Suicide and 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.


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

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.”

More to explorer


  1. A few years ago I began to research the Human Extinction Movement, which purportedly wants to see us contracept, abort, and euthanize ourselves out of existence. All for the good of the planet, you know. Well, I’ve been struck by how often its adherents admit that a major motive for the elimination of humans is actually the elimination of human suffering. Something for us to meditate on, I suppose.

  2. Also, I recall a news story from over a decade ago. My apologies, I archived the story But I can’t find it on short notice, so I’ll have to quote it from memory.

    The reported went to Pakistan to interview its leaders on their nuclear weapons program. He noted that every little village has some monument to their bomb effort, and that it is a source of great pride for the average Pakistani. So he ended up in the office of a retired general who had strong ties with the ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency). On the wall was a painting of Benazir Bhutto, and in the background of the painting was a glowing mushroom cloud.
    The general and the reporter spoke on at length. The general at one point looked at the painting and said “You drive out into the villages. There is no running water, no sanitation, no medical care. Food is always scarce. There is no hope. Perhaps it would be best if one night we went to sleep and never woke up”.

  3. That doesn’t sound to me like it’s suicide itself that’s the public health problem.

    I’m sure the aptly named Mr. Rottman can glean some ideas from Soylent Green.

  4. The reporter went to Pakistan to interview its leaders on their nuclear weapons program… – my apologies, I have GOT to start using a bigger font when I type.

  5. Our social re-engineers have been trying to de-stigmatize abortion for a half century now, and they have largely failed. The majority of people who have an abortion tell very few people about it. Most people know in their hearts that it is wrong, even if they cannot see the depth of the wrongness. Abortion still has a back-alley furtiveness to it, even if the reception rooms are now clean and well lit.

    So it will be with suicide. The whole West may end up like Belgium and the Netherlands, with the practice used by a substantial number of people. But I am sure that most survivors will be just like most survivors of abortion, and will be largely alone with their pain.

  6. My daughter (freshman in high school) and I were just discussing the subject of suicide. They are doing a unit on China and Asia. She remarked about the culture and that many in Asia see suicide as the “honorable” thing to do so they don’t bring shame on their family. She even cited the recent events with the ferry accident in Korea and the vice principal who committed suicide because he thought it was his fault . . . We also talked about the Jewish culture and how a family would be demeaned if a member of their family committed suicide. I asked her what she thought the difference was between the two cultures and she said, “God. God revealed how precious and good life is to one culture and western civilization made that part of the culture.”

    She also thought that western culture seems to have lost the idea of honor (there was something else in the news about kids cheating on exams and not thinking it was cheating) and that both cultures need to balance out the concept of honor.

  7. “that many in Asia see suicide as the “honorable” thing to do so they don’t bring shame on their family.”

    Reincarnation plays a role in this, in that an “honorable suicide” will lead to a better next life. The classic example of honorable suicide is contained in the story of the 47 ronin who avenged the death of Asano their dead master, and then committed seppuku since revenge had been prohibited. 46 committed seppuku, the youngest being pardoned by the Shogun and living to 87.

  8. Karen – Congratulations, parent.

    Donald – Thanks for the reminder. I somehow lost New Criterion when I was moving around my links.

    I have a bad feeling about when the selfish baby boomers become enfeebled. The entire economy, government, etc. of the past 70 years has been devised to keep the boomers from feeling discomfort.

  9. In the late 1950’s in Sacred Heart School (Boys’ Annex), Bronx, NY I was taught that suicide is a sure ticket to Hell. It is a mortal sin against the Holy Spirit becasue your body/being is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, you do not have the “right” to alter God’s will and kill yourself.

    Agree that suicide is a corward’s way out.

    Re: mental illness. What is it when the motive to kill oneself trumps the instinct for self-preservation?

    The rising number of desperate people is correlated to woes growing out of the stupidity and venality of the Obama gang and the progressive agenda.

