that god was NEVER a factor.
This is something that I've thought about once or twice and my take is pretty simple: Depression is a horrible, lonely, isolated feeling. I've been there. I think most of us have been there once or twice. But I think suicide is more of a believer's choice because they think "there will be something better in the next life." However, since atheists don't have that delusion, they will think far harder about ending everything for all time. Life may suck, but being gone forever probably sucks more. At least alive, we have the ability to make things better. Dead is dead.
As for your friend with cancer. It's great that he got better, absolutely. But unless he did nothing but sit at home and pray and that healed him, then no credit should go to any god. It was doctors, medicine, and science that caused the cancer to go into remission. Not prayer. Not god. So if his denial of reality kept him happy, well so be it. But it's nothing but a lie he told himself to keep from facing his own mortality.
There are studies that say religious people commit suicide less than non-religious people, but I have serious doubts as to how they came to those conclusions. Considering atheists value life far more than the religious do (the only lives they care about are the unborn and those who want to die [euthanasia]. Everyone else is fair game) and don't bank of something better "on the other side," I find it hard to believe that non-believers wouldn't work extra hard to get through their issues because they know this is their one go-round in this universe and how UNIMAGINABLY lucky they are to have ever have the chance to live at all.
But that's just my opinion.
Thanks for your response! Yeah, I believe it wasn't God that healed him, but like you said, it helped him from facing his own mortality. Therefore, stopping him from slipping a deep depression and keeping him in a positive spirit (so to speak).
We share the same last name, Trevor. Maybe we are related, lol.
About "purpose in life" ... you give your life purpose. Period.
I have been depressed and semi-suicidal since my early teens (when I was trying to be a Christian, but not succeeding). I found things and friends that kept me going. When I went through some other rough spots (mostly financial...and an employer who was a whistling bitch) later there were finally medications like Paxil that I took for a year, and it helped immensely. And nothing terrible happened when I stopped taking it.
There is NO shame IMO in needing medical help and asking for it.
And clinical depression does run in my family, just like diabetes. (I'm SO proud that I never passed on either condition by refusing to have children!) It IS connected to brain chemistry, and the only thing you can do for it is correct the chemistry. "Talk therapy" doesn't work. THAT is as useful as xian science. Pleh.
Navitta, this is a great idea for a discussion! Thanks for bringing it up, for it's one of the aspects of atheism I don't think many atheists have ready answers for.
This is a subject that's touched me personally. I attempted suicide and was unsuccessful, and I have a few uncles and a cousin that were. I discovered something about our family history that was simply not discussed, given that we were a third-generation Jehovah's Witness family - especially males in my line going back several generations tend to have severe depression and are very prone to suicide. Just bringing it up to the various relatives involved has allowed us all to recognize this formally and to get help for those members who are at risk. As fundamentalists (which JWs decidedly are) it was not discussed, and was in fact hidden as much as possible. This was a disservice that I, as an atheist, have helped to rectify to some degree.
What you say in the original post is quite true: Theists have an extra incentive to avoid suicide. In my experience, most atheists fail to make the connection between suicide and 'mortal sin' for the religious, that there are injunctions against it in almost every religion. Literally, if you kill yourself, you're destroying a temple to god, and are headed for oblivion or perdition, depending on the flavor. This counts as a huge disincentive in my books.
It is not only unfair, but downright ridiculous to assume that believers value life less than we atheists do. I tend to avoid sweeping generalizations like that, being unfounded and opinion-based. What is clear to me is that humans value life, whatever their circumstances. We can, however, value life less than the magnitude of our real or potential suffering, no matter what we believe about the afterlife. Suicide is a choice, and we are all free to make it, provided we succeed.
In very real terms, theists have a coping mechanism that we lack. It isn't necessarily that god will rectify the situation they find themselves in, but just that he is there to listen. In this same regard, confession to a priest or other clergy critter must have some positive therapeutic benefits to the conscience-stricken offender. Even the effect on the surviving family members is magnified in the mind of the suicidal theist, given that they will likely believe their loved one is suffering every time they think of them. Regardless of whether the person believes in an afterlife themselves, they will hesitate just that little bit more when considering the severe and continued anguish they will be instigating.
Finally, I believe that the intense social situations of churches and other religious groups are a stark comparison to atheists, who have our own social structures but mostly lack formal gatherings. In short, it is far simpler to tell that something is wrong with a person you have known for years through shared worship than it is to see these same signs in someone we may only see at social functions, or at least more infrequently than the religious tend to.
We atheists do have an advantage that many theists lack, though. We tend to be much more aware of the power of our own minds, that we do not attribute malign influence to what is essentially a chemical or structural problem in our brains. It may be far easier for an atheist to accept they have a real problem that needs to be clinically treated in order to achieve a positive outcome. Theists may use their belief in the transformative power of prayer and faith to avoid taking a pharmaceutical approach, and may even consider it to be a disloyal lack of faith in 'god the healer'.
Afterlife is something I believe every human would like to be true. I would certainly like to sit up after death and be conscious in some form, even if that meant the heaven so poorly described by theists of all stripes. The fact is that there is no good reason to believe it to be true - there is no evidence for it and much knowledge gained that counts against the possibility. This discussion puts me in mind of an excellent quote:
"We would all like to believe that there is a meaningful world beyond our own capacity to inject meaning into it. We'd like to suppose that life goes on after our own death. We would like to believe that the people we most love will continue to exist. It's very hard to be told that all these wonderful people will cease to exist altogether. Furthermore, we'd like there to be justice in the end, since it's obvious there is no justice here on Earth. We would very much like there to be a 'Divine Justice' which will come. The problem is that those are things we'd like to believe. We really have no evidence to suppose that they're true and we ought methodologically to be suspicious of believing something that we very much want to believe, something that would make us immensely satisfied, which would make us happier if we could believe it. I think religion is here to stay because it does satisfy those needs but intellectually I don't think you can justify it. The arguments for God's existence are uniformly bad." - John Berkeley
Wow, sorry for the length! :)