Converging Consciously and Collectively towards a Culture of Life: Dealing with Suicide in the Context of the Good News

that Life Is
Kuruvilla Pandikattu SJ Papal Seminary, Pune 411014, India kurusj@gmail.com

Table of Contents
Converging Consciously and Collectively towards a Culture of Life: Dealing with Suicide in the Context of the Good News that Life Is.................................................................................1 Table of Contents.......................................................................................................................1 From Autonomous Individuals to Creative Persons..................................................................2 a. From Traditional to Modern Society..........................................................................2 b. Identity, Individualism and Freedom.........................................................................4 c. Person in the Society..................................................................................................4 2. From a “Culture of Death” to “Culture of Life”....................................................................6 a. Towards an Ethics of Life..........................................................................................7 b. Pro-Life on All Issues................................................................................................8 c. Going Collectively Beyond Death-Drive ..................................................................9 3. From a Culture of Tolerance to a Community Love..............................................................9 a. Suicide as a Tragic Societal Symptom.....................................................................11 b. Social Responsibility................................................................................................11 c. Individual Accountability.........................................................................................12 Conclusion ...............................................................................................................................13 “Culture of life” vs “culture of death”! These intense and poignant mottos are related to the choice that Moses set before the Hebrew people as they entered the Promised Land: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the Lord swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:19b-20). There is a fundamental clash in the contemporary society between two cultures that promote generally tendencies that promote life or death. In his insightful Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, or ‘The Gospel of Life', Pope John Paul II focused on such a clash.1 A term coined by John Paul II, “culture of death”2 is used in contemporary political discourse, to describe supportive
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See Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life: Evangelium Vitae, ( New York: Pauline Books & Media, 1995). Whenever reference is given from this document is abridged as EV within the main text. It may be noted that I do not make a distinction between Evangelium Vitae or “Gospel of Life.” On the other hand I would like to translate ‘Gospel of Life’ as “Good News that Life Is” as the subtitle of this article points out. Peter Tran claims that it was the Christians overcame the culture of death in the Roman Empire. Disabled and chronically sick citizens were viewed by the ancient Greeks and Romans as burdens on society. Euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, abortion and the killing of deformed and sickly infants were widely practiced by the ancients in pagan times. According to Dr Peter Tran, a Vietnamese born Australian scholar, it was the emergence of Christianity that saw these practices eventually condemned and made illegal. Christians believed that,

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human cloning. Our treatment is addressed to a Christian and non-Christian audience. In the next section I analyze briefly the two cultures – of life and death – as articulated by John Paul II. which I believe. all human life was sacred. they resisted the notion that any human being should be considered unwanted or unworthy of life and nurturing.” The causes of this “culture of death” which threatens human beings and human civilization today are traced by the John Paul II to a perverse idea of freedom. See Peter Hung Manh Tran. marked by a dramatic struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death. This helps us to understand the next section dealing with a building up of a community of love. there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man” (EV 21). I hope to indicate the utmost seriousness demanded in dealing with cases of suicide. 2006.wikipedia. the satisfaction of personal pleasure over respect for those who are weak. freedom and their consequences – both positive and negative. http://en. Underlying all this is a loss of the sense of the Divine.positions on certain subjects. a. But “when the sense of God is lost. urbanized. Advancing the Culture of Death: Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. So I first deal with the transition to the modern society. exaggerated growth of freedom and plead for a healthy and balanced notion of persons.org/wiki/Culture_of_death. In this article I want to focus first on the cultural transition from traditional to a modern culture that has fostered individualism. From Autonomous Individuals to Creative Persons This section focuses on the emergence of isolated individuals in the modern society. Since I do not want to be sectarian in this article I use a few general philosophical categories so that our reflections help us to understand the issues related to suicide better.3 Therefore. suffering is considered useless. euthanasia. which is seen as disconnected from any reference to truth and objective good asserting itself in an individualistic way. the Pope pleads for discernment: “In our present social context. Associated with this is a practical materialism. 3 2 . who relate to the society. and which ends by considering life worthwhile only to the extent that it is productive and enjoyable. capitalist or because humans were created by God in His image. though most of our reflection are based on Christian resources. By dealing both with the social responsibility and individual accountability in dealing with suicide. As a result. so that we can collectively and consciously foster a culture of life and love. poverty and capital punishment which many deem to be inconsistent with a “culture of life“. Melbourne: Freedom Publishing. accessed March 2008. has contributed a sense of false ego and exaggerated individualism leading to a sense of anomie and suicide. there is to develop a deep critical sense capable of discerning true values and authentic needs. such as abortion. sacrifice for the sake of others unjustified. without the constitutive link of relationships with others. From Traditional to Modern Society The term ‘traditional society’ is usually contrasted with industrial. These reflections enable us to focus on “suicide” as a tragic sign or symptom of the culture of death. Then I plead for a culture that fosters persons who are autonomous and simultaneously committed to the society. They really represent the larger culture that we live in.

