Religious views on suicide
There are a variety of religious views on suicide.
Ancient Pagan religions
In Buddhism, an individual's past acts are recognized to heavily influence what they experience in the present; present acts, in turn, become the background influence for future experiences (the doctrine of karma). Intentional actions by mind, body or speech have a reaction. This reaction, or repercussion, is the cause of conditions and differences one encounters in life.
Buddhism teaches that all people experience substantial suffering (dukkha), in which suffering primarily originates from past negative deeds (karma), or may result as a natural process of the cycle of birth and death (samsara). Other reasons for the prevalence of suffering concern the concepts of impermanence and illusion (maya). Since everything is in a constant state of impermanence or flux, individuals experience dissatisfaction with the fleeting events of life. To break out of samsara, Buddhism advocates the Noble Eightfold Path, and does not advocate suicide.
In Theravada Buddhism, for a monk to so much as praise death, including dwelling upon life's miseries or extolling stories of possibly blissful rebirth in a higher realm in a way that might condition the hearer to commit suicide or to pine away to death, is explicitly stated as a breach in one of highest vinaya codes, the prohibition against harming life, one that will result in automatic expulsion from Sangha.
For Buddhists, since the first precept is to refrain from the destruction of life, including one's self, suicide is seen as a negative act. If someone commits suicide in anger, he may be reborn in a sorrowful realm due to negative final thoughts. Nevertheless, Buddhism does not condemn suicide without exception, but rather observes that the reasons for suicide are often negative and thus counteract the path to enlightenment. With that said, in thousands of years of Buddhist history, very few exceptions are found.
But in the Buddhist tale of a bhikkhu named Vakkali who was extremely ill and racked with excruciating pain. He was said to have died by suicide when near death and upon making statements suggesting he had passed beyond desires (and thus perhaps an arhant). Self-euthanasia appears the context for his death.
Another case is the story of a bhikkhu named Godhika, also beset by illness, who had repeatedly attained temporary liberation of mind but was unable to gain final liberation due to illness. While believing himself again in a state of temporary liberation it occurred to him to cut his own throat, in hopes thus to be reborn in a high realm. The Buddha was said to have stated:
Such indeed is how the steadfast act:
They are not attached to life. Having drawn out craving at its root
Ultimately, tales like these could be read as implying past Buddhist beliefs that suicide might be acceptable in certain circumstances if it might lead to non-attachment. In both above cases, the monks were not enlightened before dying by suicide but they hoped to become enlightened following their deaths.
The Channovàda-sutra gives a third exceptional example of one who died by suicide and subsequently attained enlightenment.
In an entry in The Encyclopedia of Religion, Marilyn J. Harran wrote the following:
Buddhism in its various forms affirms that, while suicide as self-sacrifice may be appropriate for the person who is an arhat, one who has attained enlightenment, it is still very much the exception to the rule.
In Hinduism, suicide is spiritually unacceptable. Generally, taking your own life is considered a violation of the code of ahimsa (non-violence) and therefore equally sinful as murdering another. Some scriptures state that to die by suicide (and any type of violent death) results in becoming a ghost, wandering earth until the time one would have otherwise died, had one not died by suicide.
Hinduism accepts a person's right to end one's life through the non-violent practice of fasting to death, termed Prayopavesa. Prayopavesa is for old age yogis who have no desire or ambition left, and no responsibilities remaining in this life. Another example is dying in a battle to save one's honor.
Sati or suttee[note 1] is a funeral custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband's pyre or takes her own life in another fashion shortly after her husband's death. The practice continued to occur scantily in India in the 1980s, although it is officially banned.
According to the Jain text Puruşārthasiddhyupāya, "when death is near" the vow of sallekhanā (fasting to death) is observed by properly thinning the body and the passions. It also mentions that sallekhanā is not suicide since the person observing it is devoid of all passions like attachment.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
There is no express biblical warrant condemning or specifically prohibiting suicide, and there are people in the Bible who died by suicide. Depending on canon, there are six or eleven suicides mentioned in the Christian bible. On the other hand, the descriptions of people in the Bible who died by suicide are negative. Major contexts include betrayal (Ahitophel and Judas) and divine judgement resulting in military defeat (Saul and Abimelech). In particular, s:Bible (King_James)/Psalms#Psalm 37:14-15 describes the "wicked" as falling on their own swords, and Zimri is described as having "died for his sins which he committed, doing evil in the eyes of Yahweh" (s:Translation:1 Kings#Chapter 16:18-19). Today, many Christian theologians take an unfavorable view of suicide.
