BreakPoint: Suicide and the Logic of Utility

Wrong Worldview, Disastrous Result

What gives us our worth? How we answer that question will shape how we live. And maybe how we die.

Monday we discussed Aaron Kheriaty’s alarming article in First Things about America’s suicide epidemic—and how the Church can counteract one of its leading causes: Loneliness. The kind of loneliness that leads to depression and self-destruction.

But Kheriaty zeroes in on other causes as well, cultural factors that I want to address today.

Kheriaty begins his article with a chilling story, about a straight-A California high school student jumped in front of a commuter train. “His suicide note provided no clear reason for his act,” Kheriaty wrote. “There were no apparent signs of mental illness, and he was not a bullied misfit. His death followed two other student suicides just three weeks prior, one from the same school, and one from a nearby private high.”

It’s heartbreaking. And I’ve seen a similar cluster of teen suicides even here in Colorado Springs. But it’s part of a national trend. “Let these numbers sink in,” Kheriaty writes: “Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults.”

As I mentioned Monday, social isolation is certainly a factor.

But Kheriaty sees another factor—one I think is critically important. “In a meritocratic age, we are valued for our usefulness,” Kheriaty says. Rich kids and poor kids alike “are increasingly told that they are valuable only insofar as they contribute to a productive society.”

And so, parenthood, belonging to a church, civic involvement, “have receded in significance before the SAT and earning power.”

And here’s where Kheriaty nails it. “When the useful replaces the good and efficiency becomes the highest value, human beings are instrumentalized.” People become “subject to a logic of utility.”

So what happens to students when they don’t nail that SAT or make the varsity team? What happens when they don’t see themselves as useful? Or when they reach their lofty goals only to find that they’re exhausted and empty? That they did not find meaning in their achievements?

While this utilitarian view of the universe can sap the individual soul, on a societal level it has grave consequences—from the Gulag to Auschwitz to Planned Parenthood clinics to so-called “right-to-die laws.”

As Kheriaty reminds us, the law is a teacher. And right-to-die laws send a clear and satanic message: When life becomes too painful, or when you no longer feel useful, well, kill yourself.

Small wonder, as Kheriaty notes, “two British scholars [have] published a study showing that laws permitting assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington have led to a rise in overall suicide rates in those states.” Part of the reason, no doubt, is that “publicized cases of suicide tend to produce copycat cases.” Just a few weeks ago, for example, the Washington Post reported that web searches for how to kill yourself shot up dramatically when Netflix began airing its suicide drama “Thirteen Reasons Why.”

Folks, this is another example of why worldview matters—and why we devote our ministry here at the Colson Center to helping believers understand, defend, and proclaim the Christian worldview. A worldview that asserts that each and every human has value not because of what he or she can produce or do, but because we’re made in God’s image.

As Chuck Colson said years ago on this program: “Human beings are of such inconceivable worth that God sacrificed His own Son to save us from sin—not only the sin of underestimating each other’s worth but also of ‘fall[ing] short of the glory of God.’

“That is an estimation of human worth beyond our comprehension. … Each of us is destined to live for eternity. As C. S. Lewis put it, no one has ever met ‘mere mortal.’”

That’s a message every despairing soul needs to hear—and experience.

 

Suicide and the Logic of Utility: Wrong Worldview, Disastrous Results

We are created in God’s image and our worth comes directly from the One who created us. Neither utility nor productivity can influence that worth. As Christ followers, our message should be one that reinforces the fact of God’s love, concern, and care for all individuals.

Resources

Dying of Despair
  • Aaron Kheriaty | First Things | August 2017
America’s Suicide Crisis: Dying for Lack of Hope (Part 1 of 2)
  • John Stonestreet | BreakPoint.org | August 14, 2017
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?
  • Jean M. Twenge | The Atlantic | September 2017

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Phoenix1977

    “Folks, this is another example of why worldview matters—and why we devote our ministry here at the Colson Center to helping believers understand, defend, and proclaim the Christian worldview. A worldview that asserts that each and every human has value not because of what he or she can produce or do, but because we’re made in God’s image.”
    John Stonestreet already illustrates why a Christian view hardly matters in this problem. The majority of society no longer adheres to Christian moral values.

    • Steve

      Do you believe that each human has equal and intrinsic value?

    • Scott

      “The majority of society no longer adheres to Christian moral values.”

      You are right… although I think his point was those who do attempt live out a Christian life are far less likely to equate their self worth to utilitarian achievements. The Christian alternative is far more secure.

      • Phoenix1977

        Yes, this Christian alternative is very secure … for undertakers!
        https://youtu.be/SQX36TqfgCQ

        • Gina Dalfonzo

          Phoenix, you’ve posted some version of this comment four times now. Please keep in mind the rule about repetitive comments. Thank you.

