The way some religions traditionally have thought about and taught about suicide has not been helpful or redemptive.
In the wake of prominent recent suicides by Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, perhaps it's worthwhile to look at whether religion understands mental illness at all or whether it's simply more interested in defining what constitutes sin.
All the great world religions teach us about the sacredness and preciousness of life. To destroy life purposefully violates those teachings. But that is a straight-line answer to an extraordinarily complicated issue.
What those left to deal with life after the suicide of a family member or friend must take into account is almost never whether the person who killed herself elected in some rational way to commit a mortal sin. Rather, what they are forced to wrestle with is the state of mental derangement that led to the decision to commit suicide.
Still, religion has had its say about suicide over the years.
Here, for instance, is an explanation of why the Catholic Church traditionally has considered suicide a sin. And here is an explanation from Bible.org, which speaks to and for evangelical and conservative Christians, about why suicide is a sin but not an unforgivable one. Finally, here is Wikipedia's collection of religious views on suicide from various traditions.
What's so striking to me about a lot of these faith-based views is how little attention is paid to mental illness and to the reality that no one -- absolutely no one -- can get inside the head of someone who has committed suicide, even if that person has left a detailed note.
When I was growing up, the mother of a good friend tried once and failed to commit suicide. Within a year or so she tried again and succeeded. In between attempts I was in her presence several times and could only look at her head and try to imagine what was going on in there. I was a teen-ager at the time and I found no answers that were satisfying.
When she succeeded in killing herself, she left some odd requests. One was that she be allowed to have her casketed body left in our church sanctuary alone overnight. Another was that recordings of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing hymns be played before her funeral began as people gathered.
From just those two hints almost anyone could tell that something wasn't right in her mind. She clearly suffered some kind of mental strain that caused her to take her life to stop whatever pain was already killing her.
My hope is that faith communities today are learning how to approach questions of suicide in ways that are understanding and are healing for those left behind. Simply to label suicide a sin seems like an additional cruelty piled onto one of life's most painful times.
The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have provided an opportunity for faith communities to have an in-depth discussion about sin and mental illness -- and whether a religion's theology about that is in any way helpful.
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BAPTIST SCANDALS ARE MANY BUT NOT UNIQUE
As delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting gather in Dallas, the large denomination is operating under several clouds of disheartening scandal, as this CNN report notes. In fact, the number and salaciousness of scandals in religion generally are appalling and no doubt contribute to the growing number of people who want nothing to do with institutional faith.
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P.S.: It will take some time to digest the U.S.-North Korea summit and what it might mean for peace, but, for now, if you want to read the text of the agreement signed by President Trump and Kim Jong Un, it's here.