Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Christianity and suicide.

This post is not meant to offend or attack Christian beliefs, despite the eye-grabbing title.

Of course, what’s fun about that disclaimer is usually people who utter it then consider it a free pass to do just what they said they wouldn’t do. Hopefully, I’m not about to do the same.

I stumbled across a post elsewhere, about a college student who said he loved Jesus, and was going to commit suicide. What he meant by the ‘suicide’ comment was that he was overloading on courses for the spring semester, and worked 20 hours a week. Only Jesus would get him through it.

But his post did get me thinking about the crucifixion and such.

One of the comments I’ve seen in certain evangelical circles is that every person who has been born, who is born right now and who will be born killed Jesus, or our sins killed Jesus, or somebody somewhere killed Jesus, who was completely innocent. Yet God still turned His face away when Jesus was on the cross because all our sins were on Jesus.

Here’s the thing with that phrasing – usually, when someone says, “You killed so-and-so,” that’s implying that someone had power over someone else, and proceeded to victimize someone. It implies that the one who was killed was killed against his/her will. It implies that the one who was killed probably fought back, or tried to hide, or do whatever s/he could to not get killed.

That’s not Jesus. In reading the Gospels, it’s very obvious that the Pharisees were after him for a very long time, and wanted him out of the way. Yet they couldn’t really go after him, because whenever they saw him, he was surrounded by large crowds and they were afraid of inciting a riot. The only way they could get to him was through betrayal, and that’s where Judas came in. Jesus also made it very clear that he had resources in which to fight back – twelve legions of angels, I believe. He told Pilate that power was given to him ‘from above.’ Jesus was not a helpless victim.

The only way Jesus could be killed is if he let himself be killed. At which point, people are no longer killing Jesus; they are helping him get himself killed. In many instances, we would then refer to that as suicide.

I know there are references to Jesus saying that there is no greater love than for someone to lay his/her life down for a friend. I agree with that. But there is a huge difference between a random person and Jesus, especially if one goes with the viewpoint that Jesus is God, or even Jesus is the Son of God. The only way to kill Jesus is if Jesus lets someone (or many someones) kill him, and that does drift into the realm of suicide. In a way, Jesus took his own life, and used the Romans and Pharisees to do so. And that starts painting a completely different picture. Is it an admirable act, if that’s the only means to salvation? Yes. But it’s also a little difficult to go around claiming that we all killed Jesus when we never had the power to do that.

And the element of suicide isn’t just in the Gospels. Romans is all about how the old man or the unspiritual man died on the cross with Christ, and how one must be dead to sin and alive to Christ. Okay. But again, the only way to do that is to ‘kill’ the unspiritual man, and be ‘born again.’ In a way, this also involves suicide, because under this system, you have to go to God and ask Him to ‘kill’ your sinful self/side. You have to be willing to do this – in effect, God can only do this if you let Him.

So as much as the New Testament preaches about an eternal life and salvation, there is a huge focus on death. And not just a ‘regular’ death, but what many view as the most selfish type of death there is. Yes, Jesus did so out of love for others – but it just feels like more emphasis is placed on individual guilt in terms of responsibility for Jesus’ death.

I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say here. I’m not trying to be insulting to those who follow this, or treasure Jesus’ sacrifice. But to me, there’s no getting around the fact that there’s a huge element of death in Christianity. Its symbol is the cross, which is an instrument of death and torture. Most churches have crosses or crucifixes around. The emphasis is always on how Jesus died for us, and not so much on the Resurrection – even though Paul is all about the Risen Christ, and without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. Death is seen as a stepping-stone to Heaven – you only get there after you die, and that’s only assuming you’ve done the right things or held the right beliefs.

When seen in a certain light, death is almost glamorized in Christianity. It really is, and it’s somewhat disturbing. I'm not denying that it's done a lot of positive things, and that it has -- well, resurrected, for lack of a better word -- a lot of people from a horrible life or circumstance or a bad decision. It is a comfort for a lot of people. Myself included, most days. It's changed a lot of people for the better. The New Testament does have some beautiful passages.

But it can be chilling at times, too.

6 comments:

HeIsSailing said...

Heather sez:
"When seen in a certain light, death is almost glamorized in Christianity. It really is, and it’s somewhat disturbing. "

I think this is very disturbing, and I have witnessed this many times. Matter of fact, I was watching Jack van Impe on the TV just an hour ago and he was smiling ear to ear when talking about the Great Tribulation when 1/3 or the humans on earth will die. Why was he smiling? It's the end of the world, baby - and all his beliefs are justified at that point.

