Hoodwinked: The Story of the Girl Who Hanged Herself to Be With Her Dad in Heaven Was Probably Made Up

Last Sunday morning, at a time when Christians across America were shuffling into their church pews, I too thought about God. More specifically, my thoughts centered on the senselessness and pain surrounding the death of Maria Kislo, a 12-year-old Polish girl who, the U.K. Mirror reported, recently hanged herself to get into heaven. According to the newspaper, Maria (or Marysia, as her name is rendered in the Polish press) missed her father, who had died in 2009. Allegedly, she left the following suicide note:

Dear Mom. Please don’t be sad. I just miss Daddy so much, I want to see him again.

As I should have done, some readers doubted the story I relayed, pointing out that it was unsourced and published in a tabloid, a genre known for sensationalism, spin, and shortcuts.

Until 24 hours ago, I assumed that even tabloids didn’t descend into outright fabrications. In retrospect, that’s pretty naïve. It appears that over in England, making stuff up out of whole cloth is not unheard of among the writers and editors practicing a particularly exploitative brand of journalism. How else to explain that, most crucially, neither the existence of the suicide note nor Marysia’s belief in heaven can be corroborated?

I want to be clear about this lest I err in the other direction: It’s possible that the story as reported in the Mirror (and the Daily Mail) is correct. But absent any actual evidence, I now consider that possibility remote.

My belated skepticism was kindled by Friendly Atheist reader Taneli Huuskonen, who knows Polish. Taneli, to whom I owe a sincere thank-you, wrote me this e-mail (in part):

I found a few Polish on-line articles about the 12-year-old who hanged herself. They seem to be consistent with each other and make more sense than the one in English you linked to. I think you’ve been had.

First and foremost, there was no suicide note. Maria’s motivations are a mystery. The police are investigating her computer and diaries, but refrain from commenting on any clues they may have found so far. Secondly, Maria’s father didn’t die of a heart attack, but was brutally shot to death by his new girlfriend’s brother-in-law in 2009, about six months after Maria’s parents’ divorce. Thirdly, Maria’s mother wasn’t going to read a bedtime story to a 12-year-old, but just started wondering why the girl was staying so long alone in her room supposedly reading a book.

I didn’t see any mention of religion or afterlife in the Polish reports.

Someone called Grzegorz Kowalski commented on the article you linked to, introducing himself as Marysia’s uncle and accusing the author [at the Mirror] of lying. Of course, I have no way to check his identity, but at least his comment is consistent with the Polish media articles.

I then asked my old friend Maciej, born and raised in Poland, to tell me what he could find in the Polish news media. After he did some Internet digging, we concluded the story may have originated at a couple of Polish tabloids — Fakt and SuperExpress. The latter ran this headline about the Kislo case:

THE GIRL WHO WANTED TO JOIN HER FATHER

Sure, maybe Marysia wanted to join her father — in death. But according to Maciej, in the body of the article,

There wasn’t a single reference to Catholic/Christian symbolism or a belief such as heaven, [and] no mention of God.

We can’t know for sure how much Fakt or SuperExpress got correct (or wrong) to begin with. But by the time the Mirror published the story, the narrative had been badly twisted.

For starters, as Taneli pointed out, the cause of death of Marysia’s father had changed from gunshot wound to heart attack, perhaps to bathe the yarn in a more angelic glow. More importantly, the existence of the tearjerking suicide note about “joining Dad in heaven” is highly doubtful, considering that the Polish papers apparently made no actual mention of it beyond the fanciful reference in the SuperExpress headline.

So there’s crow for dinner tonight (make mine medium-rare, please). I apologize for my initial credulity, and for uncritically passing the Mirror article along. It was not a smart or halfway responsible thing to do for a self-avowed skeptic. Partly due to the emotional nature of the story, I think my usual defenses were down.

It’s ironic that in my post from a day earlier, about an academic experiment purporting to show that pious people are less honest, I was critical of the lead researcher, pointing out multiple problems with his methodology. I should have brought at least that level of skepticism to bear — and probably more — on what seems to be an outright example of yellow journalism.

 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

While I’m at it, I’d like to address two other things that came up in the discussion about Marysia’s suicide.

Most commenters/upvoters on the Friendly Atheist and Reddit had more or less the same takeaway that I did: We despaired over what religion can do to impressionable young minds. But others were offended. Take Vlad Chituc at the blog Non-Prophet Status:

I hope this should be immediately obvious, but it is not okay to exploit the death of a 12 year old child to score a cheap point against religion. It’s troubling that this is something I even need to say, but Terry Firma and the commentariat at The Friendly Atheist seem far too eager to pin the suicide of a 12 year old child on her belief in heaven.

Did I “exploit the death of a 12-year-old”?

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that I’m a big proponent of making kids wear life vests when they go boating. And let’s says that this is so important to me that I devote considerable time and effort to advocating my cause. One day, staffers at a summer camp take a class of sixth-graders sailing. There’s a tragic accident on the water, and a child drowns because she wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Would I be exploiting her death if, after expressing my condolences to the bereaved family, I reiterated my belief that life jackets save lives, and that not wearing one during boating clearly can kill? With such a statement, would I be abusing the memory of a young girl to score a cheap point? Maybe Chituc thinks so. I don’t.

