Tuesday, August 12, 2014

You Got it Wrong This Time, Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh,

Usually, I love your stuff.  It's refreshing reading your against the grain, unapologetic Christian view.  But today, you got it wrong when you wrote, "Robin Williams didn't die from a disease, he died from his choice."  I hope you'll pray about what this and respond because your column is a scandal to Christianity.    

You wrote:

First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will. No matter how depressed you are, you never have to make that choice. That choice. Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice. He died by his own hand. Depression will not appear on the autopsy report, because it can’t kill you on its own. It needs you to pull the trigger, take the pills, or hang the rope. To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless. We are giving him a way out, an excuse. Sometimes that’s all he needs — the last straw.
Depression ends up killing because the person sees no other choice than suicide.  Of course, suicide requires that the person chooses to "pull the strigger, take the pills, or hang the rope," but have you stopped to consider whether the choice to commit suicide is a free one or not?  

In the Catholic Church, we have the distinction between venial and mortal sins.  (For the full explanation, check out Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1854-1864.)  Suicide would fall into the category of a mortal sin.  Yet, in paragraph 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we learn,
"For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: 'Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.'"
When it comes to suicide, the Church understands that the suffering person may not be freely making that choice to end their life.  While suicide itself is considered a mortal sin, the culpability of the individual is known only to God.*  Edit:  A reader helped me to tweak the theology here.  The action of suicide itself is not a mortal sin.  If suicide is coupled with full knowledge and full consent, then it becomes a mortal sin.  
"Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.  We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives."  - Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2282-2283 
So, we pray for Robin Williams' soul, we pray for the souls of those who have committed suicide, we pray for those suffering from depression, we pray for a greater understanding of the disease, we pray for effective treatments, we pray for those who work to heal the afflicted (physically, emotionally, spiritually), and we pray for those mourning their loved ones.  We pray that the loving, merciful God who brought all of us into existence will bring us back to Himself.    

Instead of condemning the suffering for choosing suicide, let's start figuring out how we can help the suffering to see that life is always the better choice.  Let's unburden them by helping to carry their crosses alongside them.  It's time for those of us not suffering from depression to stop being indifferent and to start reaching out.
"What's wrong with death, sir?  What are we so mortally afraid of?  Why can't we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor.  Death is not the enemy, gentlemen.  If we're going to fight a disease, let's fight one of the most terrible diseases of all--indifference."  - Robin Williams as "Hunter Patch Adams"

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

36 comments:

  1. You're totally right. I do my best to be ecumenical in understanding the moral conclusions of protestants, but by far, and above all our dogma, Catholic weild the advantage of the Magisterium in the area of Moral Theology. Good work, Catherine.

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    1. Very good article Catherine. Shaun - Matt Walsh is Catholic, that's a major reason why his article was disappointing on many levels.

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  2. Without agreeing or disagreeing, we are much "nicer" than our Fathers in the faith. And it is a cause to wonder who is right.

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    1. There can always be development in our understanding of suicide, but Church Teaching on the matter has never changed. As we learn more about mental illness and how to support those suffering, we can better be the Body of Christ to them. May we all strive to share God's mercy with those suffering around us.

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  3. I agree wholeheartedly! Sharing.

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  4. From a mother who lost a child last year to suicide I thank you dear women for your article. After being tortured all day with that article you have brought me some peace. Teresa

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    1. I am so very sorry to hear about the death of your child. I pray that God will bring you comfort and peace as you place your trust in His perfect mercy.

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  5. Just to be theologically accurate, this line should be corrected: "While suicide itself is considered a mortal sin, the culpability of the individual is known only to God." The Church never paints any action in itself as a mortal sin. Suicide, in itself, is grave matter, and if coupled with full knowledge and full consent is a mortal sin. Every mortal sin, in itself, is a person's choice to reject God completely and totally, and therefore merits hell, and is not forgiven except through the Sacrament of Confession or some other extraordinary act of God's mercy.

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    1. Anonymous, great feedback! That's exactly what I was trying to say, and your tweaks are a big help to keep me theologically accurate. Thank you for your input!

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  6. As someone who had to deal with losing someone dear to suicide and later almost lose a couple more, thank you. I saw a post yesterday stating that those who know Christ could never struggle with depression. The person stated we all are empty unless filled by Him, but I have seen the former to be false. Let us pray for all those suffering in mind or body. Pray for an end to stigma, and a beginning to a door open to taking care of those with mental illness.

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    1. Anonymous, I am so sorry to hear that you've lost a loved one and had others close to you struggle with depression. Having lost a family member to suicide and suffered through post-partum depression myself, I know the hurt you must feel when people say things like, "Good Christians don't get depression," or, "Maybe if you had more faith you'd get better." It is a serious scandal to Christianity when we tell those suffering with mental illness that it is their own fault. May we all have more love and compassion!

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  7. I followed a link on facebook to your article and want to tell you I admire your compassion and good, decent sense. This is such a beautiful piece of writing.

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    1. Thank you for coming over and for your kind words, Sarah!

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  8. Please check your spelling and grammar. Great article, but your misspellings were distracting from the good points you make.

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    1. Anonymous, I apologize for whatever spelling or grammar mistakes that were distracting from the post. Can you please share more specific feedback with me? I write as quickly as I can when my three young children are napping, so I don't always have the time to proofread as thoroughly as I'd like. Thank you!

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  9. Beautiful and poignant clarifications. Thank you for posting this!

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  10. Catherine,
    Sorry, you don't know me, but I wanted to comment...

    I think Matt Walsh carefully avoided accusing Robin Williams of mortal sin. I'm guessing he understands (and agrees with) the Catechism references you gave.

