Philosophical Trends in our Suicidal Culture
While the recent string of celebrity suicides causes concern, the greater concern is that the suicidal epidemic has affected the culture at large. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that suicides across the nation have increased 30% since 1999 in half of the U.S. states. More than half (54%) of those who died by suicide had no known mental health condition.
The significance of these events leads to a deeper analysis our culture, our communities and our prospects for the future. While many factors lead to suicide including depression, drugs, or a loss of meaning and purpose, some philosophical concepts have undoubtedly invaded the modern mind. Men and women of the past faced harrowing wars, hunger and loss, yet they possessed a resilience that eludes our modern culture. Why? Our ancestors believed in a duty to their families and to God while modern cultures have rejected these concepts in favor of individualism and materialism.
According to the philosophy of individualism, personal interests supersede moral responsibilities to family or God. This philosophy has produced a narcissistic culture which prioritizes self-focus above any other communal value.
Consider modern psychology’s chief questions:
“How does that make you feel?”
“Is this decision helping you become your best self?”
“How is this achieving your goals?”
Or the theme of the vast majority of advertisements:
“You deserve it.”
Individualistic thinking limits our perspective by only considering the personal effects of our decisions. It does not consider the communal effects of our decisions. Rather than ending personal pain in silence, a suicide magnifies that pain to others. While suicide feels like a solitary act which only affects you, in reality, it is a communal act which affects everyone else.
Additionally, in a constantly changing world, individualism seeks power and control. Individualists argue, “I didn’t choose to be born. I didn’t choose my gender. I didn’t choose my parents. I didn’t choose my health issues. I am a result of millions of years of accidents, so why does my life matter? Why do I have to suffer through all this?” And the ultimate act of power and control is taking your own life.
The other philosophy, materialism, believes that the material world (only the things you can see, touch and feel) exists as the only reality. It denies an afterlife or judgement, believing instead that humans, like all of nature, simply go back to the dust.
Yet in a philosophy without God, morality or consequences, life’s only purpose remains to amass fame, fortune and pleasure exemplified by the phrase “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Consider the unrestricted pursuit of experiential pleasure in our culture from sexual experimentation, drugs and alcohol to other experiences like tide pods, Netflix binging and bunny yoga. While some of these experiences certainly qualify as more harmful than others, the point remains that materialism prizes the excess of pleasure. It’s not good enough to sleep with your spouse, you must sleep with many different people. It’s not good enough to just watch a movie, you must watch ten movies in a row. It’s not good enough to just have a glass of wine, you must have all kinds of beverages and be carted home by a benevolent friend for an “experience” you won’t remember. It’s not good enough to simply exercise, you must exercise with animals crawling on you for a “new experience.”
When a society can no longer find happiness with the simple things of life, but instead requires lavish entertainment, parties and pleasures to distract and sustain itself—this is called “decadence.” Yet decadence ultimately proves itself to be empty. When a person has reached the end of the individualist and materialist pursuits, what is left? Nothing but disillusionment. And that’s the problem.
No human can exist without purpose, meaning or hope. The Hope from outside of us must shine brighter than the darkness within us. That hope is found in God. Those who walked this earth before us, who successfully lived their lives had this Hope as the anchor for their souls. They lived in gratitude for who they were created to be and in duty to the One who made them. Our culture needs this renewed vision for life. We need duty as our metric for success: duty to our families, to our friends and to our God.
The Pilgrims came to this country amidst grave danger, uncertainty and difficulties. Many died on the Mayflower and half died the first winter. They knew that coming to America would not make their lives easier or happier, but rather it would give freedom to their children and grandchildren. They saw their lives as “stepping stones” to the next generation. If we embrace this generational perspective for our lives, it will refocus our vision away from ourselves and towards planting seeds for the future, seeds that we may never harvest. Yet in doing so, we will live sacrificial lives which honor our Creator and leave a legacy for those who follow us. And in doing this, we give hope to a culture drowning in darkness.
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicide, please reach out for help:
Originally published on Patriot Post June 14, 2018
Image credit: Digitalista/BigStock