          • Phoenix1977

            Oops, sorry. Did’t know there was a rule about that. I’ll keep it in mind.

          • Scott

            Sorry, I couldn’t view this. Can you give me a brief description of what it is?

            Is that okay Gina?

          • Gina Dalfonzo

            Yes, that’s fine.

          • Phoenix1977

            Very short version: a Christian minister says if’s alright for gay men and gay women to get married as long as the ceremony ends with them getting shot in the head.

    • Zarm

      That’s why he emphasizes ‘understand, defend, and *proclaim*’ that worldview. The majority of society no longer adheres to those standards- and absent that hope, are finding despair. The better we understand and share the message of hope and intrinsic human value, the more individuals will hear that message- and hopefully, take to heart the hope of it rather than drowning in the hopelessness that the culture offers.

      • Phoenix1977

        Have you noticed how little people are inclined nowadays to listen to anything even remotely related to religion? According to several recent polls, including the Gallup polls last May, society is rejecting religion and even thinks the freedom of religion should be amended to a freedom of worship. An increasing number of people believe freedom of religion also means freedom from religion (a statement the courts seem to agree with) and wish to remain as far from religion as humanly possible.
        In other words: your message will not be heard if people have no desire to listen.

        • Zarm

          Perhaps not- but if it can save at least one life, there’s no excuse not to try. Many may not listen, but that doesn’t mean that the message doesn’t still need to be shared- and if it can make a difference for someone without hope, then there’s still greater benefit in sharing it than keeping silent.

          • Phoenix1977

            Well, some Christian messages should be kept silent, like the one spoken by minister Logan Robertson from the e Westcity Bible Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand. His message is he’s all in favor of same-sex marriage as long as the married couple gets shot in the head when they kiss during the ceremony. Messages like that cost lives, not save them and are exactly the reason why the majority of the people is tired of listening to Christians!

          • Zarm

            Yeah, see, here’s the thing- that’s not a Christian message. Not in the slightest. Same applies to your comments over on the ‘Bubble’ article. there’s a difference between a message espoused by a blowhard that claims the name of Christianity (but which utterly conflicts with Christian teachings), and the actual Christian message.

            But even then, this is not actually a counter to my point, sir. I get that you don’t like Christians; however, if your point- using whatever idiot in the media that you want to, or whatever unrelated complaint about Christianity as tangential ‘supporting evidence’- is that Christians should just sit down and shut up even if they’re trying to espouse to the depressed and suicidal the inherent worth of their lives and the hope that would (hopefully) lead them away form suicide, then I would humbly submit that your beliefs require re-examination.

            Not every statement needs to be countered by a negative one. Surely, there must be a more productive, edifying use of your time that builds you up and fulfills you than this.

          • Phoenix1977

            “that’s not a Christian message.”
            It’s a Christian minister, giving a sermon in front of his congregation in his church. The only way it would get more Christian if Jesus himself was preaching there.

            “I get that you don’t like Christians”
            It has nothing to do with liking you or not. I don’t trust Christians and that distrust is reaffirmed time and again. Every fiber in my body is set in “fight or flight” mode when encountering Christians. And people like this minister make that respons worse.

            So if I don’t trust you (and with me quite a few more) how successful do you think your message or saving and salvation would be?

          • Zarm

            But it’s not the Christian message; the message proclaimed by the Bible, or in keeping with God’s word. Imagine I found a democrat that (for whatever reason) had participated int he Charlottsville atrocity on the side of the protesters. Would that mean that racism and hatred was ‘the Democrat message’? Or just a message spoken by one deranged individual that identifies himself as a Democrat?

            That was the distinction I was trying to make. When someone professing to be a member of a belief group expresses beliefs antithetical to the core beliefs or tenets of those beliefs, then his message is not a message of that belief system- it is the message of an individual claiming the name of that group but in no way actually speaking for it.

            There is nothing biblical about the hate this man is spewing, and not a Christian that I know that would ever condone in; it’s horrible, and loathsome, and the utter antithesis of anything that we believe. He may claim to be one of us, but he could not speak less for us if he tried. It’s easy to claim a name, build a building and call it ‘a church’ (Westboro Baptist does the same thing)- but if you’re not walking the walk or talking the talk, just spewing out a bunch of hate that has nothing to do with Christ or His ways, then you’re not espousing a Christian belief, just using the name ‘Christian’ as a cover for your unrelated, Christ-opposing hate-cult. As it seems that this man is doing.

