What does the Bible say about suicide?


Given that many religious people think that the life they will have after death will be so much better than the life they have now, this raises the problem of why they don’t simply commit suicide or why they seek medical treatment for illnesses instead of seeing life-threatening diseases as signs that god want them to join him in heaven. To explain this paradox, religious people have sought to find moral prohibitions against death wishes and suicide.

Interestingly enough, the Bible does not directly condemn suicide. This poses a bit of a theological problem because it does seem a little odd that a god who seems to care about the minutest and trivial details, going so far as to warn people not to wear garments made up of both wool and linen (Deuteronomy 22:11) or to plant two different kinds of seeds in the same field (Deuteronomy 22:9) and even demand that a person be stoned to death for collecting wood on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), couldn’t be bothered to come right out and say that offing oneself was not kosher. So assuming that what is not prohibited is permitted, it would seem that suicide is compatible with at least Judaism and Christianity.

But this idea that suicide may be permissible or even desirable goes against the grain of sophisticated religious believers so, as is usually the case, theologians concoct reasons as to why although god is silent on what would seem to be an important question, we really should not commit suicide.

Some Christians claim to find indirect biblical support for not taking one’s own life. Augustine argued that the sixth commandment against murder covers killing oneself. But that won’t wash as it is clear that all the other prohibitions in the ten commandments (lying, adultery, stealing, coveting) only apply to acts done to other people and there is no reason to think that the sixth commandment is any different. Other apologists find other reasons:

Some people believe that all who commit suicide go immediately to Hell. However, the Bible never says if this is the case. The Bible is silent on this issue. God probably did not address it in black in white for a good reason. If we knew that we would still go to Heaven if we killed ourselves, there would probably be a lot more suicides taking place than there already are. However, if we knew that all who killed themselves were automatically banished to Hell, no matter what their situation, it may be too much for the grief-stricken family and friends to bear. (bold emphasis in original, italics are mine)

I am always amused by how religious people think they can psychoanalyze god and determine his desires so precisely. And the results of their analysis always turn out to be exactly in agreement with what they want it to be. To his credit, the author of the above passage is refreshingly frank about the obvious fact that religious people should have a greater desire to commit suicide than the non-religious.

Islam does not seem to be so wishy-washy. Going by recent events, killing oneself in the service of god seems to be considered noble in that religion. The suicide bombers who murder innocent people and generally commit mayhem in the service of their god are convinced that they will reap rich rewards in heaven after they die and they look forward to it, as do those fanatics in all religions who kill others because they think they are doing god’s will. They commit their abominable acts knowing that they will either die in the process or likely be executed for their crimes, and they don’t care because they are deluded that their god will reward them.

Oddly enough Islam, the religion that has become identified with suicide bombers, has clearer prohibitions against suicide than the other two Abrahamic religions. But of course theology is so malleable that some Islamic scholars have found a martyrdom loophole to the prohibition against suicide and this is used to mislead people into thinking they are doing something noble when they are being murderous.

It is likely that depression and despair, the usual causes of suicide, strike people indiscriminately and takes no account of whether people are religious or not. But religion can persuade people to take their own lives in the service of what they perceive as a greater good or a better life. It is after all religious cults that can persuade their followers to indulge in mass suicides, such as led to the Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown tragedies. I cannot imagine what one could say to persuade a group of atheists to take their own lives. Actually a strong case can be made that atheists place a greater value on life than religious people because they know that this is the only life they have.

There is always something to look forward to, from the trivial to the major. In fact, the reasons to live are so numerous as to beyond the ability to list them.

POST SCRIPT: Exercising free speech rights

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Comments

  1. Matt says

    Religions ban suicide because it reduces their numbes. That reduces their power. Power is far more important to religions than god’s wishes.

  2. kuraL says

    Mano,

    On the matter of suicide bombers, we know that the before the Islamicists it was the LTTE and the Japanese kamikaze pilots of WW2 who perfected the art. Te kamikazes were driven by a mix of Shinto/Buddhist/Emperor worship based creed. Hitchens has covered this creed in some detail.

    But in the case of the LTTE it is a little more complicated. Some – usually hard leftist supporters – dubbed the LTTE secular/atheist. But is that really so? Prabhakaran was married at a Hindu Kovil, he is known to have celebrated the popular Hindu occasions – Dipavali as well as Pongal – and his sympathisers were predominantly Hindu or Christians of recent Hindu heritage. His sister who lives in Toronto, is an observant Hindu herself and has talked about Prabhakaran’s own sources of inspiration – both Hindu and Buddhist! But there may yet be another source of inspiration for the LTTE suicide cult. For that we have to look at the Dravidian fascist cult inspired movement in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Among other things votaries of this cult have claimed a hyper-ancient status for the Tamil language (>50,000 years!) created the myth of a lost continent of Lemuria – Kumari Kandam – created a deity Mother Tamil etc., And in the days of the anti-Hindi movement in the 1960s there were several activists who took their life committing self-immolation. Prabhakaran was known to be close to some of the ideologues of this cult and in his later years was almost completely in their thrall.

  3. Jared A says

    Mano,

    I think I have an explanation for why there is no mention of suicide in at least the old testament. When it was written there really was little or no conception of an afterlife in Judaic religions. In this context it would have been silly to have commandments against suicide if there was nobody around to punish.

    If I remember correctly, ideas such as resurrection, afterlife (heaven and hell), etc, were mostly imported from Zoroastrianism in the period when the Judeans were conquered by the babylonians (600BC-ish?) This was a generation or two later than when King Josiah “discovered” many of the texts in the old testament.

    Jared

  4. says

    Jared,

    What you say makes sense. I did a quick check of the Bible and the only mention of hell occurs in the New Testament.

    A cursory check of the Old Testament has many mentions of heaven but the random ones I checked were in the context of simply ‘up there’ and a place where god hangs out, not a place where people go to after they die.

  5. says

    Well the bible says “thou shall not Murder”

    Exodus 20 verse 13

    some interpret this as kill, but that is incorrect, intentionally taking your life will fall under the category of Murder, It’s almost like blaming God for your troubles..

    Peace

  6. says

    But was it really suicide in the strict sense of simply wanting to die? It seems like what Samson wanted was to kill a lot of his enemies even if it cost him his life. It strike me more as self-sacrifice than suicide.

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