  10. Well, here is my second try; my first comment seems to have been lost in cyber space. Donald correctly wrote, “My view on suicide is the traditional one, that absent insanity it is usually the coward’s way out.”
    I am a coward and thus chose not to commit suicide when I went through some difficult periods of my life (heroin withdrawals some three decades ago, my civil-marriage former spouse leaving and taking the kids with her two decades later, etc.). I did not want to end up in hell, burning forever. I viewed that as worse than the pain what I already went through. Basically, I am selfish. That is why I will be lucky if I make it as far as Purgatory, but there is hope and three decades ago when I was laying down shaking, shivering and sweating, there appeared to be no hope.

  11. Karen, well said. I was so thankful to have an old-fashioned text on Catholic Morality to structure my conversation with my son, after a girl at his school took her own life recently.

    Paul, I too am hoping for at least an extended stay in Purgatory. Glad you are here now.

  12. Don, thank you for your post on the 47 Ronin. I knew the basic story, and your post made me look up more detailed online sources. From a Christian viewpoint the story is so sad and nearly pointless. The same is true of the Norsemen and, to a lesser degree, the Confederates. Such a waste of bravery and talent.

  13. I agree to a point Tom, but only to a point. From a traditional Japanese point of view the 47 Ronin were heroes. They delayed revenge and allowed themselves to be thought cowards in order to succeed in avenging their master. They willingly suffered loss of face out of faithfulness to their dead Lord. The magnitude of that sacrifice in the eyes of the Japanese cannot be overstated. We do not choose where we are placed in this life, or the time in which we live. Most of us are prisoners of our time and our culture. I cannot help but salute someone who plays his alloted role with courage and honor, even if for me it is a cultural stretch to understand them.

    As for the Confederates, here are my thoughts on them:

  14. The subject of suicide and mental illness is a complicated one. The descriptions of schizophrenia in A Beautiful Mind, the biography of mathematician John Nash, is very interesting.

    Early in the book author Sylvia Nasar reports on a number of statistical and clinical facts regarding schizophrenia. It appears that the delusional state of schizophrenia is often not constant: it often ebbs and flows, and it is during the periods of lucidity that suicides occur. The schizophrenic does not usually kill himself when he is insane, he usually kills himself when he returns to some degree of sanity and realizes that he will lose it and return to insanity.

    Near the end of the book Nash is quoted as saying that he ‘chose’ his delusions over reality after he realized he would never solve the Riemann Hypothesis. He makes it sound as if there was the involvement of what theologians call a ‘moral choice’. Of course we cannot take this too far, given the undoubtedly multiple biological causes of schizophrenia, but the idea that some choice is involved is fascinating. If true perhaps preteens could be given mental exercises that could sometimes forestall, delay, or mitigate the severity schizophrenic episodes.

    Interestingly Nash also now states that his sexual promiscuity played a role in the onset of the disease. He doesn’t go into details, but you get the feeling that he now thinks that the mental states associated with promiscuity were at least not helpful to him.

    So, what would constitute the ‘right thinking’ that may aid mental heath? They turn out to be pretty close to some basic Judeo-Christian ideals: tell the truth, owe up to your mistakes, truly care about others, be not afraid. Freud was so wrong, but his definition of mental health is so on the money: “The ability to work and to love”. Perhaps these ideas and continuing research into the biological causes will really pay off in the years ahead. Pray that it does!

    For a peek at one likely biological cause please see

  15. “Most of us are prisoners of our time and our culture. I cannot help but salute someone who plays his allotted role with courage and honor, even if for me it is a cultural stretch to understand them.”

    Yes, Don, I agree. But we don’t have to salute the entirety of the culture as a result, and arguably our faith calls us to escape the things of our time and culture that would hinder our salvation. Perhaps this is why those who are tied to their time and place hate Christianity so much.

