27

The Death of Hope

The gallows in my garden, people say,

 Is new and neat and adequately tall;

 I tie the noose on in a knowing way

 As one that knots his necktie for a ball;

 But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–

Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”

The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all

 I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay–

My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–

I see a little cloud all pink and grey–

Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call– I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall

 That mushrooms could be cooked another way–

I never read the works of Juvenal–

I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;

 The decadents decay; the pedants pall;

 And H.G. Wells has found that children play,

 And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,

 Rationalists are growing rational–

And through thick woods one finds a stream astray

 So secret that the very sky seems small–

I think I will not hang myself to-day.

ENVOI

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,

 The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;

 Even to-day your royal head may fall,

 I think I will not hang myself to-day.

G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of Suicide

 

 

 

 

 

(With all the recent news of celebrity suicides I decided to repost this post from 2014.  The simple truth is that despair comes to most of us during our travail here below, and without a strong faith an ever growing number of people engage in self-murder as a result.  There is no suicide problem per se, but rather a problem, and an increasingly critical one, of all too many, many people who live lives devoid of faith, hope and charity.)

 

My view on suicide is the traditional one, that absent insanity it is usually the coward’s way out.  Contemporary views on suicide of course would view that attitude as harsh and Neanderthal and usually blame everyone but the suicide for their act of self murder.  I therefore found refreshing this article on suicide by Emily Esfahani Smith, the managing editor of The New Criterion:

The rise in suicide has been accompanied by a loss of the moral questions that once surrounded it. G. K. Chesterton was one of our last full-throated critics of suicide. His insistence that suicide is immoral sounds strange to our individualistic ears: “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin,” Chesterton wrote: “It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Chesterton goes on to say that the act of suicide is selfish: “A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything.” It would be difficult to imagine anyone writing such a polemic today. We do not consider suicide the moral catastrophe that people like Chesterton once thought it was.

Rather, our contemporary culture treats suicide as a medical problem—a “public health concern,” as Joshua Rottman, a psychological researcher, recently told The Atlantic. According to his new research, religious and non-religious people have a moral bias against suicide, and the bias stems from “disgust reactions” they have when confronted with stories of suicide. Committing suicide, people think, taints the soul. To Rottman, this is a problem. These reactions are irrational and, therefore, harmful: “The million-dollar question,” Rottman says, is “how to de-stigmatize suicide as impure.”

 

Go here to read the rest.  Contemporary attitudes toward suicide are unsurprising.  With the waning of Faith goes the decline of hope.  Pain and misery come to us all in this Vale of Tears, and if we have no future hope it is predictable that some seek to end their suffering through self murder.  If man is merely an animal with intellectual pretensions, and no soul, the death of one individual is of no moral consequence, even if you happen to be that individual.  Without God, man is mere dust and our lives, in the immortal phrase of Hobbes, are truly “nasty, brutish and short.”

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

27 Comments

  1. It is very sad and beyond tragic. And, it is very cruel. The other victims of this ultimate cowardice are the survivors: children, spouses, parents, et al left behind.

    I’m old enough to remember when the Catholic Church taught that suicide is a mortal sin (I think usurps God’s Authority over life and death) – meaning you’re next stop is eternal torment.

    Maybe contributing to the rapid rise (+25%) in suicides is the fact that too many people view the World and their mortal lives as the be all and end, when in fact the World is a vale of tears and we are poor exiles mourning and weeping until we, through the grace of God, come to our eternal reward, which Jesus purchased for us with his life death, and Resurrection.

    Anyhow, I strive to follow Jesus because I’ve always been homicidal not suicidal. Without Jesus, I am a bad person.

    Know Jesus know peace.

    No Jesus no peace.

  2. For so many life is cheap. Especially those who have chosen to believe that the Gospels are high fiction. In this era of license to kill, abortion, I believe we will see a fifty percent increase in suicide since 1999, within our lifetimes. Thirty percent increase was posted yesterday. News source NBC from CDC statistics; https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/suicide-rates-are-30-percent-1999-cdc-says-n880926

    It isn’t abortion per se, but it’s the fallout from legalized killing. The message is fatal. Life is cheap. Just ask any teenage assassin who hasn’t killed himself.
    Upset at school? Lock-load and shoot. Oh…and as far as the so-called sophisticated parents who say; “We are not encouraging our children to join any organized religion. We want them to feel free to find their own without our influence.” Great idea (sarcasm). While you’re ignoring them why don’t you purchase some shoot’em up games for them to play. Then you can pretend to be shocked when your son is found out to be the killer in the recent high school massacre. Okay. Rant over.

    T Shaw’s truth about knowing peace is timeless.

