Yesterday we discussed an article by atheist Michael Shermer in which he stated that as atheism replaces belief in God “we should continue working on grounding our morals and values on viable secular sources such as reason and science.” (Scientific American, April 2018, page 77). At the same time Shermer’s article came out, we received a report on prison suicide rates.
NewLife Behavior Ministries issued a report of an increase in suicides in Texas prisons. The data came from the University of Texas Medical Branch saying that attempted suicides in Texas prisons jumped from 65 to 150 in the past four years. Statistics on suicides are very complicated, but every study we have seen has shown a huge increase in attempted suicides. The increase applies to all segments of the population, not just prison suicide rates but the general public as well.
The secular sources for morals and values that Shermer recommends would include people like atheists Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins. They advocate euthanasia for the “unfit” in society including Down Syndrome, mentally ill, and mentally deficient people. Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He advocates for infanticide to eliminate defective children and for animal rights. In his book Practical Ethics, he concedes that the question of why we should act morally “cannot be given an answer that will provide everyone with overwhelming reasons for acting morally.”
The biblical perspective is that all humans have value because they are created in the image of God. That is radically different from the secular view that we are just animals with no more value than any other animal. Suicide is directly connected to what we understand a human to be. The Christian view is that there is no such thing as “worthless human trash” or “unfit people.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018
A recent mailing by the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness. Seventy-five percent of all lifetime incidents of mental health issues occur by age 24. It goes on to say that 90% of the people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. As a public high school teacher for 41 years I was frequently associated with students who threatened suicide, or in a few cases committed suicide.
There are cases in the Bible of people who were mentally disturbed. King Saul and his relationship with David certainly shows some severe mental problems. (See 1 Samuel 18:10-16 and 28, 29.) In Luke 8:26-39 we see Jesus dealing with a man who was deeply disturbed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul tells us that Christians should help those who are struggling with mental issues.
Biblical Christianity is a guilt-relieving faith. Many people who call themselves Christians have bombarded their followers with a guilt message. You don’t see hell mentioned as a motivational tool in the preaching of the apostles. The word is only used twice in the New Testament by the inspired writers–once in James 3:6 in reference to the tongue and once in 2 Peter 2:4 regarding angels. The gospel is good news, not threats of damnation. Christians are called to a message of love, not to a fear-driven faith based on condemnation. God does not want anyone to be lost. (See John 3:17 and 2 Peter 3:9) God wants to restore everyone to the relationship Adam and Eve had with Him in the beginning.
Christianity should not be adding to the guilt-load that people in our world have today. Instead, Christian faith should be reducing fear and stress. “Hell-fire and damnation” preaching may have motivated people to run to obedience out of fear, but it is not helpful to peace and mental health. Love for God and His love and care of us is a far better motivator both mentally and spiritually.
–John N. Clayton
Citizen Magazine reported in August that over 50% of “Christians” approve physician-assisted suicide. As we get older, we have relatives and friends who no longer want to stay alive because their quality of life is poor and they see no hope of getting well. The question really is a matter of alternatives.
In previous years there was a group known as The Hemlock Society who campaigned for and supported physician-assisted suicide. They have renamed themselves Compassion and Choices. The title suggests that we need to have compassion for the dying and allow them to kill themselves with the assistance of a physician to make sure the suicide isn’t bungled.
They have it only half right. We must have compassion for the dying. In this culture and this time of medical advances, there is no reason why anyone should have to endure massive pain as life ebbs toward its end.
Seventy years ago my paternal grandmother had spinal cancer that was causing her massive pain. The doctor severed her spinal cord in a way that stopped the pain but rendered her unable to walk or control her bladder or bowels. She lived for 15 years after that surgery. I remember visiting with her, being taught by her, playing games with her, and hearing about ancestors that I would never see. She was positive and encouraging to me.
Suicide doesn’t allow some vital things needed by those left behind. My younger brother is suffering a similar disease situation as I write. He too has had surgery on his spine that has confined him to a wheelchair. It allows him to continue to enjoy family, his grandchildren and working with his wife on family issues and problems that she otherwise would have to face alone.
Humans are not robots. We are created in God’s image, and our relationship to God and one another is different from animals. The statement by a euthanasia proponent that putting down a human is no different than putting down a dog is incredibly ignorant. We need to have compassion for the survivors as well as the dying and make choices that benefit everyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
On November 21, The Washington Post reported on a 15-year study showing that there has been a dramatic increase in American girls harming themselves. Cutting, swallowing poisons and pills, and other forms of self-harm have increased 8.4% annually among middle-school girls between 2009 and 2015. Hospitals across the country provided the data for the study. The lead author suggests that suicide is linked to the same causes.
Our culture’s obsession with sex and the discarding of the purpose God has for sex and replacing it with struggles for power, popularity and social status has to be a major part of the problem. The authors blame cyberbullying, and smartphones, but also include social isolation in their list of causes. Society makes girls feel like they are objects and not special creations of God. The media tells them that their bodies are the focus and not the biblical concept of being created in God’s image. When nobody tells them that they have a purpose far beyond competing for physical beauty, their feeling of self-worth suffers.
Girls harming themselves is a product of our sex-saturated culture. We will continue to see social isolation and people struggling with feelings of poor self-worth as long as our society rejects God’s plan for family and the roles for men and women.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
One of the new problems people face today is the question of what to do when you have a painful terminal illness. Improved medical treatments have allowed us to live longer with diseases that previously would have ended life. This has led to increased interest in physician-assisted suicide.
As I write this, I am dealing with my younger brother facing the end of life due to a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The disease has changed him from an active, in control, retired military officer to a man confined to a wheelchair, in great pain, and unable to care for himself. He and I have talked about physician-assisted suicide a number of times. Each time we do, the discussion gets more difficult.
Christianity Today (April 2017, page 18) reported that Lifeway Research found that 38% of the American public believes that physician-assisted suicide is morally acceptable when facing a painful terminal illness. Their study shows that 42% agree that physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives. Those numbers have been climbing, and they will continue to do so.
It is easy to give simplistic condemnations of those who choose to end their lives in this way. When we are in the situation, it becomes much more challenging. For the Christian, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Do we have any right to end the body’s life? Is a body racked with pain and twisted with a horrible disease a fit place for God’s Spirit? What effect does ending one’s life have on the loved ones? Is there ever a time when a person cannot minister to others even as they battle a horrible disease? These are all hard questions to answer.
It is obvious that our society is moving toward the time when euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide will be widely available. That is already the case in the Netherlands, and several states have passed laws allowing it. While the atheist may feel that human life should be treated like all other kinds of life, the Christian has a higher view of human life. This makes the decision more difficult when the end of life comes, but it also mitigates many of the fears and concerns that death brings. Life isn’t easy, and the end of life can be the most difficult. We need to study and pray together and support one another in these end-of-life issues.
–John N. Clayton © 2017