Suicide is a highly controversial issue that requires special attention of society. Significant efforts have been put on a global scale into the research of this grave phenomenon and the development of the prevention programs. In this section, suicide and its implications will be regarded from the religious perspective.
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The concept of suicide and its inner motives has changed dramatically in modern times. While in traditional collectivistic societies suicides were caused by the loss of social honor, in modern individualistic cultures the main reason for suicide is a personal failure (Saunders 55). Saunders states that from a suicidal perspective, this step “represents the most radical freedom and responsibility we may ever achieve over our lives” (57). Apparently, from this point of view, the outside intrusion for suicide prevention may be seen as an attack on individual freedom.
Suicide is a phenomenon that causes ambivalent reactions of fascination and dread. Historically, the paradoxical attitude to suicides was reflected in laws and customs which used to regard suicide as a crime or sometimes as a moral and religious obligation. Considering suicide as a religious phenomenon, Saunders underlines that this ambiguity has existed even in the religions with the strongest opposition to suicide, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism (58).
Although condemning the so-called suicide of despair, in some specific circumstances, these religions may regard suicide as martyrdom (Saunders 59). Therefore, there is no clarity considering the notion of suicide.
A special place in religious ethics is taken by the notion of spiritual suicide. According to Saunders, spiritual suicide is a part of the religious practice of preparing an individual to death (61). Embracing one’s mortality is seen as a way to spiritual enlightenment. Saunders underlines that “spiritual suicide becomes a cure for death, and religion becomes the practice of the art of dying” (63). The author argues that any individual desires something more from life than feeling comfortable and well-adjusted (Saunders 66). Although the inner urge may demand the transformation in the form of self-destruction and death, it appears that the main danger is in misinterpretation of this inner language.
To sum up, the reasons behind suicide have changed since the time of traditional societies. From the religious perspective, the ambiguity of suicide persists since being strongly opposed in general, in some specific cases, suicide may be equaled to martyrdom. It is essential to underline the religious importance of the spiritual suicide notion that sees the way to enlightenment through embracing death.
Saunders, Don. Life after Death. University of South Florida, 2019.
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