The Man Who Lost His God

December 5, 2008 by
Filed under: International News, Religion 

A 22 year old American man, Jesse Kilgore, committed suicide in October by walking into the woods near his New York home and shooting himself. According to the original article, his father Keith Kilgore attributed his death to his son having read the book book ‘The God Delusion’, by the British atheist evolutionary biologist, Professor Richard Dawkins.

Jesse’s death is a tragedy and my heart goes out to his family and friends. Sadly, in their anger, they place blame on three parties – the book author Richard Dawkins, the Professor who recommended the book to Jesse and the secular public school system.

Instead, they are ignoring the underlying issues that may have led this to happen – after all, a normal healthy person does not commit suicide after reading a book!

I believe that the real factors are:

  • Jesse’s fear of being ostracised or isolated by his family and friends. Would Jesse have been able to discuss the book with his father, a ‘retired military chaplain’, without being shouted at or abused?
  • His sheltered upbringing may have prevented him from being exposed to multiple different belief systems that would have built up his mental ability to deal with uncertainty and doubt.
  • It is also possible that he was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness like depression or anxiety that he masked by sheltering in his religious observance.

There are a few points in the article which I will also answer:

“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.

Religion was clearly a pillar of Jesse’s identity. I can understand why his spirits were broken by a book that convinced him that his religious beliefs were illogical and that his past observance had been a waste of time.

Does this mean that the correct course of action was to kill himself? Of course not! Jesse clearly drew the wrong conclusions from the book. Here are some conclusions that a person of healthy mind could have made:

  • “I was misguided, but it was not my fault – I was brought up that way.”
  • “I am glad I found this out at a young age”
  • “I can live out the rest of my life free of unnecessary restraints”
  • “I can be still be a kind, virtuous person – even more so, as I am now doing what I personally think is right, and not just because I fear the wrath of god”
  • “I will talk this over with my local priest or a counsellor and see what they think”
  • “I can still maintain my relationships with my family and friends by going to church and celebrate religous holidays with them”

He was pretty much an atheist, with no belief in the existence of God (in any form) or an afterlife or even in the concept of right or wrong,” the relative wrote. “I remember him telling me that he thought that murder wasn’t wrong per se, but he would never do it because of the social consequences – that was all there was – just social consequences

Absence of religion does not imply that there is no morality. For example, the Golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ has a solid logical basis and does not need a god to back it up.

If one reads the Bible (and many other religious texts), there are in fact plenty of examples of religiously sanctioned murder that are considered highly unacceptable and immoral in secular western societies, e.g. the stoning to death of homosexuals, idolaters and others.

“I’m all for academic freedom,” Keith Kilgore said. “What I do have a problem with is if there’s going to be academic freedom, there has to be academic balance.

“They were undermining every moral and spiritual value for my [son],” he said. “They ought to be held accountable.”

He suggested the moral is for Christians simply to abandon public schools wholly.

I’m glad that he supports academic balance – unfortunately in this case the balance came in the form of Richard Dawkin’s book – a large undigestible chunk, too big for Jesse to swallow after being brought up immersed in religious dogma. If he wanted proper balance, it should have happened from a young age.

It is the job of a responsible education system to present truthful information and teach the ability to discern fact from fiction. Moral and ‘spiritual’ values need not be based on falsehood.

During my childhood, I was educated in an Australian public school. On Friday’s, we would have a 1-hr period set aside for religous education, where representatives of various faiths would come in and teach those who followed their respective religions. Why can’t religious schools have a weekly 1hr period where an atheist can put forward their case?

“Here’s another thing,” he continued. “If my son was a professing homosexual, and a professor challenged him to read [a book called] ‘Preventing Homosexuality’… If my son was gay and [the book] made him feel bad, hopeless, and he killed himself, and that came out in the press, there would be an outcry.

“He would have been a victim of a hate crime and the professor would have been forced to undergo sensitivity training, and there may have even been a wrongful death lawsuit.

I find this most amusing. American Christian churches frown upon homosexuality, don’t they? And there are books on preventing homosexuality that are readily available, aren’t there?

In order for a book to be implicated in a hate crime, the book would have to incite readers to illegally discriminate against or mistreat people. Does Dawkin’s book advocate such a view? I haven’t read it, but I don’t think it did.


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