Seeing the causes of suicide in our midst


When famous people commit suicide, we can expect expressions of shock that “someone who had everything to live for” would do such a thing.

The supposed buffer against despair and dread had collapsed.

If that could happen to a model of societal success, what did that auger for the rest of us clinging to low rungs on that ladder?

So the endless clash between sacred and profane worlds grinds along.

The American dream may fire ambitions, heighten striving, fill bank accounts, win prizes and esteem, but eludes soulfulness like an asteroid whizzes by and escapes Earth’s gravity.

We can repeat forever the central Gospel warning against materialism and the bankruptcy of gaining the whole world but losing our souls, but the bullhorn of culture preaches that fame and riches betoken what the “good life” strives for.

The hegemony of the capitalist message virtually blots out anything but ritualistic references to the virtues of Jesus’ kingdom of heaven.

The professions of shock that a person basking in the showers of money, publicity and acclaim would end it all are, therefore, likely to reflect a jarring blow, at least momentarily.

A hint of that other world grounded in selflessness, equality and grace rather than achievement does get through the wall of free enterprise armor.

If it could happen to him …

Suicide unforgivable

For centuries, suicide has been condemned by many Christian groups as wantonly destroying a creation of God for selfish motives that inflict great pain on family and friends.

No doubt some acts of self-destruction are aimed at blaming others for their fate, attempting to exact revenge or instill guilt, but we instinctively sense the causes cover a much broader array of mental states, even soulful ones.

Mental illness is obviously a leading factor.

In my view, it typically masks a spiritual crisis that transcends strictly personal conflicts.

In many cases, sane minds despair over inability to cope with the scope of structural realities like vast suffering and injustice, for example.

Wider world issues merge with deeply personal ones to unleash the final death wish.

The branding of suicide as unforgiveable sin is therefore denial of the conflicts built into human existence that may make life intolerable and unsustainable.

We cannot know the minds of those who make that decision with any precision, so to consign those deaths to everlasting disgrace is an exercise in ignorance and ethical rigidity.

I remember attending the funeral of a family member who had taken his own life.

As closest relatives, we sat in the front pew while the clergyman declared his assurance that even though we all felt a burden of responsibility for this, and expected our departed one to face a thumbs-down judgment on the other side, he was confident that he’d get a break.

We were stunned. Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Features.