“Why Don’t Atheists Just Kill Themselves?”

I’d constructed the ultimate sandwich
Perfection in bread, cheese, and meat
But there’s something I don’t understand, which
Has been making it harder to eat

See, although it is surely delightful
There’s a truth that I cannot suspend
That at some point, I’ll reach the last bite full
And the pleasure will come to an end

And my life, too, is not everlasting
And the Reaper will pay me a call
It’s the same, whether gorging or fasting
So why am I eating at all?

Since nothing in life lasts forever
There’s one life, all too brief, here on earth
The argument’s not even clever
That a transient joy has no worth

There are joys in this life to be tasted
There are days filled with utter delight
There is too little time to be wasted
There’s a sandwich—enjoy every bite!

I’m sure you’ve seen it–I only had to type “why don’t ath” when google filled in “eists kill themselves?”, and suggested over 2 million hits for the phrase. Some are pretty horrendous, and are good, moral religious believers suggesting that atheists ought to kill themselves, but it’s the others that I am interested in. Those that suggest that life is meaningless if it is not followed by an eternal afterlife. That life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (to use Hobbes’s delightful phrasing), and that ending it early would be preferred, were it not forbidden by God. Hell, perhaps the most famous writing in all of literature, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, explores the question:
… Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

But atheists have no dread of that undiscovered country, so why don’t we just kill ourselves?

I’d answer, but I have pets to play with, food to eat, kids to call, reading to enjoy, poetry (well, verse) to write, music to listen to, football (and football) to watch (Man City is, as I write, up 2-0 over Man United), lesson plans to make, cider to drink, (ok, now it’s 3-0), a book to put together, and much much more. Nasty life indeed.

(FWIW, I do think that suicide can absolutely be rational, and should be an individual’s choice. If a religious prohibition on suicide means someone lives years of misery and pain, wishing they could end it, I don’t count that as a case in religion’s favor.)

(ok, 4-0; I may have to try writing a post during my Browns game…)


  1. Randomfactor says

    Never understood this argument. To an atheist, this IS as close to heaven as we get. Why wouldn’t Christians, after a couple of weeks in Heaven knowing that the harp-playing and praise-singing goes onandonandonandon forever–and they don’t even get Sundays off–punch the Holy Spook in the face just for the chance at a change in scenery?

  2. Joven says

    On that note, Christians, especially those that think “faith not works” would be pretty much automatically forgiven for suicide, even apologist matt slick…which means killing yourself if you believe in Jesus is a free pass to heaven without having to wait…

    So, why don’t Christians kill themselves? Why don’t christians kill a bunch of their family, friends, church members, pray for forgiveness for murder, and then kill themselves. You’re giving people eternal joy and oneness with God without worrying that their children will go to college and be exposed to un-christianly behavior and probably lose their faith, that they wont be exposed to other religions and maybe convert to the wrong one, or do something to end up in hell, etc.

    This world, in their mythology, is a trap filled degenerate vile place on a collision course with destruction…why wouldn’t they want to escape that? Bring their friends and family with them?

  3. Al Dente says

    I’ve never understood the “why don’t atheists kill themselves?” argument. It’s even stupider than “where do atheists get their morality from?” and Pacal’s Wager.

  4. Robert B. says

    Hm. Apparently the superior morality of theists has failed to teach two million people that suggesting suicide is an awful thing to do to people. It’s almost as though religion gives you no particular claim to goodness, but surely that can’t be right.

  5. sbuh says

    Tangential to the last few points, but I’m surely not alone in being extremely conflicted about things like assisted suicide and right to die and whatnot. I agree that there are rational and justifiable cases such as terminal illness where letting a person choose to die is obviously more moral than forcing them to persist in a state of misery until they either run up against the limits of what modern medicine can do (a limit that is ever being expanded, thus in this one instance perversely contributing to greater suffering), or their pocketbook runs dry.

    But what about the physically healthy? There’s so much gray area here I can’t seem to find a solution which is satisfactory to me. I’ve had severe depression and know all too well how temporary mental states can cause one to make a decision they later regret. But I can’t justify using my own experience as a basis for others’.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    I had a friend who contemplated suicide because of depression. She reasoned that, at X age, she had Y more years to live, and her question was whether living with crushing depression for Y Years was better or worse than death. She was, though, pursuing therapy and medication; her question was partly prefaced by “what if this does not work?” Happily, she is doing much better now, such that the calculus is a bit different now, but frankly, if therapy and medication was not working, I don’t see a lot of difference between this and, say, cancer. I know people who have been living with a terminal diagnosis of cancer for many years–but (and this is key) it should be their choice whether to pursue heroic measures.

  7. martin_z says

    Just a side issue – you said that Man City is 2-0 up in your original post. Now, to me, as a Brit, that looks very odd. Man City ARE 2-0 up is correct. A team is not a single person – it’s a whole group of people (including the fans), and so it’s plural. Hence “Arsenal are the greatest football team” and “We’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen”.

    If you’re talking about American football, then by all means, use American phrasing. But when you’re talking about real football, you should use the British grammar.

    On your main point – I enjoyed your poem, but I thought the Jesus and Mo cartoon a few weeks ago got it spot on.

  8. says

    Cuttle, don’t let martin_z intimidate you. (I mean, for goodness sake, he’s using that horrible abbreviation “Brit”—of which more here).
    I too am a Briton and I can assure you that either (pronounced, of course, ‘eye-ther’ :-) ) is perfectly acceptable.

  9. martin_z says

    Pah. Can’t let that pass.

    Yes, it’s acceptable in the sense that the OED considers either one correct. But it isn’t right.

    No footy fan would ever say “You seen Liverpool is two down already?” or “Who is Chelsea playing this weekend?” It just sounds wrong.

  10. Al Dente says

    “Who is Chelsea playing this weekend?” It just sounds wrong.

    I agree. Who cares who Chelsea is playing? It’s not like it was Arsenal or Liverpool.


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