According to the theology of the Roman Catholic Church, suicide is objectively a sin which violates the commandment "Thou shalt not kill". However, the gravity and culpability for that sin changes based on the circumstances surrounding that sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2283 states: "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives." Paragraph 2282 also points out that "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide." The Catholic Church used to deny suicides a Catholic funeral mass and burial. However, the Church has since changed this practice.
Conservative Protestants (Evangelicals, Charismatics, Pentecostals, and other denominations) have often argued that suicide is self-murder, and so anyone who commits it is sinning and it is the same as if the person murdered another human being. An additional view concerns the act of asking for salvation and accepting Jesus Christ as personal savior, which must be done prior to death. This is an important aspect of many Protestant denominations, and the problem with suicide is that once dead the individual is unable to accept salvation. The unpardonable sin then becomes not the suicide itself, but rather the refusal of the gift of salvation.
Suicide is regarded generally within the Orthodox tradition as a rejection of God's gift of physical life, a failure of stewardship, an act of despair, and a transgression of the sixth commandment, "You shall not kill" (Exodus 20:13). The Orthodox Church normally denies a Christian burial to a person who has died by suicide. However, factors bearing on the particular case may become known to the priest who must share this information with the diocesan bishop; the bishop will consider the factors and make the decision concerning funeral services. The condemnation of suicide is reflected in the teachings of Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, St. Augustine and others. The Orthodox Church shows compassion, however, on those who have taken their own life because of mental illness or severe emotional stress, when a physician can verify a condition of impaired rationality.
Some other denominations of Christianity may not condemn those who commit suicide per se as committing a sin, even if suicide is not viewed favorably; factors such as motive, character, etc. are believed to be taken into account. One such example is The New Church. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), suicide is generally viewed as wrong, although the victim may not be considered responsible for the act depending on the circumstances.
In early Christian traditions, attitudes to suicide were somewhat varied. Among the martyrs at Antioch were three women who died by suicide to avoid rape. Although William Phipps gives this as an example of virtuous early Christian suicides, Augustine declared that although they may have done "what was right in the sight of God," in his view the women "should not have assumed that rape would necessarily have deprived them of their purity" (as purity was, to Augustine, a state of mind).
Islam clearly forbids suicide as a verse in the Quran instructs:
"And do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you."
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire."
Suicides are frowned upon and buried in a separate part of a Jewish cemetery, and may not receive certain mourning rites. In practice, every means is used to excuse suicide—usually by determining either that the suicide itself proves that the person was not in their right mind, or that the person must have repented after performing the deadly act but shortly before death occurred. Taking one's own life may be seen as a preferred alternative to committing certain cardinal sins. Most authorities hold that it is not permissible to hasten death to avoid pain if one is dying in any event, but the Talmud is somewhat unclear on the matter. However, assisting in suicide and requesting such assistance (thereby creating an accomplice to a sinful act) is forbidden, a violation of Leviticus 19:14 ("Do not put a stumbling block before the blind"), which is understood as prohibiting tempting to sin as well as literally setting up physical obstacles.
Biblical and other Jewish accounts of suicide include those of Samson and the woman with seven sons. Although the Jewish historian Josephus described a Jewish mass suicide at Masada, according to the archaeologist Kenneth Atkinson, no "archaeological evidence that Masada's defenders committed mass suicide" exists.
In Wicca as well as numerous other Neopagan religions, there is no general consensus concerning suicide. Some view suicide as a violation of the sanctity of life, and a violation of the most fundamental of Wiccan laws, the Wiccan Rede. However, as Wicca teaches a belief in reincarnation instead of permanent rewards or punishments, many believe that suicides are reborn (like every one else) to endure the same circumstances in each subsequent lifetime until the capacity to cope with the circumstance develops.
- Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology, pp. 108–9.
- Danielle Gourevitch, "Suicide among the sick in classical antiquity." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 43.6 (1969): 501-518.
- John D. Papadimitriou, et al. "Euthanasia and suicide in antiquity: viewpoint of the dramatists and philosophers." Journal of the Royal Society of medicine 100.1 (2007): 25-28. online
- Anton J. L. Van Hooff, From autothanasia to suicide: Self-killing in classical antiquity (Routledge, 2002).
- Pruitt & Norman, The Patimokkha, 2001, Pali Text Society, Lancaster, Defeat 3
- Suicide as a Response to Suffering
- Buddhism, euthanasia and suicide at the BBC
- Damien Keown. "Buddhism and Suicide The Case of Channa" (PDF). Journal of Buddhist Ethics. 3 (1996): 19–21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
- Mircea Eliade. The Encyclopedia of Religion (vol 14). New York: Macmillan. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-02-865733-2.
