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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide and Substance Abuse

The English-speaking world has been awash in news about the suicide death of comedian Robin Williams.  It certainly is a tragedy, as are all deaths.  It strikes more of us because so many people have felt affinity for the characters he portrayed over the years, particularly the one called 'Robin Williams.'
I would post some of his stand-up where he talks about drugs and alcohol, but he uses a lot of bad language that would upset some readers, so I'll leave it to you to find them.  He certainly was no advocate.
What is clear is that he 'medicated' his suffering with alcohol and drugs like so many of us do.  Just prior to his death, he made arrangements (according to one report) to return to a rehabilitation facility.  What he was taking prior to his death won't be known for several weeks.
People have been theorizing about death and suicide, or rather 'theologizing' about Mr. Williams' eternal damnation.  Should he get a 'cloud' or a 'lake of fire'?  Honestly, I find it all so stupid I can barely bring myself to discuss it, but I will for the saner among us.  There are some who are simply too anxious to fill hell, while others deny the fact that hell exists to begin with.
Some say hell is of man's own making.  This is true in more than one way.  Hell is not suffering per se, but a peculiar kind.  It is one of regret and sorrow and shame that cannot be quenched.  Drugs and alcohol can give such a sufferer a brief respite from such suffering, but in the end he is shoved back into the furnace by sobriety and tolerance.  The escape is always brief, and often with a cost.
Yet, there are those who's brains impose on them the most intolerable suffering, worse than any cancer 3rd-degree burn.  They are tormented even when they have done nothing wrong.  Mr. Williams travelled with the USO and offered his talents to many charities.  He sought to do good, and yet the heavy burden of an organic condition left him despairing.
We know that some men are born with no conscience, and so we should be open to the idea that others are born with too much.  We know now about 'Sensory Integration Disorders' that leave some people over-sensitive to physical stimulation, while others are left under-stimulated.  One can't stand the touch of even the softest fabric, and the other has to run head-first into a wall to feel anything at all.
Christians have not done very well addressing the imbalance between the over-sensitive and the under-sensitive when it comes to the conscience.  We don't have a handy set of fatwas from Jesus Christ specifically penalizing various sins.  There are broad categories:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Co 6:9-11)
How about those who have been washed, and yet still conduct ourselves in such ways?
Does anyone claim to be above all sin, and immune to temptation?  Are any of you willing to say that sin no longer tugs at your heartstrings, and that you live utterly without it?
The sad fact of the matter is that all of us, each day, commit suicide when we sin.  We are busy killing ourselves in a way just as absolute as what Mr. Williams did.  We murder our own selves with sinful thoughts and perverse ideas, not to mention when we act out.  When we hate others and condemn them, what does God say about those who condemn?
"Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."  (Mt 7:1-5)
Can any of us stand above our brethren?  It sure seems like it these days.  'No, I would never do that!' says the man who has not been tested.
If you have not been pushed by life to the very edge, if you have not experienced that horrendous weight of the conscience tormented, then you hardly can say that you would not do what Mr. Williams has done.  This is why people who survive real torture and imprisonment are almost always the most merciful.  They know that something else, rather than the 'self-will,' kept them from going over the edge.
For too many so-called 'Christians,' all they offer is self-will.  They are also mostly decadent and untested.  Almost none of them have had in life anything worse than a fender-bender accident or a C+ on a term paper or a terminally-ill grandparent.  They exude the self-confidence of a third-grader while walking around in adult's body.  It is disgusting in its own way, just as much as the disease-wracked crack-whore or the underwear-lounging, basement-dwelling gamer.
I liken this misplaced confidence to a college freshman who decides he's going to lecture a Iraq/Afghanistan vet on combat... based on his extensive experience with "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare."  If you have not experienced the real thing, then you shut up and listen.
It is perverse to boil all of Christian theology down to the force of self-will, just as it is perverse to say that Mr. Williams committed suicide any more than any of us do each day.  We are all dying.  Our sins are killing us... just a bit slower than the belt around Mr. Williams' neck.  We pace ourselves, and thus grant ourselves the indulgence of denial.
"'Tis but a flesh wound!"
We are eating ourselves to death, and mating ourselves to death, and drinking ourselves to death, and medicating ourselves to death... because to not feel is to die.  We suffer and so we avoid suffering rather than taking on what is killing us.
How do you take on a mind that is hard-wired to destroy you?
If Mr. Williams has no excuse, then neither do we.  If he has no hope of God's mercy, than neither should we.  How can we expect pardon for our own self-murder when we refuse to believe that God will have compassion on Mr. Williams?
I would say that we who are not merciful are in worse trouble.  We are already dead.  That's why our consciences no longer bother us enough to look at Mr. Williams and see someone not unlike us.
When you stop being empathetic, you have lost both God and life itself.


  1. Suicide can be a matter of conscience, but it can also be a matter of desire. Personally, I am person of desire and very much so. Most of my decisions are based on goals rather than the conscience. For me, a case of suicide could be a matter of deciding if it would be in accord with a high standard rather than if it's right or wrong. All people are different and some are this way. They simply live the intensity of life in its essence and it's not exactly a silencing of the conscience, but a state imposed by nature; they are pushed upwards. So for some, suicide can be a statement or even a quest for glory or honor. Truly so and we can also consider the example of the samurai and seppuku. I am not saying suicide is good in this case, but that sometimes it's not so much a matter of conscience or the fact that a person denied life, but what that person tried to do in a positive way.

  2. It is difficult to compare the relative impact among different mental health problems with the risk of suicide, alcohol and drug use disorders have been found to be strongly related to suicide risk.

  3. Mental health conditions most strongly associated with fatal and nonfatal suicide attempts include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol and/or drug use disorders.