Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Is Suicide A Result of Atheism/Secularism?

I recently received a message from a friend on Facebook. This came a day or so after the fourth suicide of a young gay man was reported within the previous week or so. Much was being made of this tragic trend and I had just reposted a short video message that Ellen Degeneres had sent out about the matter. I certainly don't want to embarrass my friend so I've reviewed his comment carefully and removed any information that might identify him. I promise you the character and content of his argument has remained intact as it was offered:

Hi Nate, you know I think you are a very Smart man, and I respect you. I guess I don’t comprehend why you find it so hard to understand in today’s society That some young people see ending it all as a pliable option when met with one life’s many seemingly insurmountable challenges. In a secular society you tell him he is just a biological accident, he is jus one of thousands of species of animal, that is evolving. There is no creator that loves him enough to die for him. He has no God ordained purpose in this life. His goal in life is simply to pursue happiness, do what is rite for you. Then all the sudden something happens, and happiness is fleeting. And you feel nothing but pain. Your sure you will never be happy again,Without hope (faith), wanting to stop that pain, is a very logical conclusion, especially if it has no eternal ramifications. Where is the surprise? I think are going to see more and more of this sad sad event happening, with the direction our society seems to be taking. Buy the way this one is reguarding a being gay issue, but it could be his Girlfreind left him or I did not make the football Team ect.ect. What do you think?

I read the missive to my fiancée and pondered it for several days before replying. This is what I wrote back to my friend. Again, I've redacted any personal information to protect his privacy:

Hi xxxx:

Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I wanted to dwell on what you said before I responded. You actually cover quite a lot of territory here. It's always difficult to respond effectively without being able to go back and forth until I'm sure I know exactly what your argument is.

Since we're using this medium, I'll just say that I think the crux of your argument is that a faith in god is the ultimate justification for stepping away from thoughts of suicide. That it is the hope of a better eternity that will act to restore one's hope here on earth and pull them back from the edge...from ending it all.

My initial thought is that, steeped in the pain of abuse, bullying, abandonment, debilitating physical pain, etc., a believer would find comfort in the idea of ending it so they can finally be in the peace and comfort promised in heaven. It's my personal opinion that the Catholic church recognized that very danger long ago and created the threat of eternal suffering for those who take their lives just to make sure they didn't go that direction. In other words, they recognized the inherent risk in an eternity based focus as opposed to a temporal one.

Secondly, in order to assert the position you've taken, I think you would have to demonstrate that most, if not all, suicides were committed by non-believers. I don't know if such information even exists out there, but I'm confident that no one can make such an assertion successfully. Therefore, any argument that faith in god is the solution to the problem of suicide fails on the empirical evidence alone.

Thirdly, sort of as a reverse argument to my first point, it is my own opinion today that since I don't hold out hope that there will be something better after my time on earth, I find the need to make this life relevant far more compelling then I ever did before. In other words, since this is all I have, my thoughts always bring me back to...make it as good as you can while you're here. This notion flies in the face of arguing that it's easier to kill myself if life becomes too difficult.

I believe it is deeply ingrained in our "lizard brain" to stay alive. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence for this argument in the world. We don't gleefully run in front of cars. The rustling in the bushes sends us running the other direction for fear of being eaten. The essence of most of our instinctive fears lies in the concern that we will die. It is that force, more than any other, that prevents their being a much greater number of suicides among the human population. Consider the Jews in Nazi Germany. Up until they were thrown into ovens or gas chambers, in the most horrific physical and psychological pain, they clung to life.

From that I would turn to what I see is the real issue that needs to be addressed in this specific case. I realize you argue this is a broader issue then homosexuality, but I think that's a red herring. The statistics show that young gay men are four times more likely to take their lives. A combination of youthful ignorance about the nature of life and the unceasing social judgement that takes many forms, including bullying and physical abuse, convinces way too many of these young men that they aren't worthy of life. Imagine for a moment that you lived in a world like that xxxx, that society told you something you were born with...something you had no control over (yes, I know that you will argue this point, but I am convinced homosexuality is as biological as black skin so I'll make this argument) brands you as less valuable than other humans.

If you have trouble with this argument, take a moment to substitute black for gay because the exact same ratio of suicides existed among black people during the decades of racism in America. At the heart of this problem is not a belief in god, but old fashion human prejudice, how we treat others. I too worry that we will see more of these tragedies, I simply disagree with the cause and the solution that you propose. In fact, it is quite possible that one of the reasons behind some of these suicides is the certainty these young men carry in their heads that the christian god hates them and considers them worthless.

In the face of relentless negative social messages, rejection by family members, notions of supernatural hatred, is it any wonder that so many young people look out into the future and see darkness? This is a problem that we can easily fix by turning our back on dark age mythology and embracing human kindness, greater empathy and education. This isn't a spiritual problem. The solution lies here on earth, in the hearts of men.

My thoughts on Snyder -vs- Phelps

I just received a private message from a friend on Facebook commenting on today's oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Snyder -vs- Phelps case. I wanted to share the response I sent to him:

In the run up to today's oral arguments there has been an explosion of articles throughout the U.S. touting the unassailable right of people to exercise religion and free speech in America. However, one of the primary purposes of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution and address issues where two or more rights conflict in American society.

In my five years in Canada, I've come to better understand this notion that with rights come responsibilities. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. But that's an aside.

My own opinion on this matter flows from the certainty that no founding father could have imagined ever having to deal with people standing outside a funeral taunting the family and loved ones of the deceased. It is my hope that this is the reason the Court agreed to hear this case and that they will find good cause to protect the rights of mourners from the untimely exercise of free speech rights.

In other words, the limitation of my family's right to speak freely and exercise their religion outside a funeral should not be viewed as an onerous burden on them or anyone else in our society. Nor should it be viewed as an intolerable erosion of our rights to free speech. There already exists a pantheon of exceptions to the right of free speech. If ever there existed a new, justifiable, restriction on free speech, it is this one.