It may seem strange to go from Suicide and Society directly to Suicide and the Human Person. Isn’t there a family involved? Yes, there is, but ironically you have to make significant assumptions and inferences about the human person before you can discuss family. Society is the realm where you can, at times, indulge in spherical racehorses. Neither the Human Person nor the Family benefit from this treatment very often, especially when dealing with existential issues.
This is because, ultimately, Society is an artificial construct. This does not mean we can replace it willy-nilly with government accretions. We have the term Government as a separate word for a reason. The two things are different and rightfully so. I’m sure you will become familiar with my rants on this subject, if you haven’t already. So, onward.
The society article was mostly from the Natural Law point of view. I will start with that approach, but also use Christian Argument. There is no consistent argument for the value of human life without religious content– or at else, extra-rational content. Certainly an atheist can believe in the value of human life, but he has no consistent reasons to do so. Sure, he can erect axioms to that effect, and many do. But when push comes to shove, they have no supports, whereas a Divinity above Humanity gives the authority to designate Human life as irrevocably valuable. I will go into this more later. Or you can read this article instead— Fr. Know-It-All does a better job discussing it than me.
Suicide– why talk about it?
Well, it is clear that we need to. Personally I think that not talking about it is worse. Children and others who indulge in this fantasy need to discuss and listen about it more than anyone. Yes, suicide is a fantasy– a fantasy of an escape to peace where all your problems are over. I don’t care– even if you are an atheist this is true. If you believe in a soul at all, then there can be some existence that we can’t dissect in a lab. If you believe in consciousness this is true. Consciousness is our argument for a rational soul. You can’t say for certain what it’s full realm of characteristics are.Even if the life of now is your only concern– abandoning ship in the passion of the moment can’t be good decision making. You can’t undo it. When one makes this decision, you are under some kind of duress or other. Pain, illness, misery, guilt and depression all qualify. The best bet is to find another way to find a kind of peace. You simply can’t think clearly enough, or have enough information to make this decision wisely. It’s too big of an issue to leave for when you are desperate for any escape.
Furthermore, I argue that the main reasons why we don’t talk about it, is because we have forgotten our own arguments against it– and don’t want to reveal our ignorance in an emotionally charged arena where our ignorance might cost lives. The first and best one– for the individual– is the value of human life. I will admit that this is a society level argument, but it works well personally too. If you value everyone’s right to life– than rights can’t be revoked, even if you’d want them to be. (For this reason, “the right to vote” is not a right. But that’s another show.)
The value of human life is where Society and the Individual meet.
Society does not serve the human person– ANY human person– unless it values All human persons as sacred. Letting society kill an individual because they want to die (justice is a separate case–and another show) is giving sanction to those who’d like to kill the weak to ‘benefit society’. Whether they are the elderly, the stranger (unfamiliar/disliked races or cultures) the disabled, the mentally ill, the unborn, the incurable, the aged– it doesn’t matter. Once that door is opened all kinds of horrors result.
You can’t make a good argument against these acts without a concrete value for human life. We are too fond of generalizing the specific argument to make this tenable for society’s benefit. Besides, what proofs do we really have that these sorts of decisions would benefit society? Which part of society would benefit? The nation’s leaders who spend our money so they can control our lives for their benefit? Can you credibly make this argument when the fact of the matter is, you will say anything to convince yourself you need to die? Again, why is it we want to make this decision when we are least prepared to make any decision?
No individual is alone. No decision is without consequences– even if you think you are immune to them.
You may say that your family or friends would be better off without you. They may have rejected you, not called you in coon’s years, made rude comments about your life, said terrible things to your face. Even so, chances are, they still love you– even if they are broken vessels when it comes to expressing it. Sometimes, those hurtful things are expressed because they love you. They know no other way than to point out the best way to live that they have found. It is not much effective, but that is what they know.
The first sacrifice of LOVE is living.
