Suicide and Failing the Compassion Test

Jesus-FacepalmAs I highlighted in my latest post and feared would only continue, the response to Robin Williams’s suicide, especially on the part of Christians, has left much to be desired.

First we had Willis from Diff’rent Strokes  waiting all of seventeen seconds after the news broke to pat himself on the back for turning to God when facing adversity rather than taking the “selfish” way out. And now, blogger Matt Walsh was weighed in:

The death of Robin Williams is significant not because he was famous, but because he was human, and not just because he left this world, but particularly because he apparently chose to leave it. . . . It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision.

Hmm, where to begin? “No $h!t, Sherlock” certainly comes to mind.

I mean, do we really need someone to stand up and point out that the suicide virus doesn’t just blow through a room and infect then kill people in a manner in which the victim is completely passive? Do we really need to be reminded that it was Williams himself that slashed his wrists and, when that didn’t work, hung himself with his belt?

And honestly, do we need to be told that this was “a bad decision”?

The response to Matt’s post, even from his fans, seems to be that he should stick to subject he understands (and that clinical depression isn’t one of them). Since I am not an expert on depression either, I would rather avoid that issue and reiterate what I said yesterday: Can’t we just grieve with a bit of class and compassion? What possible good can it serve to stand up, wave one’s arms for attention, and then insist that Robin Williams is selfish and uncaring, and what happened is all his fault?

Even if these points are all true (which I don’t think they are), is it really necessary to say them out loud, now, while the body is still practically warm?

I have suggested in the past that if there is a least-compassionate response to a given situation, leave it to a Christian to find it and trumpet it from the housetops. This theory seems sound when it comes to issues like immigration, war, healthcare, and economics, and now it seems like it’s holding up with respect to suicide as well. 

The predictability of this would be comical if it weren’t so sad: High-profile guy kills himself; broader culture mourns and expresses sadness and support; Christian pundits seize the opportunity to point out that suicide is cowardly and depression is just sinfulness in disguise.

Meanwhile, God’s up in heaven facepalming and asking Jesus and Howard Zinn what’s up with how lame people are. . . .


  1. JeanAugust 12, 2014

    I think our failure to respond compassionately to suicide is a subset of our failure to treat mental illness as *an illness*. We have gigantic races and monthlong campaigns on everything from your toilet paper to your yogurt talking about breast cancer, when in fact, depression and mental illness affect many many more people. If we had a ‘compassion-colored’ ribbon or a ‘I see the value in every life’ ribbon would anyone wear it?

    Sidebar: we also have no idea how to ‘do’ grief. My family is Irish and Italian so a funeral/loss on either side of the family – both Catholic BTW – is very different. Culturally, we have no acknowledgment of how to handle a death because we are conspicuously silent about the value and treasure of each unique life. So I think beyond the mental illness or opportunistic condemnations, a failure to grieve compassionately is part of a failure to treat people compassionately while they’re still around.

  2. Amanda GarciaAugust 12, 2014

    My daughter asked me why he would kill himself when he is rich and famous and has a huge house and everything he wants. The truth is simple: all the things we hunger for and stuff ourselves with can’t truly allow us to escape depression. It is like a shadow that attaches itself to follow you everywhere. I think it’s interesting that he took solace in making other people laugh while completely vacant himself. Depression shouldn’t be attacked by people who have no clue what it’s like.

  3. ZrimAugust 13, 2014

    I’ve wondered if these less-than-charitable religious rants are also a function of culture war. They seem to come from the same types who are ticked at being disenfranchised by wider culture, then when a member of The Problem dies an undignified death they go for the throat. I mean, what if James Garner or Lauren Bacall committed suicide (instead of natural causes), two people who represent the pre-culture war era and embodied better that so-called Judeo-Christian worldview. Would we see as much coarseness? Perhaps, but I’m betting not as much.

  4. JasonAugust 13, 2014

    I agree and I’ll raise you. It seems to me that almost all that comes from the Right these days is purely ideologically driven (and I don’t think it’s the same on the Left).

    For example: Electric cars. Something that would seem to be a no-brainer for everyone, but I can’t tell you how often I have heard the idea dismissed by conservatives for (I am convinced) no other reason than that Leftist baby-killers like them.

  5. ZrimAugust 13, 2014

    Maybe. My rightist in-laws drive one though, so…

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