The Suicide Of An Atheist

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Jessie Kilgore, a 22 year old, former Christian, internet-savvy, military veteran committed suicide on October 25, 2008. He walked into the woods by his home and shot himself.

Apparently, Jessie was one of us at the end of his young life. An atheist.

There is not a lot of information out there about Jessie. His handle for most of his online activities is 'Jkrapture' I Googled that username and found a few sites like his old blog, and his MySpace page. I also found his Shutterfly site - a storage area for Jessie to keep his funny message board images and LOLCats pictures. This one and this one in particular are kind of disturbing, given the circumstances.

The weird part about this whole thing is that Jessie's father, Keith Kilgore, a former military chaplain (here are some of his thoughts on the war), has gone to WorldNet Daily and is claiming that Jessie killed himself because of Richard Dawkin's book "The God Delusion". Apparently, the book was suggested to him by his college biology professor. (The college denies that the book was part of the biology curriculum.)

(Continued after the flip.)

[link] "One of his friends, and his uncle (they did not know each other) both told me that Jesse called them hours before he took his life and that he had lost all hope because he was convinced that God did not exist, and this book was the cause," Keith Kilgore told WND.

Even according to his own religious family members, Jessie considered himself an atheist. But can becoming an atheist cause suicide? By itself?

I say no, of course. The simple lack of god-belief is not enough to cause anyone to take their own life. However, combined with other factors, it may have been enough to push this troubled young man over the edge.

But wait! I just said that there was not a lot of information out there about Jessie! How could I possibly know that he was troubled?

Well, the poor kid shot himself. There was obviously something going on there. Something a lot more complicated than just reading "The God Delusion". If I were to speculate - and you know I will - I would suggest that this intelligent young man with a military chaplain for a father, a penchant for debate, and a lifetime of far right-wing Christianity in the family, became an atheist due to his own education and intelligence - but then, maybe, he could not face this new reality due to the many years of religious belief that had been drilled into him since the day he was born.

Again, this is just speculation on my part. I would be very interested to find out more about Jessie and his life. That probably won't happen, but nevertheless, I am interested.

This tragic story hits me in a strange way. When Jessie took his own life, he was the same age as my son is now. Like Jessie, my son is intelligent and well-spoken. He is a child of the internet, like Jessie. He grew up with it already existing. Multiple accounts here and there, blogs, and social networking sites, etc. Jessie and my son's upbringing were probably much the same in their basics. For example, I imagine that Jessie was raised by parents that loved him, who tried to teach him right from wrong, personal responsibility, how to be a good citizen, love for his country and for his family. That sort of thing.

But I think that the comparison stops there. It is blindingly obvious that on top of that basic parental instruction, Jessie was indoctrinated into a far-right-wing version of Christianity with all of it's trappings and ideas.

It must have been tough for him as he grew older and came to his own conclusions about certain subjects like gay marriage. In this post of his on MySpace, he argues against a ban:

[Jessie Kilgore] First we need to realize where Christians, or proponents against gay marriage have lost the gay marriage ban debate. Christians lack a substantial secular reason to block gay marriage. The common arguments are either in the definition of marriage, or the sanctity of marriage. Christians have also argued that marriage is for families that reproduce and marriage represents the best environment to raise children. Christians have claimed that under the laws of equal protection, if you allow any other group to join in marriage, you have to allow all groups the same right. Christians (including myself) have argued that polygamy and other extreme examples of special interests would want the same right as heterosexuals. Theses arguments aren't necessarily wrong, but they fail to prove why gay marriage should be banned.

A good secular argument may exist, but if it does, no one has successfully found it.

He seems like a pretty clear-thinking person to me. At this point in his life, it appears that he still considered himself a Christian. And he also seems to have successfully argued against a ban on gay marriages - from a Christian standpoint. Pretty impressive.

Look, I empathize with Jessie's family. A child commiting suicide has got to be one of the worst shocks anyone can experience. My heart goes out to them, and I feel sad about the whole thing.

But I implore Jessie's dad Keith to not haul out his broad brush and start painting the college professor, Richard Dawkins, or atheism in general with the blame. None of these things killed his son. They were almost certainly part of the equation, but on their own, they do not have the power to cause something as drastic and final as suicide. There are gigantic amounts of studies done over the years about suicide - why it happens, what leads someone to do it, how it can be prevented. (See Suicide.org for more on this. It's a great resource.)

