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Is Suicide Ever Right?

17 Jun

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” The suicide recently, of a friend has spurred the revisiting of an older post. On the heels of California becoming the fifth state to legalize a “right to die” for patients, the events of this trying week beg the question: Is suicide ever the right thing to do?
Before I move into a bit of conversation, I would like us to make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, spouses, families, and friends. We must state our love in words and in actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point. The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddled with chemical imbalances, at times. We are frail and all of us one breath from the end of life here on earth. We also live in a world that would swallow us up, as a vortex vanquishes its volume. The pressures are great on us all.
For me, there is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted by internal and external forces to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose, and that is our fault as Americans. There is also no mistaking the fact that there are other factors that can cause people to “feel” hopeless, and convince themselves there is only one way to deal with this hopelessness. These feelings are real. These feelings are heightened beyond reality, sometimes. They are feelings, nonetheless. I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into depression and destructive thoughts.
With that last query in mind, I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause irrational thoughts and bizarre behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or PTSDs–and even child sexual abuse. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously by loved ones and friends. A person living with “harmed and fractured insides” sometimes believes that such harm is a norm and that what we would call “additional harm” may be viewed as that person’s “additional norm.” When this happens, something is wrong inside the person. Add to this some form of chemical or substance abuse, and the brain is all cross-circuited, and emotions are imbalanced. The brain both affects and is affected by biology and chemistry. Emotions and the brain are inseparable, especially so for girls and women.
As a Christian man, I can assure you that praying for people is the right thing to do. Miracles do occur. I have seen some. But God gives us common sense also, and sometimes prayer has to be coupled with professional assistance and treatment. Asking a person to simply pray their way out of depression, or for healing from a fractured youth is one thing. Walking through these issues has to be accomplished by the person first admitting there is a problem. This is where there is often a hang up.
As quickly as we go to the doctor for a physical disease, the same should be done for something problematic emotionally and mentally. However, getting the right help with the right worldview is critical. I am no physician, and certainly I am not a psychotherapist. But I am a man of common sense and signs of trouble are perceptible if we take the time to see them and act accordingly. They are easily missed, and even more easily dismissed–until it is too late. Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for additional conversational purposes.
First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such? Love to know your thoughts.
Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is certain death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide? Can it ever be heroic for a person to take his or her own life, albeit for a higher cause–even if it means pain in the present? I have heard people say, “They would be better off without me, in the long run.” Some people actually think they are choosing a higher path, in their own minds. That is the issue. They see this negative as a positive. In a disabled mental or emotional state, one’s mind can confuse purposeful actions.
Therefore, third, is it possible for a person to be in such a confused state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? The converse of this is whether suicide is a cheap and selfish way out of problems a person sees not end to, and it is ultimately purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic. I have always said, if those who kill themselves by their own choice, could float above the room in which their family and friends gather, and see the devastation and grief their actions leave behind in the people they claim to love, they might very well wish to un-choose their actions. Yes, this is only speculation. But, we struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction.
If we trace the family history, sometimes is seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. But this is not always the case for the first person in the family to carry out the act. But now there is a precedent and a bridge crossed for others to more easily justify the action for themselves. I have heard people say, “I have suicidal thoughts because my mom and grandfather committed suicide.”
Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on. I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might can fit as factors. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not. We must understand that death is not a part of life, like a nap from which we awaken later. Death is the cessation of physical life. Taking one’s life with the hope that there is an eternal life, lessens the value of this temple we are given–the very house of the Holy Spirit and new creations, at that! This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I have my beliefs and these are strong beliefs–but I simply do not know. This is where my faith comes in.
I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and the eternal state of created souls. Certainly we cannot practice anything we want at any time, and think our lives are in line with the Almighty. What is more, we cannot expect those in their right minds, who rake their lives, to be accountable. Inasmuch as a small child’s brain is not fully developed to be accountable for his or her actions, I also believe there are probably some adults whose brains, hearts, and minds are so injured that they are not accountable for their actions, either. My only dilemma is whether or not all suicides fit this accountability factor. Again, that’s up to the Almighty.
In summation, here are six questions to consider:
(1) How is killing another the same, or different from killing self? Is killing still killing?
(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?
(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot repent and ask for forgiveness, after the fact?
(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?
(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?
(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or does not keep one from heaven?
Thanks for reading and thanks, in advance, for your comments. Please keep them respectful.

