# Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempts

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Here's a clinical study from the The American Journal of Psychiatry regarding religious affiliation and suicide attempts. I find the results interesting:

RESULTS: Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. Unaffiliated subjects were younger' date=' less often married, less often had children, and had less contact with family members. Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder. No differences in the level of subjective and objective depression, hopelessness, or stressful life events were found.

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I find this at odds with my own beliefs and would not have expected this outcome. From my own POV I would expect a belief in heaven to raise the likelihood of suicide over atheism but this seems to not be the case. What do you think?

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Suicide is considered a form of murder by many religions. In some you give up your shot at an afterlife if you kill yourself. You can't be forgiven until you commit the sin, and then you're dead and can't ask for forgiveness.

Perhaps they feel it's best to be patient when dealing with eternity?

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Perhaps it's due to the threatened punishment of eternal damnation. If you don't believe, then there are no consequences directly to you after your act (although, the family has to deal). If you do believe, then you're afraid of the fiery inferno and having to videotape saddam hussein fornicating with lucifer.

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I think that the belief in evolution is evolutionarily harmful to individuals (less likely to expend effort), whereas the belief that there is a purpose to life and work is benefitial (more likely to expend effort). Since a belief in heaven requires a belief in a purpose for life, it would generally be benefitial. Sometimes you can be too smart for your own good, you know.

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Perhaps it's due to the threatened punishment of eternal damnation. If you don't believe, then there are no consequences directly to you after your act (although, the family has to deal). If you do believe, then you're afraid of the fiery inferno and having to videotape saddam hussein fornicating with lucifer.

Nope, or at least not in my case, for me it would be like slapping God in the face saying I dont Want your gift!

imagine how you would feel if your child did that to you with a gift you gave him/her?

I think that the belief in evolution is evolutionarily harmful to individuals (less likely to expend effort)

Im a Firm beleiver in Evolution, I would have to be Blind not to, all the evidence so far supports it, I would take a Hell of a LOT of convincing that it wasnt true! even then I think I would want a second opinion.

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Nope, or at least not in my case, for me it would be like slapping God in the face saying I dont Want your gift!

imagine how you would feel if your child did that to you with a gift you gave him/her?

Interesting point. Thanks.

The whole "surrender to a higher power" thing and humility toward a creator doesn't make a lot of sense to me, especially in the face of the arrogance most people have when claiming their connection to the supernatural... but that's another conversation I suppose.

Thanks for the reminder that often it's gratitude based instead of fear based.

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What about "spiritual" atheists, or theists who don't necessarily believe in the Christian/Muslim/Jewish/whatever God, or Buddhists, or, well, anybody who isn't part of the religious establishment but still believes in some sort of purpose?

Just because they aren't religious in the traditional sense doesn't mean that those groups are necessarily more likely to commit suicide...

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Im a Firm beleiver in Evolution, I would have to be Blind not to, all the evidence so far supports it, I would take a Hell of a LOT of convincing that it wasnt true! even then I think I would want a second opinion.

I wasn't saying evolution is wrong, only that belief in evolution might reduce people's evolutionary fitness, as compared to belief in a religion. Consider, for example, your average evolutionist vs your average Catholic:

Who is more likely to use birth control?

Who is more likely to have an abortion?

Who is more likely to get married?

Who is more likely to commit suicide?

Who is more likely to receive assistance if they have important (eg food, health) problems?

Hence, who is more likely to have more kids, and therefore a higher evolutionary fitness?

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I choose to believe that consciousness lives on after this body is dead. Beyond that I prefer not to set too much else in stone. But it does give me a pretty strong reason to rule out suicide as an option. If consciousness continues it means I have more to learn in this form and I can be immensely patient about that.

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well, Im not Really the ideal person to ask this sort of question to (Im only a Christian), but Ill give you MY Opinion if itll be of any help?

the numbers added in Bold are mine:

1. Who is more likely to use birth control?

2. Who is more likely to have an abortion?

3. Who is more likely to get married?

4. Who is more likely to commit suicide?

5. Who is more likely to receive assistance if they have important (eg food, health) problems?

6. Hence, who is more likely to have more kids, and therefore a higher evolutionary fitness?

1. on a Percentage basis of Populous? impossible to determine (what percentage of the population are catholics? I have no idea). I cant answer that question with Any degree of accuracy or confidence, I just Dont Know.