P. democratic party. Religious ideas and orders have at times undeniably played a positive role in containing and combating political tyranny.htm. democratic and “free” society. “Christian democracy”. party. secular. Buddhism exercised a sobering and. The expression is often used to characterize some forms of governance: But that is not always the case. “incorrectly groups together a wide range of nonmodern societies.P. when we use such expressions as “scientific tradition” and “critical tradition”. elective or hereditary. For example. I am indebted to Chattopadhyaya. it was a protest movement against the Brahminical hierarchy based on the caste system.4 Tradition is ordinarily understood as old and conservative in character. Chattopadhyaya. technocratic and even theocratic. and medieval European states on the other. for example. democratic people. It is a judgemental term. and opposed to the idea of change. But it need not be necessarily so.de/eng/traditional_society__modern_de. is forward-looking. D. as noted by Chattopadhyaya. By “traditional society” we understand a society which is basically rooted in the past and guided by its ancient values. breaks new grounds and essentially explorative in character. as varied as contemporary hunting and gathering groups on the one hand. in the ancient India.P. is not an empty expression.‘modern’ or even postmodern society.de/eng/traditional_society__modern_de. primitive. and emotional. archaic in outlook. customs and conventions. bureaucracy is called upon to play a very important role. etc. Admittedly the term “theocracy” in the modern context is generally used in a pejorative sense. socialist. Democracy may be bureaucratic. Further. the scientist consciously subjects his claims or theories to rigorous tests. although historically rooted. “Traditional Society.here-now4u. accessed at http://www.here-now4u. often self-critical. On the contrary. group.here-now4u. “Traditional Society. although it is sometimes linked with a mythical golden age of close-knit family values and community. But in all contexts of discourse tradition is not taken in this particular sense.encyclopedia. Besides. its role is. accessed at http://www. When the true democratic constitution requires periodic change of elected governments.htm 3 . welfarest or liberal. In the modern age. at least partly. Chattopadhyaya. Modern Democracy and Dharma as Religion” www. For this section. single-party autocracy and military regimentation.5 By democracy we mean so many things. Rather tradition is contrasted with the scientific. we are not highlighting the past or conservative character of tradition. modern. Rather her attitude is critical. Modern Democracy and Dharma as Religion” www. mediatory or reconciliatory. non-scientific. structural stability and functional continuity are sought to be preserved in and through bureaucracy. Her orientation is not conservative or justificationist.” http://www. and particularly in the countries with large population and diverse class-interests. transformation. In other words. and refutationist. the ambiguity attached to the expression “traditional society” reappears also in the context of what is called “modern democracy”. transvaluation and progress. at times even egalitarian influence on the concerned governments. in those contexts we highlight the innovative character of science or science-like discourse. Therefore it would be wrong to suggest that all traditional societies are backward-looking. To take another example. often implying negative traits associated with being backward.here-now4u.com/doc/1O88-traditionalsociety. In India. bureaucracy often plays an important role in smoothening the sharp edges of different and conflicting group-interests. Democracy may be direct or indirect. norms. Sometimes it is used as adjective to people.html D. As noted and elaborated by the Indian thinker D. Scientific tradition. Chattopadhyaya. democratic group.6 Democracy in the modern age has acquired not only different but also conflicting 4 5 6 As one scholar observes that the term traditional society.

8 Individualism. 10 http://en. the growth individualism and the acceptance of freedom become inevitable. such as Ayn Rand. typically takes it for granted that individuals know best and that public authority or society has the right to interfere in the person's decision-making process only when there is a very compelling need.de/eng/traditional_society__modern_de. free and periodic election. there is a consensus among the writers on democracy that the most correct definition of democracy may be framed in terms of multi-party system. Others.10 In this situation. authority. liberties and opportunities of the peoples concerned.here-now4u. who need to excel to achieve things and so be successful in the community. some argue that individuals are not duty-bound to any socially-imposed morality and that individuals should be free to choose to be selfish (or to choose any other lifestyle) if they so desire. Identity. argue that selfishness is a virtue. “republican” is neither democratic nor republican.7 b. as well as in relation to personal choice of lifestyle. they usually do not argue that selfishness is inherently good.wikipedia. sometimes closely associated with certain variants of individualist anarchism.org/wiki/Individualism 4 . freedom of expressions. This creates enormous tension in the individuals. group. It may be noted that according to our author. or social outlook that stresses human independence and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty. or any other form of external moral standard should be used to limit an individual's choice of actions. “people's democracy”. Chattopadhyaya. Individualism is also opposed to the view that hereditory. independence of judiciary. The history of the actual use of the terms like “new democracy”.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualism 9 Individualism has a controversial relationship with egotism (selfishness). freedom is praised as absolute and no limitations to it is normally tolerated. free trade unionism.here-now4u.htm. While some individualists are egotists. Rather. political. So these linguistic expressions as such often turn out to be misleading. Individualism and Freedom With the emergence of the non-traditional society as well as democratic spirit. 7 D.P. accessed at http://www. and “socialist democracy” are quite different from that of “constitutional democracy”. unless in emergency cases. or tribal goals should take priority over individual goals. community. It is true that in many cases the government characterized by such terms as “democratic”. the awareness of personal identity. societal. “Traditional Society.connotations. success and achievements. or any other group or institution. Person in the Society Along with the stress on individualism. the state. libertarianism or classical liberalism. Therefore what is important is to look into the practical or operational characteristics of the forms of government and the rights. It is relatively easy to designate an institution or a process as free but it is extremely difficult to ensure its free character in practice 8 http://en. “social democracy” and “republican democracy”.9 This type of argument is often observed in relation to policy debates regarding regulation of industries. modern society stresses on individual satisfaction. Modern Democracy and Dharma as Religion” www. Individualism is a term used to describe a moral.whether by society. religion. self-fulfillment. Individualism is therefore opposed to traditional society which stress that communal. c. self-realization. Individualists promote the exercise of individual goals and desires. They oppose most external interference with an individual's choices .