Attention Educators!

20 Apr

Front Cover

Front Cover

We have a national epidemic on our hands!

http://www.amazon.com/Teacher-Student-Relationships-Crossing-Emotional-Physical/dp/1475802366/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1366476640&sr=8-1″ title=”Teacher-Student Relationships: Crossing Into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms” target=”_blank”>

Moral Bankruptcy

15 Dec

We live in a morally bankrupt society.  Those of us who claim to be followers of Christ are many times indistinguishable from those who claim otherwise.  Moral bankruptcy does not produce its own moral capital.  Quite the contrary.  Moral bankruptcy feeds off the dissipation of the morality of others, thereby creating both a moral vacuum and a swirling entity of immorality.  Our parents explained it to us thusly:  “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.”

Our human natures cannot be legislated, and they certainly cannot be changed at their core.  Neighborhood watch programs that merely watch do little to stem the tide.    Accountability groups such as neighborhood watch programs  are a start.  Yet, when no one is watching, to what do we resort?  Moral bankruptcy is not merely a philosophical proposition.  Actions illustrate propositions.  Is there any wonder that with fractured families sending their kids to schools devoid of moral education that there are serious issues?  Humans replace the Almighty.  In fact, students are now the almighty.  This is reflected in schools and colleges where we now find zones of student worship.  It is little wonder that violence occurs at the altar of secular culture’s sanctuary.  Destroy culture’s gods and goddesses and one empowers his or her bankruptcy.

So, this begs the question as to where this moral bankruptcy comes from and what to do about it.  Primarily, anyone who seeks to remove a person’s life must be met with the force necessary to preserve that life.  For if this did not occur there would be no need for this discussion.

Second, if life is no longer given the highest form of respect, then life is reduced to a mere thing, both the reason and result of choices.  Notice I said “respect,” and not “worship!”  Humans worship “things.”  Some of us are against this replacement of the Almighty with humanity.  This reversal results in all sorts of immorality.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”  Interesting parallel to today, don’t you think?

This goes directly to why so many people are against changing the definitions of life, and the very relationships that have been the hallmarks of every society since the beginning of time.  Life is no longer given the respect it once had.  The “self” is more respected than life.  Allow me to elaborate.

The weakening of society’s moral foundation involves dismantling of the family.  The moral dissipation begins there.  When children see unmarried couples birthing kids and there is no shame in that, homosexual relationships causing moral confusion, the unnatural becoming natural, and the tearing apart of innocents from the womb, can we blame them for being a mess?.  Kids are often unable in their brains to compartmentalize the differences between reality and fiction.  When something immoral begins to take root, this spins out in other areas, in terms of how they view the world.  This causes terrible confusion.  The same emotional base of a child’s brain is used to play at fiction, as well as used to play in real life.  So, does the brain even know the differences if it is trained to view immorality as moral?

Children are not reared in a vacuum.  Likewise, the actions that emerge from moral bankruptcy are not vacuous.  These actions actually bleed the moral lifeblood from a nation and have already chipped away at the fundamentals of the nuclear family.  Our culture is a mess.  Hence, violence done to children is often accomplished at home.  This violence is accomplished through literal violence, and it is accomplished through violence to one’s developing morality and brain wiring.  Assaults on marriage are violence to a moral compass morality and to life itself.  Yet, even with “perfect” wiring and ideal upbringing, these alone cannot overcome the human condition that besets us all. Yes, we live in a morally bankrupt society. However, we also live with the unintended consequences of this bankruptcy.  Did anyone stop to consider the fallout of worshiping self?

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

We live in a violent society that glorifies death.  Some would argue that having deadly-force weapons in the hands of those morally bankrupt is a reason not to have weapons in anyone’s hands.  One of the problems with that reasoning is that morally bankrupt people making laws and restricting rights for other morally bankrupt people usually do not play out well.  It would be like homosexuals making marriage laws for the nation, or pornographers making laws regarding the First Amendment, or even Planned Parenthood defining privacy.  Morally bankrupt people do not seek to elevate the morality of others.