          • Scott

            “Well, some Christian messages should be kept silent, like the one spoken by minister Logan Robertson from the e Westcity Bible Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand. His message is he’s all in favor of same-sex marriage as long as the married couple gets shot in the head when they kiss during the ceremony. Messages like that cost lives, not save them and are exactly the reason why the majority of the people is tired of listening to Christians!”

            Honestly… how do you find these people?.. and why? : – ) Auckland New Zealand? I’ve visited many churches here in America and never heard anything close to a sermon like that. I agree with Zarm, this guy is an outlier and obviously does not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

            “Every fiber in my body is set in “fight or flight” mode when encountering Christians. And people like this minister make that respons worse.”

            Just because islamic extremists are murdering Christians at unprecedented rates in the middle east and across the globe, doesn’t mean I should go in to “fight or flight” mode when I encounter an islamic man.

          • Phoenix1977

            “Honestly… how do you find these people?.. and why? : – ) Auckland New Zealand?”
            Unfortunately, they are not the difficult to find. I told you before, the international LGBT community is exactly that: a community. Once one of us discovers a person like this it’s quickly shared with our brothers and sisters all over the world, to warn others of people like this.
            And Auckland, New Zealand is the largest city of the country, larger than it’s capitol Wellington, and is considered the most sophisticated, free and rich part of New Zealand. It’s not some small town called Nowheresville.

            “Just because islamic extremists are murdering Christians at unprecedented rates in the middle east and across the globe, doesn’t mean I should go in to “fight or flight” mode when I encounter an islamic man.”
            You never experienced violence and hatred from Muslims first hand. I have from Christians. And with me the majority of LGBTs in the world.

  • Just One Voice

    Great food for thought. DEFINITELY on to something here.

    While the language here focuses on younger kids, I’m approaching middle age and had a thought or two. I’m not contemplating suicide by any means, but the pressure to keep work skills & knowledge up to date within the workforce can be ENORMOUSLY overwhelming & stressful. This is the soil where suicidal thoughts can take root, if we’re not careful.

    It’s been my experience that workplaces are treating their employees with an increasingly utilitarian approach. I have a couple friends that got burned from working at Microsoft ’cause they ALWAYS focused on the weak areas & where they needed to improve. Overall message? “You suuuuuck! You’re never good enough!”

    So yeah, putting a middle-age adult spin to it, what happens when we work super hard to achieve our “dream job,” only to find that we’re exhausted and empty? What happens when workplaces are treating us like we’re not as useful?

    It definitely saps our soul if we’re not careful to engage in other activities that replace the emptiness.

  • Jim Lee Jr.

    If also helps to lay off singles and child free marrieds and to not value them only if they marry and/or have children.

  • Rick Holtsclaw

    When man denies Christ, he denies truth, hope and purpose – confusion and self-destructive behaviors are the natural resultant. When America ostracized Jesus Christ in 1962 by removing Him from our classrooms, America’s children were left without a moral compass and truth. A year later, America introduced our Children to Darwin who taught them that life is simply a process of chance and time and therefore has no intrinsic worth or value. What did we think would happen to our youth in subsequent generations…America is definitely reaping what She has sown.

  • James

    The most important point to make about suicide is that it is a sin. It’s no sin to be lonely, but it sure as hell is a sin to murder your self over it. Self murder does not demonstrate very much faith in Christ, obviously. Now I can see that it’s possible for a Christian to end up committing suicide, especially these days with all the confusing propaganda and brainwashing about it, and with all the mind altering psychiatric drugs being shoved down people’s gullets, but I’d have to warn anyone contemplating self murder that at the very least they will suffer very severe spiritual loss and loss of rewards they would otherwise gain if they held on to the end that God has designed for them. Death is an enemy and self murder is a surrender to it.

  • Steve

    So who decides who has value and who doesn’t? And who defines what is valuable? Unless all are equally valued none will be.

  • Scott

    I agree. If you look at the statistics surrounding divorce rates, Christians do not fair much better than non-religious. That said… I think we can identify that claiming to be a Christian is one thing, actually living it is another.

    • gladys1071

      Christians are sinful human beings just like everyone else, so they fail morally just like everyone else.

      Christians can fall into depression, and inmorality just like the rest of humanity. Until we are given new bodies that are not subject to death, we will continue to live imperfect lives in our insecurites and frailties.

      That is why i long for the day when their will be no more death or tears, and we put in incorruptable.

      • Scott

        All this is true… just look at Joni Eareckson Tada. But Christians do have access to the Holy Spirit through Jesus. And like Joni, we can overcome despair with His help.

        We are not resigned to or defined by our failure, rather we can aspire to His word and implant it in our hearts.

        • gladys1071

          I agree with you, but that still does not remove our frailties and our humanity.