He is ungrammatically outraged that I “pin the suicide of a child” on her belief in paradise:

It’s telling that Firma looked at a 12 year-old so hurt by her father’s death 4 years prior that she killed herself not as indicative of, say, clinical depression, but rather the asinine and melodramatic conclusion that the belief in heaven — cue dramatic music as I vom everywhere — can kill.

Calling a young child mentally ill when you know nothing about her but the fact that she took her own life doesn’t strike me as rising to the level of verity and respectfulness that Chituc expects from others. Unlike him, I merely went by what the reported circumstances were (false though they turned out to be).

May we infer from the fact that Marysia killed herself that she was mentally ill? We can’t rule it out, but I certainly wouldn’t go that far.

In fact, while Chituc is busy “vom[ming] everywhere,” let’s look at actual examples of how religion can infect kids’ psyches with suicidal thoughts and practices. These are just a few of the speaking-from-experience responses to my original post about Marysia.

Sighntist on Reddit:

When I was a believer in my pre-teens, I threw caution to the wind in every (even potentially dangerous) situation, thinking God would either miraculously save me … or even better, I’d be on the fast track to heaven. I can remember being annoyed after a close call and thinking, “Darn, if I’d died back there, I’d be in heaven right now.”

The next two are from ex-Mormons. That may or may not be coincidental.

Exoraluna on the Friendly Atheist:

In the ’60s, I was young. Religion (LDS) [Church of Latter-Day Saints, TF] was saying the the end is here. Jesus was coming back and that was the end of the world as we know it. Being depressed and sad, I thought it would be easier for me to die than wait for Jesus. I attempted suicide. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to do it. So I just took all the medications in the house … I was taken to the hospital and had my stomach pumped.

Religion had given me the false notion that when Jesus came back, there’s no need to live, because we would already be in heaven. I fell away from religion esp. LDS, for lying to me. Today, I know better. I also know that in Utah, where LDS is the prevailing religion and the hardships put upon the children to be perfect, teen suicide is high.

 Jbeck12 on Reddit:

When I was 7, I almost commited suicide. Or at least I mentally tried. I was home with my older brother. He was playing video games or something. I had a large cooking knife in my hand, debating stabbing my stomach. My rationale was that because in the Mormon religion, until you are baptized at 8, all sins are forgiven. I kept thinking it was my golden ticket into heaven. I knew suicide was wrong, but I was too young to be held accountable.

I don’t remember why I didn’t do it, to be honest. I just kept thinking, well, even though my family will be sad, when they get to heaven, we’ll be back together. And killing myself at 7 just seemed like the quickest and surest way there. I guess I chickened out.

Do you reckon these children were mentally ill?

More to the point: If they had succeeded in killing themselves, how could you not place a large amount of blame on the adults who filled their heads with fairy tales of a forever-happy afterlife?

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • iamgog

    > Until 24 hours ago, I assumed that even tabloids didn’t descend into outright fabrications.

    All you have to do is look at the covers of Enquirer, Globe, et. al. They make shit up all the time. Last month had some doozies about the JFK assasination (based on rumors and unfounded claims that have been around since about 2004), and an alleged sniper that was hired to kill Princess Diana.

    I normally wouldn’t give these awful publications more than a glance, but when I’m cashiering at work they’re right there in my face.

  • Lauren

    “Ungrammatically outraged”? Someone rightfully calls you out on passing on a tabloid-mongered, heavily sensationalized source, and you’re picking on someone’s grammar? Goodness, Hemant, your apology post needn’t be so catty.

    • ShoeUnited

      It’s not even Hemant.

      Also, welcome to the site. It must be your first time here.

      • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

        Cause reading the name under the title is too hard.

        • Jim

          Well, it is rather tiny text and Hemant’s face is at the top of the page in a banner. If it was your first time here, it’s easy to miss.

          • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

            And if it was your first time here, you wouldn’t know who Hemant is by looking at his picture. Nor is his name on the post.

            • Jim

              This is true. That’s what I get for trying to be charitable.

            • islandbrewer

              In Lauren and Jim’s defense, I’ve never seen Hemant and Terry in the same room.

              Coincidence?

              • The Other Weirdo

                Doesn’t one of them wear glasses?

                • islandbrewer

                  Like Clark Kent does? Uh-huh.

              • C.L. Honeycutt

                You never see Joe Klein in the same room*, either.

                *Yes, written that way intentionally. No, I have no idea what that means.

    • VladChituc

      it’s not even grammar, it’s slang. He is ignoring the data I posted showing an inverse relationship between religion and suicide (you know, the actual science one might expect to show something like “the belief in heaven can increase risk of suicide”) to post more anecdotes while pointing out the fact that I used slang.

      What a ridiculous and vacuous response.

      • ShoeUnited

        You do realize that English is Terry’s second language (first being Dutch from what I can tell) right?

        • Terry Firma

          Thanks, but irrelevant. Or at least, that’s not a crutch I ever want to use.