Using weapons to defend against moral bankruptcy—when one is morally bankrupt himself—implies that group accountability cannot check those who would act on their bankruptcy.  I disagree with that and I am in good company in my disagreement.  Agreeing to be held to standards based on truth, with the knowledge that we are flawed is a hallmark of a society that knows itself.  We were founded on this principle of a social contract.  Moral bankruptcy is evidence of a society that has lost its way and has violated the social contract.  We know one thing.  Government cannot protect us, so we must protect our own lives, liberties, and personal property.

How else besides moral bankruptcy could one explain how a woman can choose to kill a baby, engage a doctor’s services to perform the murder, and then decry the mass killing of other children?

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

Like it or not, we are seeing our society play out exactly what we feed it.  We are moral debtors, running up a tab, and then blaming the utensil.  The equivalent to this is running up thousands on our credit cards and blaming the plastic for the debt.  It is not a woman’s choice to kill a baby that causes the baby’s death.  It is the doctor’s D & C procedure.  Yet, without the choice, the doctor would not do the procedure.  How many of us actually think that abortion would end if we banned all abortion machinery?

The changes that must occur in our society of come not from more laws.  Disobedience is rampant already.  The only changes come from a regenerated soul and a shift in worldview and corporate practices of the people of that society.  Those with a life-affirming worldview must begin to live as a group to demonstrate the light.  The darkness will not like it much.  It never does.  However, living the light is attractive to many seeking answers to society’s plight.

Human nature is flawed, tainted, and full of every evil waiting to happen.  Given the right circumstances, imbalances of chemicals, extreme anger and frustration, substance and liquid abuse, immorality, coarse and debasing entertainment, political hatred and forced, punitive policies, mental illness, these—and many other things—might cause any one of us to wander off into the deep end, leading to our own form of tragedy.  I argue that when we make choices to exercise self over family, a personal choice over the good of us all, or worship our own identities because we “feel” true to ourselves, we inch toward the deep end.  Moral bankruptcy does not produce better swimmers.

It is difficult to know what causes a person one day to choose to come out as someone who kills others.  One wonders whether such a person is just being true to the way he or she is born.  After all, we are told that people are born certain ways and are not able to change the way they are identity-oriented.  If this is true, then those who are morally bankrupt by birth are wired toward this from the womb.  This warrants further discussion.  Can people’s morality just “snap,” in their brain and discover something that was latent since conception, or birth?  Again, the human nature is flawed and full of every sort of moral bankruptcy just waiting to happen.  None of us escape this reality.

Guns are not the reason Lanza went over the edge.  His humanity, moral bankruptcy rooted in society, personal mental illness, and his strained relationships with his family comprise the root of all that ailed him.  In one sense, we are all Lanza!  America played a role in this tragedy.  The means to kill is not the main issue.  The reasons for the killing are the main issue.  The killing is the result of something greater than bullets.  The political left in this nation generally seeks to control the symptoms, whereas the right seeks to root out the causes.  The left wants to control the trigger, whereas the right wants better control of the trigger.

When will our nation ever wake up to realize that what it places into the brains of morally bankrupt people by other morally bankrupt people will result in acts that defy logic?  This is true whatever the issue is.  In the state of moral bankruptcy, we cannot protect our most precious assets . . . our children.   Therefore, we must discover that moral bankruptcy can be reversed by the One who has paid it all for us, as we turn to the One in Whom we have our Blessed Hope!

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  (II Chronicles 7:14)

Change

28 Apr

Things change.  People change.  Life moves onward within the marking of days, weeks, and so on.  Philosophically, there are a few things that will never change–and one of these things is change, itself.

As creatures of habit, we all seek to find our routines and establish some sort of normalcy within the context of our daily regimen.  We all do this, as we seek order to our lives.  Yet as we do, we glance in the mirror, or we watch our own children and grandchildren, and we come “face-to-face” with reality.  We are made aware that change is a constant.  Some of this change is celebrated and some is not.

Are you ready for the oxymoron of the day?  Here it is:  Change never changes; Change remains constant. 

Having said that, we must add, also, that since nothing ever stays the same, we can conclude that change indeed changes everything by its very nature.  It even changes itself, by not changing.  Are you still with me?

