Suicide Essay

2906 words - 12 pages

Stopping SuicideLAST YEAR, New York University'sElmer Holmes Bobst Library was given a poignant adjustment. Built in 1972, the library was designed around a central atrium; visitors moved through the stacks by walking on balconies that looked down on a hypnotic, Escher-like marble floor. It was a triumph of engineering grace, though some people found it uncomfortably vertiginous. That was the worst of it until, in September 2003, a student jumped to his death. A month later, another student did the same. In response, NYU put up plexiglass barriers. Then, in 2009, a student scaled a barrier and jumped from the 10th floor. Now the balconies are lined with gold-hued screens.What's happened at ...view middle of the document...

That view has spread beyond the realm of philosophy. Google "suicide and choice" and you'll find many claims by ordinary people that suicide is a right, that because your body is yours alone, the choice to die at any stage should be yours.This view has its roots in a historical turf war between Christianity and secularism--and in a great many misunderstandings. Christianity's rejection of paganism made it too quick to see the ancients as pro-suicide, when in fact they produced a great deal of writing against the act. And though the Christian ban on suicide has no doubt saved many lives, it is a philosophically weak argument, no deeper than a prohibition by God.But the secular rejection of Christianity's simplistic antisuicide arguments took a wrong turn. Secularists based a moral decision on a fight with religion rather than on a consideration of suicide on its own terms. This has led secular moderns into a dark fatalism. There are in fact very good secular reasons to reject despair suicide, reasons with deep roots in Western culture. Why have we lost touch with them?IT IS NOT OBVIOUS that Christianity would be firmly set against suicide. Neither ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, nor ancient Hebrews categorically rejected suicide. Socrates, the ancient world's most famous suicide, did caution his followers that suicide is wrong unless one is compelled by an outside force. Still, for most ancients, suicide was not illegal, generally tolerated, and sometimes praised. Indeed, Lucretia's suicide was, for many centuries, considered the act that began the Roman Republic. After being raped by a prince, she told her husband and father to tear down the political system that led to her violation. She then took her own life, becoming a paragon of virtue, family honor, and courage.Christianity did not initially reject suicide either. In fact, Jesus' death was understood by many as voluntary. In the Book of John, Jesus says: "No man taketh [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself." Then came the martyrs. Some did not want to die, but many did. "I am yearning for death with all the passion of a lover," wrote Ignatius of Antioch. The early church historian Eusebius chronicled myriad martyrdoms, and praised a mother and her virgin daughters for killing themselves to avoid the sin of sex-though it was the threat of rape that moved them to end their lives. The rage for martyrdom went on for centuries.The church's view of martyrdom began to change around the time that Constantine made Christianity legal, in 313. Augustine of Hippo argued against suicide, in part, to distinguish Christian culture from ancient Greece and Rome. He may also have been motivated by compassion. The idea that God wants you to live was a way to keep people from allowing their saddest moments to murder them. In time, suicide came to be seen as the work of the devil, and an attempt as grounds for excommunication. Thomas Aquinas's take in the 13th-century Summa Theologica was subtle and...

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