I sincerely hope that Mr. Kilgore does not make the mistake of simplifying his son's reasons or situation. A person like Jessie cannot be reduced down to a single idea, a single attribute like atheism. It just doesn't work that way. We are all a huge bundle of motivations, emotions, education, and biology. All of that massive complexity combines to make us human.

I am so sorry for this family's loss. But I think that blaming a book, or atheism for this, is flat-out incorrect.

Human beings are not that simple.

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Power Struggles's picture

It is a sad day when anyone

It is a sad day when anyone takes their life.

Anonymous User's picture

jesse kilgore

i do not wish to disclose my name however, i may be the friend you were referring to in your post about jesse kilgore.jesse was and still is my bestest friend! he confided in me.

Fulachissella's picture

Einstein's Riddle

There are 5 houses in five different colors
In each house lives a different nationality.
These 5 owners drink a certain beverage, smoke a certain brand of cigar and keep a certain pet.
No owners have the same pet, smoke the same brand of cigar, or drink the same beverage.

The CLUES:

The Brit lives in the Red house.
The Swede keeps dogs as pets.
The Dane Drinks tea.
The Green House is on the left of the White House.
The Green House's owner drinks coffee.
The person who smokes Pall Mall rears birds.
The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill.
The man in the center house drinks milk.
The Norwegian lives in the first house.
The man who smokes Blends lives next to the one who keeps cats
The man who keeps horses lives next to the man who smokes Dunhill.
The man who smokes Blue Master drinks beer.
The German smokes Prince.
The Norwegian lives next to the Blue House.
The man who smokes Blends has a neighbor who drinks water.
The QUESTION:

Who owns the fish?

Hank Fox's picture

...

Aquaman.

Hank Fox's picture

No idea why this is here, but ...

According to my calculations:

Yellow .... Blue ...... Red ......... Green ....... White
Water ..... Tea ....... Milk ......... Coffee ...... Beer
Dunhill .... Blends .. Pall Mall ... Prince ...... Blue Master
Cats ....... Horses .. Birds ........ Fish ........ Dogs
Norway .... Dane .... Brit .......... German .... Swede

Also: The Swede, Dane and Norwegian have blond hair. The Brit has crooked teeth and occasionally wears women's undergarments, and hates the Norwegian, whose cats shit in his yard. After three beers, the German sings karoake. Badly.

All five of the neighbors think George W. Bush is an idiot. All of them smoke, though, so you can't rank their opinions very highly.

Jim Downey's picture

One fish, two fish, red fish . . .

All five of the neighbors think George W. Bush is an idiot. All of them smoke, though, so you can't rank their opinions very highly.

I dunno, if they think Bush is an idiot, they have at least *some* operative brain cells...

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like Science Fiction? Read *or listen to* my novel, Communion of Dreams, for free.

Anonymous User's picture

It is very tragic to read

It is very tragic to read this story. How horrible that the kid bought into the atheist lie and saw no reason to go on with life. I wish I could have met him before he made this decision.

I come from the other side - a former atheist who is now a Christian. I could have shared my insights with him and the fallacies of atheism. Hopefully the anti-Christian mentality in the public schools will be exposed and scrutinized as a result of this tragedy.

Hank Fox's picture

Uh?

Well, I'm weeks late on this, but ...

Damn. Here's another brainless anti-American dipstick who thinks schools NOT teaching Christianity are anti-Christian. Which, after being "exposed and scrutinized," will be forced once again to teach Christianity to everybody's kids.

Good thing his/her feeble "Anonymous User" opinions are irrelevant.

Jim Downey's picture

I'm so sorry to hear that!

I come from the other side - a former atheist who is now a Christian.

Gee, An, I'm really so very sorry to hear that! I hope you make a full recovery from whatever brain injury you suffered.

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like Science Fiction? Read *or listen to* my novel, Communion of Dreams, for free.

JJR's picture

Thanks for posting this story

Brent,

Sad story, but thanks for posting. Makes me think (a little) about the movie THE DEAD POETS SOCIETY with Robin Williams, and why the young protagonist of that film killed himself, and why it wasn't the fault of long dead poets.