          • ShoeUnited

            I show a wide berth of respect for anyone who willingly tackles the English language. It’s not exactly forgiving. I didn’t analyze the article in question for grammar or not. I was merely making a nod towards the fact that even native speakers dun ken dem grammaticals allright all of the time. ;)

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            And that you don’t have to use. I consider myself a decently talented amateur at detecting language “tells”, and I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t your first language if you hadn’t said anything. if asked, I would have opined, “Probably English, been in the States a long time.”

      • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

        Funny how theists only use science to prove things when it suits them. Everything they don’t agree with is ‘just a theory’.

        • VladChituc

          uhh? 1) you realize I’m an atheist right? 2) I’m pretty sure the scores of psychologists at secular institutions publishing studies exploring the relationship between religion and suicide aren’t religious either.

          what are you even talking about

          • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

            Then why do you give a shit about the inverse relationship between religion and suicide? Just because religion may reduce suicides doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. If there was an inverse relationship between cocaine users and suicide would you advocate that everybody use cocaine so they don’t feel like killing themselves? It seems like a completely moot point. Especially since most religions make suicide a sin, so it’s hardly surprising that believers don’t kill themselves as often. They have been brainwashed into thinking that they will be tortured for eternity if they do.

            • VladChituc

              It’s relevant because Firma wrote an article about how believing in heaven is dangerous because it can lead people to kill themselves. That is not at all true.

              Firma relies on anecdotes and tabloid stories, whereas actual scientific data shows that religious people kill themselves less, not more (like you would expect if the belief in heaven lead to suicides).

              I don’t get how that is hard to follow.

              • Guest

                And what did he do when he realized it was misinformation? Take it back, change his opinions, and post all the relevant information he had. So why are you still talking?

                • VladChituc

                  Because he didn’t do that. He conveniently ignored the ONLY relevant information (the scientific data which was in my post) to comment on my grammar and post anecdotes.

                  How are you serious right now.

                • ShoeUnited

                  I don’t believe your argument about suicide rates was ever printed in the articles mentioned. Though, if you feel your conviction rightly, you are free to post it here for people to discuss, deconstruct, and disseminate.

                  Not that Terry owes you because you cried foul, but I see no reason why we can’t look at your evidence and discuss it here.

                • VladChituc

                  I mention it briefly in the article Terry links to. I think it’s tacky to refer to my own articles so you can find it in the piece Terry links. I posted an example of one such article in a footnote and used another article as a base for the post image, and literally spending 5 minutes on google scholar will give you a dozen more examples.

                • ShoeUnited

                  I asked you to present evidence. We’re atheists here, I would expect no less than if I made a claim, to not make other people do the homework. That’s not how I function. Are you asking me to do your homework?

                • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

                  Can you do my calculus hw too? It’s a bitch!

                • ac826

                  I don’t understand. He DID his homework. He linked to scientific studies in the post that he wrote that support his claims.

                  Now, after he has literally told you where to find the evidence he posted, because he wont go find the link to give it to you, that means he isn’t doing his homework?

                • Deus Otiosus

                  Please don’t get everyone started on the whole “I’m not a math person” thing again.

                • VladChituc

                  Clicking the conveniently-linked-above post that this post is based on to see where I presented a link to an exemplar article isn’t how you function? Telling you “it’s really easy to find more examples if you want” is telling you to do my homework? How can you possibly be serious?

                • ShoeUnited

                  Because when a claim is made, we present our evidence. That’s how rational people work. Mystics tell people to go to the mountain and meditate. The article is there, yes, but so is a lot of comments to sift through (I believe that is one of the 100+ comment articles if memory serves).

                  It’s not my job to support your claim. That’s your job, dear. Don’t expect me to support your being lazy, you made the claim.

                • VladChituc

                  Wow if you would just tone down your condescension about thirty notches and maybe just literally click on the article I wrote that Firma is responding to, maybe you would see where I provided evidence for the claim I made.

                  It is not my job to hold your hand to guide you through all the links in the post I wrote because you want to know what evidence I gave. We are talking about my response to Firma’s post. That is the basis of this conversation. Just read it.

                • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

                  Cause three long posts about how it’s not your job to back up your claim is so much easier than one ctrl+v

                • ShoeUnited

                  I wasn’t being condescending, I was being kind. I too can have my moments of vitriol, but any condescension you perceived was inferred not implied. I am treating you like an adult, that is all.

                  Give me the data and I’ll look it over, that’s not too much to ask. Telling me to do your legwork is.

                • ac826

                  Are you nuts? He isn’t asking you to look up scientific data to support his claim. He already has looked up and cited that data, and he has clearly stated already where to find it.

                  He has opened the door for you. Because he wont make you walk through it he’s asking you to do his legwork?

                • Gus

                  I’m sorry, you’re making atheists look bad on this one. I’m not entirely opposed to suggesting to someone making an argument that they ought to provide the evidence rather than making us do their homework, but you seem to be responding to a comment* that tells you exactly where to look. All you have to do is scroll up and click a link.

                  Here, let me help you with that: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15569904

                  *At least that’s how it appears based on Disqus’ threading, but at the least, that comment occurred chronologically before yours.

                • ShoeUnited

                  I thank you for providing a link.

                • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

                  He did take back the facts of the story that he posted that were inaccurate and from a bad source. But he did not retract his statements that the belief in heaven is a dangerous belief, because he believes it is. As do I. Numbers of suicides are only one tiny part of the bigger picture of the harm in a set of beliefs.

                • Terry Firma

                  Exactly. Thanks for that. I elaborated on the same thing in a response to Vlad, above.

              • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

                Believing in heaven CAN be dangerous. He posted actual examples above, and there are many others. Terrorists? Fly a plane into a building and it’s a free pass into heaven. How many people died or suffered because of the terrorists’ belief in heaven? Just because individuals may commit suicide less frequently because of religion (the sin brainwashing that I mentioned earlier) doesn’t mean belief in heaven isn’t dangerous.

                • Gus

                  So now we’re accepting anecdotes as evidence when there are scientific studies showing the opposite?

                • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

                  As i keep saying, numbers of suicides aren’t the only factor when determining whether a belief is dangerous or not.

                • Deus Otiosus

                  It also doesn’t help when (Catholics mostly I would assume) venerate the “saints” who’ve died horrible deaths to prove their faith. You can be an honored saint too, kids! All you have to do is die. This goes right along with the eighthwits who don’t take their kids to doctors instead of praying really hard for a return to health… because faith.

      • Terry Firma

        I’m not talking about slang, I’m talking about this sentence:

        “It’s telling that Firma looked at a 12 year-old so hurt by her father’s death 4 years prior that she killed herself not as indicative of, say, clinical depression, but rather the asinine and melodramatic conclusion that the belief in heaven — cue dramatic music as I vom everywhere — can kill.”

        I’ll leave it to you to re-read it a few times and discover which bits are missing.

        But disregard it after you’ve figured it out, because I think we’d agree that your being ungrammatical is not at all the substance of my post; nor is it the key problem with yours.

        • VladChituc

          Flat out say what is ungrammatical about that sentence. If that is ungrammatical to you then you have unreasonably high standards of what constitutes a grammatical sentence.

          And you’re right, you conveniently ignored the only relevant scientific data for the claim you made to add more anecdotes and comment on my grammar. If heaven made people more likely to be suicidal, if the belief in heaven KILLS, then why isn’t that borne out in any of the scientific data?

          Why did you comment on my grammar instead of that, exactly?

          • Terry Firma

            I think your protests are a little over the top, Vlad.

            1. You bizarrely focus on my use of the word “ungrammatical,” ignoring the other 1,600 words that address what you wrote in your post.

            2. In the article above, I linked to an academic study whose first line supports your belief that religiosity of the kind we’re talking about does not make people more suicidal (and then focuses on a religious subset whose suicide rate is very high indeed). Oh, plus, I linked to your post. Twice. I’m not exactly suppressing the data here!

            3. Again, more than 1,600 words. I’m sorry for taxing people’s patience as it is; it’s long enough, for now. But: I promise you we will hit upon this suicide-and-religion subject again in the future, at the length it deserves. My original post about Marysia was a quick and admittedly emotional take. Your attempt to make it some sort of substantial across-the-board J’Accuse is a little … off.

            • VladChituc

              1. And you bizarrely focused on my grammar instead of the scientific data in your response. Which do you think is weirder?

              2. You linked to anecdotes (which literally don’t matter at all. At all. If this is a psychological fact you would see it in the data, yet you see the opposite) and one study that has nothing at all to do with suicide. Where in those 1,600 words do you address the only relevant information (the science), rather than going on about how I assumed the girl was depressed (I didn’t) and post more anecdotes (which again, don’t matter.)

              3. Again, in those 1,600 words you didn’t address literally the only information that matters.

              • Terry Firma

                Your mistake is, Vlad, that you went almost comically ballistic over the final two words in Sunday’s post: “Religion kills.” You take those two words to mean something they don’t. I neither wrote nor implied either of the following two things, no matter how much you think I did:

                - I did not say that religious people kill themselves at a higher rate than atheists do. That’s just you taking license with my words.

                - More importantly, I did not say that my sole or most important touchstone for believing that religion kills is a suicide stat.

                You know why religion kills? Because of ongoing nutjobbery like the deaths I chronicled on the Moral Compass blog until it got too depressing to do it daily.

                Religion kills. Let me count the ways.

                It kills because their insurmountable irrationality leads religious idiots to oppose life-saving stem-cell research — and the distribution of AIDS-stopping condoms.

                And because other idiots fly airliners into office towers and shoot up schools and shopping malls for the glory of Allah.

                And because Christian parents from the shallow end of the gene pool prefer to pray over their sick children rather than take them to the doctor, causing lasting damage and death.

                And because God-loving dabblers in exorcism frequently beat and torture “possessed” people until the victims perish.

                And because Anglicans and Catholics are OK with blowing hundreds of millions of dollars on the finest living quarters for their prelates, rather than spend that fortune to cure the sick and feed the hungry.

                And because Mormonism’s fairy tales, and the pressure the LDS puts on its young followers, lead kids in Utah to kill themselves at alarming rates.

                There’s plenty more. For instance, I haven’t even touched on religion-inspired anti-gay bigotry yet and where that leads. Or on what centuries of shameless childfucking by men of God has done to who knows how many thousands (millions?) of kids.