  3. To be, or not to be, that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
    No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
    the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
    that Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
    devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
    To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
    for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
    when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    must give us pause. There’s the respect
    that makes Calamity of so long life:
    For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
    the Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
    the pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
    the insolence of Office, and the spurns
    that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    when he himself might his Quietus make
    with a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear, [F: these Fardels]
    to grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    but that the dread of something after death,
    the undiscovered country, from whose bourn
    no traveller returns, puzzles the will,
    and makes us rather bear those ills we have,
    than fly to others that we know not of.
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
    and thus the native hue of Resolution
    Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
    And enterprises of great pitch and moment, [F: pith]
    with this regard their Currents turn awry, [F: away]
    And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
    The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
    Be all my sins remember’d

  4. Interesting, you mention animals: “the death of one being of no consequence”.

    Animals do not contain the capacity for moral choice. Animals do not commit suicide. By nature, they struggle and strive for life, whatever their condition may be.

    Only men and women, Imago Dei, immortal, with immense capacity and responsibility for intellect and moral choice kill themselves. And, unlike the animals, each human death is of infinite consequence.

    Your reference to GK’s insight is much appreciated. His is the best explanation of why suicide is not a personal personal act of violence, but public: an offense against God and Man. I had not thought of it quite that way before, but now I see why suicides exist as low as you can be in Dante’s schema of hell. Sin is an act of the will. Suicide wills the death and obliteration of all existence. Man or woman may not have the capacity to obliterate existence, but suicides would if they could; and act out their inner capacity.

    Brilliant. GK was a prophet.

  5. According to his new research, religious and non-religious people have a moral bias against suicide, and the bias stems from “disgust reactions” they have when confronted with stories of suicide. Committing suicide, people think, taints the soul. To Rottman, this is a problem. These reactions are irrational and, therefore, harmful: “The million-dollar question,” Rottman says, is “how to de-stigmatize suicide as impure.”

    There’s two options for that– malicious horseshit, or following bad logic off a cliff.

    Death is not inherently identical to life; it is not superior or equal. So preferring life over death is not irrational.

    Evidence? Betcha the professor wouldn’t let me shoot him.

    The “professor” probably knows that, but likes giving interviews and gosh it doesn’t hurt him any… of course, it is literally death to people that are taught it’s an “option.” Sometimes the only thing that keeps the black dog from mauling you is absolute rejection that it’s an option.

    My family has pretty bad depression; suicide is not an option, we’re taught from the get-go, with the result that I probably scared my chaplain on the ship when he responded to my mention of stress and depression (about four hours of sleep a night, for almost two months, and at one point I walked through the hanger bay and realized the sunlight I saw was the first sunlight I’d seen in at least three weeks) with the automatic “have you considered suicide?” and I responded that if something was bad enough to kill over, I’d kill the problem, not myself.

    The constant meant-to-be-a-question probably doesn’t help since it starts to sound like a suggestion. “Gosh, I’m feeling blue.” “Have you considered killing yourself?”

  6. There are those whose faith is strong but who do still suffer from depression or manic-depression. This is not a character flaw or lack of faith. This is a chemical imbalance in the brain which affects one’s thinking. You seem to imply that anyone who takes his own life is automatically condemned to hell. First of all, we have no idea of the last thoughts of anyone who does do this. St. John Vianney told a woman whose husband had jumped from a bridge to his death that in his last moments he begged for forgiveness. Secondly, someone who is suffering from a deep depression for many years likely has affected the person’s ability to make a free choice. In this case, it is a desperate act to stop the immediate pain, and often is the result of battling this temptation for a very long time. Please recognize that your attitude is part of the reason that people suffering from depression do not want others to know. No one chooses to be depressed in this way. This is nothing like sloth or even ordinary sadness. This is a disease which cripples the brain. We don’t say that someone can pull themselves out of diabetes or if they prayed more or had a stronger faith that they would not have the disease. Why then do you say this regarding depression. The brain is an organ just like the pancreas and sometimes it doesn’t work correctly.

  7. “You seem to imply that anyone who takes his own life is automatically condemned to hell.”

    Reading isn’t your strong suit, is it Donna:

    “My view on suicide is the traditional one, that absent insanity it is usually the coward’s way out.”

    I of course wrote not a word about the ultimate destiny of anyone who commits suicide.

  8. I guess that many people are familiar with stories of children who have been tormented at school and outside the school gates by gangs of children and teenagers to the extent that suicide appeared as the only solution. Bear in mind that such children are bullied precisely because they are weak and vulnerable; instead of condemning the victim of cowardice and lack of fortitude, we should rather condemn the tormentors for their cowardly tendency to prey on the weak and those adults in authority for their cowardly refusal to put a stop to such bullying. While suicide is technically a mortal sin, the person is not always culpable of his action, apart from insanity. Can you imagine God allowing a weak and vulnerable person to suffer a torment beyond what he can endure, and then to condemn him to Hell on top of all that? But the tormentors, probably at the end of their lives, repent and are thus saved.