When religious people become disturbed emotionally, or especially when people in their teens and 20s act out rebelliously, they sometimes brashly call themselves "atheist", when in fact they are still what I call "mad-at-god theists", which means they aren't really yet mature atheists. I think Janothar above is right, and that the young man probably had a warped understanding of what atheism is and what it entails. He lacked a concept of positive atheism. Which is unfortunate, though Dawkins does at least try to argue for a positive atheism, i.e. a kind of humanism, but I guess Jessie either found it unpersuasive or cold comfort, or else he had deeper issues from his military service that he still had not/could not deal with. I suspect his family would not have approved of his visiting a non-religious psychological counselor. He did enough research to make the religious position no longer credible or believable, but lacked the imagination, or fortitude, or was just too beaten down by life to press on. Jessie was probably a nihilist when he took his life; he may well have been an atheist, but he wasn't yet a mature atheist.

I know that I hit a nihilistic wall in graduate school, suffering a bad case of writer's block with my MA thesis and just not sure what to believe anymore. I gave up specific research on my thesis and gave myself a break to go read a good intro to (Western) philosophy book, starting with the pre-Socratics and working to the present. It was a good mental "reboot" for my mind, it was comforting, and helped me to sort out some things. It wasn't Alain DeBoton (sp?) and his CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY, though I've heard good things about that book too. In any case, I was then able to get back on task and finish my thesis and graduate. I agonized for a long time over just what it was that I wanted to do with my life, and took me a long time before I arrived at becoming a librarian.

Jessie's story in some ways mirrors why some teenaged homosexuals commit suicide. They finally are forced to accept through introspection that they are not straight, never will be straight, etc, but don't have the social support network or presence of mind to come out of the closet, or a healthy understanding of what their true gay identity means, and how it can be lived positively.

Jessie could've been bipolar, too, which could lend to that kind of extreme Either/Or way of thinking...Either "True Christian" (tm) like my *sshole Dad, or else worthless, meaningless life as atheist--and unable to imagine other alternatives than these bleak, stark choices. So Jessie checked out of this life. Perhaps he still in the back of his mind, even only subconsciously, believed he was irrevocably going to hell so he might as well get the suffering "here" out of the way and get on with the hellfire and brimstone.

Maybe he read a little too much morbid Albert Camus, the Existentialist, who makes frequent references to suicide as a kind of philosophical challenge to his readers. That's what I thought of when I saw those web animations.

I think the rigid Father must share some of the blame in this, but ultimately it was Jessie's choice, however much we the living may deplore it. It says a lot that Jessie felt outright suicide *preferable* to telling his father about his loss of faith and perhaps reluctant embrace of an atheist worldview.

CatAntics's picture

The reason

If you look at his Myspace he clearly shows by his choice in movie's "Monty Python", A mockery of the religion that was forced upon him.

Now that being said it is understandable his Father's needing to blame someone or something. We all look for answers in cases such as this. However in this case his Father only needs to look in the mirror for the reason.

I think the reason for Jesse's action are in the article. One of his relatives state that he could not handle what his Father's reaction to his being a atheist would be.

"He had not talked … about it because he was afraid of how you might react. ... "

Buridan's picture

Just for the sake of

Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that Dawkins' book was the catalyst that pushed this individual over the edge. So what? I really don't see the need to be on the defensive about atheism or Dawkins' book.

I've read Dawkins book, I'm an atheist and I don't plan to commit suicide – certainly not because of my lack of believe in god or that I've read some book. Is there any worry that perhaps we've overlooked something about Dawkins' book and/or atheism that may lead to suicidal behavior?

The father's reaction is perfectly understandable and perfectly false. He's a grieving father and I sympathize with his reaction but disagree with his claim. I don't see the need for atheists or Dawkins devotees to defend either as a result.

Hrafnkell's picture

Bravo!

Thank you for providing an antidote to the Far Right's take on this unfortunate event. The simplistic notion that an ardent young Christian killed himself because of a book he read seems a denial of responsibility. There was clearly more going on here than we'll ever know.

wantobe's picture

So, what, Christians never commit suicide?

I wonder if any Atheist families have ever had a member read a Bible, declare herself a Christian, then kill herself. How much could you sue God for?