So now, the very act of living through difficulty is an act of love. When I say love, I mean sacrifice. I mean, love meaning someone else’s happiness is more important than your own. In this case, there will always be multiple somebodies. Even if you are homeless and isolated, people will miss you, and people love you. That is why there are food banks, that is why there are shelters and hospices. That is why we worry about you. There will never be enough, we can never do enough, but those of us who love you are trying.
For the rest of us on the outside, every little thing helps. My husbands life was saved by a man who looked him in the eye at the right time and said “Welcome” with acceptance, shook his hand and directed him to a bathroom. That is why you should volunteer for things like usher at a church. Even if you are a greeter at Walmart, chances are, your smile and warm greeting might have saved a life. There is so much good we never see. And being kind and generous– and loving, when it isn’t convenient and seemingly helpful can do so much.
How have people coped in the past? Questions of Heaven and Hell. Still relevant, but altered by implications old and new.
Most people were told (back when we did talk about it behind closed doors) that the main reason for not committing suicide was– Hell. That, in our culture, is a discredited argument. Indeed, some who otherwise believe will swear that the Church Herself has abandoned the existence of Hell.The Church has not abandoned the doctrine of Hell– it has simply revised it’s thinking about the nature of Hell and the place human beings have in their descent. That is– we choose to go to Hell if we want. God doesn’t put us there out of anger– but to give us what we want. If we want something else more than God, then that is what we get. But God is everything we can possibly want, and whatever else we think we want is not sufficient for the needs of humans. Therefore, Hell is the absence of God. It can be anything– as long as it’s not God.
So, now that we know what Hell is, then we can talk about why we can’t simply say that it is our prime deterrent against suicide. First of all, we acknowledge committing suicide, while an affront to God, isn’t usually a conscious deliberate rejection of God Himself and His Love for us. There was a time when this was true, but now, so many people are so obsessed with their troubles that God simply doesn’t enter into the equation at all. God has gone so far out of their consciousness that His ‘opinion’ doesn’t really matter. This is often true even for many of those who claim to believe in Him.
A small taste of moral theology– that really does predate Vatican II.
The Church believes that such persons aren’t really culpable for dissing God. In the words of Jesus, “They know not what they do.” If you don’t think about God, if you don’t know about God, or are unaware that God cares a great deal whether or not you die with dignity (in His hands) or in your own selfish hour, then you are ignorant of God’s worthy attention to your life. Thus you can’t be spitting in His face, if you don’t even believe He cares. This is why we Christians can’t say for certain anymore that a suicide is going to Hell.Also, our increased understanding of depression has extended the realm of mercy and receded the realm of culpability in this score. If I’d succeeded in my unhappy jaunt in the realm of self-harm when I was on Prozac, God would have taken me into his arms– and I’d be turning off the lights in Purgatory just before it was dissolved.
Despair: the belief that things can’t get better– or that if they don’t life is meaningless.
Now let’s look at despair. Despair is the absence of Hope, which is the sense that God will save you even if your life sucks and everything sucks around you. Even more than Faith, Hope is nigh non-existent in this life. To the natural man it makes no sense. Odds are evenly split. But even your fate is affected by your ability to see things that improve– and you won’t see if it you believe that things will never get better. So, those who are not looking for any life-affirming way to escape their particular nightmare will be stuck there by their own willful ignorance.
The pagans of old believed that hope was a curse. Let’s look at the story of Pandora’s Box. The idea that Hope was a saving grace to mitigate the sufferings brought on by all the other evils is a Christian interpretation. Hope was seen as a great evil– the greatest evil, in some cases– causing needless suffering. Why? Because every pagan hard case in the old days knew that optimists were suckers. Hope was seen as a stubborn stand against fate and reality. That is, hubris, and that the gods would see that and do everything in their power to kick you down. This is one of those reasons why I opted to leave paganism. While most modern pagans swear up and down that they don’t believe it– they act, in most cases, as if they do.