It seems to me that the debate today is being played out on that level. contributing positively to the well-being of both oneself and the larger society. unlike the traditional society. This evil is even more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. Names are arbitrary and can be changed at will without any significance. The impersonal or modern society. rather than sterile polemics.thepersonalistproject. There is a strong sense of morality that is generally shared by members of the community. Individuals rarely know their next door neighbors let alone who belongs in their community. who in a letter to his friend. an individuality that is based on reason and mediated by the autonomy of persons is. religious and existential agonies and anxieties of life. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must oppose.org/index. which is founded upon nothing but prejudice) is necessary for the individual to function autonomously.org/article-15321?l=english 5 . the person is not!11 In short. Accessed on March 2008. indeed in a pulverization. The personal or traditional society is quite formal. Therefore we need to mediate between the two extremes of overemphasizes community and individuality. enrich and collaborate with each other. Thus we need to rediscover the healthy synthesis and mediation in the notion of “person” as autonomous. (Harper. because of course self-esteem (in the opinion of the experts. Thus though individual is over-stressed in the modern societies.12 In this process persons may be held as both free and responsible. The state also steps into the emotional vacuum. is much more abstract and informal. See http://www.” www.php/TPP/index_extended. (Longmans. So such a personalist understanding may help us to mediate between the traditional society where individualism was absorbed in the lager society and the 11 There is a very simple way to define the difference between Traditional and Modern societies. This creates incomparable tension and stress and emotional vacuum.com/viewpaper/29236. I believe. entitled “The Personalist Philosophy of Karol Wojtyla. Persons may thus be understood as dependent and enabled individuals who can be the masters of themselves to a moderate extent. In this sense. The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation. leads one to emotional vacuum and loss of self-dignity. To some extent it is derived from Emmanuel Mounier. who interact.html. Even time is kept by a ‘concrete’ system governed by harvests. a kind of “recapitulation” of the inviolable mystery of the person. as well as. People’s names are indicators of social status. See his Be Not Afraid: Studies in Personalist Sociology. Green and Co.zenit. At the same time an exaggerated individuality that tends to uproot oneself from one’s culture and community. the modern (or even postmodern) societies are going horribly wrong in leaving the individual to herself to cope with the intellectual. The society needs to be the bulwark of individual identity and initiates. functionally and existentially.megaessays. of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. The fundamental difference is that of the personal and the impersonal society. the theologian Henri de Lubac. The state. 12 This notion of ‘person’ is not totally arbitrary. l938). emotional. But anyone who even so much as thinks about his self-esteem is doomed to a life of self-absorption. It is indirectly based on the personalist philosophy of Karol Woytyla. which was the domain of religions in the traditional societies: they believe that it is necessary to boost the self-esteem. Personalism. (University of Notre Dame Press. solar or lunar cycles. the paradoxical situation arises: Exaggerated individualism leads in the end to a terrible lack of individuality. I believe. See www. increasingly talk the language of therapy. See also the proceedings of The three-day congress. The traditional societies went horribly wrong in covering up the individual aspirations of the individuals. l952) and A Personalist Manifesto. l954). free and self-respecting individuals. The community is aware of who belongs in their given space and who doesn’t.Only then is she counted and ‘someone’ in the society. enabling persons to be free and loyal. from behind the iron curtain in 1968: I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical sense and mystery of the person. healthy and competitive..