As humans, we can either succumb to the universal law of change, or choose to work within it.  I like to call this universal march of time by the term “our path toward decay.”  I am smiling over that phrase because I know the changes my body and mind have undergone these past few years.

The acceleration toward the big “event” seems to be picking up speed.  Yet in all of this reality mixed with humor, we humans are creatures of choice.  We can choose to battle forward, directly in the middle of this change.  Or we can sit back and allow change to maintain its exponential impact, right squarely in the middle of our supposed routines.

We only live one life.  We enjoy our sense of stability, with family, friends, and even with work.  But do we have regrets about things unchosen?  I mean, look . . . we can’t undo past choices.  But we can certainly make new ones.  Do we regret not having made a choice to do something differently in life?  That choice not to choose is really a choice, too!  I don’t like living with regrets, do you?

We can choose by faith.  We can choose by sight.  We can choose by both.  We are not dead yet and, for many of us, making a choice to cause change in our routines might very well be what is best for us at this time of our lives.  There are as many reasons why we should do so.  There are some good ones why we cannot, as well.  But I have to be honest.  I am both fearful of, and apathetic to some changes.  I am probably not alone.

People of the Baby Boom Generation have given so much to this current generation.  Those of us in our 50s and 60s need to ask ourselves, “What now?”

So let me offer this challenge right from within this short blog on this lovely morning.  Do you have a passion that still drives your soul?  Is there an area in life whereby you can imagine yourself making a difference somewhere?

In order for change to occur in our lives, we first have to choose to allow this to occur.  As a Christian man, I choose to walk by faith into that arena.  I know in my spirit that “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

It has been said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Hebrews 13:8 puts somewhat differently:  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yes, and forever.”

As for me, watch out change!

The Bible is Dead; Long Live the Bible

20 Apr

Colleges and universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment and growth–growth of the whole person.  However, the moral-free campus environment, coupled with the abject spiritual poverty and outright ridicule of things Christian, is enough to see the real threat our own children face in schools of higher learning.  There is a war over “faith” that many of our own children face.

Students are subject to ridicule, and fear standing up, or else their grades may be affected. Standing for truth and absolutes is difficult today, but not impossible.  Every generation has some challenges. One of these challenges is found in the following.  A recent Chronicle of Higher Education issue contained a piece titled:  “The Bible is Dead; Long live the Bible.”

The Chronicle Review published the piece from a book written by a professor at Case Western Reserve University, Timothy Beal.  In his recent book titled, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, Timothy Beal questions the integrity and veracity of the Bible. Take note: “Did no one notice all the glaring discrepancies? Could all those many, many people involved in the development of biblical literature and the canon of Scriptures have been so blind, so stupid?” Just what exactly where they blinded to, so stupid, regarding?

Beal writes: “The Bible can atheist any book under the table on some pages.  It presumes faith in God, yet it also often gives voice to the most profound and menacing doubts about the security of that faith.  The Bible is not a book of answers, but a library of questions. How rare such places have become in a society addicted to quick fixes, executive summaries, and idiot’s guides. The canon of the Bible is that kind of place.”

Apparently, placing trust in the Bible as God’s Word and a guide for life equates to being blind, or stupid. Yet, with that assumption on my part, Beal leaves unaddressed that the major questions of life are indeed answered in the Scriptures. These include the purpose and meaning of life, love, marriage, children, as well as life after death–and a host of others.  Yes, there are questions, but unlike other religions, there are very direct assurances in the Scriptures, based on Jesus Christ.

The author attempts to argue that “There is no faith without doubt.  Doubt is faith’s other side, its dark night. People of faith know the reasons to doubt their faith more deeply and more personally than any outside critic ever can.” Notice the appeal to Eastern religion here? What Beal does not address is the relationship aspects that are clearly developed in the Scripture. He dichotomizes faith and doubt, as if opposite sides of the same coin.

Faith, like doubt, has to be placed in or on someone or something. Doubting one’s faith, as a thing owned, is very different from doubting the One into Whom faith is placed.  If one doubts his or her own faith, then no wonder there are issues. Such a faith is merely human and emerges from a psychological base, not a spiritual, or relational one.  If a person can doubt his faith, can he have faith in his doubt?  Now that raises some very interesting questions.  I think the reader sees the point.

