You are better off dead

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You are better off dead is a nihilistic sentiment expressed in a number of religions. It is a disturbing view that death or non-existence would be preferable to Earthly life. It applies to either individuals, groups or everybody, depending on the religion. The belief is often coupled with the claim that suicide is a sin, so people are trapped in a non-ideal state of life.

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Ancient Greece

Legend states that Silenus, companion of Dionysus, claimed that:

"That the best thing for a man is not to be born, and if already born, to die as soon as possible [1]"

According to Plato, Socrates's last words before dying claimed that death "cured" him from life. "Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt."

Hebrew Bible, Old Testament

Ecclesiastes declares that it is better for oppressed people to have never been born. Apart from non-existence, second best is to die. However, the style of Ecclesiastes is to provoke thought and possibly should not be taken as a definitive statement.

"So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun."

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 Bible-icon.png

It would be unwise to interpret these verses using a literal interpretation. A Bible commentary on these verses concur with death being preferable (and commits the Nirvana fallacy):

"But after death, God is our judge, and all his judgements are right. That is better than this world, where judgements are often wicked [emphasis changed] [2]"

Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer, who was an atheist, argued that the existence of evil is:

"sufficient to establish a truth that may be expressed in various ways [...] namely that we have not to be pleased but sorry about the existence of the world; that its non-existence would be preferable to its existence; that it is something which at bottom ought not to be"

Christian views

For dealing with Christians from different denominations during the crusades, a monk named Arnaud Amalric advised Christian soldiers:

"Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. ('Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.')"

Based on Christian theology, presumably it is also better for children to die young as they will have sinned less than adults?

"Truly lucky are young children that die soon after Baptism. For them this earthly life would be very short and salvation is assured. [3]"
"When we think about it, these babies actually ended up in a better place because if they had continued to live and continued to carry out that evil, they would have spend at eternity apart from God [in Hell]. But because they had not reached what theologians call the age of accountability, (in other words they were not old enough to make a decision to follow God) the Bible seems to teach and suggest that all babies go to heaven, which means that their fate and their eternal destiny was better off there than it would have been if they have lived.[4]"

If that were true, an omni-benevolent God would be obligated to kill everyone before they had a chance to sin.

Job Job 3:3 Bible-icon.png and Jeremiah Jeremiah 15:10 Bible-icon.png both wish they had never been born.

Sentiments such as "She’s in a better place now" or "He has gone to be with God" implicitly express the view that death is a preferable state.

The book of Revelation has God explicitly say people are better of dead after a certain time in the future:

"Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.'"

Revelation 14:13 Bible-icon.png

Jesus explicitly says it would have been better for Judas to have never been born Matthew 26:24 Bible-icon.png. However, this raises the paradox of then having no one to put God's plan for salvation on track.

Jesus deliberately antagonised the authorities of his time and then refused to defend himself or flee. Based on these actions, he seems to have deliberately chose to die.

Incompetent designer

The sentiment that people are better off dead raises the problem of evil and supports the argument from poor design.

  1. A competent and benevolent designer would not create a world with things that should not even exist.
  2. According to some religions, some or all people are better of dead.
  3. Therefore God is not competent and benevolent.

God himself agrees with this conclusion.

"The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. "

Genesis 6:6 Bible-icon.png

Problem of Hell

If Hell exists, the possibility that God could simply not have created people destined to go to hell raises the problem of hell:

"It would be absurd to suppose that God inflicts eternal punishment on his creates, which would render their non-existence infinitely preferable to their existence on the whole. [5]"

Earthly life is worthwhile

Paul the Apostle desired to die so he can be with Jesus but thought doing God's work is more important.

"I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account."

Philippians 1:23-24 Bible-icon.png

See also

References

  1. Plutarch (1878 translation). "Consolation to Apollonius". The Morals, vol. 1. Online Library of Liberty.
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. The Work of Lord Bolingbroke, Vol. 4, Carey and Hart, 1841
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