is the pursuit of one's own material wellbeing. even against the social expectations. In a culture of death.” John Paul was realistic and at the same time optimistic. 14 John Paul relates this to the sense of God and to the religious values. 9/2 July 2006. can create and consolidate “structures of sin” that go against life (EV 24). the creator of all life. “What Is the ‘Culture of Death'?“ http://www. which ends up by becoming the freedom of ‘the strong' against the weak who have no choice but to submit” (EV 19).13 The culture of death described by the pope denies any link between objective truth and freedom.modern society. americancatholic. A culture of death systematically denies that any rights are inalienable because they come from God. people are “obliged to maintain life in this truth which is essential to it. in every circumstance. 2. Father Pat McCloskey. “It's no big deal. utilitarianism and hedonism. They have a role proper to their needs and they can truly “feel at home. God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct' (Rom 1: 28). have been broken down” (EV 48). John Paul II in Evngelium Vitae affirms that the culture of death “betrays a completely individualistic concept of freedom. By accepting God's gift. The latter.asp. since the barriers guaranteeing respect for life and the defense of life.. such a “personal” understanding of human beings may help us to rediscover both the “roots” and “wings” that human beings need for their own healthy development.” At the same time. to develop one’s individual likings and talents. and possibly to become a threat to the existence of others. at times. in describing our modern society as a “culture of death. 28). The so-called quality of life is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic sufficiency. 6 . which breeds individualism.” writes the pope (EV 48). can one really develop oneself.M. powerful people decide who has rights and say. To detach oneself from this truth is to condemn oneself to meaninglessness and unhappiness. the weakest members have the same rights as the strongest members. The only goal that counts. The values of being are replaced by those of having. O. By “roots” we mean the sense of belongingness and familiarity to a tradition and culture that enables one to grow. There is only “my truth” as the basis for “my freedom. one is also encouraged to reach out. He speaks of a deeply rooted struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death (EV 21.F.” “Life is indelibly marked by a truth of its own. where the individual is asserted against the society. Only when one can be different and one can grown independently with the “wings” enabling him to soar can. can according to him. 13 14 See also my article “Contributing Consciously to the Culture of Life: Science and Religion in Encountering Personal and Collective Death. 44-62. So he affirms: “The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism. In a culture of life.” should anyone object to their description of rights. without undue pressure from the larger community. By “wings we mean the basic human need to go beyond one’s tradition and culture and in this process express oneself. From a “Culture of Death” to “Culture of Life” As indicated earlier.org/ messenger/ jan2003/ Wiseman. In such a situation every member of the group becomes creative persons who are needed and wanted.” Jnanadeepa: Pune Journal of Religious Studies. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle: 'And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God. In other words.

Several examples can give the spirit of Political Responsibility and help us examine our consciences. It strongly and unequivocally affirms a consistent ethic of life. including abortion. death and life. destruction of the environment. social and political structures of the nations. He found committed people concerned about one issue but not the other. that is presupposed by a “culture of life. Therefore John Paul II pleads for a culture and ethics of life. 7/2 July 2004. John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae we can speak of an ethics of life.' We find ourselves not only 'faced with' but necessarily 'in the midst of' this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it. the economy.inordinate consumerism. the ethic of life challenges us every day. This abuse is often caused and supported by the economic. Overberg. 1) It encourages us to hold together a great variety of issues with a consistent focus on the value of life. http://www. the global trade in arms. immigration and refugees. 56-72. racism. Confronted with such a culture. unjust distribution of resources. the 'culture of death' and the 'culture of life. The bishops oppose the use of the death penalty. 3) It leads us to express our commitment to life in civil debate and public policy. welfare reform. John Paul describes what is going on in our world today: a monumental abuse of life through drugs.org/. Towards an Ethics of Life16 Borrowing from the insights of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. most recently and significantly.S. the teachings of the U. An excellent example of how the life ethic holds together many distinct issues is the U. AIDS.” Jnanadeepa: Pune Journal of Religious Studies. As he worked to bring together those seeking an end to abortion and those trying to prevent nuclear war. to the neglect of more profound dimensions—interpersonal. war and arms.S. Therefore this argument is also called “seamless garment” or “consistent life” argument.asp. bishops' statement Political Responsibility. The 1996 edition of Political Responsibility provided direction concerning many issues. judging that the practice further 15 16 17 See Kuruvilla Pandikattu “Towards a Spirituality for Life. abortion. ought to make us fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil. See http://www.17 Pope John Paul II's encyclical is a bold and prophetic defense of life.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0798. a.15 So it is obvious that our present culture “with its lights and shadows. euthanasia.” Cardinal Bernardin spent much time and energy on two issues: abortion and nuclear war. physical beauty and pleasure.americancatholic. 2) It challenges us to reflect on our basic values and convictions which give direction to our lives. 7 . A consistent ethic of life includes and involved all life issues from the very beginning of life to its end. For this section I an indebted to Kenneth R. S. with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life” (EV 28). So the pope speaks of a “structure of sin” and a “culture of death” and a “conspiracy against life” (EV 12). spiritual and religious—of existence” (EV 23). housing. “A Consistent Ethic of Life” Catholic Update. Catholic bishops and.consistent-life. Cardinal Bernardin began to emphasize the common link among the life issues.J.