    He focused on the choice of suicide. If it's not a choice, then Robin Williams didn't have a choice in the matter.

    I know you believe that Robin Williams had a choice, and that he made the wrong choice (however hard-pressed he was to make it).

    This is what Matt Walsh said. You would say it more nicely, but you do believe the same thing.

    So...I guess I'd encourage you to read the article again? :) I hate to see good people disagree, especially if they don't.

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    1. Of course everyone has a choice. What Matt Walsh didn't seem to understand (or, at the very least, did not convey properly) was that chemical imbalances in the brain of a clinically depressed person can make that choice extremely murky and very difficult to see.

      I know that, for people who have not suffered with clinical depression, it can be difficult to fully understand the nature of the condition. My issue with Matt Walsh's blog is that he made no attempt to understand it. He did not even admit that it might be something he could not fully understand having never experienced it himself.
      Having suffered from depression and survived a suicide attempt, I can tell you that yes it is a "choice" but when you're in that frame of mind you don't see it as a "choice". You truly see no other alternative. It's as though you're at a cross roads with several different paths but you have blinders on and the only road you can clearly see is the one marked: DANGER.
      comments made without charity and without an attempt to understand the person's frame of mind are not helpful.

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  11. Thank you so much for writing this. I was upset reading Matt's blog...and very sad for him and everyone who was so supportive of every word he said.
    I've been on that precipice... Even though I went to Mass often and flung myself at Christ's feet in the adoration chapel as often as I could... I sought out and clung to every bit of joy that I could, and it pained me. That beauty and that joy cannot always "cure" the way he seems to think it can. It is healing, but it can be a truly painful healing process... And one can still stand at that precipice believing against the truth that death is not the answer. I was hunted and haunted by the belief that my death would be a blessing... And it looked like truth, though I knew it wasn't. It's A painful dichotomy...

    Depression is more than chemical, true. It can stretch to affect every part of the person suffering... But it isn't helpful to say that joy will fix everything.

    I understand what matt meant about not encouraging the platitudes of peace and lack of suffering, however, no one is commending his choice of suicide- that's the difference. A broken heart comforts itself with those words.. And those broken hearts are always more prevalent than anything.

    I do hope Robin is at peace and resting in joy with the Father, just as I hope and pray that every brother and sister we've lost to suicide also rests with the Father.

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  12. Beautifully written. Most actions involve choice but not all choices contain freedom. A person with clinical depression or some other disorder may be lacking freedom to make that choice. Especially if that person doesn't see any other options.

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  13. Beautifully written! Thank you!

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  14. Thank you, so very much, for this. God Bless you.

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  15. Robin Williams is very fortunate to have lived when he did. Before Vatican II, the Church taught that people who commit suicide go to hell, since suicide is a mortal sin and there was no time to repent of this sin before death (being that it resulted in death). During the Middle Ages, the Church even refused to do funerals for suicide victims and buried them in a separate part of the cemetery, since their damnation was essentially guaranteed. During Vatican II, however, the Church changed their teaching (that thing they pretend they never do) regarding suicide, maintaining that it's still just as bad as it always was, but only now it doesn't necessarily mean the person went to Hell, since there are mitigating circumstances, chemical imbalances, blah, blah, blah. So, I reiterate, Mr. Williams is fortunate to have killed himself post-Vatican II, after God apparently became a much more forgiving person.

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  16. Matt Walsh wrote a follow-up piece: http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/08/13/depression-isnt-choice-suicide-response-critics/
    I saw Matt at a homeschool conference. He mentioned he has a sister that is a cloistered nun and another sister that is a Catholic homeschooler/homesteader. Don't know if he's a Catholic.

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  17. I think illnesses, including depression, can mitigate moral culpability.

    objectively speaking however, suicide is most certainly a grave moral and sinful action.

    we can and should pray for those who commit suicide since only God knows the responsibility to which they were held at the moment of judgment.

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  18. Matt never said anywhere that it was a totally free choice, nor did he say the person was totally culpable for his actions, nor did he say it was a mortal sin. I agree with Matt's saying that suicide is a choice and I can hear the anguish in his statements. To say it isn't a choice, to say otherwise negates our free will and says we are powerless in the face of our feelings. It is not blaming the victim to say this, or diminishing the anguish involved. He did say he has personal experience in both depression and suicide in his personal life, so I will take him at his word. I have sat on the bridge railing myself, so please don't respond that I cannot possibly understand clinical depression, or the compulsions involved, or how quickly the wrong choice can be made. We are all at the Seat of Mercy at the end.

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  19. Thank you cmom and Matt Walsh. Robin Williams act of taking his own life seemed deliberate and a choice with intent as he first tried to slit his wrists. Failing that used his belt with the help of a door. I grieve for his family and pray for his eternal soul. Reckon we will all find out one day the answers to these and other mysteries. Sadly the media again does a horrific job. I have viewed Robin Williams attack rants on video against Holy Mother Church, Jesus, Our Blessed Mother, The Saints, The Pope, Priests etc., they were never funny then done in front of thousands. These attacks and feeble attempts of comedy are more tragic than funny now. These acts were also a choice. My prayer for him is that he is in the grey void of Purgatory and not hell awaiting his time when God will summon him to His Light and Love.

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  21. The truth sometimes hurts but it is critical not to conflate depression with making the choice to kill oneself. It is an act of charity to raise awareness to remind those suffering from depression that the two are very separate acts.

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  22. Yet even Catherine admits that his suicide was a SIN. It may or may not have damned his soul, but it was a sin. ALL SIN IS CONDEMNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. This includes venial sins.

    The hope for Robin Williams is founded on the mercy of God, not on His justice.

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