    One thing more on the Ronin. Thank to you I read up on Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s critique of their actions, and was really struck by something. On the Wikipedia article it states that Yamamoto ‘asked the well known question: “What if, nine months after Asano’s death, Kira had died of an illness?” His answer was that the Forty-seven Ronin would have lost their only chance at avenging their master. Even if they had claimed, then, that their dissipated behavior was just an act, that in just a little more time they would have been ready for revenge, who would have believed them? They would have been forever remembered as cowards and drunkards—bringing eternal shame to the name of the Asano clan. ‘

    The striking thing about this line of thought is the inherent Godlessness. Suppose that there is a God of our understanding and that God approves of bushido (which of course is largely not in our understanding). We tend to give some credence to morally good motives despite the failure of actions that we follow out of such motives. God knows our hearts and can judge us as having some merit even if we fail. Here, though, what is in the hearts of the Ronin does not matter. There is no heaven where the Japanese learn what they were really doing and so can be reconciled. Again, even if we hypothetically accept the moral code of Bushido, this just seems sad. Christian hope is such an immense gift.

  16. My brother took his life last Holy Monday. We did not expect it. He seemed normal and happy before that. He flunked out of college and had family, friendship problems to boot! Thank you for telling me that brother is now in HELL!!! Its so easy to speak this way when you aren’t suffering from the death of a loved you did not know was in desperate need of help! He was holding a crucifix when he died. His letters still professed faith in God’s love, heaven, purgatory and hell. You really think he ended up there! He wasn’t perfect but he was a good person most of his life. Think of others before you write your articles please. There are people who are really suffering and would appreciate a more compassionate yet still truthful approach to this subject. Even the Catechism teaches that they do not have full culpability if there were mental or emotional disorders and the like.

  17. I apologize for my previous comment. It was uncharitable for me. Even if we are grieving, it does not give me the excuse to lash out at strangers online. But is it really so wrong to believe that God would have mercy on a person suffering from depression and many other problems? Doesn’t the Catechism teach that also?

  18. “Thank you for telling me that brother is now in HELL!!!”

    Your brother’s eternal destination is solely in God’s hands Maria. I join your prayers that he may be with the blessed who see God face to face.

  19. “Even if we are grieving”

    My beloved son died Maria almost a year ago. As the anniversary approaches my grief grows more intense. All any of us truly have to combat such grief is our hope for our loved ones beyond the grave. When it comes to the mercy of God, I never make predictions as to how it may be applied in individual cases, but only pray for His mercy for my loved ones and for me, since I am certain in my own case that I shall have much need for it.

  20. Thank you for your kinds replies. I am so sorry for your loss. I can see my parents struggling and so I understand how painful that must be. I promise that I will pray for you and your son as well. I am really sorry for my angry comment. Thank you again. May God Bless you always!

  21. “But is it really so wrong to believe that God would have mercy on a person suffering from depression and many other problems?”

    In the case of one individual person, no, it may not be wrong.

    But for all of us the situation may be very different. What prompts the publishing of an article like this is the pressure in society to make suicide acceptable and rational. From a Christian viewpoint this pressure is unacceptable, because the more rational suicide becomes the more likely it will lead to that end state we call damnation. Thus we have a strange paradox: if we emphasize the risk that suicide brings to our souls we minimize that risk – we help ensure that those who do kill themselves do so for less than rational reasons and thus are more likely to attain Heaven – but if we de-emphasize the risk that suicide brings to our souls we increase that risk. Once again true love often has to be tough love.

    The other factor here is our view of suffering. I can imagine that decades of mental and physical suffering can make the three hours of Christ on the Cross appear pale by comparison. I really can. But we need to teach ourselves to emulate Him despite all pain. All of us need to encourage each other to do what is right, despite the hard natures of our sufferings and despite what the world thinks of us.

    Maria, I hope to meet your brother in Paradise.

