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Nearly all religions across the world would believe that suicide is a sin against God and that it definitely violates religious teaching. In examining this view, a good place to start is the Christian view on the sanctity of life.
Christians believe that all are made in the image of God – imago dei – and that there is an inherent sanctity to human life. Killing is prohibited as part of the Decalogue, where it states, “do not kill.” This extends to killing yourself. Elsewhere in the Old Testament there are other verses that can be used to prove that suicide violates religious teaching, such as in Ecclesiastes 7:17 where it states, “be not foolish, why should you die before your time?” Further evidence can be found in the New Testament, where Jesus declares that we are, “worth much more than sparrows.” To a Christian, life is a precious gift and cannot be thrown away, especially by suicide.
Church fathers have generally been against suicide and they believe that it is a violation of religious teaching. Augustine was one of the first to speak out against it in his book City of God. He wrote that, “to kill oneself is a homicide, and he is much guiltier of his own death.”
Aquinas, another church father, put forward three arguments on why he believes that suicide is contrary to religious teaching. Firstly, he said it went against natural law. Natural law would state that we should let life end the natural way that God intended it to, and to end it prematurely is sin. Secondly, suicide can have a negative effect on the person’s community. Finally, suicide is a sin against God because it is a final act of defiance and it is a fundamental mistrust of God and his providence.
On the other hand, certain types of suicide could be considered compatible with religious teaching, such as altruistic suicide. The act of self-sacrifice, or martyrdom, is glorified in many religions. In the Bible Jesus says that, “greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.” An Old Testament example of this is Samson, who killed himself along with the Philistines when he brought down a temple.
Furthermore, it could be argued that suicide is not against religious teaching because it is the result of profound mental illness that is not the believer’s fault. In the past the church has been guilty of viewing physical and mental illness differently. Even today many fundamentalist churches would believe that illnesses such as depression are spiritual battles rather than actual illness and would discourage people from taking medication. In the light of high profile suicides such as Rick Warren’s son Matthew, many Christian leaders are speaking out about the need to view mental illness on the same level as physical illness, and not simply to call it a sin. To do otherwise will prevent believers from getting proper treatment and will just increase the likelihood of suicide.
To conclude, if one truly believes that God is in control of their life then it would be a violation of their religion to commit suicide. However, it is also the duty of the religious believer to be compassionate towards those that are suffering and they should try and tackle the root causes of suicide rather than simply condemning it.