Wednesday, 19 August 2015

G K Chesterton on Suicide

 Taken from his book "Orthodoxy" (1927)


At this time when Parliament is debating suicide yet again and again: between the two Houses it has become an annual event with the underlying theme that if we it do it to cats and dogs in our mercy for them, surely humans even more deserve this mercy. Once when confronted by a catholic gentleman who decried life because he was a burden to others, the riposte was to accuse him of preventing others from getting to heaven by preventing them from providing him with acts of charity.


Pre-mediatated suicide, assisted or otherwise, removes the one and perhaps only last chance for the person concerned to save their soul by accepting their cross and thereby closing the gate into heaven: so-called christians like Dr Carey who advocate mercy killing of terminally ill people have lost the plot, and the cross is not only a stumbling block to them but by declaring undignified to have a suffering death, hurl insults at Jesus on the Cross and worse still at the Father for requiring this of Jesus and us for our redemption. We suffer and die for the sake of ourselves and others: what a noble cause!

Chesterton does not mince his words:

Mr William Archer even suggested that in the golden age there would be penny-in-slot machines, by which man could kill himself for a penny. In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane.


Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront. Of course there may be pathetic emotional excuses for the act. There often are for rape, and there almost always are for dynamite. But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational and philosophic truth in the burial at the cross-roads and the stake driven through the body, than in Mr. Archer's suicidal automatic machines. There is a meaning in burying the suicide apart. The man's crime is different from other crimes -- for it makes even crimes impossible.


About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some free thinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much about something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life (rather like a woman giving up her life for her child) . A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside himself, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words the martyr is noble exactly because he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he had not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually he destroys the universe. And then I remembered the stake and the cross-roads, and the queer fact that Christianity had shown the weird harshness to the suicide. For Christianity had shown a wild encouragement of the martyr............Yet there is the stake in the ground to show what Christianity thought of the pessimist ” GKC

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