for poverty threatens life. we cannot do everything. but we can do one thing As Cardinal Bernardin told the audience at Fordham University. nationally. “For capital punishment.19 18 19 Here are a few possibilities suggested by Kenneth R. read the bishops' pastoral letter Economic Justice for All. ongoing interchange between two parishes (“twinning”). we must be pro-life on all issues—no matter what our political party.. Yet our faith ought to be the deepest source of our values. racism. For racism. advertising or family may say. Dealing with poverty. calling it a “radical evil” which divides the human family. there is a need for more jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions. we must also be able to state our case “in nonreligious terms which others of different faith convictions might find morally persuasive. of the person over things. consisting in making practical choices—at the personal. is a moral imperative of the highest priority. We ought not underestimate the challenge of being pro-life. For poverty. aid and investment must be reevaluated in terms of their impact on the poor. family. we can say that the cultural change which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new lifestyle. John Paul further addds: “In a word. poverty: certainly these are very different issues.” Exercise your leadership in business or politics to change oppressive policies and regulations. These powerful forces significantly shape our values and convictions. globally. it might seem easier to appeal to common sense or accepted business practice – or even ethical relativism. In the domestic scene. business. Surely. The bishops express special concern for the problem of racism. start or join a parish group that is working to bring together people of different races. with different causes and different solutions (many of which may be very complex). Pro-Life on All Issues The consistent ethic of life also leads us beyond the specific issues to the depths of our convictions about the meaning of life. the challenge of respecting the lives of people who may be very different from us. underneath all these differences is life and. volunteer in a soup kitchen or an AIDS clinic. sometimes away from a consistent ethic. talk shows. personally.” For example. union. then write to your governor and other officials expressing your opposition. Capital punishment. perhaps by a formal. the bishops claim. It is not sufficient to be pro-life on some issues. A careful and prayerful study of Political Responsibility allows us to appreciate not only the expanse of the seamless garment of the consistent ethic of life but also its profound challenge to our most important attitudes and values. if possible. In “The Gospel of Life” John Paul II urges all persons to choose life – consistently. the areas of trade. Still. we 8 . social and international level—on the basis of a correct scale of values: the primacy of being over having. We need to see what actions concerning these issues would a consistent ethic of life suggest?18 b. This renewed lifestyle involves a passing from indifference to concern for others. for us. spend time learning why many churches are opposed to the death penalty. at the international level.undermines respect for life in our society and stating that it has been discriminatory against the poor and racial minorities. This invitation is really a profound challenge: to look deeply into ourselves and to test against the gospel some of our own deeply held beliefs and practices. Overberg. from rejection to acceptance of them” (EV 98).

based mainly on the teachings of John Paul II. VI.”22 This leads us to the next section. 2007 Message for World Youth Day. implying an indifferent and uncritical openness and I want to contrast it to love that cannot afford to be indifferent.c. which according to John Paul II passes primarily through the family. such as human dignity. the threat to women and the vulnerable. For public policy discussion. See also Kuruvilla Pandikattu “Individual and Universal Immortality: Significance for Religious and Scientific Dialogue. at the presentation of Carl Anderson's book A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World (Harper One. secular society is characterized by openness and tolerance having both positive and negative connotations. In this section I see tolerance as being negative. From a Culture of Tolerance to a Community Love23 In the book A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World. In this work. www. through the active witness of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love in their lives. Further I take it symptomatic that the modern.” at www. 20 21 22 23 24 25 9 . (Harper One. At the same time when the whole society collectively is taken up this death drive.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/ messages/ youth/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20070127_youth_en. the undermining of trust in the medical profession. to avoid itself from the “cosmic suicide. Thus the contemporary society needs to return collectively to a culture of life.org/wiki/Thanatos. 2008) is the inspiration for this part. Smith. may be opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide fundamentally because of our faith convictions about God as giver of the gift of life and about our own stewardship of life. Wesley J. A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World. See en.com. Anderson addresses two poignant questions concerning our fundamental approach to culture: “What kind of a people do we think we are? And what kind of a people are we becoming?” The answers to such questions may lead all people to reflect seriously upon whether they truly are contributing to the establishment of a civilization of love. 3.htm. That can have far reaching effects on all of us.”25 The book provides tools geared especially toward young adults to help them seriously ponder their vital personal role in transforming the world. vatican. See www. The address given by Monsignor Jean Laffitte. “Dutch Prove that the Culture of Death is Like Heroin.20 That is why we can trace an addictive of thrilling value in promoting a culture of death.edu/faculty/harrison/Essays/Michelstaedter. vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Again the death drive. fundamental building blocks of a civilization of love. it is devastating. Going Collectively Beyond Death-Drive We may note along with Sigmund Freud that at times Thanatos or death-drive may also be part of the subconscious of an individual.WesleyJSmith. or rather to an ever-burgeoning culture of death that seeks to destroy the integrity of marriage and family. whom the society may brand as deviant.italian.ucla. Note his poignant and slightly exaggerated remark: “The culture of death is like heroin: Once you start to mainline. we may stress other reasons.html.21 We can understand this thrill of a few individuals. however.wikipedia.zenit.” As documented by Eduard von Hartmann (who is indebted as to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche) the “philosophy of life” that inherits the metaphysical project induces cosmic suicide.org/rssenglish-22179. it is never enough. as opposed to the “pleasure principle” was defined by Sigmund Freud in Jenseits des Lustprinzips (Beyond the Pleasure Principle) (Gesammelte Schriften. Wien: I93O) as “an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things”. when we reflect on how we can through a culture of life promote a culture of love. See www. 2008).” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 11/3 2000 405-423.24 Carl Anderson expands upon Pope Benedict XVI’s call to build a “civilization of love.

