Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, both of whom recently killed themselves, are part of a wider trend, with suicide having increased almost 30 percent since 1999. In fact, in 2016 alone 45,000 Americans took their own lives, a number that includes, shockingly, even some preteen children. Interestingly, this rise in suicide directly corresponds with a decline in something else: Christian faith.
Some observers assert that this is no coincidence. For example, making this case at Town Hall, commentator J. Warner Wallace writes:
Religious believers are … less likely to attempt suicide. One study found that “religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation.” Another study discovered that women who attended “religious services once per week or more (were) associated with an approximately 5-fold lower rate of suicide compared with (those who) never attend(ed) religious services.” In addition, another survey found that “countries that are more religious tend to have lower suicide rates.”
There is an established relationship between religious belief and suicide. As belief increases, suicide efforts decrease.
Many in this secular age may scoff; billing religion as necessary isn’t fashionable today. Yet while this is a discussion of faith, it doesn’t have to be a matter of faith. For there’s something that’s not faith but fact: human psychology.
Wallace mentions in his piece one psychological reality: We all need a sense of meaning, of purpose, in life, a reason to, as is said, “get out of bed in the morning.” He writes that our focus today too often is “success, rather than significance.”
Belief in God is a matter of faith, but what is also fact are the corollaries of the atheistic worldview. If there’s no God and we have no souls, we’re just some pounds of chemicals and water — organic robots. If we have children, once billed as a primary purpose in life, they’re just organic robots, too. Moreover, if there’s no God to have authored right and wrong, then everything is just “a matter of perspective,” as the relativists are wont to say. Then, as a very spiritually vacant man I once knew put it, “Murder isn’t wrong; it’s just that society says it is.” This is self-evident since if there’s no God, society is all there is to say anything.
Of course, most people aren’t moral philosophers and don’t think these matters through with the above precision. But the Truth will out; the above reality is often sensed. And does it provide that reason to get out of bed? What a thing to transmit to a child: “There’s no inherent meaning in anything, kid — but, hey, have a nice life.”
This is especially relevant when times get tough. There are “pleasures of sin for a season,” as the Bible says. What happens, though, when that season ends and becomes a winter of discontent? If life is just “a series of small pleasures strung together,” as someone close to me once put it, what occurs when those pleasures become unattainable or no longer satisfy? What happens when hedonism becomes Hell?
Studies have found that millennials are partially defined by focus on money, which, for one thing, is just a proxy for goods and services. (This also is a function of declining faith; millennials are by far the most atheistic American generation.) But it’s much as when you get that new toy you pined after under the Christmas tree: You’re initially ecstatic. But after a week of play, if not a few days, it’s just another toy, and then you want the next big little thing. Becoming wise involves the realization that as we grow, the toys become more expensive and sometimes bigger, but they’re still just toys. Material goods are wonderful and necessary (to an extent), but they don’t ultimately satisfy deep human yearnings. Man does not live on bread alone.
Wallace also laments “that the primary goal for most of us in a post-Christian nation is happiness rather than holiness.” This is putting the cart before the horse, much like stressing health and ignoring what breeds it: living a healthful lifestyle.
Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that cultivating virtue — living a moral life — was a prerequisite for happiness. Why? Because the Book of Moral Truth really is the instruction manual for how man should operate. (Though this analogy runs the risk of equating man with machine, obviously, if you operate something incorrectly, it can break down.) As Jesus said, “Only God is good,” meaning, God is all good. The more moral we are, the holier we are, the more we become like God. The more we become like God, whom we reflect, the happier we’ll be. The further we drift from God and toward darkness, the darker our minds, hearts, and souls become.
Yet far from cultivating virtue today (few can now even define the term), we initiate youth into vice. Everything currently in the media, entertainment, and academia is infused with Sexual Devolutionary messages, preaching the idea “If it feels good, do it.” I explored this in three magazine essays, “Colleges Igniting Promiscuity,” “Craziness in Kids’ Classes,” and “Where Have You Gone, George Washington? —Killing Our Heroes.”
Making matters worse, faith today is being replaced with Gaia, which is essentially Earth worship. Of course, it only follows that atheism will often lead to people bowing before the creation and not the Creator. But consider the dark outlook this now breeds: “The material is all we have — and we’re destroying it. ‘Climate change’ will be life’s bitter end!” How much hope are kids given today?
Related to this, people are told not to burden the Earth with more children and are thus robbed of one of the most inherently meaningful things they can do: have a family. This may be particularly hard on women, with their maternal instinct. No wonder studies show that today’s ladies are far less happy than their great-grandmothers, who were more likely to subscribe to the biblical injunction “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Of course, some people will still scoff and insist they don’t need God to enjoy gladness. And I never argue with those claiming to be exceptions. They might actually be, for one thing; for another, it’s fruitless. But, again, human psychology is not faith but fact, and bread alone simply does not satisfy. As a somewhat melancholic friend of mine once told me, “If it weren’t for my faith, I’d eat my .45.” Sadly but unsurprisingly, as Christianity wanes in the West, more and more people are doing just that.