  9. ALBION.

    Good point. Culpability is scrutinized by a loving Father. Happy Father’s day everyone.

  10. The opinions about the absence of faith, the presence of cowardice, etc. show a complete lack of understanding for those suffering from deep clinical depression or other forms of mental illness or sufferings. As a practicing Catholic, these are just the kinds of comments that cause me deep concern over the lack of compassion for those suffering with problems which we may not comprehend. God have mercy on us all.

  11. “The opinions about the absence of faith, the presence of cowardice, etc. show a complete lack of understanding for those suffering from deep clinical depression or other forms of mental illness or sufferings.”

    My view on suicide is the traditional one, that absent insanity it is usually the coward’s way out.

    Reading comprehension, it is a wonderful thing.

  12. Dear Donald,
    “My view on suicide is the traditional one, that absent insanity it is usually the coward’s way out.”
    For those of us with low reading comprehension, kindly tell us how we are misinterpreting the quote above, and those comments that appear to state an intolerance toward those who have completed suicide.
    Sincere thanks.

  13. You flew by my post which noted that insanity is an exception to the general rule that suicide is usually the coward’s way out. We of course should always be intolerant of suicide and stop people from doing it. They are either not in their right mind or engaging in self murder.

  14. “My view on suicide is the traditional one, that absent insanity it is usually the coward’s way out.”
    The victim of suicide is tolerated. The act of suicide is intolerable and is driven from society.

  15. I did not fly by your post; I read it perfectly, and you gave me the answer I thought you would give – insanity. Those suffering from various forms of depression, PTSD, other mental illnesses, other forms of profound suffering, abuse, torture, etc. are not necessarily insane. Goodbye!

  16. “Those suffering from various forms of depression, PTSD, other mental illnesses, other forms of profound suffering, abuse, torture, etc. are not necessarily insane. Goodbye!”

    If they aren’t insane then they are responsible for their actions. Bye, bye and better luck finding a blog where emoting takes the place of thinking.

  17. So far as my experience, there seems to be 3 factors to suicide (maybe more, but I haven’t come across them yet).

    1) Those seeking attention.
    2) Those swallowed by despair.
    3) Those swallowed by guilt.

    In all of them, it seems that the person’s gaze is affixed inward, and a big help can be in just getting their gaze to look outward, elsewhere, even if for just a moment.

  18. I am saddened by Donald’s snarky response to Donna’s legitimate insights. If we are to call ourselves Catholic and participate in a Catholic discussion – respect for the dignity of those sharing is in order.
    – I’m not so sure you should be so proud of your arrogance. You’re insights have become smug – not legitimate.

  19. “I am saddened by Donald’s snarky response to Donna’s legitimate insights.”

    Once again there are plenty of other blogs where emoting is preferred to thinking. Donna engaged in careless comments indicating that she failed to read my post carefully and received a response. If you are going to respond to a post, be prepared, at least on this blog, to defend what your are saying.

  20. Perhaps, Colleen, you should look to the beam in your eye when it comes to respect, dignity, and arrogance?
    Because Donna went on the attack in spite of Donald having said what she was scolding him for not saying; you are going on the attack against Donald for not bowing to a false accusation, and ironically enough are using religion as a bludgeon for that action.

    There is no Catholic requirement to never upset someone; there is a Catholic requirement to not assume the worst of other’s motives, and to inform the ignorant. Donald very obviously doesn’t have an issue with rational and/or supported disagreement, or I would be gone due to my habit of knowing unusual tidbits that might point in a different direction and handing them over when the subjects come up, to prevent hasty conclusions. Even when I disagree with the conclusion, it’s good to know the counter-evidence.
    If he hadn’t included the insanity mention, I would have brought it up as a mitigating factor; a sin must be chosen to be a sin.

    Just because you don’t think something is a good idea does not make it unfitting for Catholics; your prudential judgement is not binding on to us. That same prudential judgment appears to hold that objectively false accusations by those you think have “legitimate insights” are acceptable, while suggesting that someone would be happier in a different social format for discussions is unsuited for Catholics, and further that the factual value of statements is changed by the motivation and internal disposition of the person making them.

    Truth is true even if nobody is agreeing with it; for heaven’s sake, the guy who was put in charge of compiling the Bible was known for being quite unpleasant to be around– by your theory, the Bible is thus not legitimate!

