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Suicide…an Unpardonable Sin?

Suicide

Saint Augustine believed this in the fifth century and, as a consequence, this became the Church’s position regarding suicide for centuries. But Saint Augustine was wrong about this, just as he has been wrong about many other things, including “original sin.”

Suicide...an Unpardonable Sin?

Suicide…an Unpardonable Sin?

For most of my life, I have let the Church do much of my thinking for me. Which, if you do not know by now, I regard as the ultimate form of spiritual laziness. There’s lots of laziness many places. When, however, I set out to discover for myself what I really believed, I made many wonderful and liberating discoveries.

One of the most important discoveries, for example, is how frequently the Church has changed its theology over the centuries to accommodate new ideas and understandings. More times than you can count, in fact. If you are a student of Christian history, or any religious history, you know this to be true.  True among all religions, I might add. But, not too far behind this accommodation phenomenon is just how frequently, and sometimes violently, the Church has sought to suppress any idea it deemed heretical or contrary to its teachings.

It took the Catholic Church, for example, nearly four hundred years to finally admit that Galileo was right and the Vatican was wrong when it came to the question of whether the earth revolved around the sun or the sun around the earth. For centuries, the Church had insisted it was the latter.

Galileo

Galileo, on the other hand, building on the work of Copernicus, said it was the former.

You know who won that debate.

We have come to accept – those of us who haven’t given up on the Church entirely – just how slow the Church is in admitting it’s own wrongs.

The Church was wrong about the Kingdom of God.
The Church was wrong about slavery.
The Church was wrong about women.
The Church was wrong, and many still are, about homosexuality.
The Church was wrong, and most still are, about same sex marriage.
The Church was wrong, and creationists still are, about evolution.
I could go on. But you get the point.

In time, the Church seems to come around and get on the right side of history. But not without first inflicting unimaginable damage on people in the process of adjusting its erroneous theology to accommodate the times.

Which brings me to the subject of suicide.

The Church and Suicide

The Church was wrong about it, too. But, typical to its contrary style, it took centuries of abuse before the Church slowly changed its theology to accommodate new understandings.

In the case of Galileo, not until 1992, did Pope John Paul II finally confess the Church had been wrong all along. Few, however, paid much attention to the Vatican’s confession of evil and sin against Galileo.

Given the Church’s sordid history of denial and wrongdoing, why would anyone care the Pope apologized?

Pope John Paul II

They didn’t. Which is why, although reported in the news, the Pope’s confession went largely unnoticed.

An apology nearly four hundred years in the making is rather meaningless, wouldn’t you say?

The history isn’t much better.

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune, for example, briefly surveys the Church’s poor record of understanding toward those who had completed suicide throughout the centuries. Here’s one of the points made…

“Those who took their lives lost their property, their burial rites and their place in heaven. They were posthumously excommunicated from the church, their corpses were often defiled, their memories erased, their families humiliated, shunned and disinherited.”

It’s the Christian way far too often, isn’t it?

The Church has been so wrong about so many things and for so long, I am sometimes amazed anyone pays any attention any more to anything it says.

A Call to Compassion

Which brings me to the recent suicide of Robin Williams.

Like you, the whole damn thing saddens me.

I thought of Robin as a friend and I’ve never met him. But he felt like my friend…like my childhood playmate. That guy or girl with whom you could be completely and totally your crazy childlike self.

I needed Robin. Our world needed Robin.

And, like you, I have cried for our world…for myself…for him…for his family. I will miss him.

And, yes, I’m hoping the Church gets this one right. That the Church will be on the right side of history this time and respond with compassion and understanding.

What is not needed is the pontification on suicide or whether, for example, those who complete suicide go to heaven.

Oh yes, fundamentalist Christians are already ranting about this and doing so in their typical arrogant way.  Who among them, or who among us, has the foggiest idea about heaven or eternity? I sure don’t. I’m pretty sure no one else does either.

Fundamentalists say, “We believe in heaven.” But the real truth is you and I only ever “believe” in the things we don’t know.  And, what we don’t know is frightening. Which explains why, among other things, suicide is frightening. We know so little about it.

Heaven

Furthermore, this explains why religious people spend their time writing about and/or reading books on heaven and eternity. It is because, contrary to what they want you to think, death still scares the hell out of them. Additionally, they are secretly worried sick that heaven might actually NOT exist.

It’s a kind of mental delusion. We dupe ourselves into “believing” things and mistakenly confuse our delusions for “faith.” A clever mental trick.

And, of course, it’s the same thing religious people do who want to debate the existence of God. The only reason people try to prove God exists is because they’re secretly afraid she doesn’t.

So, with Robin Williams, and others like him and their families, it is my sincere hope the Church will respond to this with compassion, understanding, and with openness.  We need many informed and humane conversations around the issue of suicide.

I hope the Church’s best minds – not those with “made up” minds…rigid know-it-all-minds…not “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” minds…but those with the best open minds to gather and grapple with suicide and help the world better understand it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

What our culture needs is a compassionate, informed Church. A Church that explores this issue, as well as the other related issues and concerns like euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc., and mental health. Instead of the Church’s typical response to science and medicine…to be suspicious and hostile toward both…but this time join ranks and enter into intelligent conversation and exploration.