  22. Perhaps you do not know the depths of depression. I do. I have struggled with it for years, and it is a real and valid illness, just like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Yes, I have the responsibility to maintain my health, but depression is a sneaky little bast*&d and it can convince a person – even one of strong faith – that there is little hope. The pain of depression is so intense. Often, those who contemplate suicide do not want to die; they simply want the pain to stop. I find your post here lacking in compassion for the mentally ill.

  23. What is most illustrated by the story of the 47 Ronin is, I think, the escalation that is part of the fallen human condition. The response to an insult is a threat; the response to the threat is one death and the ruin of dozens of families; the response to the one death and ruin of dozens of families is many deaths and the greater ruin of dozens of families.

    Keep this in mind the next time you are tempted to criticize “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” as primitive and barbaric, as is so often done in today’s society. Like all barbarians, we easily forgive crimes and offenses against people who mean nothing to us, and we congratulate ourselves on how “saintly” or “evolved” we are. But let someone cut us off in traffic! And if they dare to support a political cause of which we don’t approve, or violate the modern-day equivalent of blasphemy laws, we’ll take a head for an eye and a house for a tooth.

  24. “I find your post here lacking in compassion for the mentally ill.”

    I find it rash Elise to assume, as is commonly done today, that all or even most suicides are by people who are mentally ill. The human impulse to self destruction lies in despair and that is often not a result of mental illness but merely a reaction to how troubled life in this Vale of Tears can get.

  25. Elsie, I assume you are replying to my last post.

    “The pain of depression is so intense.”
    I am very, very sure you are right. Very sure.

    “Often, those who contemplate suicide do not want to die; they simply want the pain to stop.”
    I understand perfectly.

    “I find your post here lacking in compassion for the mentally ill.”
    I respectfully disagree. It is lacking in validation. I have simply reached the point in life where I will not extend my sympathy for the pain of any illness into acceptance of wrongful thinking.
    The desire to see one’s live end so that suffering will end is, I think, perfectly normal. Every saint looks forward to heaven.
    However, I have also concluded that the thoughts that lead to depression and suicide are usually delusions. The pain caused by them is real, and they themselves seem so real, but it is perfectly possible to say to oneself “These thoughts are not real, I can choose to not listen to them” and then push them away. Separate the feelings from the thoughts, and so weaken the feelings. Does it work? No, not always, but it can. Regardless of whether is does or not on any given day, our only moral responsibility is to try to survive, for the sake of others.

    I apologize for using rather stilted language. It does not help me express what I want to express, but I have my reasons.

  26. A childhood friend of mine (who was Christian but not Catholic) committed suicide a few years ago. He was suffering from medical problems that had completely incapacitated him for several months about a year before, and the most recent diagnosis had been that his illness was incurable and that recoveries would be increasingly incomplete and increasingly partial. That alone brings to mind a sentence from the Catechism: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” There is also a chance that the medications he was on may have had psychological side-effects. In spite of this I am disappointed and even angry at him, in no small part because he left a terrible example for his children.

    I suspect almost all suicides in Western nations are due to “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship or suffering”. As for those in the East, they presumably do not understand the gravity of the sin, or even that it is a sin.

    Then there are some suicides like those of Kirillov and Stavrogin in Dostoevsky’s novel Demons.

  27. Not long ago priests kicked out of the church those girls who got impregnated by men, out of wedding. The men were allowed to go to church, after confession.
    But not the girls…. the priests were ok with those girls killing themselves.

  28. That is complete and utter rubbish je. How do I know that is rubbish? Because my maternal grandmother got pregnant out of wedlock with my mom in 1935. That did not stop either of them from attending Mass and loving the Church.

  29. Suicide is never an option for christians. When a christian reaches the end of his tether and is staring down a tunnel with no light at the end, he has to do what Elijah, Tobias and Sarah did in such circumstance. This is the ‘christian suicide’ if you want to use the phrase
    Tobias 3 v 1-15; 1 Kings 19 v 1-9

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