Monday, May 4, 2009

Is Suicide a One Way Ticket to Hell?

To be perfectly clear, before we start, I am not suicidal. This is just a thinky. Not a secret cry for help or anything. I am not now, nor have I ever been suicidal. I chose the least alarming title I could think of, but this is a 'hot' topic, so I'm just trying to clear that up from the start.

I also feel the need to add that, especially in the comments on Lisa's post, there is discussion of methods of committing suicide, and well, I need people to be responsible about their own triggers and issues. Do *not* read if any of this is going to upset you. No one is advocating suicide, but there is frank discussion of it.

So, on a far more serious point than my last post...


Lisa's post on the anniversary of her Grandmother's death brought the topic up, and there was a little, let's call it a kerfuffle over there about whether or not all suicide, in Islam, was automatically a one way ticket to hellfire. Someone seemed to say that it was, others argued against it, a little back and forth. To be honest I'm not sure where the final word came down over there, or even if it has. It *seems* that the majority of opinion over there believes that mental illness, diminished capacity, etc. removes some degree of responsibility/culpability for a persons actions, including suicide. Seeing as how I am not Muslim, it's not of burning importance to me.

What do I think?

Well, suicide is, according to the dictionary - 1) the intentional taking of ones own life, 3) a person who intentionally takes their own life - also known as self-annihilation, self-destruction, self-murder.

I mean, it's a fairly simple term, on the face of it. Suicide is killing ones self. Self-murder. Methods vary, I mean, we're a very creative race. If a thing can be done, a determined person will find a way to do it. Murder, very, very basically, can be defined as the intentional killing of a human being by a human being. In a sense, killing yourself is committing murder, hence the term 'self-murder'. And, murder is an acknowledged evil.

It's condemned in the Bible - Wilful murder was distinguished from accidental homicide, and was invariably visited with capital punishment (Num. 35:16, 18, 21, 31; Lev. 24:17). This law in its principle is founded on the fact of man's having been made in the likeness of God (Gen. 9:5, 6; John 8:44; 1 John 3:12, 15). The Mosaic law prohibited any compensation for murder or the reprieve of the murderer (Ex. 21:12, 14; Deut. 19:11, 13; 2 Sam. 17:25; 20:10). Two witnesses were required in any capital case (Num. 35:19-30; Deut. 17:6-12). If the murderer could not be discovered, the city nearest the scene of the murder was required to make expiation for the crime committed (Deut. 21:1-9). But, I think that the underlying concept for this condemnation was always that the murderer was of sound mind and body. No, the ancients may not have defined it that way, and they really didn't have a very good way of determining who was a psychopath, sociopath, what have you. Their best bet was to kill anyone who was found guilty of murder. They didn't really have a concept of mental illness, as we do today. People were 'possessed'.

Okay, so what does the Catechism say about suicide? I reference the Catechism because I'm Catholic, so your mileage will vary.


2280 - Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for His honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

2281 - Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends the love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

2282 - If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

2283 - We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

Emphasis mine, above. So, I read, from this, that those suffering from a mental illness, such as depression, schizophrenia, or of diminished mental capacity for one reason or another (drugged/drunk person jumping from a bridge, comes to mind), is held *less* responsible for their actions than one who is in full control. Also, for example, those who jumped from the Twin Towers. Did they, *technically* take their own lives? I'd say yes. Were they under stresses and strains that no one else understands? Most definitely. They had an untenable choice. Die by fire, smoke, explosion, building collapse, or jump. I cannot imagine what I would do in that situation, and neither can anyone else. Can we justifiably also say that they were murdered? Of course we can. They would never have been in that position but for the actions of the hijackers, who are nothing more than murderers.

Now, how can you tell if a person is diminished at the time they killed themselves? Unless they have a history of suicide attempts, depression, other mental illness, I think it's almost impossible. So, I believe we must make the assumption that all suicides are acting under a certain level of diminished mental responsibility, and therefore condemning them for their manner of death is unkind and unwarranted.

The end point is, as with everyone else, we *do not know* the final state of their soul. And making assumptions just burdens us with the illusion that we do know something that we have no knowledge of.

So, I say, we mourn them like everyone else, we pray for them, and we leave the rest to God. He, as always, knows best.

And, though it may be hard, even impossible, we have to do the best to not condemn ourselves for 'not seeing it', not saying 'just the right thing', not 'getting them help'. No one, on seeing a friend or loved one in pain, does anything but their utmost to help. Unfortunately, sometimes the illness is stronger than us. Sometimes, there are no signs. Sometimes, there's nothing to be done. And we need to forgive ourselves for that. For being helpless, because you have to know that you tried. If you could have saved them, you would have.


