In a broad sense suicide can be defined as, “the act of intentionally ending your life. ” However, there are many different types of suicide. Durkheim identified four kinds: egoistic suicide, which is the result of feeling one’s life is meaningless; altruistic suicide, the act of giving one’s life for the greater good; anomic suicide, the result of a major social change that disrupts a person’s sense of order; and fatalistic suicide, the results of excessive regulation, when one’s future is pitilessly blocked by oppressive discipline, such as in a prison or dictatorship.
Christians believe that all life is sacred, and therefore the vast majority of denominations are against all forms of suicide. In examining the reasons behind this, a good place to start is the Christian teaching on the sacredness of human life. Christians believe in the sanctity of life, meaning that all human life is created in God’s image and has intrinsic worth. The Decalogue teaches, “Do not kill. ” This includes killing oneself. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 7:17 states, “Be not over much wicked, neither be you foolish: why should you die before your time? Prematurely ending your life prevents the believer from serving God to his full potential.
This idea is backed up in the New Testament, where the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? ” Christians reject the idea of total bodily autonomy, meaning that they do not believe we have the right to do whatever we want with our bodies. The Bible suggests that our bodies are not our own, but God’s, and therefore we do not have the right to destroy them.
Historical church fathers have held consistently negative views on suicide. Augustine was one of the first to publically speak out against it. He opposed it because we have a duty of selfacare arising from natural inclination and we have a debt of love that we owe to others. In The City of God he wrote, “certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die. ”
To take one’s own life into one’s hands and act precipitously by committing suicide is to look away from God (a final and definitive refusal of trust in God and a denial of trust in his providence, by the very nature of the act itself excluding any subsequent repentance/penance). Furthermore, Aquinas was also against suicide. In Summa Theologica he set forth three reasons why suicide is immoral. Firstly, it is contrary to natural law. Secondly, suicide does injury to the common good because the person’s community will suffer.
Thirdly, it is a sin against God because life is God’s gift to man. For it belongs to God alone to pronounce sentence of death and life, according to Deuteronomy 32:39, “I will kill and I will make to live. ” However, there is one form of suicide that some Christians would accept, and that is altruistic suicide in the form of martyrdom or self-sacrifice. Jesus taught that, “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. For example, in Judges Samson brings down a temple killing both himself and the Philistines. Augustine said that suicide was rooted in pride and lack of charity, whereas martyrdom is commendable and for the good of others.
The different Christian denominations are generally unified when it comes to views on suicide. In the Roman Catholic Church it is regarded as a mortal sin, and the Catechism asserts, “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life.
The Presbyterian Church would hold a similar view, as the Westminster Confession reads, “The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in the case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence. ” Even though they clearly teach that suicide is a sin, it is not an unpardonable sin. Salvation is by grace alone and if one is truly saved, nothing (not even suicide) can separate them from Jesus. The United Methodist Church believes that suicide is not the way life should end, but would be hesitant to label it a sin.
Therefore, they denounce the condemnation of people who commit suicide, and do not believe surviving family should be stigmatised. Modern psychology has impacted the Christian view of suicide. In the past Christians were guilty of separating physical and mental illness and although they were in support of treatment for physical ailments, they were wary of psychiatric treatment. Even today some fundamentalist churches would see illnesses such as depression as purely spiritual afflictions.
In the wake of high profile suicides such as Rick Warren’s son Matthew, most leaders are encouraging the Church to acknowledge that matters of depression and suicide are medical in nature and should be addressed no differently than other physical illnesses. They imply that to do otherwise promotes stigma, shame and restricts the believer’s access to appropriate care. Another reason why Christians are against suicide is the profound negative effect it can have on other people.
Suicide does not just harm the person who dies, it is a form of bereavement even more devastating than usual because the family will forever agonise over what led the person to take their life, and if they could have prevented it. This is especially so if the family discover the body or witness the suicide. Suicide can damage close communities such as schools and churches. Wyatt said that, “suicide can have devastating effects on others. In fact, it can be one of the most selfish and destructive acts anyone can perform. ”