Beal tries to cozy up to the Bible, but his best efforts fall short. Having rejected the authoritativeness of the Scriptures, he then writes:  “Scriptures have a tendency to exceed the boundaries of orthodoxy and resist closure.  The Bible keeps reopening theological cans of worms.  It resists its own impoverishment by univocality.  In so doing, it fails to give answers, leaving readers biblically ungrounded.”

By stating there is no univocality, Beal strikes at the heart of the Bible as God’s Word.  After all, if the Bible is God’s Word, then there is a vocality to which we ought to listen. The Bible claims that “all Scripture is inspired by God . . . ” That sounds quite univocal to me!

The author stresses a supposed inadequacy of the written text. One can only question whether he is open to books written by one man, such as the Book of Mormon, or the Qur’an, or other religious books, in terms of their univocality?

He seems open to quoting Buddha and others to make his points, hence an appeal to truth through the avenue of human faith in self. Here is another area where Beal sorely misses the point.  The Bible is inspired by one voice, written through the voices and styles of many, and points to One and only One Person, overall.  Faith is unidirectionally. Faith is placed in Jesus Christ, who is the “way, the truth, and the life.” No one comes to the Father, except through Him, according the Scriptures. (John 14:6) But if the Scriptures are not God’s Word, then even these attributed words of Jesus are suspect.

As people, moreover as believers, we can place our faith in doubt, or we can doubt our faith.  Whatever the case, both miss the mark.  Faith in the Person of Jesus Christ and his exclusive claims as God comprise the object of faith placement.  Show me more univocality than Christ’s exclusivity, and that’s where I would doubt that faith as merely human.  God in the flesh is quite exclusive.  Dead men’s bones in tombs make their religious claims neither true, nor exclusive.

In closing, one does not need Kant, Buddha, or even Dostoyevsky to make a point about faith. If a person does not believe the Bible to be God’s Word, then what it says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, life, death, and many things in-between are also suspect. Either faith in self exists, or faith in God exists. Having faith in faith is mere gimmickry. It is from God’s Word where we derive our moral compasses and absolute truth. Faith and doubt are not truth. Faith in truth does not make it so.

Truth changes not, in the face of the worst doubt, or extreme faith.  What else is unchanging in this world, regardless of views that attack the Scripture?  It is Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and yes, forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  Did not the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus answer the ultimate questions of life?

Timothy Beal. “The Bible is Dead; Long Live the Bible.” The Chronicle Review. April 22, 2011, B6-8.

Storms Are Blessings

7 Feb

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  (James 1:12)

Life is such an interesting pilgrimage.  The moment we think we possess it, it turns back around to illustrate the reality of its possession of us.  There are people we come in contact with in this life whose inconsistencies of friendship are extremely tiring and trying.  There are others who come into our lives for a season, due to life’s hardships, a connection through empathy, or some other personal challenge.  There are still others whose purpose in life is to fight, argue, and play power games, mostly in “thorny” ways.  I am hard pressed to find things that occur in life that are purely circumstantial and happenstance.  Normally what happens is the result of issues with people.

I guess I am “purpose-driven,” “passion-focused,” and even spiritual in many ways.  But I am as human as the next guy, and admittedly just as prone to error, if not careful.  Even with the best of care, I will fall short in some way or another.

In terms of the storms of life, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or interpersonal . . . it’s nice to know we all have a “rock” to which to cling.  It is quite obvious to the perceptive ones when people disregard their safety and security and place it in areas where the footing is wobbly, or unstable.  I understand this well, as I’ve been there myself.

When people persecute you, it is not YOU they persecute.  The persecution is aimed AT you, but is truly directed at your spirit, your heart, and your integrity.  If there was nothing in you or your character that was worthy of destroying, no one would waste the effort.  No one is a hero to the masses for persecuting anyone.  Yet, in one’s own eyes, he is deified, bolstered by just a few with louder voices.  These louder voices overtake those who are quiet.  During storms, the wind seems overpowering, true.  Yet, as well as know, there is more calm and peace than there is storminess.

Regardless the storm, here is my early morning set of deductions.

1.  People are hurting and lonely and so they lash out in attempts to either latch on, or try to bring down those whom they think have it all together at the moment.