                Religion kills — I stand by that. It doesn’t kill to the exclusion of other factors or causes, of course, but it is a problem I’ve chosen to focus on. Your ineffective protestations, and your repeated jumping to conclusions, do nothing to change that.

        • UWIR

          The whole “I’ll leave you to re-read it a few times” thing is a bit condescending. I’m mystified as to what you are referring to. All I know is that you believe that there is some grammatical error, and no one can dispute your claim because you won’t say what it is. Is it “12 year-old” rather than “12-year old”? Using “prior” as synonym for “earlier”? Since you won’t say what the alleged error is, we have no way of evaluating how legitimate the complaint is.

          • Terry Firma

            *sigh* The word “drew” or “reached” is missing from the second part of that sentence, right after “rather.”

            And yes, “12 year-old” is wrong too, as is the lack of commas after “death” and “prior.” But I wasn’t talking about those.

      • Guest

        Your response was a bit ridiculous as well. It would have been much better without the insulting language (as would this article as well).

        When people start getting hostile, it really doesn’t help get their message across. It just draws battle lines.

      • ShoeUnited

        So, I’m reading the full text of the psych article that Gus so kindly provided. And I think from what I’ve seen in your replies, it’s a bit misleading.

        The full text states (and I may be wrong in my understanding) that the method used was in terms of their demographic and clinical characteristics. That means that among atheist depressants, there’s a higher than expected suicide rate among Non-Affiliated with depression compared to Non-Affiliated with depression as there are Christians with depression as compared to Christians with depression. Now you may feel that this is nitpicking, but it doesn’t seem to indicate the same conclusion [Atheists are more likely to commit suicide] if we delve deeper.

        Now here are some interesting data points from the article:

        Religiously unaffiliated subjects were younger, less often married, and less often had children. … A backward stepwise logistic regression showed that age (odds ratio=0.97, 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.95 to 0.99; Wald χ2=7.84,
        p=0.005), but not marital status, parental status, or time spent with
        family, was significantly associated with suicide attempt status. … Backward stepwise logistic regressions showed that low moral objections
        to suicide, high lifetime aggression levels, and less feeling of
        responsibility to family were significantly associated with suicide
        attempt, whereas religious affiliation per se and age were not (t3). … Moral objections to suicide mediated the association between religious
        affiliation and suicide attempt as all three stipulated conditions were
        met (28). …

        Relationship Between Religious Affiliation and Suicidal Ideation

        Linear stepwise regressions with suicidal
        ideation as the dependent variable showed that of the demographic
        variables, age was significant (β=–0.182, t=–2.9, p=0.003), whereas
        marital status, parental status, and social network were not. Of the
        clinical variables, linear stepwise regression analysis showed that
        aggression (β=0.218, t=3.6, p<0.001) and responsibility to family
        (β=–0.23, t=–3.7, p<0.001) were significant, whereas history of past
        substance abuse, BPRS score, impulsivity, and child-related concerns
        were not significant. The final model with suicidal ideation as the outcome variable and age, aggression, responsibility to family, religious affiliation, and moral objections to suicide as the
        independent variables revealed that high aggression scores, low moral objections to suicide, and younger age were significantly and
        independently associated with suicidal ideation. Religious affiliation and responsibility to family were not (t4).

        http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=177228

        What it ends up finding is that young religiously unaffiliated who have no first family ties (brothers, sisters, parents) who morally do not object to suicide are more likely to commit suicide if they’ve attempted in the past than older subjects who have religion, have family, and (through religion) have a moral objection to suicide. And the conclusion goes on to say that religion may (as conjecture) help prevent suicide since it presents a moral objection to it. Though the only religions studied were Christian, it goes on to say that religion should be studied closer to see if it provides real benefit. But if the person has no moral objection to suicide, then religion does not affect their suicide rate.

        From what I’ve learned, it’s a matter of whether someone is morally against suicide when they are young that influences factors. Christian religions provide a moral point on this, but I question what significant percentage of Non-Affiliated were atheists and former theists. This study does not make it clear. It is also unclear to me how honest people were being since this was essentially a self-conducted survey with numbers crunched after the fact.

        What it doesn’t imply from the raw data, is the conclusion that religious people in general tend to commit suicide less per capita demographic.

    • islandbrewer

      It’s Terry, not Hemant.

    • Matt D

      Lauren, the author of this article is Terry Firma, not Hemant. Please learn to recognize this in the future to avoid confusion. We have enough of that from theists who frequent this blog.

  • ShoeUnited

    You know, you could have just said Mea Culpa in an update block in the original article, but I like this article a lot better.

  • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

    Well I guess we were wrong. We’ll change our opinions then. What we won’t do is cling to the ‘truth’ of this story in the face of all evidence and base all of our life decisions on this story.

    • ShoeUnited

      Clearly you were downvoted because you changed your opinion to fit facts. Or maybe someone thought Joe Klein’s anis would never write a misleading article about Stalinist Oprah.

      It’s so hard to keep track of downvotes without context these days.

    • Pseudonym

      We’ll change our opinions then.

      Will you, though? (Note: In what follows, by “you” I don’t necessarily mean you, Cyrus Palmer, I mean “you” in general.)