  1. Mom's old best friend lost 3 sons. Two to muscular dystrophy at years 3 and 16. And a third adopted 17 year old son to a car wreck about a year after the 16 year old died. She had one living daughter.

    She committed suicide a few months ago, despite having adopted a 3 year old son from Guatemala. Gosh it was so inevitable. We all saw it coming. Tried to intervene. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do.

    Do I think of her as in the fire? Nope. She had shock therapy and everything under the sun, but the mental hospital couldn't continuously hold onto her.

    On the other hand, Grandma's was pre-meditated. But thank you for #2283, it made me feel so good Amber.

    Though we can't know the fate of a soul, I think it's a very safe bet that the 9-11 jumpers did not enter the fire. They didn't want to take their lives, the floor was too hot for them to stand on, and they had taken off shirts, but that heat overwhelms. It's a natural human thing to do in their case. I can promise I would have done the same given those circumstances.

    But, if we think about it as a murder, well that does make sense. Especially because under Texas law, technically one who lives after a suicide attempt should be jailed, though I suppose it's hard to prove sometimes. And jail doesn't offer the help they need.

    I think it's important that God reprimanded it in the way He did. It gives me a reason to fight on.

    What a great post Amber. It is most appreciated. I love you so much.

  2. Hmm, well, while it's easier to say that your mother's friend was impulsive, and therefore clearly impaired, I'd still say that the same holds true for your Grandmother. True, you say that she planned it, but she was still depressed. The depression impaired her ability to see another way out. It impaired her emotions, which affected a lot of stuff, but not her ability to plan. What she did *seemed* like the best solution to her, and she planned accordingly. I still would hold that she was not in her right mind, during the planning, or the execution.

    I agree with you on the jumpers. As I said, while they, in the act of jumping, did *technically* take their own lives, they were murdered. They were, for all intents, dead no matter what they did. And, given the conditions, probably driven out of their minds with pain and terror. I know exactly where to lay the blame for their deaths.

    It's interesting that suicide is a crime, and illegal. We're trying to impose penalties that, if the act is actually completed, can't be enforced. And if they fail, we very often don't get them the help they need, and they will just try again.

    I believe that God made it clear suicide, in full possession of our faculties, is a sin. It's murder, plain and simple. However, God, being Just and Merciful, will always 'take into account' when we are *not* in full possession of ourselves. But since humans can't know all that God knows, I feel we must assume that there was an impairment we were unaware of, and not condemn suicide victims out of hand.

  3. I enjoyed this post. Lots of great thought. Thanks!

  4. Thanks Susanne. It's a rough topic, and there could be so much more said, but I sort of just wanted to lay out what I think, and why I think that way.

  5. Hi

    My mother committed suicide when I was 8 years old-39 years ago. There was depression leading up to her suicide...but no one 'saw' it back in those days.

    I do not think that she was responsible for her actions...
    she was even given a funeral Mass and burial in 'sacred' ground. That was going out on a limb I guess back then...

    Thank you for your post

  6. Mama Juliana,

    I'm very sorry for your loss. I can't imagine losing my mother now, let alone at such a young age.

    It's wonderful that your mother was able to have a Mass and burial in consecrated ground. I believe that that's the practice now, as opposed to in the past, as you mentioned. I really think that change has to do with a better understanding of mental illness and the causes of suicide.

  7. Amber,

    Sorry to be such a stranger dear. These days have been pretty busy, but I'm back. I think I just go overboard in commenting on all 300 blog links :)

    Well first I just want to say how sorry I am for mamajuliana's loss. I know it still hurts, no matter how long ago. My Grandmother was also buried in sacred ground with a church funeral.

    Oh Amber, I agree with all of your points! I think it's sad that up until now, we punish the suicidal attempts, well unless your Owen Wilson....I hope this changes. Love you!

  8. Lisa, what do you mean by unless you are Owen Wilson? I think celebrities are often some of the unhappiest and most mentally unstable people of all.

    Here in the UAE you get thrown in jail if you try to kill yourself and fail, which I don't think is very helpful for someone who is depressed....

  9. desert,

    While I can't presume to speak for Lisa, I think she was referring more to the fact that Owen Wilson tried to kill himself, and was not prosecuted as most people would be. In (most, I believe) states, suicide is a crime, and people are jailed for the attempt, rather than being given help.


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