Religious views of suicide

Religious views of suicide

There are a variety of religious views of suicide.


Judaism has traditionally, in light of its great emphasis on the sanctity of life, viewed suicide as one of the most serious of sins. Suicide has always been forbidden by Jewish law in all cases. It is not seen as an acceptable alternative even if one is being forced to commit certain cardinal sins for which one must give up one's life rather than sin. Assisting in suicide and requesting such assistance (thereby creating an accomplice to a sinful act) is also forbidden, a minimal violation of Leviticus 19:14, "Do not put a stumbling block before the blind," for the Rabbis interpreted that verse to prohibit any type of stumbling block: theological (e.g., persuading people to believe in false doctrine), economic (e.g., giving bad financial advice) or in this case moral stumbling blocks, as well as physical ones. [See Talmud Bavli (B.) 22b; B. Mo'ed Katan 5a, 17a; B. Bava Mezia 75b. and B. Nedarim 42b).]

The prohibition against suicide is not specifically recorded in the Talmud. The post-talmudic tractate Semahot (Evel Rabbati) 2:1–5 serves as the basis for most of later Jewish law on suicide, together with Genesis Rabbah 34:13, which bases the biblical prohibition on Genesis 9:5: "And surely your blood of your lives will I require." [Cf. M.T. Laws of Murder 2:3; Babylonian Talmud tractate Laws of Courts (Sanhedrin) 18:6; S.A. Yoreh De'ah (Code of Jewish Law) 345:1ff.]

According to Chassidic philosophy, a soul descends into this world to perform a mission, which cannot be performed in the "spiritual worlds". This is the Chassidic interpretation of the Talmudic statement "One second in the World-to-Come is more pleasurable than the whole life in this world. But one good deed in this world is more important than the whole eternity of the World-to-Come" (Ethics of Our Fathers, Mishna). According to Chabad school of Chassidism, although spiritual beings (souls and angels living in spiritual worlds) have access to knowledge of God's existence, they have no access to God's Essence. During performance of Torah's Commandments, a person's body and soul gain access to the Creator's Essence (since Torah represents God's will, which is one with his essence) and purify both the body and the soul, as well as the physical world. The purification of the physical world through performance of Commandments leads eventually to Messianic Era, which is the goal and purpose of Creation. Therefore, life in the physical world presents a person's soul a unique opportunity, and to consciously and willfully break away from this opportunity is regarded as a gravest sin.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the body of scholars of Jewish law in Conservative Judaism, has published a responsa on suicide and assisted suicide in the Summer 1998 issue of "Conservative Judaism," Vol. L, No. 4. It affirms the prohibition, then addresses the growing trend of Americans and Europeans to seek assistance with suicide. The Conservative "teshuva" notes that while many people get sick, often with terminal illnesses, most people do not try to kill themselves. The committee believes we are obliged to determine why some seek help with suicide and to ameliorate those circumstances.

The Conservative response states:

: "... those who commit suicide and those who aid others in doing so act out of a plethora of motives. Some of these reasons are less than noble, involving, for example, children's desires to see Mom or Dad die with dispatch so as not to squander their inheritance on 'futile' health care, or the desire of insurance companies to spend as little money as possible on the terminally ill."

The paper says the proper response to severe pain is not suicide, but better pain control and more pain medication. Many doctors, it asserts, are deliberately keeping such patients in pain by refusing to administer sufficient pain medications: some out of ignorance; others to avoid possible drug addiction; others from a misguided sense of stoicism. Conservative Judaism holds that such forms of reasoning are "bizarre" and cruel, that with today's medications there is no reason for people to be in perpetual torture.

It then investigates the psychological roots of hopelessness felt by some patients, and asserts:

: "Physicians or others asked to assist in dying should recognize that people contemplating suicide are often alone, without anyone taking an interest in their continued living. Rather than assist the patient in dying, the proper response to such circumstances is to provide the patient with a group of people who clearly and repeatedly reaffirm their interest in the patient's continued life ... Requests to die, then, must be evaluated in the terms of degree of social support the patient has, for such requests are often withdrawn as soon as someone shows an interest in the patient staying alive. In this age of individualism and broken and scattered families, and in the antiseptic environment of hospitals where dying people usually find themselves, the mitzvah of visiting the sick ("bikkur Holim") becomes all the more crucial in sustaining the will to live."