2. Anyone that believes they require it (although it is frowned upon in Catholic)

4. well according that study presented by the OP, non-theist (but you already know that).

5. the Rich! plain and simple, nothing at all to do with religion!

6. LOL, young teenage Children that think they know everything! now that IS fact! (certainly in this area!).

now youll note that I answered all your points Correctly to MY understanding and I wasnt going to be LEAD into any false conclusions or set myself up for Strawman attacks

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Who is more likely to use birth control?

Non-catholics. (which includes baptist, etc)

Who is more likely to have an abortion?

Non-christians Id guess.

Who is more likely to get married?

Less career/education oriented people (id guess smarts play a role in this too)

Who is more likely to commit suicide?

Looks like non-religious people.

Who is more likely to receive assistance if they have important (eg food, health) problems?

anyone I imagine, welfare / gov programs cant discriminant.

Hence, who is more likely to have more kids, and therefore a higher evolutionary fitness?

Well, according to statistics less developed countries have higher birth rates. Also, less educated non-career oriented people in developed countries have higher birth rates.

So....I think there might be something to your idea, but more likely I think there are other factors that play the true role of making people have less evolutionary fitness.

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I have read a couple of articles about the psychology of suicide bombers. While I can't remember all the details, one point stands out.

The motive is always social. The people who volunteer to be suicide bombers always are treated as being very high status. They are treated with enormous high esteem and respect from the group. These people are made to feel special, and made to feel very superior. Alpha males!

Often, when the death gets closer, they start getting less certain of their path, and a number of would-be suicide bombers have chickened out, and fled - even surrendering to authority. This, of course, is a prime source of information for those researching the psychology.

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I think that the belief in evolution is evolutionarily harmful to individuals (less likely to expend effort), whereas the belief that there is a purpose to life and work is benefitial (more likely to expend effort). Since a belief in heaven requires a belief in a purpose for life, it would generally be benefitial. Sometimes you can be too smart for your own good, you know.

How does this benefit of purpose relate to one's morals? The study concluded that that greater moral objections to suicide and lower aggression level in religiously affiliated subjects may function as protective factors against suicide attempts. For me this raises a question of the differences in moral beliefs between the religious and irreligious. In this review of the posted study it is noted:

According to the 2003 World Health Organization's report on international male suicides rates (which compared 100 countries)' date=' of the top ten nations with the highest male suicide rates, all but one (Sri Lanka) are strongly irreligious nations with high levels of atheism...

It is important to keep in mind that atheism and agnosticism have no inherent proscription against suicide, so higher rates of suicide among agnostics and atheists should in no way be considered a failure of these belief systems. Indeed, compassionate tolerance for suicide and euthenasia are widely regarded as hallmarks of many secular societies.

The list of countries with the highest levels of atheism, agnosticism and non-belief in God (see: Largest Atheist Populations, reporting lists by Zuckerman, 2005, and Greeley/Jagodzinski, 1991) strongly correlates with countries that have the most liberal (or "progressive") laws, policies and practices regarding right-to-die, assisted suicide, and euthenasia for infants, the terminally ill, chronic pain sufferers, the handicapped, and depressed individuals.

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For me this raises the question of what is or is not moral about support or objections to suicide. For deists, like YT, they consider it a moral offense to commit suicide or provide assistance to those that wish to do so. I wonder though if this is moral in cases like the terminally ill suffering to the point of having no enjoyable quality of life, i.e. no further purpose to life than suffering. IMO, it is more moral to assist these people with as painless a passing as possible than to keep them alive against their will for fear of offending some deity. I should point out that none of the subjects in the study were in this situation though; it dealt with depressed individuals only.

Another thing I happened to notice was that all of the religiously affiliated subjects belonged to faiths which believe in a deity. I could find no statistical data on people with a belief system that does not believe in a deity like humanists, Buddhists, etc.. Would such people be considered as religiously affiliated in spite of their disbelief in deities?

My personal belief is that this is the only life I get. That there is no heaven, hell or other afterlife to move on to. Suicide would simply be a termination of my one and only chance to enjoy life. I wonder why anyone would want to throw away that one chance and yet, the highest atheist populations of the world suffer the highest suicide rates. Is my belief uncommon among atheists?