  21. I am astounded that people of this time of knowledge of brain chemistry would think that people who commit suicide should be judged or labeled in one way or another is unimaginable. ” Judge not, lest you too be judged.” You have NO idea what mental state or thoughts or feelings of a tortured soul who is hopeless, might be. “Jesus, have mercy on me,” and all who feel despair, not cowardice. The idea of calling a person a coward, who is tortured, is beyond my comprehension as a Christian.

  22. By your theory Anne, none of us would ever be held responsible for any of our actions, and such a concept is alien to the teachings of Christ. Insanity is one thing, it is quite another to excuse any conduct, no matter how evil and destructive, based on “brain chemistry”. The judgement of each soul is for God, the judgement of actions is for us based largely upon the teachings of Christ and His Church. Traditionally suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground because suicide was viewed as a mortal sin, and rightly so as it is the taking of innocent human life. An insane person lacks the capacity to commit a mortal sin, while a sane person does.

    Pope Saint John Paul II stated all this clearly in Evangelium Vitae:

    66. Suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder. The Church’s tradition has always rejected it as a gravely evil choice.83 Even though a certain psychological, cultural and social conditioning may induce a person to carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate inclination to life, thus lessening or removing subjective responsibility, suicide, when viewed objectively, is a gravely immoral act. In fact, it involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one’s neighbour, towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole.84 In its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God’s absolute sovereignty over life and death, as proclaimed in the prayer of the ancient sage of Israel: “You have power over life and death; you lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again” (Wis 16:13; cf. Tob 13:2).

    To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called “assisted suicide” means to cooperate in, and at times to be the actual perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested. In a remarkably relevant passage Saint Augustine writes that “it is never licit to kill another: even if he should wish it, indeed if he request it because, hanging between life and death, he begs for help in freeing the soul struggling against the bonds of the body and longing to be released; nor is it licit even when a sick person is no longer able to live”.85

    Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing “perversion” of mercy. True “compassion” leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages.

    The choice of euthanasia becomes more serious when it takes the form of a murder committed by others on a person who has in no way requested it and who has never consented to it. The height of arbitrariness and injustice is reached when certain people, such as physicians or legislators, arrogate to themselves the power to decide who ought to live and who ought to die. Once again we find ourselves before the temptation of Eden: to become like God who “knows good and evil” (cf. Gen 3:5). God alone has the power over life and death: “It is I who bring both death and life” (Dt 32:39; cf. 2 Kg 5:7; 1 Sam 2:6). But he only exercises this power in accordance with a plan of wisdom and love. When man usurps this power, being enslaved by a foolish and selfish way of thinking, he inevitably uses it for injustice and death. Thus the life of the person who is weak is put into the hands of the one who is strong; in society the sense of justice is lost, and mutual trust, the basis of every authentic interpersonal relationship, is undermined at its root.

  23. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/judge-not
    As a Christian, you really should know better than to cherry-pick the Bible for ammunition.

    That, incidentally, is the short version of what the “judge not” instruction is about; when you make a standard and try to hold people by it, you will be held to it, as well.

    *****
    The funny thing is, if you three ladies had wanted to point out that we can’t say someone is definitely in hell, you’d be right and if for some insane reason Donald actually disagreed, I’d be on your side.
    But you aren’t.
    You three are upset that someone pointed out that suicide is a sin, and that freely choosing a sin is sinful.

  24. In the clinic, of course, a kind of nonjudgmentalism does and should hold sway: doctors ought never to refuse treatment on the grounds of moral deficiency. Moses Maimonides, the twelfth-century rabbi and doctor, wrote: “May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain”—surely a noble aspiration, if somewhat difficult of achievement in practice.

    But medicine is not just the passive contemplation of suffering: it is the attempt, by no means always successful, to alleviate it. And it cannot have escaped the attention of doctors that much modern suffering has a distinct flavor of self-infliction. I am not talking now of the physical illnesses that derive from habits such as smoking, but rather of the chronic suffering caused by not knowing how to live, or rather by imagining that life can be lived as an entertainment, as an extended video, as nothing but a series of pleasures of the moment. The whirligig of time brings in its revenges—at least in a cold climate such as ours.

    If the doctor has a duty to relieve the suffering of his patients, he must have some idea where that suffering comes from, and this involves the retention of judgment, including moral judgment. And if, as far as he can tell in good faith, the misery of his patients derives from the way they live, he has a duty to tell them so—which often involves a more or less explicit condemnation of their way of life as completely incompatible with a satisfying existence. By avoiding the issue, the doctor is not being kind to his patients; he is being cowardly. Moreover, by refusing to place the onus on the patients to improve their lot, he is likely to mislead them into supposing that he has some purely technical or pharmacological answer to their problems, thus helping to perpetuate them. –Theodore Dalrymple

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