WVSSuicideRobin Williams death has raised awareness of suicide and depression. The tragedy reminded many of us that taking one’s life is often a tragic result of a disease, not a lack of character or morality.

But many Americans are likely to take a different view. Half of Americans believe that suicide, whatever the circumstances, is wrong.

That’s one of the findings from American portion of the World Values Survey. The scientific survey gave people a list of actions. Respondents rated each one on a ten point scale from “never justifiable” to “always justifiable.” 46 percent said suicide is NEVER justifiable.

Why do so many Americans believe this?

The answer is that opinions are often shaped by how people resolve conflicts between the religious tradition and scientific theory.

The WVS asked people whether or not they agreed that “we depend too much on science and not enough on faith.” Those who agreed with this statement were much, much more likely to believe that suicide is always wrong. Three-quarters of those who completely agreed that we need to depend more on faith said that suicide is never justifiable. This falls to only one-third among of those who disagreed.

In an excellent review of religious views of suicide, Salt Lake Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack noted that suicide has long been viewed as a sin in Christianity,Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and, well, pretty much every other religion. But among religious thinkers and clergy, views are changing as as modern psychology shows that suicide is very often the result of addiction and depression.

Still, there is a conflict between faith and science.  How people balance faith and science shapes whether they see suicide as a sin or a symptom of a disease.

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Categories: Beliefs

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Tobin Grant

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

6 Comments

  1. Suicide is always to be pitied, especially for society’s stigmatization of mental illness that plays such a huge part in preventing appropriate medical attention to the mentally ill conditions that lead to suicide.

    Consider the recent police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Consider the recent choking death by a NYC policeman of Eric Garner. Consider Theodore Wafer of Detroit, MI, who shot and killed a black woman through his screen door. Consider Marlene Pinnock, a black woman. who was publicly beaten at the side of a California highway by a highway patrol officer. And don’t forget Treyvon Martin, slaughtered in Florida.

    Consider what they all had in common. They were all black. Consider the extremely uneven “justice” in this country that can be expected by black or brown citizens.

    Consider the color of the pitiful kids trying to escape the killing conditions in Central America and slipping through our borders–all brown.

    Consider your own immigrant ancestors–and we are all descended from immigrants. The big difference between white, European immigrants and black African immigrants is that the whites came of their own accord, and the blacks were brought here on slave ships–and “sold.”

    Consider Cliven Bundy and his theft of public land use. Consider all his rabid supporters who are ready to demolish our government with their mentally ill anger and threatened force.

    Consider so many of our elected officials who draw large public salaries and use and accrue exotic benefits paid for by taxpayers while they do absolutely nothing in return, but interfere with governing–and get away with it.

    Mental illness is rampant in this country. Robin Williams finally decided he did not want to live with his. But mental illness is so broadly prevalent that it keeps us from functioning as a really civil society, absolutely not a genuinely democratic society.

    Mental illness is stigmatized. Mental illness is consequently ignored and most often left untreated, more unaffordable than other medical care. We even refuse to recognize common cases of behavior that are really mental illness. We pass them over as “anger,” as sadness, as squabbling. Oh, and there’s racial prejudice.

    Mental illness is rampant in our society. That demands that we take action to de-stigmatize mental illness, call it for what it is, and provide more adequate treatment for all its components before it destroys us.

    The root is in the individual and the family, but it spreads its destructive branches throughout every part of our society. We ignore it, we consider it no different than the common cold, a headache, or simple pique at our own peril.

  2. And don’t leave out a consideration of the thieving wealthy, like the Koch brothers of Kansas, the Waltons of Arkansas, and the Romneys of Massachusetts–and Mitt Romney’s chosen running mate in 2012, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is aspiring to super-wealth by working in politics.

    Paul Ryan is claimed to have inspired the conversion to Catholicism of Sam Brownback while working for him in the House of Representatives, before Ryan was elected the the House himself. Paul Ryan’s patron saint, like that of Sam Brownback, is the notorious fiction writer, pseudo-economist, Ayn Rand, a super-selfish, greedy person who gave atheism a bad name. She was not in any way what one might consider an ethical atheist. Selfish greed controlled all her mental processes. Ayn Rand could well be considered mentally ill.

    What do we say about her admirers?

    • If suicide is NOT wrong, why are we seeing RNS articles like “No longer behind the curve: Black churches address mental illness”? If suicide is NOT wrong, why do we need “Mental Health First Aid” programs and “Emotional Fitness Centers”?

      • Correction: The previous post is NOT specifically addressed to Gilhcan; it’s just a general response to Tobin Grant’s article.

        Having said that, however, one probably needs to provide at least as many jobs (and give as much money philanthropically) as the Koch folks and the Walton (Wal-Mart) folks have provided and given for Americans, if one is going to employ socialist/commie phrases such as “the thieving wealthy.”

    • What sophistry! My we are stuck on ourselves aren’t we? What about thieving ‘liberals’ like George Soros, and the carbon footprints of Hollywood’s liberal elite who wish to reign in the average citizen with no reference to their own selfish materialistic lifestyles. Suicide is less a function of mental illness than emotional despair.

  3. Not wrong as long as it harms no one else. Not advisable, unless certain death through much suffering is the only alternative. The ultimate freedom is to control your own life.

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