Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 6/15/18
I am hesitant to go where I’m going. I am doing so despite such misgiving because I believe that the questions I’m about to pose are worth asking.
The subject is suicide – brought to the fore by the recent back-to-back suicides of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. These two are germane to this discussion only to the extent that their deaths remind us that suicide is on the rise — up 30 percent since 1999. For persons under age 35, suicide is now the number two cause of death behind accidental injury. High school counselors today are now trained to look for behaviors in high school kids that might signal a risk of suicide. Such was unthinkable in my day.
Suicide is every bit as complicated as it is tragic. I have no answers. But I do have questions.
Why do we, in the wealthiest, healthiest, most prosperous society in history see so many of our fellow humans driven to such despair as to take their own lives? Has anyone done any research on the correlation between the increase in suicide and the concurrent decline in church and synagogue attendance? Has anyone taken the trouble to examine the religious beliefs and practices of suicide victims and tabulate that data against the population as a whole? That’s a long way of asking, are suicide victims more likely or less likely to be persons of active religious faith?
Is it possible that the communal worship of God that used to begin in childhood for the vast majority of American kids provided a kind of “vaccination” against suicide?
That proposition seems reasonable to me. I was taught from childhood that the God of the Jewish and Christian Bible is a loving Father. I, and all the kids I grew up with, were taught that our Heavenly Father cares for us and watches over us and either shields us from suffering or gives us strength to bear it. We were taught that whatever trials, heartaches and troubles come our way, it’s going to work out in the end.
I grew up believing that. I still believe it even though I can’t prove it. That’s why it’s called ‘faith.’
Many, particularly those on the Left, dismiss religious faith as nothing more than ignorant superstition. So just for discussion, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say they’re right – that belief in a loving, caring, fatherly God is all humbug.
It seems nevertheless to be useful humbug. If belief, even misplaced belief, in a merciful God keeps overwhelming despair at bay, how is that belief a bad thing? If faith shines light into otherwise impenetrable darkness – and saves a life – how is that faith anything but ineffably good?
When you see increasing numbers of apparently prosperous people taking their own lives, you have to believe that something or things have gone terribly wrong. It’s worth asking if a declining faith in the God of our fathers might be one of those things.