Judaism has many teachings about peace and compromise that present physical violence as one of the last possible options. Although killing oneself is forbidden under normal Jewish law as being a denial of God's goodness in the world, under extreme circumstances when there has seemed no choice but to either be killed or forced to betray their religion, Jews have committed suicide or mass suicide (see Masada, First French persecution of the Jews, and York Castle for examples). As a grim reminder of those times, there is even a prayer in the Jewish liturgy for "when the knife is at the throat", for those dying "to sanctify God's Name". (See: "Martyrdom"). These acts have received mixed responses by Jewish authorities; some regard them as examples of heroic martyrdom, and others saying that while Jews should always be willing to face martyrdom if necessary, it was wrong for them to have taken their own lives. [cite web|url=| ] [ [ My Jewish Learning: Suicide ] ]

Because Judaism focuses on this life, many questions to do with survival and conflict (such as the classic moral dilemma of two people in a desert with only enough water for one to survive) were analysed in great depth by the rabbis within the Talmud, in the attempt to understand the principles a godly person should draw upon in such a circumstance.


Early Christianity

There were seven suicides in the Bible, [ Article includes a list of suicides found in the Old Testament, with links to Bible passages.] most notably in Matthew 27:3, the suicide of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.

The most notable pro-suicide group was the Donatists, who believed that by killing themselves they could attain martyrdom and go to heaven. They were eventually declared heretics.

In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote the book "The City of God", in it making Christianity's first overall condemnation of suicide. His biblical justification for this was the interpretation of the commandment, "thou shalt not kill", and the rest of his reasons were from Plato's "Phaedra".

In the sixth century, suicide became a religious sin and secular crime. In 533, those who committed suicide while accused of a crime were denied a Christian burial, which was a requirement for going to heaven. In 562, all suicides were punished in this way. In 693, even the attempt of suicide became an ecclesiastical crime, which could be punished by excommunication, with civil consequences following. In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas vilified suicide as an act against God and as a sin for which one could not repent. Civil and criminal laws were enacted to discourage suicide, and as well as denying a proper burial and degrading the body. Property and possessions of the deceased and their family were confiscated. [cite web|url=|title=Pips Project – THE STIGMA OF SUICIDE A History] [cite web|url=|title=Ophelia's Burial]

Many Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, a principle which, broadly speaking, says that all human life is sacred – a wonderful, even miraculous creation of the divine God – and every effort must be made to save and preserve it whenever possible.

Modern Catholicism

In Catholicism, death by freely chosen act of suicide is considered a grave and mortal sin. The chief Christian argument is that one's life is the property of God, and to destroy that life is to wrongly assert dominion over what is God's.In point 2281 of the Catechism it is stated:

"2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God."

The 1997 "Catechism of the Catholic Church" indicates that suicide may not always be fully conscious – and thus not one-hundred-percent morally culpable: "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide."

Modern Protestantism

Conservative Christians (Evangelicals, Charismatics and Pentecostals) have often argued that because suicide involves self-murder, then anyone who commits it is sinning and is the same as if the person murdered another human being. A number of Biblical figures committed (or attempted) suicide, most notably Saul and Judas Iscariot. While suicide is certainly treated in a negative way in the Bible, there is, however, no specific verse that explicitly states that suicide leads directly to Hell. Yet because Jesus Christ took the punishment for the sins of mankind, and suicide is seen as a sin, the result would be that the person who commits suicide would not be culpable, and that all his sins (including the killing of himself) would be covered by Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Consequently, someweaselword|date=September 2008 believe that Christians who commit suicide are still granted Heaven.


Islam, like other Abrahamic religions, views suicide as sinful and highly detrimental to one's spiritual journey. For those who formerly believed, but ultimately rejected belief in God, the result seems unambiguously negative.

A verse in the fourth chapter of the Quran, An-Nisaa (The Women) instructs; "And do not kill yourselves, surely Allah is most Merciful to you." (4:29)

The prohibition of suicide has also been recorded in authentic statements of hadith. For example; "He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell-fire, and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself, he shall keep stabbing himself in the Hell-fire." [ Suicide as seen in Islam]


According to Buddhism, individuals' past acts heavily influence what they experience in the present; present acts, in turn, become the background influence for future experiences (the doctrine of karma). Intentional action by "mind, body or speech" have a reaction. This reaction, or repercussion, is the cause of conditions and differences we come across in the world.

Buddhism teaches that all people experience substantial suffering (dukkha), which suffering primarily originates from past negative deeds (karmically), or just from being in samsara, the cycle of birth and death. Another reason for the prevalent suffering individuals experience is 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.

For Buddhists, since the first precept is to refrain from the destruction of life, including oneself, suicide is clearly considered a negative form of action. Despite this view, an ancient Asian ideology similar to seppuku ("hara-kiri") continues to influence oppressed Buddhists to choose the act of honor suicide. The most well-known instance of this was Thich Quang Duc's suicide by self-immolation to protest the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. Also in modern times, Tibetan monks have used this perceived ideal to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet and China's human rights violations against Tibetans.


In Hinduism, murdering one's own body is considered equally sinful as murdering another, with the exception of the currently defunct practice of sati. Scriptures generally 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 committed suicide. [Hindu Website. [ Hinduism and suicide] ]


* [ Catholic priest answers person's question on suicide.]
* [ The Islamic Legitimacy of martyrdom operations]

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