      Will you actually repair whatever flaw in your thinking caused you to readily believe a falsehood rather than question it?

      I’m not sure that I would. If I truly believed something like “religion kills”, I’m not sure that evidence that this can be exploited to lead me to readily accept falsehoods would change my thinking. That is, after all, how thought-terminating cliches work.

  • C Peterson

    Well, Terry, in your support I note that there was no mention of UFOs or alien abductions, which is usually a marker of falsity in tabloid stories.

    (And as I suggested in the other discussion, I think that if we can’t see a 12-year old suicide as essentially defining mental illness, the term has little meaning.)

  • Gus

    That is how you do a correction and reflects the kind of skepticism we ought to bring to stories we find in the media.

    However, I would take some issue with how you handled the Chituc response. You may be entirely right that religion is the proximate cause of suicide in all the cases you mention, and would have been in the false story, were it true. But the way you criticize Chituc for speculating that the girl may have been mentally ill troubles me. I’ll try to cover this briefly, and hopefully still be comprehensible.

    Yes, depression is a recognized mental illness, and needs to be treated as such by medical professionals. At the same time, “mental illness” seems to be a more stigmatizing term than “depression” and it seems that you intentionally chose it for that reason, particularly when we add in “speculating”. It seems like you’re saying Chituc is calling the deceased girl crazy. This is problematic to me. We need to be working to remove the stigma from mental illness in general and depression in particular so that people are more willing to talk about it and more willing to get help when they need it. I don’t think it helps that when someone who may be depressed reads a piece like this and may come away with the idea that if they admit they have depression, everyone will think they’re crazy.

    It’s also true that depression is the leading cause of suicide. That being the case, it is reasonable to think that people who killed themselves, whatever specific reasons they may have given, religion included, were likely suffering from depression.

    A better tack to take is to suggest that religious ideas about the afterlife, as well as religious pressures on how people are expected to live and on family and friendships, can be very detrimental to the well being of people with depression and increase the likelihood of suicide. We don’t know that as a scientific fact, but it’s a reasonable speculation. It may also be that some people who are not depressed commit suicide based on their religious beliefs in one way or another. We don’t know these things for certain, but we do know that when a person commits suicide there is a high probability that they suffered from depression.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Some of us embrace our crazy, and I forgot what else I was going to say, so… uh… yeah. I have no clue where I was going with that.

    • Terry Firma

      That’s fair criticism, Gus. I could have been less strident in my choice of words … especially because in 2006, I went through a ten-month clinical depression that had me contemplating taking my own life. It was a bleak and terrifying time, but modern medicine got my brain chemistry back on track again and I have barely looked back since.

      I would have absolutely preferred to be referred to as “clinically depressed” at the time, rather than “mentally ill” (although technically, the former falls under the latter). We shouldn’t stigmatize depression further — I agree. Thanks for your perspective. I’ll be more careful.

  • VladChituc

    “Calling a young child mentally ill when you know nothing about her but the fact that she took her own life doesn’t strike me as rising to the level of verity and respectfulness that Chituc expects from others.”

    I never called her mentally ill. I said a 12 year old’s killing themselves is more in line with mental illness than any belief from religion. In fact, I was very careful to not say we know for sure she has an illness. My points where only:

    1. even given the available information, there is no reason to believe that she killed herself because of a belief in heaven (because mental illness is a better and more plausible account for the same information)

    and

    2) all available scientific evidence (e.g. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15569904 ) shows an inverse relationship between religion and suicide. I see that you conveniently didn’t address that portion of my post in your response, choosing instead to focus on my grammar and (irrelevant) anecdotes. If religion really did lead people to be more okay with killing themselves, you would see it in the data and you don’t.

    • ShoeUnited

      For cleanliness, and to help better direct my commentary, I’m copying it from a previous area to a reply here. Thank you for providing information.
      (Also some minor edits from me for clarification, my kingdom for an editor)

      So, I’m reading the full text of the psych article that Gus and VladCituc so kindly provided. And I think from what I’ve seen in your replies, it’s a bit misleading.

      The full text states (and I may be wrong in my understanding) that the method used was in terms of their demographic and clinical characteristics. That means that among atheist depressants, there’s a higher than expected suicide rate among Non-Affiliated with depression compared to Non-Affiliated with depression as there are Christians with depression as compared to Christians with depression. Now you may feel that this is nitpicking, but it doesn’t seem to indicate the same conclusion -Atheists are more likely to commit suicide- if we delve deeper.