2.  Storms pass, head into other areas, and those who have endured can send out warnings and survival guides.

3.  Persecution is not personal, it is issue-oriented, philosophy-attached, and normally is the result of confrontation.  People who find it difficult to separate issues from the people sharing them, have deep-seated personal issues.

4.  The manifestation of hatred means there is an inability to come to terms with deeper issues in a person’s life.  Most are aware of the wreckage left behind, yet pretend to move on like, receiving “It’s all going to be ok” from a group of “adjusters.”

5.  Persecution leaves real damage, some recoverable, and some not.

6.  It is fruitless to scream at persecution, inasmuch as it is wasted effort to yell at the storm.

7.  Knowing where to make one’s home and the conditions which cause storms are essential.

8.  Emotional hurts and scarring are forever, but living with them, through them, and beyond them is all right.  I call this condition the tattooing phase.  Persecution is art for the soul.

9.  Storms batter in the same way that fire refines.  Sometimes cleansing and purging are taken to extremes.

10.  The storm clouds always dissipate to yield the bright, blue sky, and the golden rays of sunshine.  It is at these moments, when light hits the wreckage, can we begin to rebuild and regain the confidence of outward actions, which stem from the assurance of the spirit within.

Who or what is YOUR rock during times of persecution, or stormy trials?  Also important:  WHO ARE YOU?

Death Technology

7 Feb

Anyone who knows me well understands my interest in some of the deeper and more controversial cultural issues emerging from daily living.  This piece is no exception. 

I can be sort of an iconoclast, at times.  I wish to open a discussion on something just a bit different here.  I hope to cause us, the Baby-Boomers, to reflect on what is known today as “Death technology.” 

In the article, I will be introducing broader concerns with respect to (1) Physician-assisted suicide (or aid in dying vs. active suicide), (2) Death technology in culture, and (3) mercy-killing, or euthanasia.  It might present challenging reading for some, but hopefully not.

In Ludwig Wittgenstein’s last journal entry into his Notebooks 1914-1916, the author questioned the nature of the relationship assumed between suicide and morality.  He wrote:

“If suicide is allowed, then everything is allowed.  If anything is not allowed, then suicide is not allowed.  This throws a light on the nature of ethics for suicide, so to speak, the elementary sin.  And when one investigates it, it is like investigating mercury vapour in order to comprehend the nature of vapours.  Or is even suicide in itself neither good nor evil?”

Here are some working definitions for the article:

~Physician-assisted suicide (or more popularly called ‘physician-assisted aid in dying.’) is defined by me as “the making available of the medical means by which a person may choose to end his or her own life.”  [This is what the Germans called “Bilanz-Selbstmord”]

~Death Technology, a technological medium specifically created for, or used primarily as a means to end the life of a human, or animal.

~Active suicide can be defined as “death by one’s own hand.”

~Euthanasia is defined as “mercy killing,” or death by the “hand of another.”

Assisted suicide (generally euthanasia) has a lengthy history.  People of ages past were given hemlock to drink, or weapons to end their own lives.  Today, we can see this “type” of practice within the ranks of terrorists’ actions.  However, a major difference is that terrorists also seek to take the lives of others, which is suicide-homicide (murder) by definition, along with their own.  Some people are no longer intent on taking their own lives, especially for political purposes.

The subject of suicide has appeared in literature throughout the ages.  Sophocles, Shakespeare, and a number of other prolific people of history “have depicted suicide not as a major philosophical problem, but simply as one of the realities of human existence.” (Weir, Death in Literature, p. 27)

It was Homer (ca. 8th century) who referred to “Thanatos, the Greek god of death, as the brother of Sleep.” (Bardis, History of Thanatology, p. 25)

The stoics had a fascination with suicide.  They admired the willingness of one who would take his own life.  They deemed it “an aspect of Stoic courage.” (Tillich, in Dyck, To Live and Die, p. 101)

Plato addressed the topic of ending one’s life, in the “Phaedo,” when he wrote:  “There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away; and this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand.” (Plato, “Phaedo,” The Oxford Book of Death, p. 88)

Aristotle was in favor of a variation of euthanasia.  He argued for “compulsory euthanasia for all deformed children.” (Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, p. 90)  In addition, ancient Greek and Roman societies allowed for euthanasia suicide for the aged (p. 90).

