Contemplating Suicide

Brynna 4

For a long time I’ve puzzled how two of the three great monotheistic religions deal with the issue of suicide. (I’m not including Judaism here, first because I understand it least, but second because what I do understand says — as I recall — Jews don’t share Christians’ and Muslims’ concept of the afterlife.) Here’s the basic outline (a caveat — I’m speaking without benefit of research and using information gleaned over the years, perhaps in error):
1) Both Christians and Muslims (especially the more fundamentalist flavors) live to die. That is to say, ascendancy to heaven (or paradise) and meeting God is something dearly to be anticipated.

2) Going speedily to meet one’s maker would seem to be an admirable thing, when one considers the joys in store.

3) Doing so, however, would rapidly deplete the ranks of the world’s organized religions (and thence their coffers of donations).

4) Therefore, all religions consider suicide to be a venal sin, guaranteeing that the individual at best ends in purgatory and is denied the glory of God’s grace.

That’s the basic idea. And aside from the very rationalistic approach to avoid droves of fundamentalists leaping from the parapets, the entire thing is quite consistent if a bit circular.

It’s the exceptions that trouble me. Take the extreme: a Muslim committing suicide in the act of destroying infidels is considered a martyr destined for immediate ascension to Paradise and multitudes (80, was it?) virgins to satisfy his days and nights — another example of misogynistic fundamentalism. To some misguided persons it is a wondrous act of selfless sacrifice, but — let’s be frank — it’s suicide, except that in addition to killing oneself one murders others, often innocent others.

Not only radical Muslims justify suicide in “combat.” If a Marine leaps on a grenade, sacrificing himself to save his fellows, he will be applauded, receive medals posthumously for valor, and be honored in any Christian church. Yet, it is, at its base, suicide.

Consider it statistically. If I step on a commercial airliner, there is a chance I may die — a chance of approximately one in fifty million. So by stepping aboard, I am 1/50,000,000 a suicide. Small enough. The chance of dying in an auto accident are rather better; if I drive or ride in a car, I purposefully risk death. Still a very small chance, however. How about if you are one of those Marines charging up the beach at Iwo Jima, however? Chance of dying: about 1 in 10. (If you were a Japanese defender, chance of dying was just about a certainty, but not being Christian those don’t “count” for our analysis.) If a Marine acted heroically — e.g., charging a machine gun emplacement — his “suicide premium” increased also to a near certainty.

So there it is: if you commit suicide in order to meet your Maker, you have committed a sin; if you commit suicide by intentionally placing yourself in a dangerous situation or as an act of heroism or as a martyr, you have not. A problem of consistency? Or, just another way that religions rationalize the irrational? Can someone enlighten (or correct) me? I’m sure some philosopher has already attempted to deal with this, but I don’t know who.

(Another gray area: assisted suicide. Leaving aside the ethics of assisting another to commit suicide, the would-be suicide is contemplating the act not only to relieve his or her own pain, suffering, incapacity, etc., but in addition may be seeking to relieve loved ones of emotional, physical and financial burdens, sometimes beyond their ability to bear. Does this rise to a level of selflessness close to the Marine shielding comrades from an exploding grenade? To qualify must an heroic act be instantaneous and without forethought? Must it actually save other life?)

(I’m not entirely satisfied with this posting. I’ve tried to say something here, but am not sure I was successful. So, please forgive the ramblings.)


Another from last week’s session with Brynna. Classic fine art nude photography, and so much more pleasant a subject. This photo is available as a 12×18 print for $50 (plus shipping), for one week.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>