Unfortunately, to sue the writers of the Bible you'd have to sue long-dead, ignorant, goat herders.

Rob Miles
--
There are only 10 types of people in the world;
those who understand binary and those who don't.

Bee's picture

Suicide

I reckon his military service had a lot more to do with his state of mind than Dawkin's book ever could. That along with indicators of how he was left swinging in the wind by this family and "friend" the father mentions. If he called the friend and uncle hours before killing himself, and they did nothing, they are certainly, along with the father, far more culpable than Dawkins could ever be. This kid already had some serious problems. I feel badly for this family, but this family admits they had warning signs, so why didn't they try to help him? It's easy to blame a book, just as it was easy for parents in the 80's and 90's to blame AC/DC, but in the end, the people around the young man had some responsibility to watch after him. They failed, and he took his own life. I just hope I don't ever have that kind of personal guilt to carry around, making me blame everything I can point my finger at.

Anonymous User's picture

I found this interesting

I found this interesting quote online, apparently from the father,
prior to his son's suicide.

I thought it was interesting because it says his "8 year old son" so this
endorsement was apparently written a good ~12 years prior to the suicide
and prior to his son having been in public education for any substantial
duration.

The guy obviously had a problem with public education for a very long time
and is looking for a scapegoat when it sounds like the real problem is a
dogmatic, doctrinaire militarist father who wouldn't respect his children
as individuals that can make up their own minds about issues.

If you do any further articles on this rather interesting topic, please
copy and include this reference (before they delete it).

_________

Keith E Kilgore

Fort Drum, 13603

Chaplain Keith Kilgore is a United States Army Chaplain. Is endorsed
as a Chaplain by the Southern Baptist Convention. Chaplain Kilgore
served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Kuwait and Iraq

Why I Signed: I remember the day my High School principal confiscated
my Bible for just carrying it in the hallway. That was the first time
(but not the last) I was persecuted for my Christian faith. The
discrimination did not come from some foreign enemy, but from my own
puplic high school. I should not have to separate my faith from my
education. Moral and spiritual values should be the foundation of my
children's education. Why would I send my eight year old Christian
son, to a 40 year old socialist, relativist, and athiest to undermine
every moral value I want my child to hold? And then be expected to pay
that teacher my taxes to corrupt my own child

http://www.schoolandstate.org/view/display.php?state=NY

Amarak's picture

Funny

"Why I Signed: I remember the day my High School principal confiscated
my Bible for just carrying it in the hallway. That was the first time
(but not the last) I was persecuted for my Christian faith. The
discrimination did not come from some foreign enemy, but from my own
puplic high school. I should not have to separate my faith from my
education. Moral and spiritual values should be the foundation of my
children's education. Why would I send my eight year old Christian
son, to a 40 year old socialist, relativist, and athiest to undermine
every moral value I want my child to hold? And then be expected to pay
that teacher my taxes to corrupt my own child"

I could argue that same fact from the other side of the fence for the same reason. This is WHY we have separation of church and state.

Hank Fox's picture

Huh.

Sounds like a lying sack of shiznit. Persecuted for his Christian faith? Ha! More like Freudian projection of the hate he himself showers on others.

Also: Typical fundie chucklehead can't spell "atheist."

And I wonder if I'm seeing a glimmer of one of the big factors that led to his son's suicide: rigid, unreasoning dad vs. growing independent mind.

May he one day understand completely the results of his beliefs.

betmo's picture

not to be cynical

but hard right christians would not take a look at a scientific study of reasons for suicide. not only that, but you would be hard pressed to have them take any responsibility for anything- it's always someone else's fault when bad things happen- and it's up to god to make things right. i feel badly for jessie. i don't necessarily give a rat's ass about the fundie parents. he most likely, being internet savvy and meeting all kinds of folks, began to realize that he had not been given the whole truth. doesn't say if he saw combat- but if he did- reason enough to question. he apparently was a thoughtful, intelligent human being and i am guessing he probably didn't want to disappoint his authoritarian father. but i am painting with a broad brush and making suppositions based on what i know about authoritarian, christian, right wing, military backgrounds.

