Monday 29 July 2013

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


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.)


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.


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!')


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.


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?


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.


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.



Arakawa said...

"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."

This I take as further confirmation that Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom presents an accurate impression of reality. He also discusses this phenomenon in some detail.

(Reading Life at the Bottom had a similar effect for me as Screwtape Letters -- serving as a (personally) sobering illustration of how comparatively minor-seeming sins can produce an utterly gratuitous state of misery if continually indulged and left unchecked.)

Anonymous said...

If you're interested in the after life then you might want to read around on Near Death Experiences. Like at, there are plenty of accounts from people of an afterlife, from many perspectives/beliefs, atheist, christian, hindu etc.

- AAB (

Donald said...

I had a family member I cared for go through this. A year of psychotic depression spent in hospital. It was literally a living hell. The worst part is the person was very aware of their predicament.

Uriel Omegangelos said...

I agree. The sinfulness of suicide, taken for granted by many traditionalists, is highly dubious:

"There are seven suicides and one attempted suicide reported in the Bible, and they are presented either neutrally or as appropriate, under the circumstances ... how did the Bible's neutral position on suicide become translated by the Christian Church into a dogmatic opposition to suicide? ... In the Fourth Century AD, the Empire and the Catholic Church sought to suppress the heretical Donatists ... The Donatists' fanatic belief in an obligation to resist persecution in practice sometimes expanded into goading magistrates and other authorities into killing them, secure in the knowledge that this "martyrdom" ensured them a place in Heaven... It was to "correct" this heresy that St. Augustine of Hippo, in the early fifth century, wrote his arguments opposing suicide... Augustine's arguments did not immediately take hold in Western culture. The first comprehensive Christian-era legal code was the Code of Justinian. This codex, drafted about a century after St. Augustine, did not punish suicide, if the person had a good reason for killing himself; good reasons cited include, "impatience of pain or sickness, or by another cause, weariness of life... lunacy or fear of dishonor." In short, every reason except no reason at all, and that was punished only on the grounds that it was irrational: "whoever does not spare himself will not spare another."(8) Suicide did not become a crime under English Common Law until the 10th Century, in the appropriately-named Dark Ages".

Best regards.

Bruce Charlton said...

@UO - Interesting background - all new to me. Thanks!