Observations and inanities by a second-shift assistant supervisor in the Puppy-Grinding division of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy® (our motto: "Sure it's cruel, but think of the jobs!"), your host, Brent Rasmussen.
The Suicide Of An Atheist
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.)
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[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.