John Lilburne's journal condemning suicide. The teaching of the Catholic Church on it. Various examples of it in warfare.


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1122 Thu 13 Sep 2001

I wrote about martyrdom as rational on 2 September. Today I want to write about suicide as irrational. It seems important because of the frequency of suicide bombers and the indications of support they have among some communities.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the soverign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.

Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives. (CCC 2280 - 2283).

So if he Jews at Masada committed suicide, they did the wrong thing. The Kamikaze pilots used by the Japanese may have thought what they were doing was glorious, but it was not. If the Allies gave suicide pills to spies, then that was wrong as well. If buddhist monks pour petrol on themselves and ignite it, that takes on the gravity of scandal. Those who kill themselves by a hunger strike seem to me to have the same intention. The list goes on: Roman generals falling on their sword, Hitler shooting himself, strapping a bomb to oneself and detonating it in a restaurant, and flying a plane into a building.

Not glorious. Not courageous. A sign of defeat, not victory. Indications of fear, suffering and coertion. Not martyrdom. Not rational.

The world has seen the terrible cost of having people teach otherwise.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 13 September 2001.