Anonymous User's picture

re:Kilgore suicide

Theres a lot more to this story that isnt being told. Its very hard for me to believe that a 22 year old with military experiance and firm christian beliefs could have , in the time it took to read Dawkins book (which bored me ) decided his religion and his life were a lie and a waste. The statement that he and one other guy were the only two christians at the college also seems unbelievable, given the overall statistics it would seem that most students and staff would be marginal christians.
I wonder if all the facts will ever come to light.

Lee's picture

re:re:Kilgore suicide

I suspect most of the facts will come to light, given that if the father sues Dawkins or the biology teacher, I have no doubt that they will have psychiatric experts testify that the chances that Jessie killed himself over the book are slim to none. (Although, frankly, I would be surprised if a lawsuit even got that far.) But, in any case, the father will never believe it. He will continue to see himself and his son as "victims" of hostile atheists, because that is what he needs to believe.

Janothar's picture

Fundie attitudes

Fundamentalist attitudes towards atheism also need to bear some of the blame here. He'd been brought up to think that there are two options: Christian and meaningless, hollow existence (at least, my experience with fundies is that that's what they're taught from a young age). This would be built in as deep or deeper than the religion itself, and take a lot of work to get through. He didn't make it. He stopped being religious and then the only possibility left (to his mind) seems to have been the second: empty, meaningless existence. And when people feel that their lives are empty and meaningless, suicide isn't that uncommon an answer.

Hank Fox's picture

Dang.

Between the change from one mental steady state and another is a period of unavoidable turbulence. Which means: discomfort, confusion, uncertainty, stress.

It's like moving. Even if the house you live in is too small, has a leaky roof and is in a sucky part of town, you still experience a degree of comfort there, because you're used to it. A few weeks or months after you've moved into a new and better house, you're comfortable again. But in between ...! The process of moving, even to a better house, is a pain in the ass.

It's why people hang onto their beliefs even in the face of contrary evidence. The place they live may have a number of negative attributes, but it IS familiar, and any sort of change involves heavy lifting.

A prime danger of any move, physical or mental, is the turbulence. You ARE confused and stressed, and apt to take wrong turns. If you can hang on through the turbulence, you can get to a different -- maybe better -- place. If you get lost in it, bad things can happen.

Sounds like this young man got lost in the turbulence, and that's sad. If he'd just hung on, he could have graduated to seeing and understanding more about the real world.

But his dad got lost too. In the turbulence of loss, he's blaming someone else for what happened.

It's understandable, but still ... when it's YOUR people who get blamed for something they had no part in, it doesn't make you feel very warm toward the one doing the blaming.

And there's this: If we all lived in an insular little tribe where everybody thought the sun revolved around the earth, and a young man killed himself after a visiting scientist revealed that the situation was different, would it be the scientist -- who was only reporting on the facts of the real world -- at fault?

From my perspective, some of the responsibility would rest with those people who kept themselves and their kids in the dark, and allowed themselves to place such importance on tribal fantasies that it would lead one of them to kill himself if he found out he was wrong.

...

This kid's father, according to details given in the WingNutDaily story, appears to be using his son's death as a tool to attack a blameless group of bystanders (and -- typical conservative Christian -- public education too, of course). I get that he's in pain. But if the story was slightly different and he blamed his son's suicide on Jews, or blacks, or gays, a lot of people would see clearly that he was, in addition to being a grieving father, also a hateful bastard flailing at innocents.

In my view, there's reason to doubt the details of the WingNutDaily story. After the young man's suicide, the father "searched Jesse's room and found the book under the mattress with his son's bookmark on the last page." (Oh my God!! He killed himself ONLY AFTER FINISHING THE ENTIRE BOOK!!! Look!! See??! The bookmark!! It was ON THE LAST PAGE!!! He read the whole thing!! And then killed himself!!"

Sounds like over-dramatic bullshit to me, from a known anti-free-thought hate site. And even if it's all true, note that the youngster was hiding the book under his mattress, like it was pornography -- that's some open-minded home environment there, huh?

Oh, and did you notice there were TWO advertisement-links right in the text of the story? They turn this young man's tragic death into a pushcart to peddle books.

DuckPhup's picture

Re: The Suicide Of An Atheist

I would suspect that the dawning realization that essentially everyone he loved and trusted had essentially been lying to him and brainwashing him throughout his whole life MIGHT have had something to do it.

Paul Fidalgo's picture

Excellent post.

Thanks for handling it so well.

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