Suicides correlated with disbelief

Today, while sitting at home while white covered the Eastern seaboard, I noticed this Dailywire article:

Suicide is increasingly chosen by both the young and old, affecting all economic brackets, races, and genders. Ben Shapiro asserts the common factor is a growth in disbelief. Folks despair because they lack purpose, he asserts.

While I would prefer it had the Ben Shapiro used more careful language, it’s interesting to hear an assertion that suicide is inversely correlated with belief in God.

Thoughts? I’m reflecting on how this arguably more global finding informs us regarding the assertion that marginalized Mormons are more vulnerable.

This entry was posted in General by Meg Stout. Bookmark the permalink.

About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

20 thoughts on “Suicides correlated with disbelief

  1. It’s not as clear cut as Ben makes it out to be but I think he’s headed in the right direction.

    I don’t think the rise in suicide is directly tied to a lack of belief in God per se, but the fact that societal guardrails (general norms of right and wrong) have been obliterated. Combine that with destruction/attack on the family, and you find more and more people on the edge or margins of society without direction. And without a moral society or a support via their direct family, this drives the people on the edge or margins to increasingly choose suicide over life.

  2. Meg,
    Thanks for the post. In looking into this issue further, a quote from the source study that used Gallup World Poll data of 132 nations might be helpful, before one supports or decries extrapolation:
    “Despite some limitations, this study showed for the first time which nations have higher levels of meaning in life and why. It is noteworthy that meaning in life predicted the suicide rate, whereas life satisfaction did not. This finding has important policy implications. If a government wants to increase its residents’ life satisfaction, then improving economic conditions is critical (Diener, Tay, & Oishi, 2013). In contrast, if a government wants to increase its residents’ meaning in life and prevent suicide, then improving economic prosperity does not seem to
    help achieve these goals. So far, the discussion of improving societal well-being has centered on economic policies. However, it is critical to distinguish different kinds of well-being, as the predictors of life satisfaction are very different from those of meaning in life at the level of nations.” –Shigehiro Oishi & Ed Diener, “Residents of Poor Nations Have a Greater Sense of Meaning in Life Than Residents of Wealthy Nations.” Article in Psychological Science · December 2013

  3. From a Dec 2013 news release of the Oishi and Diener report:

    “Among Americans, those who are high in life satisfaction are also high in meaning in life,” says Oishi. “But when we looked at the societal level of analysis, we found a completely different pattern of the association between meaning in life and life satisfaction.”

    When looking across many countries, Oishi and Diener found that people in wealthier nations were more educated, had fewer children, and expressed more individualistic attitudes compared to those in poorer countries – all factors that were associated with higher life satisfaction but a significantly lower sense of meaning in life.

    The data suggest that religiosity may play an important role: Residents of wealthier nations, where religiosity is lower, reported less meaning in life and had higher suicide rates than poorer countries.

  4. So I would summarize:

    Americans look around at themselves and see life satisfaction highly correlated with meaning in life. Achievement, individualism, wealth, these bring life satisfaction.

    Americans then create media and public policy to spread the gospel of wealth to the world.

    Americans don’t realize that they are an anomaly. In spreading a gospel of wealth and individualism, they are stripping the rest of the world of hope, spreading a gospel of despair rather than the intended gospel of materialistic hope.

  5. This is interesting. I recently read Leo Tolstoy’s “Confession” wherein he says that there was a point in his life where he decided that his life was meaningless and the only rational response was suicide. His answer was to return to faith — the simple religion of the ordinary people.

  6. I’ve delved just enough into the numbers that I can see that one could spin this a number of ways, depending on how one interprets the meaning of words like happiness, meaning, quality and satisfaction in life, well-being, etc. For example, feeling one has significant meaning (or at last purpose) in life is likely very high for both the terrorist bent on a mass killing and an ascetic monk, so that metric by itself isn’t that useful. And the ‘satisfaction in life’ scores for Denmark and Norway are noticeably higher than for the United States and yet the importance of religion in those two countries is much lower than the USA as are their suicide rates which counter the study’s conclusions. But, the suicide rates and religiosity differences dramatically enlarge when less wealthy nations are included that rank religiosity much higher than even the US, like Pakistan, Brazil and Mexico which have just over have the suicide rate of Denmark and Norway and about half that of the US.

    So, this all appears to be a complicated issue where generalizations are ill advised and some tedious teasing of the data is warranted by social scientists. Though the conclusions of Meg and the study author seem reasonable to me I think the study is making broad conclusions on insufficient data. For example, has any of this taken into account the difference between “meaning” in life and “purpose” in life? “Meaning” is “why is this happening?” “Purpose” is “how can I positively contribute?”