Note - I don't normally watch Jack van Impe, or any of those shows, but I am in a hotel room at the moment and Evangelical TV is a good random noise generator.

HeIsSailing said...

Don't forget, the whole idea of Baptism is death and resurrection. You are right - death and resurrection is everywhere in the Christian belief, but not really in Judaism. This makes me wonder if Christianity had outside influence in its formation.

AgnosticAtheist said...

Heather,

This brings out the issue that poor Judas gets a really bad rap in the New Testament. In fact, he should be the hero of the story since he's the ONLY disciple who actually listened to what Jesus said throughout his ministry and played along with the plan.

You are right in that the N.T. portrays Jesus willingly laying down his life therefore he probably instructed Judas to "betray" him. So, it's not a betrayal at all.

The disciples who tried to protect Jesus should be the ones who are criticized. They were going against the ULTIMATE plan of God and what Jesus told them for 3 years.

aA

Heather said...

**You are right - death and resurrection is everywhere in the Christian belief, but not really in Judaism.** Well, I would agree that it's prevalent in the NT. I don't think it's as prevalent in some branches of Christianity itself. It goes back to what one sees when walking into a church -- it's either a cross or a crucifix. The cross can be jewelry, or on a shirt or anything else that is noticable. You don't see the same physical emphasis placed on the resurrection. The focus is constantly kept on the 'death' aspect of Christianity.

Same with the Second Coming -- in certain branches, it means death for a lot of people.

aA --

**You are right in that the N.T. portrays Jesus willingly laying down his life therefore he probably instructed Judas to "betray" him. So, it's not a betrayal at all.** Nope. It's not betrayel, nor does Jesus really get 'killed' by people, either. He lets them kill him.

I asked that question once in a religion class in college -- the TA was talking about where Jesus was in terms of getting arrested, and I pointed out that Judas was necessary. Only the Twelve knew Jesus's locations.

**The disciples who tried to protect Jesus should be the ones who are criticized. They were going against the ULTIMATE plan of God and what Jesus told them for 3 years.** But this also brings up an interesting point. Suppose the disicples hadn't fled, and stood bravely by Jesus. Wouldn't they also ahve been killed or crucified, and if so, who would've spread the message around? If the disicples had in fact been braver, Christianity could've ended right then.

SocietyVs said...

"The only way Jesus could be killed is if he let himself be killed. At which point, people are no longer killing Jesus;" (Heather)

True. I think Jesus willingly laid his life down and that makes the sacrifice just as great (to me). He could of just walked away. But he did it willingly, so I choose to follow willingly - I think there is some essence of love there we learn about God.

"the New Testament preaches about an eternal life and salvation, there is a huge focus on death." (Heather)

Well it all focuses on one single death (oddly enough) and resurection. But as humans, we have quite the fascination with the subject ourselves lest we forget (all books aside).

"But it can be chilling at times, too." (Heather)

I agree here also, namely with the end-timer's and their weird theologies they develop....they develop some asfixation with the end of the world. This seemed to launch Koresh into infamy and may have played into Appleby's (Heaven's Gate) psyche as well. As for Jones, well he brought about a mass suicide (909 people) based on the idea of choosing heaven vs. this life.

However, on a side note I think we have some responsbility to people in groups like this to talks some sense to them - since they may see us fellow Christ-ians also. I know whenever I confront some weird teachings around me I raise the questions that need to be raised. I think it is better to engage those ideas since we migth understand their theology (no matter how warped). Call it being nice.

Heather said...

SocietyVS,

**He could of just walked away. But he did it willingly, so I choose to follow willingly - I think there is some essence of love there we learn about God. ** I've read a few theological books that kind of skirt around this issue, because it was suicide, in a way. But it was also suicide in the same way that someone throwing themselves on a bomb to save friends is suicide.

But it seems there's a certain sect of Christianity that goes around screaming how you and I killed Jesus, and that bothers me. It's not like the Pharisees dragged Jesus kicking and screaming to the cross, and then killed Jesus against Jesus's own wishes. The cross is also a huge sign of love, and that seems to get lost in the focus of Jesus's death.

**Well it all focuses on one single death (oddly enough) and resurection. ** It does focus on both. But your point of humanity's focus on death is also valid. I mean, consider Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ.' That had maybe fifteen seconds of the Resurrection. The rest was on Jesus's torture and death, and I think it would be nice if the focus could at least be on the Resurrection as well, in terms of our culture.

**I think it is better to engage those ideas since we migth understand their theology (no matter how warped). Call it being nice. ** It can be frustrating, as well. But I understand what you're saying. It's always good to be able to critically think about one's belief, and help others do the same.