Like most of you, I enjoy it when I hear or read an observation that I’ve held for a long time.
That’s why I nodded in agreement as I read an enlightening article by Erika Andersen in the Wall Street Journal of July 12, entitled “Is God the Answer to the Suicide Epidemic?”
I’m hardly alone in my sorrow and deep concern over the chilling statistics regarding suicides in our country. Each of us has had a friend, family member, or someone we know who tragically has taken his or her own life. Our entire community has been moved by the recent suicides of beloved police officers here in New York.
The data given by Ms. Andersen is sobering: 45,000 Americans take their own lives each year, and 25 times as many attempt to!
What I found helpful in this article was the recommendation of a solution—faith and church attendance!
This is hardly just a hunch on the author’s part. No, she cites, for instance, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry that American women who attended a religious service weekly were five times less likely to commit suicide.
She’s not alone. The revered journalist David Brooks has written that one of the reasons for increased violence, crime, drug use, and a disappearance of civility in our society is the decline in religious observance. He observes that religion has always had a major role in providing meaning, focus, virtue, and unity, not only for individuals, but for culture.
As the Pew Research Center study concluded this year, participation in a religious community is verifiably linked to happiness, better health, and a more productive life.
Seems like common sense, doesn’t it? While suicide is an extraordinarily complex and delicate matter, and while the causes are varied and hard to pin down, all agree that a sense of desperation, a feeling of being at one’s “wits’ end,” is a common feature.
Well, religion, even its many critics admit, classically and effectively provides purpose, hope, and a trust that God can rescue us, that we are never alone.
Ms. Andersen challenges religious leaders and congregations to welcome energetically those who are desperate, to speak openly about temptations to hopelessness, and to encourage all to share their burdens with the Lord and one another.
I recall the late William Buckley commenting that his boyhood buddy had snickered at him for going to Sunday Mass. His chum told him, “My dad said he’ll never go to a Catholic Church, ‘cause it’s filled with nutty, needy, undesirable people.” Bill reported he took that as a compliment! People on the brink, at the end of their rope, are at home in church.
A fellow I grew up with shared a story with me. He had gotten into a lot of trouble upon his return from Vietnam, suffering from shock and depression. Sadly, he had turned to heroin. Late one night, he recounted, he and a fellow drug addict were ready to shoot up. The other guy dared him, “Unless you give me a reason for my life, I’m going to take a triple dose and end it all.”
My childhood friend panicked. Although he had not been to church in years, he relayed how he blurted out to his fellow heroin addict, on the brink of suicide, the answer he had learned in fourth grade from the catechism: “God made me to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
He then held his breath, he remembered, as he awaited the desperate addict’s answer. “That ain’t a bad reason.” No triple dose for him.
Does that sound simplistic? Simple, yes; simplistic, no! It’s actually quite profound.
The author’s counsel: for those of us faithful to church, keep at it. For those struggling with hopelessness and helplessness, get back to church. For those agonizing over the suicide of a beloved, get to church.