The suicide rate is a key indicator of not only a people’s health, but of their standards of morality and compassion, and how they value life. Research conducted in the US finds that depression and suicide (both attempted and completed), are significantly higher among the religiously unaffiliated than betwixt those with religious affiliation (see my previous posts here and here). However, are such findings consistent internationally? Yes. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman confirms the inverse relationship between religion and suicide repeats internationally, where suicide declines with greater religiosity. Concentrating on male suicide rates, Zuckerman finds that 9 of the top 10 countries with the highest suicide rate are highly irreligious, Sri Lanka being the exception.
It is now indesputable that religion is the basis of a happy, strong, rational, mentally well adjusted inidvidual. A 2006 Sao Paulo University meta-review of 850 studies on religion and mental health, for example, concluded “that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse.”
In fact religion’s positive contribution to mental health is so powerful it extends beyond the religious. In a study of 90,000 individuals over 26 countries in Europe in 2009,Professors Andrew E. Clark and and Orsolya Lelkes found that “religious behaviour” is not only positively correlated with “life satisfaction” among religiously affiliated individuals by whom it is practiced but also often of the irreligious people around them. In other words, there is a “spinoff” effect whereby the positive mental health outcomes spawned by the religious practices of religiously-affiliated individuals frequently extends to non-religious individuals. This, however, is only true in regions of high religiosity. In regions of high irreligiosity or atheism, the opposite tends to occur, with the psychological misery of the non-religious often infecting the religious.
This is no surprise because not only does religion form the basis of an individual’s mental health but it also provides the individual with the ability to help those around him through valuing their lives and reinforcing their inherent worth through comfort and compassion. As it states in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 God is “the Father of compassion and…of all comfort.” We who accept God are comforted by Him “in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.”
This is not to state that atheism causes suicide and other mental health problems as there is insufficient evidence at this point to make such a definitive conclusion. Atheism, however, provides life with no meaning, morality or value; it does not give life any sanctity, purpose, significance or inherent worth; it offers no rationale why life should be lived or propagated, and no reason to oppose suicide; it is, in its most extreme forms, nihilistic and, to quote Bertrand Russell, “the firm foundation of unyielding dispair.”
Life’s inherent and objective meaning, morality, purpose, value, substance and worth have been and shall remain gifts given to us by God, communicated to us through religion. To reject religion is to reject God and vice versa, and to do so means you are left to your own devices, and to ultimate failure. As it loses its religion, a nation becomes deprived of any objective moral and intellectual foundation for opposing not only suicide but any method of taking life, including murder; indeed it loses any objective reason for opposing anything once thought of as morally reprehensible, as it descends into unending despair and “blind indifference.”
Suicide, here, becomes just another routine, ho-hum aspect of daily life; more than this, it becomes an essential part of the “survival of the fittest,” and thus something that must be allowed to play itself out, unhindered by unnatural barriers or irrational human emotions, because, as militant atheist James Randi proclaims, suicide is simply a way to weed out the weak, strengthen the human gene pool and “clear the air.” Perhaps, then, suicide should even be facilitated and celebrated, and indeed, in the most suicide-friendly countries, which are also the most atheist or irreligious, it does often morph into the cultural/social and often state approved panacea for any and every personal, mental and physical illness, irregularity, issue or problem afflicting an individual, including newborns. This includes anorexia, bulimia, blindness, depression, disability, economic distress, muffed operations, like gender reassignment surgery, and simply being elderly. This liberal approach is often called “dying with dignity,” “end of life care,” “euthanasia,” “right to die” or some other humane-sounding euphemism; in reality, it is probably just survival of the fittest being facilitated at the expense of human compassion, medical care and valuing life.
For example, in Holland, a nation so Godless that even 1 in 6 pastors is atheist, a country so liberal and irreligious that atheists often hold it up as a prime example of the wonders their rejection of religion can bring, since it legalized euthanasia in 2002, “medical care for the terminally-ill” has declined,” as one of the architects of this legalization, Dr. Els Borst, admits. Dr. Anne-Marie The has further found “palliative care…so inadequate in Holland that patients ‘often ask for euthanasia out of fear’ of dying in agony because care and pain relief is so poor.” Even more, “there have been thousands of cases of involuntary euthanasia and dozens of killings of disabled newborns.” Holland now has a movement promoting assisted suicide for those over 70, including for no other reason than they are “tired” or their lives have supposedly been “completed” and serve no further purpose. In Japan, as The New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar writes, “suicide can absolve guilt and cancel debt, can restore honor and prove loyalty…Suicide can be a gesture of moral integrity and freedom, or an act of beauty.”
While I do not say atheism causes suicide and other mental health problems, it does help create a culture of death that cheapens, wastes, destroys and discards life; one in which suicide becomes culturally, financially, medically, naturally, politically and socially justified and preferred over compassion, effective cures, palliative care and any other means that resolves, betters or manages that which encourages or results in suicide. The opposite is true with religion, especially high religiosity.