    Lastly, to Meg’s original point “I’m reflecting on how this arguably more global finding informs us regarding the assertion that marginalized Mormons are more vulnerable.” Meg, are you really saying: does the study inform the assertion that marginalized Mormons (LGBT, less orthodox, singles, blacks, poor, uneducated, immigrants, ?? etc.) are less religious and therefore more likely toward suicide? Not sure that sounds reasonable???

  7. Hi KarlS,

    The difference observed by Oishi and Diener is between satisfaction on the one hand and meaning/purpose on the other hand.

    My provocative conjecture at the end of the OP was without benefit of the additional insights obtained from the thoughtful discussion in the comments. Though I admit that the Mormons I was thinking of as marginalized are the ones who have put themselves at the margins of Mormonism and then agitated for the main body to migrate towards them.

  8. Thanks, Meg. When society can give no true meaning to life beyond , “the kid who dies with the most toys, wins,” leads to indifference towards all life.

    Eventually, death becomes a badge of honor, whether caused by a suicide bomber, a school shooter, a lonely teen, or a corrupted Nephite warrior.

  9. Meg,
    Thanks for the clarification. I wonder how much one’s world view comes into play in all this. It seems that one’s culture and socialization (perspectives, conditions, teachings one is raised with) would dramatically impact how one defines happiness, satisfaction, meaning, purpose, somewhat independent of circumstances. It would also seem that the Light of Christ given to all would level this to some degree so that at one’s deepest level, feelings about these things would have some commonality, regardless of world views.

  10. Atheism is essentially nihilism; humans being nothing more than evolved meat-computers. If there is no God, then nothing really matters.

    My favorite living philosopher, Bruch Charlton, describes the links between atheism, nihilism, and the religion of Political Correctness in his free book, Thought Prison: The fundamental nature of Political Correctness.

    The link to it is in the sidebar of his blog at:

    Also available in paper at amazon.

  11. Bookslinger,
    I imagine your harsh characterization of atheists was meant to be a generalization, but it makes believers look myopic, irrational and arrogant. “If there is no God, then nothing really matters” puts atheists pretty low. I’m pretty sure a lot of things really matter to them (atheists). I’m pretty sure they care for the well-being and happiness of their children, future posterity and others on the planet. I’m pretty sure they love and can feel love. Just a caution.

  12. No, I’m going to go with “If there is no God, then nothing really matters” as being right in the center ring. That doesn’t make believers look myopic. It makes believers the only ones with reasons to do anything of lasting value.

  13. The fact that these researchers are finding suicide correlated with unbelief is a subtle finding. Not every unbeliever commit suicide. Not every believer clings to life.

    It’s just that when you look at it across all countries, all economic groups, you see something that you would not have seen just looking at first world countries. That is the lack of belief in God is a risk factor for those who might be under pressure to leave this earth at their own hand.

  14. KarlS, you so easily deploy strawmen.

    The Light of Christ shines on us all, but there are those who choose to ignore it and then pretend they can find meaning on their own. Ignore it long enough and those people can forget what it even feels like. Many of those people choose to call themselves atheists. Sure, there’s mouthing in the direction of “just don’t be a jerk to one another”, but to an atheist that’s just part of being a human, not the subtle nudge of our divine heritage. And because the origin of that feeling cannot be properly definied within atheism, it must ultimately become subjective–one man’s jerk is another man’s fierce individualist blazing his own trail. No objective meaning is accepted, because there is no defined source of objective meaning.

    no God = no truth
    no truth = no meaning
    no meaning = nothing really matters

    I caution you against accusing me of discarding pieces of the gospel in your next reply. Let’s keep it civil.

  15. karlS,

    THat quote is not original to me. Sorry, I should have attributed it, but was too lazy to look it up. It is actually part of a couplet. I think the other half is “If there is a God, then nothing ELSE matters.”

    Yup… Here we go, HG Wells said it.

    It really is a logical extension of atheism and current PC thought. If No God, then no afterlife, and no soul. If no soul, we are mere animals, meat-computers, just acting according to hard-wiring, environment, and a lifetime of programming and inputs. The purpose of life is reduced to comfort, reduced suffering, no matter how grandiose or altruistic atheist philosophers may make it sound.

    Altruism is something atheists raised in a theist society may claim, and I beleive them, but it can’t be passed on to children without a moral/religious basis. Older atheists today absorbed their altruism from the greater theist culture/society. But the younger ones, less so.

    You mention the Light of Christ. But society is now working hard to counter that. it’s being countered with the PC brainwashing.

    Atheists, as a culture, can only stay moral for about a generation or two. The individuals may/usually stay moral throughout their life, but each generation of children of atheists gets less and less moral. You don’t see the slide in any given individual, you have to look at the deltas generation-to-generation. That is where it becomes more apparent, and now, kind of obvious.