sick. to carry the example of St. Individualism and freedom can never be idolized. rather.Reflecting further the thought of John Paul II. the elderly.” Views of progress that have become distorted by concentrating on merely materialistic aspects of life will tend toward neglecting the inherent dignity of the human person. marriage and family serve as true “living stones” of its foundation. Any attempt to attack the humanity of the unborn child.” which often are falsely masked by a humanitarian facade rooted in a “belief in progress. Each culture. and living out this calling leads to a culture that values human beings not because they are useful or productive.” with such a disposition serving as an essential aspect of the Christian work of charity. moves between the polarities of a culture of life that sees human beings for their intrinsic.” we may transform an ever-present “culture of suspicion” into one that embraces responsibility for every human being. handicapped. and amoral forces.Do I look at them as means rather than as ends? Do I see some persons as having no value apart from their real or imagined use to society? In building a culture of life that flourishes within a civilization of love. This vocation of love is written upon the heart of each person and makes each person human. By holding firm to the truth that the structure of human existence is love. such that “I have first been loved. mechanical. or other vulnerable person must be rebuffed even at the risk of that life defender’s personal reputation or welfare. and vulnerable (both born and unborn) -.” a love whose actions are grounded in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. as units of production (or consumption).. Paul’s preaching on the Areopagus into our present age “not by imposing values from above. they must be preserved from perversion so that a distorted perception of freedom does not become the vehicle through which to assault human dignity and life. Anderson asserts that Christians have the responsibility to transform culture radically. respecting the freedom and dignity of each individual in an authentic culture of life. Building up a civilization of love involves a personal willingness to see Christ in the suffering of all human beings around us. an integrated Christian witness that demonstrates a right ordering between faith and reason in daily living. 10 . economic value . Anderson challenges his readers to confront difficult questions at both a personal and cultural level concerning attitudes toward the poor. but rather because they are loved by the Creator and thus have inherent worth. an approach that regards other human beings as mere objects to be used. therefore I am. but through a subtler yet more powerful process -. and each person within it. “My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them. Such tenets serve no purpose in building a civilization of love and its culture of life if not witnessed through personal example and testimony. Anderson emphasizes that no culture can remain static.. and no person within that culture may remain static either.” Individuals who cannot prove their value in such terms of production – such as “the unborn. one in which human life has only a kind of quantitative. consequently generating increasing threats to the world and humanity by encouraging a mentality of slavery. and a culture of death that holds human beings to be mere “products of blind.living a vocation of love in the day-to-day reality of our lives. God-given value. such that our only response to them is one of responsibility for them in love. the non-rehabilitable sick. and the disabled – are increasingly subject to removal by procedures such as abortion and euthanasia. As Pope Benedict reminds us in “Deus Caritas Est” (34).

11 .26 In the words of John Paul II. suicide.” Thus the need to build a culture of love accepts the respect and tolerance (and even indifference) that are characteristics of modern society and invites us to go beyond it. Who changes one heart at a time in His love. Suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder. drive for progress at all cost.as one who is always present to transform culture”. but on the social and individual aspects of suicide. Social Responsibility Confronted with the appalling thoughts on suicide. is a gravely immoral act. and b. suicide represents a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life and death (EV 66). we are challenged to build a society that is based on affirmative action. cultural and social conditioning may induce a person to carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate inclination to life.John Paul II’s reminder for us all to be a “people of life and a people for life” (EV 6) rings prophetically true in our postmodern age. building a true civilization of love through each one of us. that a culture of life may flourish into fuller being and a culture of death cease to exist. refugees-related problem. global warming. Even though a certain psychological. In its deepest reality. condition. positive reaching out and growth in mutual love. suicide is objectively objectionable as murder. A culture of life ultimately may thrive when the citizens of this world honor “Christ as above culture -. we need to accept that the larger society also shares some responsibility. towards the communities to which one belongs. In fact. there may be mitigating factors. or race. b. with a view to furthering life. I do not want to focus on the insidious aspects and the stratagem or subterfuge of suicide. though subjectively. It is only by recognizing the incomparable value and dignity of every human being regardless of age. It is unfair to shelve the total responsibility for the individual suicides to the victims and their close relatives alone. by acknowledging that it always violates human dignity to use another human being as a mere instrument or means to an end. when viewed objectively. The Church's tradition has always rejected it as a gravely evil choice. it involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one's neighbor. euthanasia. individually: abortion. 26 Obviously other tragic symptoms of the culture of death in our society are: a. and towards society as a whole. Beyond tolerance and respectful indifference. In view of such a tragic dimension. whom He calls to regard each other human being in “fraternal charity with a pure love. etc. That demands committed and concrete love for oneself and others. thus lessening or removing subjective responsibility. collectively: armaments industry. and by admitting that the intentional killing of an innocent human being can never be morally justified. a. Suicide as a Tragic Societal Symptom One powerful sign of the culture of death that affects all of us in our modern society is the tragic cases of suicide which is definitely a symptom of the larger social evils and societal life. etc. Time does not permit me to delve into these issues.