I have read a couple of articles about the psychology of suicide bombers.

That highlights another unconsidered aspect, religiously motivated suicide. This group believes that suicide will take them to the promised land. I think this particular group would benefit from becoming irreligious.

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To doG

I think you may have missed the point of my post. According to those studies, religion is NOT the reason people become suicide bombs. Social approval is.

Remember, these guys are members of some weird and extreme social groups. Approval comes from abnormal behaviour.

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To doG

I think you may have missed the point of my post. According to those studies, religion is NOT the reason people become suicide bombs. Social approval is.

Remember, these guys are members of some weird and extreme social groups. Approval comes from abnormal behaviour.

Are you saying that these people are not trying to claim their 72 virgins? That there is no religious motivation at all? If things are as you say the why do we not see suicide bombers from other social groups?

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For me this raises the question of what is or is not moral about support or objections to suicide. For deists, like YT, they consider it a moral offense to commit suicide or provide assistance to those that wish to do so. I wonder though if this is moral in cases like the terminally ill suffering to the point of having no enjoyable quality of life, i.e. no further purpose to life than suffering. IMO, it is more moral to assist these people with as painless a passing as possible than to keep them alive against their will for fear of offending some deity. I should point out that none of the subjects in the study were in this situation though; it dealt with depressed individuals only.

I consider it a moral offense to commit suicide without a good reason. Being terminally ill, mentally half-there, and incurable pain might count. Being bored doesn't quite cut it IMO. I once contemplated suicide, and concluded that the proper way to do it would be to donate all my organs to people who would appreciate them more than me, but I doubt any doctor would have anything to do with such a thing. In the end, it gave me a better perspective on life.

Another thing I happened to notice was that all of the religiously affiliated subjects belonged to faiths which believe in a deity. I could find no statistical data on people with a belief system that does not believe in a deity like humanists, Buddhists, etc.. Would such people be considered as religiously affiliated in spite of their disbelief in deities?

Most people would call Buddhism a religion. One would think that different religions would have different suicide rates. And society would have significant effects -- eg the rules for Seppuku for Samuri.

My personal belief is that this is the only life I get. That there is no heaven, hell or other afterlife to move on to. Suicide would simply be a termination of my one and only chance to enjoy life. I wonder why anyone would want to throw away that one chance and yet, the highest atheist populations of the world suffer the highest suicide rates. Is my belief uncommon among atheists?

Don't discount the possibility of an afterlife. If you count cryogenics as an afterlife anyhow

That highlights another unconsidered aspect, religiously motivated suicide. This group believes that suicide will take them to the promised land. I think this particular group would benefit from becoming irreligious.

And yet the suicide bombings have been quite successful for the groups, if not the individuals, that employ them. As others have mentioned, these people also get some real world benefits such as social status (and I am sure that there are arrangements to reward their family as well).

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doG said :

"Are you saying that these people are not trying to claim their 72 virgins? That there is no religious motivation at all? If things are as you say the why do we not see suicide bombers from other social groups?"

I am not claiming to be an expert here. I read a couple of articles, is all. They said that the primary motiviation for the suicide bombers was social. I personally suspect that the religious thing was a rationalisation. However, rationalisations can be powerful too.

And we do see suicide bombers from other social groups. Even hear of the Tamil Tigers?

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They said that the primary motiviation for the suicide bombers was social. I personally suspect that the religious thing was a rationalisation. However, rationalisations can be powerful too.

And we do see suicide bombers from other social groups. Even hear of the Tamil Tigers?

I suspect patriotism is a primary motivation with religious and social rationalizations. In societies where government and law is founded in religion then patriotism itself would stem from religious belief to some degree. I think social reward would play a role as a rationalization in these cases.

Yes, I have heard of the Tamil Tigers and suspect as well that patriotism to the cultural sect of these individuals is one of the primary factors for their action. I would agree that social reward plays a role in the motivation and/or rationalization.

I still do not feel social reward is a primary motivation since the act itself terminates ones standing in that society. Such reward probably does factor in to rationalizing the act for the benefit of the bomber's friends and family.