      Now here are some interesting data points from the article:

      Religiously unaffiliated subjects were younger, less often married, and less often had children. … A backward stepwise logistic regression showed that
      age (odds ratio=0.97, 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.95 to 0.99; Wald χ2=7.84, p=0.005), but not marital status, parental status, or time spent with family, was significantly associated with suicide attempt status. …
      Backward stepwise logistic regressions showed that low moral objections to suicide, high lifetime aggression levels, and less feeling of responsibility to family were significantly associated with suicide attempt, whereas religious affiliation per se and age were not (t3). … Moral objections to suicide mediated the association between religious affiliation and suicide attempt as all three stipulated conditions were met (28). …

      Relationship Between Religious Affiliation and Suicidal Ideation

      Linear stepwise regressions with suicidal ideation as the dependent variable showed that of the demographic variables, age was significant (β=–0.182, t=–2.9, p=0.003), whereas marital status, parental status, and social network were not. Of the clinical variables, linear stepwise regression analysis showed that aggression (β=0.218, t=3.6, p<0.001) and responsibility to family (β=–0.23, t=–3.7, p<0.001) were significant, whereas history of past substance abuse, BPRS score, impulsivity, and child-related concerns were not significant. The final model with suicidal ideation as the outcome variable and age, aggression, responsibility to family, religious affiliation, and moral objections to suicide as the
      independent variables revealed that high aggression scores, low moral objections to suicide, and younger age were significantly and independently associated with suicidal ideation. Religious affiliation and responsibility to family were not (t4).

      http://ajp.psychiatryonline.or

      What I end up finding in the data is that young religiously unaffiliated who
      have no first family ties (brothers, sisters, parents) who morally do
      not object to suicide are more likely to commit suicide if they’ve
      attempted in the past than older subjects who have religion, have
      family, and (through religion) have a moral objection to suicide and fewer previous attempts. And the conclusion goes on to say that religion may (as conjecture) help prevent suicide since it presents a moral objection to it. Though the only religions studied were Christian, it goes on to say that religion should be studied closer to see if it provides real benefit. But if the
      person has no moral objection to suicide, then religion does not affect
      their suicide rate.

      From what I’ve learned, it’s a matter of whether someone is morally against suicide when they are young that influences factors. Christian religions provide a moral point on this, but I question what significant percentage of Non-Affiliated were atheists and former theists. This study does not make it clear. It is also unclear to me how honest people were being since this was essentially a self-conducted survey with numbers crunched after the fact.

      What it doesn’t imply from the raw data, is the conclusion that religious people in general tend to commit suicide less per capita demographic.

    • http://empiricalpierce.wordpress.com/ EmpiricalPierce

      Sure, in this particular instance there isn’t credible evidence that the suicide was in any way influenced by belief in Heaven. I will grant you that. But to suggest that religious beliefs cannot influence the decision is incorrect. I personally suspect that reduced suicide rates among the religious is influenced by the widespread belief that suicide condemns someone to Hell, thus transforming an escape from depression into an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” (pun intended) scenario.

      However, the religious are likely just as vulnerable to would-be suicidal levels of depression. And religious beliefs can lead to this manifesting in terrible ways, as evidenced by the Danish suicide murders where people tried to loophole their theology by killing someone, repenting, and then being executed.

      http://sciencenordic.com/danes-killed-get-killed

      • Terry Firma

        I’ll give them this: Overall, religious people are very good at coming together for their cause — and at building communities. For various reasons, most non-believers don’t do that nearly as well. I suspect that any correlation between religiosity and a lower-than-average suicide rate has to do with being cared for (and publicly cared about) by fellow congregants. If that’s true, a reduced suicide rate comes not from God-belief itself, but from how believers organize.

        • http://empiricalpierce.wordpress.com/ EmpiricalPierce

          A fair point. It’s a reason to support secular community structures like the Sunday Assembly; churches do indeed serve a useful purpose, so replacing them with a church 2.0 (New! Improved! Now with less unsubstantiated beliefs!) seems like a good idea to me.

        • Matt Westwood

          Reverse cause and effect, perhaps: maybe people who have a particular enotional propensity to herd together in communities are more likely to get religious because of the warm sense of belonging they get. Those who prefer solitude may be more likely to be emotionally self-reliant and less likely to feel the need for some fairy-stories to help them feel warm and fuzzy inside.

  • Mike Holton

    Whether or not this story is true is less important than whether or not it COULD be.

    • invivoMark

      Not if you’re a consistent atheist. To an atheist, whether or not something is true matters. That’s why we’re atheists.

      • Mike Holton

        Yes, I see your point. The potential for an event to actually occur is completely irrelevant.

      • Mike Holton

        I’m an atheist, too, and you are the cause of our reputation as arrogant, combative, smartasses.

        • TiltedHorizon

          Nothing in invivoMark’s reply constitutes as “arrogant, combative, smartass”. Truth matters, if this story was fabricated then the onus is on us to treat it and admit to it as such. With all the real examples of religious harm in the world, we don’t need to rally against an invalid example.

          • Mike Holton

            I’m not advocating passing a fabrication as the truth. I’m saying the potential for this to happen is important, whether or not it actually has happened.

  • Sven2547

    I am relieved that this case seems to be fiction, although the issue it raises still bears discussion.

  • The Other Weirdo

    So, you’re saying you fell victim to an unintended Poe? That doesn’t say about you(us) nearly as much as it says about religious people. We just can’t tell the difference between the weirdest, most outlandish fiction and what religious people do and believe.

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    It does say something, though, when you have to be TOLD the story is fake.

  • JT Rager

    I’ll come out and say I commented stating this was a clear reason why religion is harmful. I was wrong!

  • Bob Becker

    Yeah, ya dropped the ball on this one. Thanks for the prompt update/ correction. Have to keep in mind, H that for many of your readers you are a Trusted Source. I see something you put up here, I presume you’ve vetted it first unless, as you sometimes do,you ring it about with cautions.