In today’s world of instant gratification and consumption. which is advancing above all in prosperous societies.” Orientierung 38 (1974): 53. Otherwise society and individual becomes stunted. including the unsuccessful. It has also to radiate signs of the culture of love to its members. 27 28 At a very parochial and negative level. This is both a sociological and theological statement. will they find their lives meaningful. “Das Evangelium legt die Gewalt bloss. If it fails to provide them with a feeling of “being at home. the society has to realize its mistake of making things too easy for them and thus robbing them of the gift of perseverance and stamina. unwanted. Assad (San Francisco: Harper & Row. The larger society is also called to provide both roots and wings to the individuals. the “poor.” Only when a society can urge the members to dedicate their lives to issues and concerns that are wider than their own specific problems. If the vast majority members of the society seeks the easy and tragic way out. The larger society has an obligation to make the members morally. Individual Accountability The individual too needs to affirm her own dignity and assert her own unique role in contributing to the society and building a culture of love and fraternity. Briefly we may say that in the traditional society.' Along with the elderly and disabled the present society seems to label the unsuccessful and the average too as burdensome. When that life style is threatened. people used to live for other (the larger tribe or for the children and the future generation). emotionally and intellectually strong. their near ones and to the larger human community. by Maria L. enabling every member. specially the youth? Is the society able to give its members models and visions which are “larger then themselves.” it is failing in its commitment to its members. There is another significant issue that needs to be raised: Is the larger society able to provide meaning system or role model that the society gives to its members. The society is responsible for not giving to the individual the moral and spiritual strength and resilience to hold on in spite of suffering. 12 . Those who commit suicide.28 c. the old value of perseverance and waiting for reward has disappeared. sick. For a study on Jesus as the scapegoat for the world.In Evangelium Vitae 64. Pope John Paul II says: 'Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the 'culture of death'. handicapped. Still it may be emphasized that had been aware of the grave accountability they have to the larger life and had they been aware of their own possible unique contribution. trans. one way of giving such a vision is create an external enemy and in this process motivate the citizens to rally around this external enemy. This makes many individuals totally lost faced with sudden and unexpected failures or tragedies. 136-145. This explains also the “scapegoat” theory of redemption. Girard. has been under tremendous stress and most of them are not in a position to listen to their personal accountability to themselves. See also R.27 A society – as well as individuals – that is all the time self-enclosed and inner-directed just cannot motivate people to lead fulfilling lives. modern society is challenged to provide other alternative visions that leads the people beyond themselves. and vulnerable” of the society so that each one realizes her own self-worth and dignity. see Raymund Schwager's Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible. So it is natural for the “unsuccessful” individuals who do not have the spiritual and psychological stamina to think of suicide as a last resort. 1987). marked by an excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. which cannot be substantiated here because of the limitations of space. obviously.

Conclusion It is unfortunate that suicide has become a “common way of life” in many parts of the world.” While we may totally agree with this. 29 30 31 Victor E Frankl. Those who did not have any such meaning or purpose tended to give up fast and die.htm. (Pune: Jnanam. See Kuruvilla Pandikattu. 1984). I have treated this issue from the perspective of Michael Ende’s classic Momo.uk/a%20poem. too Then nothing in life can defeat me For as long as this knowledge remains I can suffer whatever is happening For I know God will break “all the chains” That are binding me tight in “the Darkness” And trying to fill me with fear For there is no night without dawning And I know that “my morning” is near.they would never have undertaken such a deed. A remarkably significant phenomenon is the issue of meaning in the life of the victims. 13 .”29 A final and consoling insight that could strengthen a candidate considering suicide is the ancient Buddhist wisdom. endured three years of unspeakable horror in the Nazi death in Germany. “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how. if they are in a position to raise their level of thinking and consciousness they would be prevented from undertaking such a drastic measure. Confronted with life threatening challenges. When everyone else seems to doubt me If I can but keep on believing What I know in my heart to be true. That “darkness will fade with the morning” And that this will pass away. it is reassuring fall back on an assertion by John F. Victor Frankl.” Therefore. 1973). Man's Search for Meaning. 2004). however. (Washington Square Press. Kennedy: “Every problem created by humans has a human solution. we need to remember the caveat put forward by Albert Einstein: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. (London: Puffin Books. In this context he was never tired of quoting the maxim of Nietzsche.”30 The insight is put in a poetic form by Helen Steiner Rice. What he noticed is that those who had some purpose in life (be it their wife or any task waiting for them).ggc. could deal with various degrading and physical torture.org. life threatening the situation of the victims be. http://www.31 If I can endure for this minute Whatever is happening to me. This too will Pass Away. “This too will pass away. the founder of Logotherapy. No matter how heavy my heart is Or how “dark” the moment may beIf I can remain calm and quiet With all my world crashing about me.