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what about the japanese kamikaze pilots of WWII? i'd suspect that their motivation for giving up their life for their country was mainly social: the perks they got inbetween starting kamikaze trianing and dying, the perks their surviving family members got after their death, and the high reguard that samurai were held in for being willing to die for their side (iirc, kamikazi pilots were considered samurai?)?

if that's the case, i'd call it a toss up between social reward and... hero worship?.. as main motivation for being a kamikaze pilot. or possibly patriotism?..

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I'm surprised nobody has mentioned suicide cults, which are obviously an exception to the OP, and to any social / economic rewards that have already been mentioned. Suicide cults, however, are an exception in themselves. There was actually an interesting / baffling documentary on a current suicide cult in the states, albeit the leader keeps changing the dates of Armageddon. Thought it was worth a mention nonetheless.

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Perhaps they feel it's best to be patient when dealing with eternity?

It's more to do with the idea that God gave you your life and its not yours to take away.

This result doesn't surprise me at all. Religious doctrines offer a clear moral reason not to kill yourself that humanism doesn't as much. What ethical objection would an atheist have to suicide? I'm not saying that ethical objections don't exist, but I bet that they'd be a lot more obscure and less widely agreed upon than a simple revealed command like "Don't kill your self; God says so."

Are you saying that these people are not trying to claim their 72 virgins? That there is no religious motivation at all? If things are as you say the why do we not see suicide bombers from other social groups?

Which is an interesting bit of theology considering that the Qur'an holds that those who commit suicide go to Hell.

I had a debate over this with a crazy Neocon friend of mine today. If you look at the history of suicide bombing (it was invented by the Tamil Tigers), and the history of the conflicts in the Middle East (most of them were begun between Israelis and secular Arab nationalists, both Muslim and Christian), then religion is a pretty flaky prime cause.

And in response to Mr. Skeptic: I believe your average Catholic is an evolutionist.

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Which is an interesting bit of theology considering that the Qur'an holds that those who commit suicide go to Hell.

apparently the way they get around this is to hold their funeral and all that jazz while they are still physically alive, they have to wear the same as the dead etc...

so after this, although still Physically alive, are Technically already dead, and so a dead guy cant commit suicide!

quite sneaky really.

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apparently the way they get around this is to hold their funeral and all that jazz while they are still physically alive, they have to wear the same as the dead etc...

so after this, although still Physically alive, are Technically already dead, and so a dead guy cant commit suicide!

quite sneaky really.

Playing bureaucrat with God.

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Here's a clinical study from the The American Journal of Psychiatry regarding religious affiliation and suicide attempts. I find the results interesting:

I find this at odds with my own beliefs and would not have expected this outcome. From my own POV I would expect a belief in heaven to raise the likelihood of suicide over atheism but this seems to not be the case. What do you think?

Most religions prohibit suicide, and belief would tend to make one obey that prohibition. There are some obvious exceptions that permit or encourage it in certain circumstances, but the small numbers would not affect the statistics much.

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I dont have the patience to read through the details of the study, but there are some things i wonder. Did they they take into account the religious background/interactions of suicidal individuals prior to their arrival at an unaffiliated state and self inflicted death? At the time of their suicide they may claim to be unaffiliated, but its highly possible (perhaps probable) that their depression began as guilt for being unable to live up to standards of a religion. In the end they may claim to have abandoned God, but if God originally had a primary role in driving them to the edge, then the religion/suicide correlation is turned on its head.

In my home state of Utah, we rank 9th highest suicide rates in the nation. And i dare say we would be a contender for the Gold Medal, if not for the fact that this state is No. 1 for anti-depressant prescriptions. Not only is this state highly religious, until recently our entire population was predominantly one denomination, a christian faith called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You can research the specifics for yourself, but i would dare say this Church has the most demanding expectations for its members to live up to, of any other major christian religion.

By the time someone has finally taken their life, they are likely to have isolated themselves from their religious roots, but was that the very environment that initiated pressure, and feelings of failure to live up to the standard?

What kind of athiests were these people? Had they clearly and logically thought out their beliefs/ lack of beliefs, or did they simply find themselves in such a dark hole that they conclude there cant be a god? Had they reasoned away the idea of God, or were they angry at him?

The reason for unaffiliated status, along with the other factors that lead them to the permanent solution, would be infinitely more telling.

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