June 17, 2018
Just this past week the local paper reported statistics indicating that Vermont’s suicide rate is climbing every year and at a rate significantly higher than that of the rest of the country. I have no desire to sit in judgment on or cause hurt to any one … all of us have been touched nearly or distantly by suicide at one time or another. But with a rash of celebrity suicides in recent weeks, it seems worthwhile to address this topic from the unique view of Christian faith.
The commentator attributed this increase to a number of factors known to contribute to suicidal thoughts and actions: lack of meaningful and rewarding employment – a problem in every demographic, rural life – making travel and casual socializing hard; financial stresses – making socializing even less easy; aging and health issues – that compound each other if you lose your license to drive. All of these make for a life of isolation that turns one’s bottle and firearm into one’s best friends. Additionally, many people move to Vermont to escape the crowding and over-commitment of life in ‘the city’. They come here, then, cut off from all that was their life before, and set down roots that are neither deep nor wide spreading.
But there was one thing that the commentator did not mention as contributor to a pre-suicide mindset: Vermont alternates with Maine in being the least religious state in the union. Now, in many ways, failure to participate in active religious communities is as much a result of distance, poverty and health and a ‘retirement’ mentality as any other isolation. But it is, in so many ways, worse because it leaves one with no external reminder that he or she is not alone in the universe. Not only do the ‘nones’ have no contact with other humans, they lose their contact with God!
In such case, why would one not take the position (the position that underlies all of the arguments in favor of assisted suicide) that an autonomous choice of when and how to die must be a right and alright?
I don’t want to say that non-belonging to a Church predicts suicide, but people rarely commit suicide in company. Thus, one thinks that concern on the part of those who belong for those who are isolated by other factors could well prevent suicide.
How does such concern take shape? Call someone whose face you have not seen in Church for a while – ask to visit or transport or just chat. This need not be a daily thing, but people who have found joy in ‘church’ contact should not have to wither because we cannot bring ourselves to active care. Nor should they have to beg for attention! I swear to you that the housebound whom I visit always ask about their former ‘pew-mates’, even if the latter have neither thought nor curiosity about them.
The only remedy to circumstantial isolation is intentional inclusion. Reach out! Bring in! Maybe save a life! Maybe save your own soul!
Really and truly and inseparably yours,