and not necessarily to blame the victims. to embrace the whole of life without belittling the concrete persons. India India Korea Japan Lithuania World Suicide per 100. “Convent life drives Kerala nun to suicide.000 30.2 14.cathnews. that is 30.thehindubusinessline. This will enable us to move forward collectively and consciously towards a culture of life and love.5/ 100.000. I believe that such personal tragedies have to be handled both individually and collectively. without sacrificing the individual. This is the statistics of 2004. or the Good News that Life itself is!35 The news is that life – in spite of its 32 33 34 http://www. This will urge us to care of the personal tragedies (individual suicide) and global dangers (cosmic suicide) with trust in God and in ourselves.” See http://www. Accessed on March 2008.php. Realizing the preciousness of life and cherishing it. We are truly called to be human beings promoting and fostering life! The situation facing us is certainly grave. We are the torch bearers and we cannot afford to me messengers of death and destruction.8 26.htm. today both individual and collective life is truly threatened by the foes of life. We may note that the number of suicides in Korea is high.specially in the developed and developing world. An all-inclusive approach to life is inevitable without sacrificing the concrete issues. 14 . a fact to be taken very seriously. 15 Catholic nuns have committed suicide in the last twelve years. where the global average is 14. The figures are slightly adapted. 35 As Christians or believes in God. where I hail from.8 12.33 The following Table may illuminate our point:34 Place Kerala. I am aghast that in Kerala in India. Paradoxically it is called “God’s own country” and has one of the largest Christian populations in India. but not very high in comparison to some other countries like Japan or Lithuania. with a population of about 31 million.000 nuns living in this prosperous state.5 In this context.6 40.com/news/607/79. This follows from our experience of a God who loves all of us in spite of our individual weakness and loss. Unlike in the traditional societies. This will lead us to converge together. The data is drawn from various sources including Encyclopedia Wikipedia. retaining our identities and individual uniqueness and adding color to the beauty that is life. loving and egalitarian: the basic condition for the perseverance of life! So we are called to be global. we need to be deeply concerned to hear that even in the universities in Korea many instances of suicide have been reported. to praise the creator of life without depreciating the life of the ordinary. but not hopeless.8/100.1 35. we are called to believe that life itself is a good news. That is truly the Gospel of Life. These instances have to be taken seriously and dealt with compassionately. At the same time it is double the world-rate. in spite of its frailty. we go on to become aware of the dangers posed to life and commit ourselves to create a humanity that is just. Catholic News. The reasons for the tragic suicides must be analyzed so that we can prevent the occurrences of such terrible deeds. tragedy and vulnerabilities. and has attained 100% literacy has a truly alarming rate of suicide. It is also claimed that the suicide rate of youth between 15-25 is extremely high in Korea. There is every danger that life may be wiped out of the precious planet! As committed lovers we are called to be prophets who foster the precious and precarious life.000.32 Still alarming is the claim among the 33.com/2004/08/09/stories/2004080901181300. As religious believers we are prophets of life in its abundance.

15 .. in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning. . suffering. who has created every individual as a “wonder” (cf. There is something tragically wrong with a society that can tolerate so many such cases. and with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honor every person… Inspired by this contemplative outlook. and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter. This challenges us. quote from John Paul II.vagaries. its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility..” our proclamation must also become a genuine celebration of the gospel of life. applicable to all people of good will. Instead. praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life (EV 83). depth and preciousness of life. a contemplative outlook. Ps 139:14). dialogue and solidarity. in which we all participate. fragile and intrinsically GOOD. outcast or at death's door. Gn 1:27. ups and downs and disappointments – is precious. So we can conclude with an optimistic. we need first of all to foster. both individually and collectively. be they Christians or non-Christians. For this to happen. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift. the new people of the redeemed cannot but respond with songs of joy. to contemplate on the beauty. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life. in ourselves and in others. who grasp its utter gratuitousness. This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick. Ps 8:5). discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning.. It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook. The society has to take drastic remedial measures and long range procedures to counter these forces of death. Let us consciously and committedly foster this life. religious or nonreligious: Because we have been sent into the world as a “people for life.

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