In the Jewish Talmud, the Jews maintain their belief in a “tehiat hametim” (a resurrection of the dead).  To the Jews, death is a gate to the word to come (olam haba).  However, euthanasia was rejected by Talmudic teaching, even for the terminally ill.  Even the ill were considered “complete living persons” (Shabat 151a).  Furthermore, the practice of suicide came under strict condemnation.  The Old Testament was clear, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Robert Weir discusses the view of the western monotheistic religious traditions:  “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam . . . have considered suicide wrong because of the general beliefs, as argued by Augustine and Aquinas among others, that human life is a gift from God and that self-destruction in an inappropriate way of exercising stewardship of that gift.” (Weir, Death in Literature, p. 226)

It gives me pause that Weir is unaware of the radical jihadist faction in Islam.  Suicide-homicide bombers are told that what await them for their actions is 70 mansions, with 70 beds per mansion, and each bed adorned with 70 virgins.  First, where are all the virgins coming from?  Second, if a bomber is a female, what does she get?  Last, this ridiculous belief is nowhere found in the Koran, or general teachings of Islam.  This would be equivalent to a Christian faction telling people that to take his life in the bombing of an abortion clinic would mean instant “this or that” in heaven.  Taking lives to gain eternal life . . . duh!  I say, line up all the skankiest, disease-infested prostitutes of history and let them adorn their beds and mansions.  Sorry. 

History records that immediately upon the formation of Christian societies, “suicide was formally forbidden in them.  In AD 452, the Council of Arles declared suicide a crime” (Durkheim, Suicide:  A Study in Sociology, p. 327).  Most interesting is the fact that a person committing such a crime might be prosecuted and punished.  Anyway . . .

This all leads me back to the issue of technology used in ending human life.  It is one thing for a culture to allow, encourage, or even promote the taking of one’s life.   But we live in a wider society that celebrates youth, seeks to promote longevity, while at the same time elevates the ending of our lives as a valid choice. 

I am at a loss over this.  If this is such a good thing to incorporate into our culture, why is it I have never heard parents counsel their children from the early years, on how to end their lives should they choose to do so, alter in life.  Wouldn’t THAT be good parenting? 

The very fact that medical advancements seek to prolong life, heal people, and keep them alive, should teach us something about the ethic we have in this nation.  It is most contrary to those advocating death by choice, or by help.

What does it say about a society that speaks of the value of life and death in the same breath?  What does it say about people who argue that the ultimate choice is the ending of the very life of the chooser? 

What will future generations conclude when they read that so and so valued economics, and inheritances over life?  Just curious.  I have heard this latter argument a lot, lately. 

Suffice to say, since 1973 we have witnessed a rise in death technologies.  Abortifacients, various abortion procedures, such as saline, D & C, partial birth abortion (PBA), embryo destruction for harvesting of stem cells, and other life-ending procedures–and these are even before birth.  It gets worse after we are born and we age.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian stated that he wanted “physician-assisted aid in dying” added to states’ laws.  Reminds me of the late crooner, Frank Sinatra:  “I stood tall, and took the blows, and did it my way.”  Imagine EVERYONE doing it their way?

Dying has been glamorized as the most autonomous, dignified act a person can commit.  Culture deifies and glorifies those icons who are forever “young” in our memories.  Think about it.  Elvis and Marilyn Monroe in their late seventies, or eighties?  How sexy is that?  And isn’t this the issue?  The sexualization of death?  There are people even tempting death by “sexual practice” of asphyxiation at the point of orgasm. 

If a culture based on Judeo-Christian principles seeks to protect life at all levels, why then is this same culture allowed to remove these protections?  Who has been asleep at the wheel? 

The way I see it is that death is going to greet us all sooner or later.  We have some options, yes.  But are they all valid options for people of faith?  Here they are:

1.  Allow death to catch us as it will (I kind of like surprises anyway).

2.  Hasten death because we somehow think we have lost control of our own choices.

3.  Ask a physician to act contrary to his calling and give us something so that our conscience is not bothered by considering the taking of our own lives.

There is a fourth option, and for this option I turn to one of my favorite comedy teams, Abbott and Costello.  When asked how he wanted to die, Lou Costello replied, “Old Age!”  Not such a bad idea, in my mind.

Hey Abbott!

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