I want to know more about suicide myself and I want the same for you, the Church, and those outside the Church but within our human family. And, to those of you reading this who might have had thoughts of suicide, do not conclude from this that, because the Church has been wrong about so many things, it might not be any help to you now. There are many churches and church leaders and followers of Christ who get it. Seek one out. Or, at the least, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call this number 800-273-8255.

Isn’t this the opportunity to broaden our consciousness, inform our understanding, and deepen our compassion?

Whether you are a Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or Jew or Muslim or atheist or just another human being…

Isn’t this the humane thing to do?

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8 Responses to Suicide…an Unpardonable Sin?

  1. Rajan C Mathew August 15, 2014 at 10:13 PM #

    “I hope the Church’s best minds – not those with “made up” minds…rigid know-it-all-minds…not “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” minds…but those with the best open minds to gather and grapple with suicide and help the world better understand it. ”

    Our evolutionary progress is definite, but perhaps a bit slow (in our standards). The same evolution will also change the Church to adopt progressive views and attitudes at an appropriate time later, if not now. We are definitely under Divine superintendence and we should not gauge God’s infinite wisdom with our limited knowledge and intelligence.

    But we need to abandon our laziness and use the God given mind to find answers to the problems that we face. We need to abandon our rigidity of mind which prevents acceptance of advanced truths.

    God mercifully looks on the human race in its struggle with the earthly material life and advancement of civilization.

    And God is in search of winners who come out successfully in their trials and tribulations using their God given mind powers of thought and wisdom.

    Thanks Dr for initiating a thought process!

    • Dr. Steve McSwain August 16, 2014 at 6:54 AM #

      Thank you Rajan for your comments. I love your statement, “We need to abandon our rigidity of mind which prevents acceptance of advanced truths.” So right, my friend.

      • Robin August 24, 2014 at 10:30 PM #

        I emailed you a couple of wks ago after I bought your book
        ” The Enoch Factor” I enjoyed it very much and am reading it again.
        I was wondering if there are any suggestions you can offer for someone
        who feels constantly anxious and fearful for no reason whatsoever?
        I thank you for your time and many words of wisdom.
        Sincerely, Robin

        • Dr. Steve McSwain August 25, 2014 at 6:37 AM #

          Thank you Robin for reading my musings and for your question. Without knowing more I am afraid I might not be much help in responding. But, for what it’s worth, here are a few things you might seek to do…

          1. Name the anxiety. What is it you’re afraid of? You cannot move beyond what you have not named. Give it a name.
          2. Once you’ve named it, describe on paper what it is you are feeling – be as specific as possible. You have used words like “constantly anxious and fearful” but what does that mean? You shake? You are in terror? You feel ill inside? Describe it. Do not judge the feelings as good or bad. Just describe them.
          3. Then, just observe what it is you feel – again, without judgment. Just observe it, as you would the antics of a child playing on the living room floor. No need to internally comment. Just watch your feelings, which is another way of saying “Accept your feelings.” They are part of who you are and you cannot judge, condemn, reject, or wish away who you are. Can you accept who you are?
          4. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…”(Matthew 6). Look around at nature, in other words, and observe how it completely accepts what is – you and I suffer when we internally reject or resist what is. Can you accept your life as it is right now? Can you…will you…accept that this is how it is for you, for now? If you can, you should be well on your way to releasing and living without the constant worry and anxiety. I hope this helps. If the feelings become too overwhelming, you may need to see your doctor about it. Blessings.

  2. Richard R Riker October 27, 2014 at 1:40 PM #

    I have read the history of the Catholic Church and that of Galileo. et al. I am assuming that you simplified your comments to save space, It was much more complicated than what you said. It is a sad state of affairs when those in power will do anything to keep their power. I am glad you are speaking out. I hope many more people will hear your message, it is more than two thousand years late.

    PS: I am glad you put a link to your web site with your face book comment.

    • Dr. Steve McSwain October 27, 2014 at 1:45 PM #

      Oh, yes, I am aware it is far more complicated than my simple explanation. It merely served to make one of my points. How did we meet? I’m always interested in how my paths cross with others. I wish you well Richard. Thanks for your comments.

      • Richard R Riker October 28, 2014 at 9:29 PM #

        We have not met. I received a face book friend request from you. I am a face book friend with J T Anderson and I have seen your comments on his postings. I liked your attempt to not put the other person on the defensive by asking questions. I don’t remember which blog posting it was. Dr Gordon suggested in P. E.T., Parent Effective Training to use ‘I’ statements. I learned the technique too late to help me with my children, but the big advantage is that you do not force the other person to commit before you do, i.e., instead of asking the other person how they feel about some point in religion, or what ever, turn it around and say ‘I am uncomfortable about the point and then see how they respond.

        • Dr. Steve McSwain October 29, 2014 at 6:50 AM #

          Well, I look forward to that day when we do meet. I did not know the technique was called P.E.T. – I just thought it was called “respect.” I hope I am respectful toward others, especially those whose opinions and viewpoints are different from mine. Which seems like more and more these days. LOL! Have a wonderful day Richard.

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