- Jeremiah, Ken. Living Buddhas: The Self-mummified Monks of Yamagata, Japan. McFarland, 2010
- Hindu Website. Hinduism and suicide
- Mahabharata section CLXXXI
- "Hinduism - Euthanasia and Suicide". BBC. 2009-08-25.
- The Representation of Sati: Four Eighteenth Century Etchings by Baltazard Solvyns by Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.
- Feminist Spaces: Gender and Geography in a Global Context, Routledge, Ann M. Oberhauser, Jennifer L. Fluri, Risa Whitson, Sharlene Mollett
- Sophie Gilmartin (1997), The Sati, the Bride, and the Widow: Sacrificial Woman in the Nineteenth Century], Victorian Literature and Culture, Cambridge University Press, Vol. 25, No. 1, page 141, Quote: "Suttee, or sati, is the obsolete Hindu practice in which a widow burns herself upon her husband's funeral pyre..."
- Arvind Sharma (2001), Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120804647, pages 19–21
- On attested Rajput practice of sati during wars, see, for example Leslie, Julia (1993). "Suttee or Sati: Victim or Victor?". In Arnold, David; Robb, Peter (eds.). Institutions and Ideologies: A SOAS South Asia Reader. 10. London: Routledge. p. 46. ISBN 978-0700702848.
- "India Seizes Four After Immolation". The New York Times. 1987-09-20.
- Ross, June (1998). Field Notebook: USA 1998b. [s.n.] doi:10.5962/bhl.title.148235.
- Suicide and Jainism
- Jain, Vijay K. (2012), Acharya Amritchandra's Purushartha Siddhyupaya, Vikalp Printers, p. 115, ISBN 978-81-903639-4-5,
- "Is Suicide Unforgivable?".
- Neil M. Gorsuch (12 April 2009). The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Princeton University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-691-14097-1.
- Elisabeth Brockmann: Selbsttötungen in der Bibel, in: AGUS (ed.): Kirche – Umgang mit Suizid, p. 18-20.
- Pulpit Commentary on 2 Samuel 17: "Here Ahithophel is almost certainly intended"
- Eugen J. Pentiuc, Judas’ Profile in the Psalms: Meditation on the Holy Wednesday, accessed 5 August 2017
- "What Does the Bible Say About Suicide?".
- "Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2280, 2281".
- Byron, William. "Do People Who Commit Suicide Go to Hell?". Catholic Digest. Archived from the original on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
- Odhner, John. "Reflections on Suicide". Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
- "Suicide". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15.
- Phipps, William. "Christian Perspectives on Suicide". religion-online. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
- Dowie, J. A. (1902). Leaves of Healing. v. 11. Zion Publishing House. p. 702.
- Powell, D. (2017). Entangled: The Treacherous Snare of the Father of Lies. 5 Fold Media LLC. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-942056-55-3.
- Clemons, J. T. (1990). Perspectives on Suicide. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-664-25085-0.
- Murray, A. (2011). Suicide in the Middle Ages: Volume 2: The Curse on Self-Murder. Oxford University Press. Title page. ISBN 978-0-19-161399-9.
- Quran 4:29
- "The Hijacked Caravan: Refuting Suicide Bombings as Martyrdom Operations in Contemporary Jihad Strategy", Ihsanic Intelligence
- Noah Feldman, "Islam, Terror and the Second Nuclear Age", New York Times, October 29, 2006
- "Interview Archived 2007-02-08 at the Wayback Machine with Christiane Amanpour", CNN, February 2007
- Terrorism and Suicide bombings Archived 2013-01-16 at Archive.today
- "Ruling on blowing oneself up - Islam Question & Answer". Retrieved 26 November 2015.
- David Bukay, From Muhammad to Bin Laden: Religious and Ideological Sources of the Homicide Bombers Phenomenon, 2011.
- See Talmud Bavli Gittin, 57b.
- See Talmud Bavli Avoda Zara 18a
- See Talmud Bavli (B.) Pesachim 22b; B. Mo'ed Katan 5a, 17a; B. Bava Mezia 75b. and B. Nedarim 42b.
- Masada and the first Jewish revolt against Rome Archived 2009-10-16 at the Wayback Machine: Near East Tourist Industry, Steven Langfur 2003
- Zuleika Rodgers, ed. (2007). Making History: Josephus And Historical Method. Brill. p. 397.
- "Pagans and Suicide".