    • allein

      This one was T, not H.

    • Terry Firma

      I agree. Again, I’m sorry my bullshit detector failed me this time.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    I’m not familiar with the Mirror (though it being a tabloid is kind of a dead giveaway in retrospect), but I’m honestly shocked that you didn’t know that the Daily Mail is a lie factory. I have to refer friends and family to Snopes to debunk DM articles at least once a week. ALL articles even picked up by the DM are altered to maximize outrage.

    I don’t think I outright said that the story smelled fishy under the original post, and I should have. I might have been too distracted by the commenters hopping on to play “Gotcha” and expose their own confirmation bias… which is fairly ironic, come to think of it. >.<

  • BoGardiner

    Thanks for the correction and apology, Terry. Gracefully done. This is one of the many things I admire about this site. Since I often link to here from other forums, this allows me to correct myself and my own posts elsewhere, which is greatly appreciated.

    As for exploiting a child’s death to advance an agenda, nonsense. Your analogy with the safety vest is dead on. There’s a compassionate, tasteful way of doing this, a balancing act you and Hemant strike well. I consider myself someone pretty sensitive to emotional nuance, and often wince at persons on both sides who seem utterly tone-deaf.

    Any accusation of an agenda-driven low blow over this is, well, an agenda-driven low blow. I believe we’d be irresponsible if we didn’t speak out.

    • Terry Firma

      Thank you Bo.

  • Cheryl K.

    I truly appreciate your mea culpas where warranted. That’s what makes this site so credible. Even though this story might be completely made up, we fall for it because it rings true. It certainly did for me because I have had my own experience with a child’s naive view of heaven. When visiting my cousin’s son, the mom was exasperated by the 4 year old who was taking to running into the street. She told him he could get killed. The lad’s cheerful comeback — “Then I’d be with Jesus.” I hope the mom telling him how much she would miss him got through, because frankly, he has completely internalized the belief that heaven is some better place and there’s not much reason to stay here.

  • Cousin Ricky

    I first saw this story in the Daily Fail Mail, which immediately made me suspicious. However, I know nothing of the Mirror, and seeing it cited in this blog made me think, maybe there’s something to it.

  • Monala

    I felt the same way about your post – that it was exploitative – and still do, because it differs in a key way from your lifejacket example. If the young girl had killed herself within a few days, weeks or even months after her father’s death, then her belief in heaven and wanting to join him there might seem more valid (this is assuming that the story is true, which we now know is not the case).

    But four years later? That’s like identifying the lack of a lifejacket as the cause of death for a child who dies of uncertain causes four years after surviving a fall out of a boat. In this particular case (again, assuming it were true), it seems far more likely that her suicide would have been due to another cause, and her belief in heaven perhaps her only comfort in whatever despair she was feeling (e.g., “I want to die [for whatever reason], but at least I will have a chance to be with Dad again.”).

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    It takes decency, honesty, and humility to admit a mistake. Thank you for doing so. Let this be an example to all of us about fact checking. It is especially important when a story seems very believable and reinforces our own deeply held views that we should be extra careful. [edited for grammar]

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I’m sick of being sent emails and facebook postings that are complete and total fraud. Can we investigate where this shit comes from? Is it possible for an IT-savvy person to figure out the origin of these emails. We should be publicly embarrassing the people who make up these lies?

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Regardless, we did have some really good discussions.

  • A3Kr0n

    I never thought she committed suicide just to be with her dad. I’ve never heard of a child doing that before. I was going to write something like “I wish Paul Harvey could give us the rest of the story” at the original posting, but forgot.

  • Without Malice

    The story was all made up? Maybe they should put it in the bible with the rest of those made up stories.

  • Taneli Huuskonen

    Thank you, Terry.

    I initially fell for it, too. It was only after reading a couple of skeptical comments that I decided to look for other sources and saw the discrepancies.

    By the way, at least one article explicitly states the police didn’t find a suicide note. Even Google Translate gets that part right.
    http://www.fakt.pl/sledczy-maja-pamietniki-marysi-kislo-12-l-ktora-sie-zabila,artykuly,425873,1.html

  • Dawn

    You make some wild assumptions based on the (non-existent) suicide note of a child in a tabloid notorious for publish in less and yet take Vlad
    to task for mentioning the very reasonable possibility of mental illness in a post where he cites relevant data.

    I just don’t get it. The lesson in all this is not, “don’t trust the British tabloids.” It’s that when you’re offering up something for your readers check your sources, see if you’re claims are justified by what data might be available and be aware of any confirmation bias that might be lurking.

    You got caught with the source and had no choice but to admit it. Big deal. I would have been impressed if you had managed to give Vlad’s post some real thought instead of just a knee jerk reaction.

  • Itarion

    “Do you reckon these children were mentally ill?”

    Yes, in the same manner that I reckon religion generally is an acquired mental illness. Will I shout from the rooftops that the devout are mad? Technically, this counts, but it’s a friendly rooftop.

    As support for my hypothesis, this: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/26/us/26cnd-yates.html?_r=0

    Religion used to justify the insanity plea.


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