I argue that hope makes life worth living to begin with. Who wants to live a stoic’s life? Why is that inspiring? I don’t know how atheists can manufacture Hope. I suspect that stoicism is the only way. If you have found one, I’d really like to hear it. This is not sardonic, I’m serious. You could be the next multi-billionaire. The world wants a true answer— just as long as it’s not Christianity .
As we have discussed, most pagans are secretly atheists. My husband would say that most theistic pagans are secretly (broken) Catholics. I will look at that idea sometime, but not today. End of rabbit hole.
Getting back to Hope for a moment, what does it really mean? Humanly speaking, it’s the belief that things can get better. It’s the belief that we want things to get better, even when we don’t feel like putting effort into it– yet. The most important thing is to not make irrevocable decisions when you are hopeless. The catch is, if you really and persistently don’t believe it, and affirm it, then you won’t see, even if it does improve. Unless you are lucky you won’t see the possibility to make change so nothing will change.
Those in most grave situations understood that what they had control over was the state of their minds. What they saw, and how they acted was all they had. This means, that to not have hope, was to give in to tyranny, abuse, and grave evil. Just ask Victor Frankl. That phrase, “fake it ’till you make it” is not some flip BS made up to keep you smiling. It is there as a reminder that most days all we have is our heart hope and being. Unless you go further, beyond human limitations. This, again, requires either religion (a rational system of it’s own) or extra rational axiom.
The Christian completion of the Natural Order of Hope– and it’s fulfillment.
Speaking as a Christian, Hope means that we believe that God keeps his promises. Not just those end of life promises (though that’s the bulk of it), but that He Loves us on earth, too. But we have to embrace it, and trust in it, to truly benefit from His strength. (That’s what those wacky Christians mean by saying, “Pick up your cross”) Every saint in the books and off the books did not trust in themselves to get through their lives of extraordinary virtue. Those are not heroic persons.
Those saints are demonstrations and examples of God’s love and greatness– that they could be cheerful and resting in his love, when the natural man would be screaming, despairing, and undone. The whole point is that humans can’t tolerate what those saints went through. God did it for them–gave them the peace and joy in the midst of horrors– out of love, and because they loved God so much. If this is not real, how could there be so many? Us humans just can’t make this stuff up on such a consistent and ongoing basis– and I make up stories for a living.
They come from all walks of life– they are not all bishops or priests or nuns or kings. Some are married, some were single, some were consecrated virgins, some were born in the Church, some were converts, outcasts, and penitents, some were rich, some were poor, some were mere children.
In most ancient and modern cases we can prove that they lived as people and see concrete evidence of their actions. The Church takes this sort of thing very seriously, and has stringent tests for miracles and the like. These saints hail from all over the world, from all races and started in all creeds, many were sick, many had traits that rendered them ‘useless’ to society. That is a clear a sign as any that God loves everyone. These traits were true of saints even in those times and places where these equality ideas were most despised.
SO even if you can’t name a single person who might love you, God does because you exist, because you breathe and because you yearn. Your very needs prove that God loves you. Because all needs ultimately go back to God. So the needier you are, the higher capacity you have for loving the God of All. OF course, the opposite is also the case. But taking that Godly risk– and suffering for those you love and might or might not love you (it makes no difference) is truly the net that keeps me breathing. I can’t promise I’ll be a saint, but God does. I sure hope so, and work toward it every day by putting him first in my life.
This is where I end with the realm of the person. To get to other natural man type arguments against suicide, you have to go with family– those life long connections to others through blood or or life-long commitment.
I will be honest– the natural law arguments against suicide are very thin without supporting an unassailable notion that human life is valuable. Even valuing all life gets complicated– in the end you are forced to choose a hierarchy. Saying “It’s all good” will eventually push you against the wall and you will be forced to make a bad decision under duress. We’ve seen PETA do this more than once.
The only real natural law option is to contend that society goes horrible and scary places if you don’t– and I think they call that a circular argument, even if it has evidence to support the thesis. If the 20th and 21st centuries so far aren’t dissertations on this score, then I don’t know anything.