Monday, 29 July 2013

Suicide and sin - and what attempted suicide sometimes tells us about belief in the afterlife

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Is suicide sin? I believe that the correct answer is that it may be.

(Wrong answers are that suicide is always a sin or never a sin.)

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Patients suffering from the rare condition of severe endogenous depression, including psychotic depression, are experiencing what is perhaps the worst of all forms of human suffering - and have the highest suicide rate of any groups.

Endogenous depression comes upon people - often out of the blue and without any sufficient precipitant - like being struck-down with an illness: indeed endogenous depression bears all the hallmarks of an illness come upon a person, and will spontaneously resolve after about a year (assuming the sufferer is still alive, has been kept alive).

It is among these people where you sometimes see mercy-killing-suicides - as when a loving mother smothers her sleeping children then kills herself because she perceives the world as so utterly horrible a place that she wishes for nothing more than to protect her children from it.

Now, I would have thought that this (extremely rare) kind of suicide cannot possibly be regarded as a sin from a Christian perspective - it is an absolute tragedy, but (so far as we can tell) there is in it no trace of pride or defiance.

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On the other hand, the 'attempted suicides' (or parasuicides) which are so frequent an occurrence (I used to see several 'overdoses' every night when I was 'on call' as a junior doctor - only a small proportion of whom died) are typically and very obviously sinful since they were often motivated by hatred and the desire for revenge.

(e.g. A person who said they were thinking 'this will show him' as she took the tablets. Or another who slashed his wrists reportedly thinking, 'she'll be sorry now!')

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Suicide can be an existential act of defiance against God - it can be an ultimate destruction of Good in which a person takes a step further from polluting and defacing their God-given body, to actually destroying it. Suicide can be a prideful assertion that this life, this body is mine - to do with as I wish up to and including annihilation.

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But is it annihilation that is being sought by the suicides among endogenous and psychotic depressives? Sometimes, probably, but is hard to say as a rule - clearly it is escape from this world which is being sought, an end to suffering without hope; but from this into what?

Extinction or perpetual sleep, perhaps; or escape to a better place?

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But what is fascinating is the implicit, sometimes explicit, sense that parasuicides (attempted suicides) often report that after they have killed themselves, when they are dead, they will still in some sense be around to observe the consequences (e.g. gloating over the misery and guilt of those who have been hurt by their suicide).

Clearly, there are some people - people who are apparently non-religious and anti-Christian and indeed acting under wicked motivations - who have a deep underlying assumption that when they kill themselves it will not be the end: that death is not extinction.

They 'believe' this assumption of an afterlife, in the sense of belief meaning 'live by' - thus they live-by this assumption of the reality of a life after death, even to the point of killing themselves (or trying to) on the basis of this assumption.

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This is one line of evidence that belief in 'life after death' (that death is not the end of experience) is pretty much built-into humans (or most humans) and that the modern profession of disbelief, or profession of belief that death is extinction, may be a shallow, artificial and weak cultural construct.

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