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Austin Cline

Christianity, Atheism, and Suicide

By December 30, 2004

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Christians sometimes wonder why atheists don't commit suicide, as if life weren't worth living in the absence of their god and their heaven. They don't commit suicide in order to get to heaven more quickly, though, because suicide is a "sin." But where does it say that suicide is a sin?

Mooglar writes:

[I]f you ask about 99% of Christians where this whole idea of suicide being a sin and a bad thing came from, they will say, "The Bible," "Jesus," or, "I don't know." The correct answer, of course, is that it comes from St. Augustine's City of God. There's a bit about suicide in the Old Testament, but at times it is said to be wrong and at other times it is pretty clearly seen to be a heroic act. But never anything like an "unforgivable" or "mortal" sin as many Christians believe today. And Jesus says not one single word about suicide, nor does Paul.

[E]ssentially, Augustine argued that suicide was a sin in the eyes of Jesus more or less because having Christians get eaten by lions was good for recruiting. Which really doesn't apply anymore. And, in any case, almost no Christians know where the 'no suicide' dictum even came from. As such, why do Christians all seem to know it and cling to it so fiercely? Because, in the dark of night, when they're all alone and scared, in their deepest heart of hearts, they doubt that God exists.

Augustine's dictum is a way of dodging the truth: that if they were really, really sure paradise was around the corner, they'd be a lot more anxious to go there. They wouldn't have to commit suicide. Just take a dangerous, but good job, and get killed helping others. Not only is that good deed your ticket to Jesus' buffet table in the sky, but it's a quick ticket too. But they don't do that. Instead, Christians stay here on Earth and spend a hell of a lot of time worrying about what other people believe and trying to define atheists out of existence.

This author discusses an important issue which I have only touched upon here and there before: believers' attempts to appropriate the power of organizations like the state may largely be the product of a need to reinforce their own beliefs against the power of doubt and skepticism. So long as the state doesn't back their religion, then alternatives are presumed to be just as good. This isn't acceptable to someone who doubts yet doesn't want to disbelieve. People who are weak in their faith need regular reinforcement and propping up and what better means for achieving that than the coercive power of the government?

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Comments
May 6, 2006 at 8:11 pm
(1) jeff says:

According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, non-belivers have a higher rate of suicide.

May 6, 2006 at 8:48 pm
(2) atheism says:

Such studies don’t control for things like involvement in social and community groups.

May 2, 2008 at 12:56 am
(3) Brett Grindel says:

i’m sorry but this article is incorrect. suicide is in fact named as a sin in the bible. suicide is taking the life of a human, it is murder. suicide is noted in the bible. please e-mail me back if you contest this

February 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm
(4) riley says:

Yes, but it doesn’t say that it is a sin to kill yourself, in terms of suicide. Does it?

May 8, 2008 at 5:45 pm
(5) J Dave G says:

OK, who the heck is mooglar? If you want us to take you seriously maybe you should ask a Christian what Christians think about suicide. Sheesh.

August 17, 2008 at 12:11 pm
(6) christian says:

It is all about a christian’s trust in God. People who commit suicide often dont have faith that there is a plan for their life. They feel that they are not in control of anything but the ability to end it all.God’s plan is not death, but life. You must give your worries to God. I personally believe that if you are not filled with the Holy Spirit, then you are filled with something else,ie. depression,addiction, after awhile you self destruct. I do agree if the bible said even if you kill yourself, you will go to heaven, alot more suicides would happen, even Paul said thet he would rather be in heaven with the Lord. Likewise, if it said we’d go straight to hell, then that would defeat the purpose of faith. Christianity is the only religion in which you have something(heaven) to lose. Atheist, why not trust God? Why not try Jesus as a friend? Have you ever had that tugging feeling at your heart, or feel any type of void? Just try to pray, your life will be changed for ever. I leave you with this; if you meet me and forget me, you have lost nothing, if you meet Jesus and forget him, you have lost everything:)

January 25, 2009 at 3:50 pm
(7) Lori says:

Depression occurs no matter what your religion or beliefs. It is based on brain chemistry, NOT personal convictions. How you handle depression, however, is very likely to be based on your personal beliefs. I am a Christian and have suffered from depression most of my adult life. I had it before I became a Christian and I still have it. I have absolutely no doubt in my own mind that God exists and Christ exists and I will go to Heaven when I die, but that isn’t always enough to keep the agonizing pain of depression at bay. I have thought of suicide, probably more before I became a Christian than now, but that is probably because now with years of feeling this way under my belt, I know the agony will remit and I will feel normal for awhile.

February 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm
(8) Jay says:

Do you really believe?
Knowing the earth will evolve into nothingness in about 8 billion years, the galaxy will become extinct … do you really believe a personal god has dominion?
Sit back for an hour or two and really think about how much free will you have. If you are honest with yourself you will understand that your life is one of reacting to outside influences, nothing more. This is true on an individual basis, a local basis, a national basis and internationally.
We, as individuals, like to rationalize that we are in control to some degree, but we are not.
We came from nothing and will return to nothing upon death.
The energy that is behind all of what we witness probably does not even know of our existence. Our “big bang” may be a small bang among even larger “big bangs”, far beyond anything we can even contemplate.
Because a “god” that influences each life does not exist does not mean peoples cannot live in harmony if we individually govern our ego and greed.
Obviously human nature has not progressed with the adoption of a god(s), only technology has progressed
Tecnology does not require a belief in a supreme being only in the utilization of the evolving brain.
Adopt a positive look at life and put your belief in fellow human beings.

June 13, 2009 at 7:57 pm
(9) sparrow says:

I’ve been a Christian for only a few years. I want to suggest an unusual hypothesis: God is omniscient, so there is a plan. If a person were to commit suicide, it would be only because they were in a state of mind that God allows: in other words, God would permit a person in such agony of mind to take their own life. It wouldn’t be unnatural. God is absolute compassion.

October 7, 2009 at 3:46 pm
(10) Mohammad says:

but suicide is a sin in other religons
“O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities ……….. and never kill yourselves:: for verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful! ” translation of (Qur’an 4:29)

February 25, 2011 at 5:22 pm
(11) Sandra says:

Christians who have Jesus in there lives have joy and peace even through the most difficult trials in life. If I didn’t have this awesome relationship there really wouldn’t be anything worth living for. I don’t know what I’d do without my Jesus!

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