    Todays atheists in the US, those over say, age 45, were raised in a judeo-christian moral “culture”. They have that “cultural programming/conditioning”. But as the culture has been eroded away from judeo-christian morals, more and more children of atheists are -not- raised in a judeo-christian moral culture. Societal forces are working to have their conscience be replaced with the group-think of PC.

    Please read Charlton’s book “Thought Prison” linked above. He explains it better.

    Show me a family of 3 or more generations of atheists, and, generally speaking, each generation will be less moral/altruistic than their parents.

  16. Nice article by Dan Peterson.

    My husband has been reading The Christ Who Heals to me (a recent book by Terryl and Fiona Givens). One gets a visceral sense of how wrong Christianity had gone, leaning hard over towards a view that we are mere creatures whose fate is predetermined by a god without parts or passions, a being who was pleased to set us on our way as pre-scripted automatons without free will.

    My husband opines they are under-emphasizing the mitigating Arminian beliefs adopted by Methodists, concentrating instead on Augustine and Calvinist beliefs.

    At any rate, viewing mainstream Christianity through the eyes of the the Givenses, mainstream Christianity is pretty whack. So it is no wonder early psychotherapists repudiated the value of the bizarre belief systems found in Western Christianity.

    This may help explain why belief in Western nations was not correlated with protection against self-annihilation.

  17. Mormontarian,
    I do apologize for being a little snippy. I never want to judge a person’s belief.
    You state, “Altruism is something atheists raised in a theist society may claim, and I believe them, but it can’t be passed on to children without a moral/religious basis.” I guess we just understand differently the purpose of the Light of Christ. Gospel Topics states, “The Light of Christ “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12-13; see also D&C 88:6-11). This power is an influence for good in the lives of all people (see John 1:9; D&C 93:2).” I would think that would apply (though it may not be sensed as strongly) regardless of how many generations of atheists there were. I just don’t see that God who looks down with loving regard on all His children would leave them without the Light of Christ, which I know is not what you are saying, but it seems that is what the implications are of what you are saying. We’re probably talking past each other. I will read “Thought Prison.” I do enjoy the dialogue and respect your views, even when we may not see things the same.

  18. Karl, Pres Kimball famously pointed out that the Light of Christ can be extinguished, or “seared.” That is what PC programming from media and academia is currently trying to do.

    Hitler and the Nazis did social engineering, to counter the conscience, to a degree, to many Germans, thereby enabling the atrocities.

    It happened to the Russians, see Solzhenitsyn’s “Men Have Forgotten God” talk, aka the Templeton address:

    Even to _follow_ the Light of Christ, a person needs a spiritual or metaphysical assumption that there is something beyond our mortal 3 dimensional existence. Otherwise, an atheist is eventually going to dismiss his conscience as merely some artifact of in-born hard-wiring, or cultural conditioning that can be over-ridden with newer/better programming.

    The Light of Christ is not the be-all and end-all of what motivates humans. Wickedness is increasing exponentially in spite of everyone having the Light of Christ. If it was the over-arching factor, we’d all be living in peace and harmony, and there would be no crime.

    History is pretty clear and explicit: without some kind of positive religion, societies eventually degrade to the point of collapse, and what is left is usually savagery, until some other religion starts to pick up the pieces and create anew.

    Atheist communism (Soviet Union/Stalin and China/Zedong) killed several times more people in the 20th century than did the Hitler-ites.

    Atheism eventually wipes out the conscience. With some people, it’s quick, With others, it takes a generation or two of descendants.

    We’re seeing it right now, in the calls by some radical alarmists to literally KILL global-warming “deniers.”

    We’re seeing it in the brown-shirt tactics of Antifa to physically assault and brutalize _political_ opponents. I’m kind of confidant that the ruffian contingent of Antifa are not church-goers.

  19. Some excerpts from Sozhenitsyn’s talk:

    emphasis mine.

    “The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. …

    The same kind of defect, the flaw of a consciousness lacking all divine dimension, was manifested after World War II when the West yielded to the satanic temptation of the “nuclear umbrella.” It was equivalent to saying: Let’s cast off worries, let’s free the younger generation from their duties and obligations, let’s make no effort to defend ourselves, to say nothing of defending others-let’s stop our ears to the groans emanating from the East, and let us live instead in the pursuit of happiness. If danger should threaten us, we shall be protected by the nuclear bomb; if not, then let the world burn in Hell for all we care. The pitifully helpless state to which the contemporary West has sunk is in large measure due to this fatal error: the belief that the defense of peace depends not on stout hearts and steadfast men, but solely on the nuclear bomb…”



    “But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.”

    The other title to the talk is: “Godlessness: the First Step to the Gulag”

Comments are closed.