Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 24, 2002
Faith falls, suicide jumps
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
A new Statistics Canada report reveals Canada's suicide rate has increased 10 per cent since 1999, with the bulk of the escalation among people in their 40s, whose incidence of suicide has jumped a staggering 24 per cent in the interval.
There is diverse speculation about reasons for this self-destructive surge among baby boomers. Possible factors cited include: lack of job security, alcoholism, family violence, depression, parenting, increasingly poor health as the boomers age and lack of public education about suicide.
I find it fascinating the contributing factor I deem most significant of all in the general trend toward higher suicide rates - the decline of religious faith in modern society - is never mentioned in any of the punditry about this phenomenon that I've seen.
Emile Durkheim, in his book Le Suicide examined various causes of suicide, concluding that while social causes are important determinants of suicidal tendency within societies, there is "direct correspondence to the society's degree of social cohesion. When social solidarity is strong, suicide is uncommon; and the positive relationship between religious adherence and social solidarity results in low suicide rates in cultures with a high degree of religious faith. When social cohesion breaks down, as happens in societies when religious faith erodes, suicide rates rise."
It is food for thought that suicide was virtually nonexistent in the Middle Ages, presumably because most folks then had a healthy fear of God, and believed that because suicide is sin that cannot be repented, it amounted to an express ticket to hell.
Time magazine has reported that non-churchgoers commit suicide four times more often than regular attendees.
The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, "The plague of suicide belongs especially to the period of decadence of the civilized peoples of antiquity, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians.
The Christian Middle Ages were unacquainted with this morbid tendency, but it has reappeared at a more recent period, has developed constantly since the Renaissance, and at present has reached such an intensity among all civilized nations that it may be considered one of the special evils of our time."
The World Health Organization reports that over the past 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent worldwide.
Several of the Enlightenment philosophers, whose ideas accelerated the drift away from religious faith, attempted to justify suicide. David Hume argued that suicide is not a sin because, in his "enlightened view," everyone has the free disposal of his own life.
That diametrically contradicts St Augustine, who in The City of God weighs various arguments for and against suicide, concluding that suicide is always wrong. By the fifth century, suicide was regarded by the Church as sinful in all circumstances.
It is interesting that the more allegedly "oppressive" and "superstitious " religious faith diminishes as a society's operative paradigm, the more the quotient of despair ratchets up, with a commensurate increase in suicide rates.
Greece, Spain and Italy, where the Orthodox and Catholic churches still exert substantial cultural purchase, have the lowest suicide rates in Europe, 4.0, 8.0, and 8.5 respectively per 100,000 (global average 16 per 100,000).
The more secularized and/or socialist countries have the highest suicide rates: Denmark (28.1); Hungary (40.6) Ukraine (26.3); Austria (24.4); France (24.3) Sweden (22.9) Finland (34.1); Switzerland (25.5) Czech Republic (23.1).
Interestingly also, among the former Soviet bloc republics, Poland, which still has a relatively strong Catholic culture, has the second lowest suicide rate (18.1). (1995 figures per 100,000).
In Canada, Quebec, which is now the most irreligious province in Canada, has the highest suicide rate.
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