Does Suicide Equal Hell?

hell

Image courtesy of KomodorO // Paco LopeH, licensed under Creative Commons

Note: Written before my own daughter's suicide attempt in June of 2011

Someone recently asked my opinion on what happens to those who commit suicide.  Will they “go to hell?”

Before I give my take on this, I must start off by saying that no one but God has any business saying who goes to hell and who doesn’t.  It’s not the church’s job, or any pastor or religious teacher’s job, to declare that any specific behavior puts someone on the fast track to hell.  Show me a pastor or religious teacher (or institution) making declarations about who is going to hell, and I’ll show you a case of spiritual megalomania, since this assumes levels of knowledge no human being could possibly have.

Human beings (and most creatures) have a natural bent toward preservation of their lives.  Any exception one could find to this would be just that — an exception — thereby proving that the rule is generally true.  Certainly to commit suicide is to act against one of our most basic drives.  But everyone understands this implicitly.  The question is what is a proper attitude towards those who commit suicide, or attempt to?

I suggest that condemning these people to hell is not the proper attitude.  I think the traditional church idea that suicide equals a trip straight to hell proceeds from three places.  

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Anxiety, prt. 2

In my last post I mentioned that the best way to overcome anxiety is not to face it head-on, but to undermine it — to subvert it.  This is just a way of saying that the old advice, “Try not to worry,” could not be more useless than it is.  When we try not to fall, we pay more attention to our balance, and thus we are less likely to slip up.  When we try not to look stupid, we pay more attention to our behavior and may be less likely to do something socially unacceptable.  But when we try not to worry, we pay more attention to what we are thinking, and this is the last thing we should be doing.

The kinds of things that work best for anxiety are things that keep you in the present moment.  Anxiety is nearly always about the future, so the more focused you can stay in the present moment, the better.  The follow four techniques came from my good friend Tim McVay, a practicing psychologist, who specializes in treating people with anxiety.  Tim shared these techniques with me when I called him in desperation a while back, and they are effective.

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Anxiety

Anxiety, by Stathis Stavrianos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/stathis1980/

Anxiety, by Stathis Stavrianos

Comedian Steven Wright describes chronic anxiety better than anyone else I’ve ever known.  I will paraphrase him loosely here:

You know that feeling when you’re sitting in a chair and you rock back on two legs and you go back too far and you start to fall, then at the last minute you catch yourself?  I feel like that all the time.

That’s it.  That’s what it feels like to live with anxiety.  It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone I deem to be a basically valuable person my worst enemy.

I have worried for most of my life.  And I don’t mean worrying about normal stuff, like sliding into a ditch during a snowstorm, or about one of my kids when they are sick.  I mean making up stuff to worry about.  I mean watching the news (which, if you haven’t noticed, is always bad — and if it’s not, it’ll be spun that way anyway) and then taking it even further in my mind, spinning it into nightmares more horrible than any that would be spun on the AGBATT (All Glenn Beck All The Time) Channel.  Incidentally, this is how you get to have your own show on CNN — take a headline, run the story out to its ultimate dreadful conclusion, speak loudly and urgently, have experts on your show to agree with you or, hopefully, tell you that it’s probably much worse than you think, and combine it with flashy graphics and other high intensity entertainment pieces.  (If you’re unsure how to do any of this, from the fear-mongering to the flashy and entertaining graphics, simply visit most contemporary churches to learn how).

What was I talking about?  Oh yes, anxiety.  It’s amazing how our minds can take us from one thread to another to another, until eventually the stream of thoughts take on a life of their own and carry with them all the force of reality.  I am an expert at this.  I have seen things that would scare most people half to death.  I mean I’ve SEEN them.  In living color.  Playing on the screen of my mind.  Engulfing my emotions in wild flurries of helpless panic.  I have lived in this state for hours, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, at a time.  It doesn’t matter that they weren’t “real.”  My brain obviously didn’t know the difference, and generated the adrenalin and dread anyway.

Tons of people live with chronic anxiety and panic.  Some are reading this post, and I have a message for you.  You don’t have to live that way. 

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Truth series conclusion

We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal.  We may be true or false, the choice is ours.  We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face.  But we cannot make these choices with impunity.  Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.  If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!

Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation